Author Archives: John K. Coyne

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Cabin of the Week: Outpost in the Idaho Desert

Architect Tom Kundig designed the Outpost not only to withstand the brutal conditions of the desert, but also to witness its beauty.

Outpost - Exterior 1


In the Idaho desert, the Outpost sits at the end of a half-mile-long driveway. Designed by architect Tom Kundig, the house belongs to an artist who lives and works inside its boxy concrete form, and who collaborated with Kundig over the course of what became a quite lengthy process. For nearly a decade, a series of unanticipated constraints forced Kundig and his client to scale back and refine the original plan, over and over, until nothing beyond the essentials remained.

Outpost - Main Floor


Making up much of the interior is a large, open space that includes the kitchen, living, and dining areas. A staircase leads to a mezzanine bedroom, which looks over the undivided volume below. On the very bottom level is a utility room and the homeowner’s office and studio space. Windows—some as large as eight-by-eleven feet—interrupt the concrete exterior walls on all sides of the structure. Through these panes are sweeping views of the desert and its undulating hills.

Outpost - Inside Out


Kundig has described the Outpost as a Tootsie Roll, “hard on the outside and soft on the inside.” In response to the climate and its extremes, he chose durable, low-maintenance materials, beautiful in their utilitarian simplicity. No surfaces have been unnecessarily modified. Even indoors, one sees mainly raw, unfinished wood and natural, unpainted plaster. Several elements—the exposed steel beams, for instance—recall the farm and mining buildings seen nearby. This is the region where Kundig grew up; reportedly, he took the job in part to reconnect with the land and architectural vernacular that had fascinated him as a youth.

Outpost - Exterior 2


However artful, the interior excels in one respect most of all: It focuses attention out towards nature, the seasons, and the ever-stunning desert landscape.

Cabin of the Week: The Shack at Hinkle Farm

Built by an architect as a family retreat, a West Virginia cabin harkens back to a time when houses offered little more than shelter from the storm.

Shack at Hinkle Farm


Perched on South Fork Mountain in West Virginia, deep within a 27-acre site you can only reach on foot or with an off-road vehicle, there’s an uncomplicated cabin. Architect Jeffery Broadhurst built the place for his family and by his own description, it’s only a modest step up from tent camping. Here, there’s no electricity, and besides oil lamps and a wood stove, there are few creature comforts. There’s shelter from the elements, and a platform from which to admire the spectacular view.

Shack at Hinkle Farm - View


As noteworthy as the design may be, in all its refreshing simplicity, the cabin also impresses with its clever execution. Most obvious is the overheard garage door that completely opens up one side of the cabin to the outdoors. But there are smaller triumphs as well. For instance, a metal mesh rodent barrier—the kind used to protect local corn cribs—lines the underside of the floor. So even though a person can see the ground through gaps between floorboards, furry pests can’t get in.

Similarly ingenious is the makeshift plumbing system. Beneath the cabin and accessible by a trap door, there’s a large storage tank that feeds (by means of a marine bilge pump) a smaller distribution tank mounted to the ceiling. From there, gravity delivers water to the sink faucet in a tiny, tucked-away kitchen area.

Shack at Hinkle Farm - Wood Stove


Broadhurst built the cabin himself, with help from family, friends, and neighbors. The materials used are no different from what the average person would find on the shelves at his nearby home improvement retail store. Sitting atop a quartet of pressure-treated lumber posts, just as a backyard deck would, the cabin features board-and-batten wood siding and terne-coated metal roofing. Though plainly utilitarian, both elements lend a timeless look of elegant, enviable simplicity.

Shack at Hinkle Farm - Site


Cabin of the Week: The Floating Farmhouse

A four-year labor of love transforms a derelict Catskill Mountains farmhouse into an effortlessly stylish amalgam of cutting-edge and country.

Floating Farmhouse - Exterior 1


In 2002, Tom Givone went out on a limb. The former advertising copywriter decided to purchase and resuscitate a 19th-century farmhouse in Upstate New York. Thus began a four-year-long odyssey, filled with both physical and design challenges. The stop-and-start process was hampered not only by the delays and frustrations that typically accompany large-scale renovations, but also by the Great Recession. Today, however, the reborn structure carries no scars from the struggles that bedeviled its completion. Rather, the Floating Farmhouse, as Givone Home calls it, blends old and new with seemingly effortless style.

