Category: Historic Homes & More


Mountain Re-Shack: An Abandoned Outbuilding Becomes Home

Architect Chad Everhart breathed new life into a derelict, abandoned shack in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to create a house that is not only eminently habitable but architecturally interesting too.

Mountain Shack Makeover

Photo: Chad Everhart

“Brutal” is the word architect Chad Everhart uses to describe his first encounter with a home he now calls the Mountain Re-Shack.

“There was a seven-foot-long black snake sitting on the front porch,” says Everhart, a professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. “Nobody had lived in it for decades—the windows were blown out, and there were animals in it. But it was solid—you could jump on the floor OK.”

Most would call that a fairly low threshold for a renovation project. In fact, most would simply have called in the sledgehammers and the wrecking ball, and simply taken it down. But not Everhart. “I thought I could patch this thing up,” he says. “I thought it was fixable.”

Original Mountain Shack

The original mountain shack. Photo: Chad Everhart

It was a Depression-era home sited in a 10-acre cow pasture 25 minutes west of Boone in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was most likely built for a farmhand working on larger fields down the road. There were no studs in the walls, just hemlock boards barely hanging on. A galvanized tin roof struggled vainly to keep the structure dry. Inside, vandals had had their way.

“Everybody I talked to said, ‘Tear it down! Put it in the dump!’ ” he says. “But it would have cost a substantial amount of money to throw it away.”

Besides, he was enamored of its highly unusual fieldstone foundation and chimney. It was a cast-in-place affair, shaped by someone who first created wooden forms, then just tossed in rocks and poured concrete on top. Clearly absent were the craftsmanship and clean grout lines that any self-respecting mason would have insisted upon.

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“A bunch of farmers probably got together and made this thing—pretty fast and not too fussy,” he says. “There’s no cut stone at all—it’s more like: ‘Here’s a pile of rocks, now let’s see what we can make of it.’ ”

Everhart’s client had initially hired him to build a new house on the site but then shifted gears: Why not do the little house first, live in it for a while and get used to the property? He wanted to see what it would take to make the derelict, abandoned shack livable for a time.

The architect thought about it and offered two approaches. He could fix it up like a little cottage and make it dark and rustic. Or he could celebrate its abandonment with a ghost-like frame that would give it an ephemeral kind of commentary. His client was intrigued.

“Should we patch it up or go absolutely crazy?” Everhart asked him.

The client answered with his own question: “Can we do both?”

They met in the middle and wound up redesigning the house so that it’s not only eminently habitable but architecturally interesting too. It maintains its old ruinous roots with its stone foundation and chimney, but now it wears a new skin—a hemlock-banded rainscreen, painted bright white.

“The client wanted to contrast the old and the new,” Everhart says. “It was kind of like: What could have been there, what should have been there, and what’s there now?”

The architect found a local contractor who’d been a carpenter for 40 years and got to work on reconfiguring most of the interior. “It was 1,000 square feet when we found it, and then we whittled it down to 850,” he says. “It was real chopped up and didn’t make a lot of sense—you had to walk through one room to get to another.”

They replaced the old roof with a new one and added gutters, then moved on to the interior, replacing a few joists to level the floors. “We didn’t want the client to walk on an undulating floor, so we squared it up to make it safe to occupy,” he says.

Mountain Re-Shack Chad Everhart

Living room before and after. Photo: Chad Everhart

They converted two tiny bedrooms on the second floor into one loft that now overlooks the living room below. In that living room, a propane stove, vented through the chimney, heats the entire home; a kitchen/dining area with full bath and laundry area are adjacent. The hemlock rainscreen is repeated inside, painted bright white in contrast to the gray-painted drywall and exposed ceiling joists.

Now it’s a home with its own narrative to tell, rather than a tear-down or a simple restoration. “It’s a story of how the past and the present merge together to show how something abandoned was reclaimed, reworked, reclad and reinhabited,” the architect says.

Everhart looks to both client and site for design inspiration, noting that this is not the house he would have designed for another client—and that for anyone else he probably would have torn it down. But this client is an interior designer who has worked with a number of architects on other projects and was itching to work with one for his own home. Moreover, he represents a new kind of resident for the rural mountains of North Carolina.

“He’s a typical client moving into this region, saying, ‘I want a farm, but a fresh overlay to what that means,’ ” Everhart says.

