the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for house design

10 Cottage Design Must-haves

Well I managed to have a vacation last week with my 6-month old and husband. We stayed at a cottage near the beach in Ontario. And although I managed to avoid most work, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of design at the cottage we rented.  So here are some must-haves for your cottage design, or even questions to ask the owner when renting.

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1. Hose down area! If not for messy kids, then for your sandy feet. There’s nothing like having an outdoor hose (perhaps run over your roof to collect solar heat, so it’s not icy on your toes), with a rounded stone area for drainage to get all the dirt and sand off your feet and shoes before going in the house.

2. A clothes line. Especially if you are at a beach cottage. It should be located in the sun and quickly accessible in case of rain (especially during this summer). Nothing is worse than putting on a wet bathing suit, or one with an earwig in because it was damp over the porch railing!

3. A big deck. Hopefully located facing south so you can enjoy the sun. But see next must have…

4. Shade. Sun is great, but its hard to enjoy the outdoors if you and your children are burning up. Create overhangs , properly sized to reduce the hottest sun rays from 2-4. Or strategically plant some trees. No one wants to be cooped up inside the cottage on your vacation, because there is no shade.

5. Storage spaces. These can be for bikes, lawn chairs, strollers, firewood, etc, that don’t fit inside the small confines of a cottage but are essential to keep dry for use at a moments notice. Overhangs, back sheds, or garages work great and should be convenient locations on the property, hopefully hidden from public view and unauthorized borrowers.

6. Natural ventilation possibilities. Whether your burning supper or its ridiculously too hot to sleep, most cottages do not have the luxury of AC, so the strategic location of operable windows with screens is critical. Natural ventilation cools the house, and doesn’t allow the bugs in. Refer to number 4 to reduce the direct sun on the house and minimize indoor heating.

7. Windows towards the view. If you have a cottage site with a view, take advantage. Put big windows here, not small punched windows. Having a view when it rains on your vacation makes it that much bearable to be stuck inside. Too often I see houses with a great view and tiny little windows. It’s a shame, really.

8. Soundproof walls, and not for the reasons your thinking! We vacationed with two other couples each with a baby under a year. So when baby one wakes up at 3am , it is a relief that baby two or three can’t hear them and also wake up! Otherwise it makes for 6 very tired parents.

9. Protect your septic bed from vehicles. If your septic bed or tank is in  a location where someone might park (ie your front yard). Make sure you prevent this. Septic beds are not designed to hold the weight of cars and can be damaged if parked on. Use plants, fences, or other landscape features to prevent accidental parking. Do not plant large trees close to your weeping bed either, as roots can also damage the system.

10. A roof and comfy mattress! It is a cottage, but if you sleep good, and don’t get wet when it rains, it should be a good vacation!

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And one more bonus for good measure…

11. No carpets! Carpets hold beach sand very well, and who vacuums on vacation. Skip the carpet and go for easily sweepable floors. Lots of hooks around to hang coats, clothes, towels, etc. This should help keep clutter off the floor, couches, chairs, and tables.

Farmhouse Design Part III

So you’ve decided you want to build a new farmhouse on your property. First you need to decide if the “Builder’s special” is the type of home you want or do you want something truly special. Check out this blog to help you decide if a custom home is right for you.

Most of you probably want to know what building a new house costs. It depends on the area, but it can cost anywhere from $150-$500 per square foot depending on the quality of home you are building. You may also need a new septic system, if your house hasn’t been renovated in many years. This item is costly and requires specific engineering design and permits. They also take up a lot of space on your property.

Building a new farmhouse on your property gives you a great opportunity to make it perfect. It is easy to apply the principles of my earlier blogs about farmhouse design; views, sustainable principles, daylighting, authenticity, etc………

I will fully admit that this blog is going to focus on contemporary design. If you want the suburban home transplanted to your lot, it’s a matter of taste. But I believe that every home should be site specific and that the suburban home style is not suited to the farm. So what is the modern farmhouse look like? I believe that pictures are worth a thousand words in this case.