Floating Farmhouse - Addition


Probably the most stunning aspect of the Floating Farmohouse is the spacious, open kitchen, situated within a new wing, the gable end of which is composed entirely of glass and steel. Here, there are overtly modern touches—polished concrete floors, wraparound bluestone counters, and high-gloss cabinetry. But there are also testaments to the history of the farmhouse. For instance, antique hand-hewn beams salvaged from a dairy barn in neighboring Pennsylvania span the contemporary space.

Floating Farmhouse - Bathroom


The luxuriously minimalist master bathroom features a nine-foot-long wall-to-wall shower, as well as a tub housed within a white-painted wood surround. Girding the vessel sinks is a countertop made from one of the 11 pine trees on the property that were felled and milled to provide most of the lumber used in the project.

Floating Farmhouse - Bedroom


Cor-Ten steel frames the fireplace and serves as a bold focal point in the master bedroom. The airiness of the room owes partly to its all-white palette, but more so to the soaring vaulted ceiling. A pared-down version of traditional wainscoting travels the room’s perimeter, recalling the building’s origin. But a more overt reminder of the past comes from the original cedar shake roof shingles, exposed during the renovation and deployed here, along with roughly aligned planks, as decoration for the doorway.

Floating Farmhouse - Guest Bathroom


It’s hard to pick a favorite feature in the guest bathroom, but perhaps most noteworthy is the sumptuously imperfect Italian marble sink, which cantilevers into the room with no visible means of support (in fact, it’s hung by means of angle irons concealed within the wall). Also eye-catching is the wood-and-zinc tub, a 19th-century artifact rescued from a New York tenement building. Givone chose to wrap the vintage tub in stainless steel, again finding a way for different centuries to complement one another.

Floating Farmhouse - Before


You can rent the Floating Farmhouse—located two hours north of New York City, in the Catskill Mountains—from $600 per night. Click here for details.

Bob Vila’s Toolbox—Now on Your iPad!

Learn the tools and tricks of the trade from Bob Vila's Toolbox, a brand new DIY home improvement app for the iPad.

Bob Vila's Toolbox - DIY Home Improvement App - Screenshot 1

Photo: Bob Vila's Toolbox

Months in the making and brand new to the App Store, Bob Vila’s Toolbox is your ultimate guide to the essentials of remodeling and repair. No other home improvement app includes resources of such authority about the tools favored by master craftsmen and do-it-yourselfers alike.


Specially designed and built for the iPad—enriched by images, audio, and how-to video from the work site—Bob Vila’s Toolbox app teaches you the fine art of choosing and using the right tool for the job. As you gear up to tackle your next project, wouldn’t you feel more confident with Bob Vila at your side?

From traditional woodworking to plumbing, tiling, plastering and electrical work, this one-of-a-kind DIY app gives you instant access to the tips and insights Bob has gathered over the course of his 30-year career working side by side with experienced contractors and artisans around the country.

While some DIY apps aid in design, others deal with materials, and still others offer step-by-step tutorials, Toolbox is the first and last answer for any handy person looking to find a home improvement app focused on the tools and tricks of the building trade.

Whether you’re interested in fine woodworking or large-scale renovation, whether you’d like to know more about one tool or a full workshop’s worth, you can ensure top-quality results with clear and comprehensible, easy to understand guidance from America’s best-known expert on homes.

Bob Vila's Toolbox - DIY Home Improvement App - Screenshot 2

Photo: Bob Vila's Toolbox

“Working with tools has something of the same appeal of old houses and their individual histories. They both give me a strong and satisfying sense of continuity,” Bob says. An extension of his television career, Bob Vila’s Toolbox ushers a veteran’s wisdom and experience into the next generation.

Smartphone and tablet users enjoy no shortage of choice when it comes home improvement apps. In fact, this site has already covered several that are worth consideration:

The 5 Apps You Won’t Want to Renovate Without
3 Top Apps to Help You Plan a Remodel
Top Productivity Tools for Your Smartphone

But while many DIY apps may be available, there is only one Bob Vila. Visit iTunes now and download Bob Vila’s Toolbox today!