And then there’s the site itself. “It’s in an old farming community, and we responded to that with local materials and a local guy to build it—and we maintained the original form.”

They did so economically too. Even with its new well and septic system, the Mountain Re-Shack came in just under what new construction might have cost.

“We probably did it for about $150 a square foot,” Everhart says.

And there’s nothing brutal about that.

 

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. He also edits and publishes an online design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com


New Look (and Life) for a 1950s Cape

The remodeling challenge was typical: how to get more living space for a growing family. The transformation was anything but.

Cape House Remodel - After

Photo: Ann Sellers Lathrop / Olsen Photography

It’s a classic challenge in an older neighborhood: How can a growing family increase their living space without expanding their home’s footprint?

Architect Ann Sellars Lathrop answered that question by transforming a 1950s Cape Cod into a modern farmhouse informed by the bungalows of the 1920s.

Old Hill House- Before

The Old Hill House before.

“The client wanted it clean and modern, in a transitional style to fit the vernacular of the neighborhood,” she says. “This was a farming community in the late 1800s, so there are farmhouses, colonials and onion barns down the street. A lot of the homes have front porches.”

By creating a continuous shed dormer, she was able to turn former roofline into useful living space. “That gives you the floor area and the ceiling height on the second floor, and you get a peak that’s enough for an air handler up there,” she says. “It’s a trick to reduce costs and keep the scale down, so you don’t end up with a big, boxy look.”

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When she started, the client consisted of a young couple with one daughter. A potential job change coinciding with groundbreaking slowed things down a bit, and simplified their plans somewhat. By the time the renovation was complete two and a half years later, the family had grown by one child, with another on the way.

So the expansion was timely. Upstairs she added a master suite with walk-in closet and bath, and renovated two existing bedrooms and a bath for the children. “It gave them more space,” she says. “By taking the roof off and coming out to the edges of the first floor walls, we added 600 square feet.”

After Old Hill House Living Room

Photo: Ann Sellars Lathrop /Olsen Photography

The renovated home now totals 2,900 square feet.” She took one bay of a two-car garage, and gave it a new and useful set of functions. Where once there’d been no entry from garage to home, there’s one now, along with a new mudroom and powder room.  Lathrop also enhanced the street presence by designing a welcoming front porch.

Related: 10 Design Inspirations for Mudroom and Entryways

The only addition is in the rear of the house, where a poorly constructed and poorly insulated screened in porch was taken down to the foundation and rebuilt as an expansive  family room off the kitchen.  A higher pitch to the roof, and energy efficient windows and skylights make the space even more expansive, while  providing passive heat gain in winter.

The home was sheathed originally in tall wooden shingles. When the client suggested making the change to more of a Nantucket Maybeck look, the architect resisted. “I said ‘No – paint them,’” she says. “So we wove in some new ones and painted them an off-white color – a light, pewter gray.” It’s a monochromatic, oyster-colored tint that works well with the color palette of the region.

After Old Hill House Kitchen

Photo: Ann Sellars Lathrop / Olsen Photography

Inside, the home is awash in natural light from new windows and skylights, with an easy, open flow from kitchen to family room to dining room.

“It was a Cape Cod that was totally unusable for a young family—with a small scale and little rooms” she says “They wanted to keep the nature of that smaller scale. So now it’s tight and compact, but a very livable, warm space.”

It’s also a smart renovation with a stylish response to a classic question.

 

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Dwell. He also publishes an online design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com.


How Old Is My House?

A mystery awaits! Learn how to scour paper records and decode subtle clues to uncover your home's true age.

How Old Is My House? - Exterior

Photo: shutterstock.com

Nothing satisfies like solving a good mystery, especially when the mystery to be unraveled is the history of your house. The average owner of an old house knows only roughly when the house was built. While the real estate company might have said one thing, the neighbors probably have their own ideas. So how do you find out exactly how old your house is? A surprising number of resources are available for the determined sleuth!

Government Records
Visit your town, city, or county tax assessor. Assuming they have been conscientiously maintained, the tax records should list the name of every person who has owned the land on which your house sits, along with the assessed value of the property from year to year. Do you spot a sudden jump in valuation? That suggests the construction of a new home on what had previously been an unimproved lot, or it might signify the completion of a substantial addition or renovation.