What not to do:

Don't be a copycat unless your going to do it perfectly. That means aying for the brick walls over the entire house, not just parts.

Don’t be a copycat unless your going to do it historically accurate. We live in the 21st century, why copy a design from the 19th century?

transplanted from suburbia, such that the lack of windows on the side wall (where the views are) are a leftover from building code requirements when your house is close to the property line. Not a site specific design.

transplanted from suburbia, such that the lack of windows on the side wall (where the views are) are a holdover from building code requirements when your house is close to the property line (like in urban situations) it limits your allowable openings. Not a site specific design.

Avoid the overly frontal nature of the house. A farmhouse sits in the middle of a field, it should address all sides of the landscape. Besides the road is not likely the best view, but this frontal design emphasizes it with the majority of windows.

Avoid the overly frontal nature of the house. A farmhouse sits in the middle of a field, it should address all sides of the landscape. The traditional farmhouse was square and windows placed equally on all side, with the exception of perhaps a front porch. Besides the road is not likely the best view, but this frontal design emphasizes it with the majority of windows.

A for heaven's sake, please don't do this. Plan ahead for the transitions between brick and siding if you can't afford a entire house out of brick.

And for heaven’s sake, please don’t do this. Plan ahead for the transitions between brick and siding if you can’t afford an entire house out of brick. Make the transitions make sense and be logical.

What TO do:
The 21st century farmhouse takes a lessons from traditional farmhouse architecture. Just like the barn, its functional, simple, yet elegant. The modern farmhouse is in harmony with nature, takes advantage of topography, and has modern details.

This house takes the simple form of the square farmhouse and integrates the material palette of a barn for a clean contemporary look.

This house takes the simple form of the square farmhouse and integrates the material palette of a barn for a clean contemporary look.

This house almost completely blends into the landscape and disappears. Green roofs blend it in and it compliments the existing bank barn, and doesn't try to steal the stage.

This house almost completely blends into the landscape and disappears. Green roofs blend it in and it compliments the existing bank barn, and doesn’t try to steal the stage. Farmhouse design should not steal the show from the beautiful landscape it lives in.

take advantage and love the topography of the and you own.  Don't fight it, the results will be far richer.

take advantage and love the topography of the and you own. Don’t fight it, the results will be far richer.

find the great view and emphasize it!

find the great view and exploit it!

Make sure you provide the necessary view, to the kids play area, the barn doors, the laneway, etc. so you can keep an eye on things when you are inside.

Make sure you provide the necessary view, to the kids play area, the barn doors, the laneway, etc. so you can keep an eye on things when you are inside.

embrace the outdoors when you can. except on the days when the wind blows in a certain direction from the barn!

embrace the outdoors when you can. except on the days when the wind blows in a certain direction from the barn!

That’s enough about the outside…a few tips on interiors

Do you really need that 3rd bathroom? Think about the space you really need. I know farm families are generally big, but do you really need that extra 500 square feet? Keeping it small can really keep costs under control. If you are efficient and careful with a design you can get away with more flexible space (not single use spaces like a dedicated dining room) and be more efficient with square footage. Architects and designers are great for being efficient when it come to space planning.

Think about your entry, make sure its generous enough to open the door, get boots off, open closet doors, etc. Most house designs leave too small a space at the front door. This is the first impression of your house make it count.

And the last important thing about designing your farmhouse is the barn clothes door and dirty people traffic. Certain farmers need to be very careful about designing this entry as the animals they grow have potent smells (pigs & chickens) which can permeate your house if you don’t carefully consider them. Carefully orchestrate a mud room entry, perhaps even a separate shower.

Farmhouse Renovation – Part II

I bet you can't guess that this is a modern addition to this house? It's all in the details

I bet you can’t guess that this is a modern addition to this house? It’s all in the details

So you’ve decided to preserve a bit of rural history and renovate your brick farmhouse. Here are a few items that you should know.