Nuts & Bolts: Designing America


Beloved for its impeccably researched and beautifully designed architectural history books, Acanthus Press recently introduced a pair of new titles concerning the evolution of American residential and landscape design.

Gardens for a Beautiful America tracks the evolution of landscape aesthetics in this country during the formative period 1895-1935. Enlivened with over 400 breathtakingly restored original photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnston, this elegant, oversized tome allows a special glimpse into the grand aesthetics of a bygone era’s planted environments.


American Splendor: The Residential Architecture of Horace Trumbauer takes a long and well-worth-it look at the homes built by Horace Trumbauer, the architect of many grand mansions across the country, from Newport to Colorado Springs. The finest of his designs are knowledgeably presented here in this sumptuous coffee table book, on sale now.

Visit Acanthus Press for more information on either title.

For more on landscape and architectural history, consider:

10 Ways to Bring Historic Style Home
Bob Vila’s Guide to Historic House Styles
Touring the Victorian Opulence of Olana (VIDEO)

Blink and You Miss It: The Spencertown Residence

Spencertown, NY, is a church and a post office and a general store. It’s actually not even a town; it’s a hamlet. New spec and owner-built construction is common enough—a growing number of second homes are located here—but you’d hardly expect to find world-class contemporary architecture sited within minutes of the blink-and-you-miss-it main street.

The Spencertown Residence by Thomas Phifer and Partners

But it’s there and I found it. Accidentally. I knew that starchitect Thomas Phifer had designed a home in Taghkanic, NY (some 25 miles south), but I wasn’t aware of Phifer’s 2006 project in Spencertown—that is, until I spotted it from the dirt road leading right past the property.

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5 Seating Picks from ICFF

Hours before the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) closed its four-day run on Tuesday, the winners of this year’s ICFF Editors Awards were named. The top exhibitors in a range of categories are recognized annually, but while innovation and world-class design are always hallmarks of the Fair, the style and ingenuity rampant in the Seating category this year must have made for stiff competition.

Danish powerhouse Fritz Hansen ultimately took the top honor. The miniscule™ Chair joins practicality and stylishness in a compact, lightweight, and cozy creation. As the designer Cecilie Manz attests, “The chair has no secrets. You have the shell and you have the leg frame, and that’s about it. It is what you see.”

miniscule chair

miniscule™ Chair by Cecilie Manz for Fritz Hansen

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Nest Learning Thermostat: Digital-Age Home Temperature Control

Nest Learning Thermostat


The Nest Learning Thermostat is, I’m betting, the first HVAC device to excite so much chatter in the blogosphere. An improbable mingling of tech, design, and shelter sites have voiced praised for the new digital thermostat’s sleek design and user-friendly interface—not to mention the environmental contribution it stands to make, which almost seems like a tacked-on bonus given how much fun it is to play with, reviewers say.

Of course, saving energy is the Nest thermostat’s raison d’etre. Studies indicate that heating and cooling make up for roughly half of residential energy consumption, while turning the heat or air conditioning down a single degree results in a five percent energy saving. The wasted energy and cumulative expense at stake is the whole point of programmable thermostats in the first place.

But until now, homeowners have mostly avoided, or been incapable of, learning to actually program their programmable thermostats. Research in 2008 found that homes with programmable models actually used more energy than comparable homes with standard thermostats. Subsequently, Energy Star lifted its certification from the entire category of products. The Nest’s intuitive, easy-as-an-iPod controls may change all that.

Already, the company has sold out its initial production run (quantity unknown), and it’s temporarily closed the shutters on its online store. No surprise there. You can tell from the pictures: Lots of people will purchase the Nest for its aesthetic value. Another contingent may invest (the Nest retails at $250) to lower their bills. Still another group is likely to covet the positive ecological impact promised and will pay up for the good of Ma Nature. Nobody’s talking yet about whether it lives up to the hype, but judging by the early reception, untold scores of homeowners are going to buy the Nest thermostat for at least one, or probably all, of the reasons above.