Outdoor Rooms

 

Many of us choose to live in the Lowcountry because of the natural beauty of our great trees, salt marshes, and beaches. The health benefits of spending time outdoors has been documented by many studies including a 2015 Stanford University study that found that mental health is improved by being outdoors. So it is not surprising that The American Institute of Architects most recent Home Design Trends survey reported that requests for outdoor living spaces have increased for the 8th consecutive year.

With Fall’s gorgeous weather approaching, it is the perfect time to spruce up or create your outdoor living space. When planning your outdoor living, establish zones or rooms for different activities such as cooking, dining al fresco, relaxing, entertaining, swimming, backyard games and sunset or sunrise viewing. The rooms can be defined by structures including porches, pergolas, and gazeboes; different paving materials; plants; and fences. A sense of discovery and surprise adds interest to the garden.

Essential components for sensory richness are light, sound, smell, colors, movement, textures, and patterns. These can be created using fire, water, plants, shade, paving, and light. Start by anticipating the experience you want to achieve. For example, a fire allows you to linger outside a bit longer on a cool evening. This can be something as simple as a fire pit or chiminea or as elaborate as an outdoor masonry fireplace.

The landscape architect Robert Marvin often included a “sun pocket” in his designs.  A sun pocket is a south facing sitting area with a masonry wall behind the seat. The masonry wall soaks up the sun’s warmth and blocks the cold north wind and creates a warm micro-climate which is a perfect place to sit on a cool afternoon.

Bird baths are an easy way to add water to your landscape. Their benefits are not just for the birds. It is delightful to watch the birds preen when they bathe. Fountains add interest both visually and through sound. Devise an element of surprise by placing the fountain where it is not immediately seen but can be heard. The Japanese Shishi-odoshi or “Scare the Deer” is something we all might want to add to our lowcountry gardens. The bamboo fountain is on an off center pivot. The open end of the bamboo fills with water. When full, it tilts to empty the water and makes a loud thud against a rock when the bamboo returns to its original position. It repeats about every five minutes.

The final components for your outdoor living is the furniture, lighting and accessories. Comfort and durability are key. One reason while fall is a good time for sprucing up your outdoor space is many outdoor furniture companies have their products discounted now.


Eileen Fisher - DesignWorks

 

Eileen Fisher was on the American Institute of Architects A’18 Expo Floor promoting her new business DesignWork. She created DesignWorks to compensate the fashion industry unsustainable business model of creating new clothes every year while tossing last years styles. Roughly 85% of textiles end up in land fills, including those donated to charity.

Fisher decided to recycle clothes into new beautiful objects that consumers will keep for years. After enjoying wearing Fisher’s clothes, the company will buy them back, in any condition, to be resold or renewed through techniques like overdyeing and mending which uses part of what is collected, but not all. In 2015, Eileen Fisher launched DesignWork studio to create new textiles and uses from scraps of their own remaining recycled materials.

All DesignWork materials are made directly from the old garments and scraps from new garments. They are felted with 100% recycled fabric from Eileen Fisher and transformed into products for the architecture trade and for homes. Products include pillows (shown above), wall hangings, and acoustical panels. The new felted fabrics are beautiful in looks and soft and cozy to touch.

Go to www.eileenfisherrenew.com to see how to recycle your clothes an receive a $5 Rewards card.


Designing for Hurricanes

 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Climate Prediction Center (NOAA’s CPC) is predicting an “above normal” hurricane season with 11 to 17 named storms, 5 to 9 hurricanes and 2 to 4 major hurricanes over category three. The historic method of learning about building performance is through experiencing hurricanes such as Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017, respectively.  The better, less risky way is through research.

The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has a research center in Chester County, South Carolina.  The building performance testing is done on full-scale 2- story models in a 21,000 square foot, 6 stories tall building. They can create a broad spectrum of weather – ranging from hurricane conditions, windstorms, wildfires, and hailstorms. They use the data to develop best practices in building construction.

The research center also has a “roof farm” which is an exterior installation to test decay and deterioration caused by severe weather. This allows them to conduct long-term evaluations of new materials and systems.

Recently, a contractor said to me that impact windows were a waste of money because they still can crack and the insurance will pay for any damage anyway. This is false logic. The IBHS research shows that a key mitigation step is protecting the windows and doors with either impact rated windows and doors, shutters, or plywood. When the openings are not protected, wind pressure can build up inside the house. Then, when a door or window is forced open, the roof blows off and the walls can collapse.

Their research also shows that roof cover damage is the most frequent source of hurricane-related insurance claims. Metal roofs tend to perform better than asphalt shingles but it is essential for the roofing material to be rated for high wind speeds. The roof assembly, deck, flashing, and the approved roof cover all must be installed to be the current building code.

Fortunately, here in South Carolina, we have stringent building codes. The IBHS rates the 18 hurricane-prone states on the quality of their building codes. Of the 18 states, South Carolina is third with a score of 92. Florida (95) and Virginia (94) are first and second, respectively.

Julie Rochman, the former IBHS CEO, said “ States with strong, updated codes saw stunning proof this year that updated, well-enforced building codes have led to the construction of homes and buildings that can stand up to fierce hurricane winds. It can’t be any clearer: these codes work.”


Save the trees

Trends and Timeless Design

I recently was at the High Point furniture market and starting chatting with a woman at the shuttle stop. She told me that she is a trend spotter. I asked her what the new trends are. She was very coy and said that she could not tell me. But she said that gray is passé and subway tiles are horribly out of fashion. She expounded by saying that anything that you see a lot of - is already old news.