Yes, generally renovations cost more (approximately 5%). But the results are often more appreciated than building new and many of the large expenses are already taken care of such as exterior walls which can be up to 35% of construction costs. Always allow for a 5-10% construction contingency for unforeseen expenses, especially in a renovation. This will reduce stress about cost overruns as it will already be accounted for in your budgeting.

Modern Addition to Old Farmhouse, PLANT architect

Modern Addition to Old Farmhouse, PLANT architect

Modern interventions allowed! This is where a designer comes in really handy. They can give insight and design a modern addition that fits in with the character of the house without being too literal and nostalgic. Proportion and colour plays a big role in intervening in your traditional farmhouse. Check out the above example.  The architect used colour to tie in to the old house. And the proportion of the addition is just right, not to overpower, and to balance with the existing house.

subtle intervention to open the house to the outdoors

subtle intervention to open the house to the outdoors and let more light in

Farmhouses have certain typical characteristics that are not as desirable to modern farm families. These include dark interiors, small bedrooms, cold floors, no garages, one bathroom, etc. I’m sure you can add to this list. All these complaints can be solved in a renovation, such as opening up a wall on the south side to get some extra light deeper into the house and making sure that additions do not block more light from entering the house. Renovations can even fix those cold floors, with radiant in-floor heating.

very modern addition, but scaled and detailed to suit, using traditional materials (corten/rusted steel)

very modern addition, but scaled and detailed to suit, using traditional materials (corten/rusted steel)

You probably don’t like getting your energy bill if this is the first renovation to your farmhouse.   There are a few things you can do about that bill. First replace the windows, with new double pane, low e coated, thermally broken frames (ask me about this one!) and my personal preference wood frame windows. Wood frame windows will cost you a bit more, but they will suit the traditional farmhouse look better than vinyl windows. Next you can insulate your house. Insulation can be done either from the inside or the outside and it depends on the wall construction of your farmhouse. Some farmhouses have two layers of brick with a plaster finish on the interior. This is the most difficult to insulate, but I recommend it be done from the inside, however you will lose 4-6” of room area. If you have a wood stud wall you are in luck, it’s easy to insulate from the interior.  In both these situations you are only going to get 4-6” of insulation which is not much, so if your brick veneer is needing to be replaced you can insulate from the exterior out and reinstall the brick.

Interesting, creative, and appropriate renovation

Interesting, creative, and appropriate renovation

You need A LOT of PATIENCE. Your house has settled for 100 years so there are bound to be quirks, but the ‘bones’ of the house as I like to call them are solid. That’s why it’s worth renovating. Renovating always requires changes on the go with your contractor and your architect. Having an architect on board for renovations is a great asset for pre-planning and solving the flow and organization of your house within an existing footprint. The architect is also invaluable with assisting with unforeseen conditions in your house and resolving the details in clean efficient solutions during construction. Renovation is a juggling act, between budget, existing conditions, and other restraints.

reclaimed wood used in kitchen cabinets

reclaimed wood used in kitchen cabinets

There is lots of opportunity in an old farmhouse renovation to join traditional and contemporary details. I think the kids are calling this “shabby chic” these days! Bringing the history of the house into the renovation in meaningful ways is important to creating a cohesive renovation. Such as reusing the slate from the roof for furniture or flooring. Preservation is important but if the preservation doesn’t make sense with the new design you need to be willing to part ways with details that don’t make sense anymore.

As per the earlier post, the general design principles of farmhouses still apply. When preparing your design see how they fit in and can enhance your design. Views, flow and organization, authenticity, sustainability, and daylighting.

I’m glad you accepted the challenge of renovating your farmhouse. It’s important to keep a bit of history around and adapting it for new uses and modern living.

Farmhouse Design or Renovation Principles – Part I

farmhouse

My Dad, was born, raised, had his own kids, and will probably die in the same old red brick farmhouse. As you can imagine it needs some updating! My mother, like most farm wives has great visions of what the house should look like, but it is usually a lifelong project to update the house from the in-laws style.  I’m sure your farmhouse is no different.

Do you struggle with the quirks of an old house, asquare corners, sloped floors, sagging roofs, drafty windows, or high energy bills? Do you wonder if you should just tear the house down and start fresh?  Although, I would never urge tearing down a traditional house, it does take some love and patience to renovate. I think this topic actually warrants three posts;

  • general farmhouse design principles,
  • renovating old houses, and
  • starting fresh.
  • (and one of these days, I will make time to write about barn renovations)

So I will start with the first one, and perhaps it will lead you to decide which of the two following posts you should read!

Designing a farmhouse is an architect’s dream (or at least mine). There are many opportunities and design problems that can be solved so eloquently.

framed view

‘framing the view’ PLANT architect, house in Creemore

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large doors open the house to the fresh outdoors

I’m sure one of the reasons you love to farm is because of the land, the views, and the privacy a rural property provides. So when you decide to design/renovate your house, I think the most important thing you should consider is those views of your farm and the landscape that you  love. Identify those views and make sure you design your house with big windows and what we architects like to call “framing” those views. Make them important features in the living spaces of your house. You probably also love the outdoors as a farmer. I know my dream home will have spaces that can open up in the spring, summer, and fall to bring the outdoors in (except on those days when the wind is blowing from the barn to the house!). I see too many new farm houses that bear no relation to the farm site, views, or character of the landscape. They are merely house-ships from the suburbs landed in the farmyard!

There are many complexities to balance in a farmhouse: smells and dirty clothes, hosting big family events, kids, etc. Make sure that the designer you choose (hopefully myself) understand how you use your house on a daily basis.  You don’t want to bring your guests through the mud room with your barn clothes! Hiring a designer makes your life easier in the long-term. A designer can imagine how you use your house now and how you might use it in the future. They will design a house specifically for your needs, making spaces that flow, are gracious, and that you get quality and quantity where you want it.  I have collected many great ideas for making life that much better in your house on Pinterest, check out these great ideas!

mis-matched shutters

mis-matched shutters

Be authentic! This idea also requires a post all of its own (that I haven’t written yet) so here’s a great blog about being real. Essentially it means, not trying to copy historical design unless you intend to do it precisely, being true to the materials you choose, don’t try to fake a timber post, and making great spaces because of light and proportion, not ornament. Real beauty comes from those who know, have studied architecture, not from plan books, or a Sunday drive through the suburbs. A typical example of not being real are window shutters. Traditionally they kept the wind out of the drafty windows and were sized to suit the window. I too often see metal or plastic shutters ‘glued’ onto the brick of a house and clearly they would never cover the window if a tornado hit! Form follows function. Balance between nostalgia and modern. We must learn from traditional architecture, but we are in the 21st century with milking robots, I think a little modern in our farmhouses wouldn’t hurt.

natural daylighting in the living room

natural daylighting in the living room

As you know I like to encourage sustainable design in every project. This can be as simple as naturally daylighting your house, or as complex as geothermal, or passive heating systems. daylighting your house is simple. Just understand where south is and that’s the side of the house the majority of your windows should be locate as well as the majority of your open living spaces such as kitchen, living room, office, sewing room, etc. Closed rooms and utility spaces should be on the north side of you house as they need less light, it also limits the exposure of living spaces to the coldest wall in the winter (reducing heating costs). Now that you’ve let all this light in, however you should be careful not to let all that heat in, during the summer months. By using canopies, screens and overhangs you can reduce overheating your house during the summer but letting that heat and sunlight in during the winter. It’s a delicate balance. Complex sustainable technologies vary from solar panels, to increased wall insulation, etc. and require a whole post on their own.

blending traditional and modern

blending traditional and modern

So as you start wondering about the colour of the walls you inherited from your mother-in-law, or the drafty nights, keep these important design principles in mind. I think I’d better end this post now before I generate more blog posts for me to write!