Maybe being a trend setter is not desirable. A friend of mine is friends with a New York-based trend setter. He describes her as looking completely strange and out of place, because she is wearing a look before anyone else. Think about the first people who wore ripped jeans as a style and we all thought they needed to throw out that pair of worn out jeans.

Hopefully, this isn’t spreading “old news” but I did spot some trends at the High Point market. First was the color blue. It was everywhere and in every shade. Sherwin Williams has announced their 2018 color of the year as “Oceanside,” which they describe as a collision of rich blue with jewel toned green.  The other popular color was a pale pink. Organic shapes and patterns were on everything. Texture was popular on furniture and fabrics. Bright brass hardware is back and furniture pulls are big and flashy.

One of the most innovative products I saw was Crypton fabric. This performance fabric is indestructible, yet looks and feels great. I saw a demonstration where the sales rep poured red wine on a piece of white Crypton fabric and it wiped right off. Residential textile brands that offer Crypton frabics are Thibaut, Kravet and Robert Allen Duralee Group.

I agree with Caroline Herrera who said, “I don’t like trends. They tend to make everyone look the same.” The opposite of trendy is timeless. My discussion with my shuttle companion turned to timeless design. She said that when a house is integrated with the landscape it becomes timeless because it belongs to it’s place. I agreed especially since site specific designs are what we do.

This project in Long Cove on Hilton Head Island was built on the last waterfront lot. It was full of beautiful live oaks and most people thought it was unbuildable because of the trees. We nestled the house among the trees and all the neighbors were amazed that we didn’t remove a single tree from the lot. You can see more photos here.


Hurricane Matthew at Edisto Beach

 Jane, Michael and Tom are sworn into the South Carolina Guard
Jane, Michael and Tom are sworn into the South Carolina Guard

We are trained in the Safety Assessment Program (SAP). On Tuesday and Wednesday we were called to Edisto Beach to work with the South Carolina State Guard to assist the Edisto Beach Building Department in determining if houses were safe to access and occupy. The major issue on Edisto Beach was the large storm surge that dumped over 4 feet of sand on Palmetto Boulevard, which parallels the ocean. The front beach houses had at least 4 feet of sand under them.

Edisto Beach is an eclectic mix of old beach houses and newer contemporary houses. The difference between the houses that were built to contemporary codes and those that were not was obvious. In one older house, the post supporting the first floor was swept away. We were surprised that the house had not already collapsed. If this house was built to current codes – it would have driven piles instead of posts on a shallow foundation. In newer houses built on piles, garage space can be enclosed under the house with break-away wall. The break-away walls did what they were designed to do – break away, even in a case where a HVAC platform was attached to the break-away wall.

Many of the older houses had grandfathered living spaces in the flood plain, which is not allowed now for a good reason. The water and sand filled the spaces creating a huge mess that currently is filled with sand and soon will be filled with mold and mildew.

The wave action that brought in the sand, scoured under the parking slabs in the old houses. This left many of the slabs suspended in the air and very dangerous, especially since it was not evident that they were suspended from the street side. The newer houses had break-away slabs which broke and were washed about, sometimes taking stairs with them. A better practice would to use gravel in the parking area under the house.

It was also interesting to see the species of trees that blew down. Almost every Cedar tree we saw had blown over. Water Oaks were next followed by Pines. The Live Oaks that were down were usually hit by another tree first.

We also saw some areas that were hit by isolated tornados which is almost impossible to design for damage prevention. After spending time on Edisto Beach, it is understandable why the first responders want to make sure the area is safe before the residents return.


What is the 50% Rule?

 Photo by Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images
Photo by Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Thoughts of hurricanes are starting early this year with the potential tropical storm forming off of our coast. In the past, I have written about protecting your existing house and best practices for new construction (March 2013 and December 2011, respectively). The area with some confusion are the rules for repairing and/or improving your existing house which I will address today.

Beaufort County and the municipalities within the county all participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA establishes a base flood elevation above mean sea level which is revised periodically. Buildings must meet the NFIP requirements which include having the first floor above the base flood elevation or higher depending on the flood zone, along with other requirements.

If the cost of improvements or the cost to repair a damaged building exceed 50% of the market value of the building, the entire building must be brought into compliance with the NFIP requirements. The market value is for the building only, not the property, any landscape improvements, or detached accessory buildings. The value can be determined by a licensed appraiser or the county’s property assessment.

The only items that are excluded from the cost of improvements or repair are as follows:

  •  Plans and specifications  
  • Surveys  
  • Permit fees  
  • Cost to demolish storm damaged buildings
  • Debris removal
  • Landscape improvements
  • Detached structures. If the detached structure is habitable space it is subject to the same rules when renovated or repaired.

Many existing houses in the county do not meet the NFIP requirements and must adhere to the 50% rule. Most houses built in accordance with the 2009 or 2012 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) meet the NFIP requirements and are not subject to the 50% rule.

Municipalities often adopt a cumulative substantial improvement policy which combines any combination of repairs, reconstruction, rehabilitation, additions, or other improvements to a structure during a finite period of time that is limited to the 50% value. The cumulative substantial improvement policy for Beaufort County and Bluffton is 10 years; the City of Beaufort is 5 years; and Hilton Head currently does not have a cumulative substantial improvement policy.

When purchasing an existing house it is prudent to do the homework to determine if the house is built above the flood plain. A local surveyor can provide a flood elevation certificate that shows the flood zone, the required first floor elevation, and the actual first floor elevation. That fixer upper might seem like a good deal until you realize the cost of raising the first floor and meeting the NFIP requirements.