The office of your county clerk is another important place to stop as you wend the paper trail toward knowing more about the provenance of your home. You’re interested in three files: the Registrar of Deeds, the tract index, and the grantor-grantee index. These give you a comprehensive listing of all transactions that have involved your lot. Names and dates are included, and in addition, you’ll find the salient details of any lawsuits or liens filed over the years.

If you live in a city or town, seek out the local building inspector. Ask to see any permit applications associated with your street address. Because building permits are typically required for new construction and substantive remodeling projects, this line of inquiry may reward you with some interesting facts. Even if the date of your home’s construction is not given, you can at least learn about any major changes that have been made to the structure—additions and so on.

How Old Is My House? - Levittown

Photo: uic.edu

Fire insurance maps are yet another source of trustworthy particulars. These maps, which in many cases date back to the 1870s, can help you determine the materials used in the initial construction of your home.

Community Libraries
Many libraries devote sections to local history, their valuable archives containing such things as historical maps, original building plans, and even old photographs. Scour the real estate listings in decades-old newspapers and consult the census records for your area. Also, consider delving into wills and probate records, insurance ledgers, phone books, zoning maps, and municipal planning studies.

Architectural Investigation
If the case has gone cold despite all your efforts, turn your investigation toward the house itself: Its materials, method of construction, and architectural style all provide vital clues to its age.

For example, asphalt tile flooring exploded into popularity around 1920 but had been virtually forgotten by 1960. (Note that if at least one of your bathrooms still has the original fixtures, you can usually find a manufacturing date stamped on the underside of the toilet tank cover!) So long as your home has not been completely renovated, the builder’s choice of materials is likely to suggest a specific period of construction.

Related: 10 National Trust Properties to Visit

Another strong indicator of age is your house style. Like fashions in the clothing world, the popularity of different architectural styles waxes and wanes. Italianates were an 1850s favorite; Colonial Revival was all the rage in the 1890s; and by the 1900s, Craftsman-style houses had begun popping up everywhere.

Of course, you can always hire a professional architectural investigator to solve the mysteries surrounding the origin and history of your home. But why pay for someone else to have all the fun?


Create a Restful Refuge with a Traditional Sleeping Porch

Though popular in the Victorian age, the sleeping porch had been virtually forgotten by the postwar period. Today, homeowners are rediscovering this practical and utterly charming architectural tradition.

Sleeping Porch

Photo: Seth Benn

As a youngster, one of summer’s great thrills was “sleeping out,” usually on someone’s deck or porch, but sometimes even on the garage roof—any place where a gaggle of girls might giggle into the hours past their regular bedtimes. All these years later, adults across the country are rediscovering the simple joy of being lulled to sleep by cool night breezes and chirping crickets.

Sleeping porches were extremely popular at the turn of the 20th century, when health professionals advocated sleeping outdoors as a way to bolster the immune system. And prior to the advent of air conditioning, sleeping porches were especially popular in the South and the West; it was cooler to sleep outside at night.

Sleeping Porch - Kids

Photo: Lands End Development

Queen Anne Victorians and Arts & Crafts-style homes both typically featured sleeping porches (in effect, screened decks or balconies). You’d often find sleeping porches adjacent to second- or third-story bedrooms, located on a corner to receive breezes from all directions. But many rural farmhouses had sleeping porches on the ground floor, and even some city apartments contained such spaces.

Today, sleeping porches are making a comeback. According to a 2008 survey from the National Association of Home Builders, 63% of new home buyers consider a screened porch either desirable or essential. Whether they wish for it to be a nighttime escape or a daytime refuge, homeowners are indeed returning to the comfort afforded by the once-abandoned sleeping porch.

Transforming a deck, balcony, or porch into a sleeping porch is a fairly simple project. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

• The space should be covered against the elements and for safety, it should have at least a low railing around the perimeter.

• If you live in an area where bugs abound in summer, it probably goes without saying that screens are essential. Many choose also to integrate fabric shades or awnings, which can be lowered for privacy.

• Furnishings should be casual, comfortable, and resistant to the effects of water and sunlight.

• Since sleeping porches often serve as living areas during the day, fill these spaces with versatile pieces that perform more than one function. One idea: A suspended bed doubles as a porch swing.

• Since the key to a comfortable sleeping porch is air circulation, consider adding a ceiling fan. For indirect lighting, you may want to include some table lamps or flameless candles.

The most important thing to remember about sleeping porches is that they are for rest and relaxation. So grab a good book, a cup of tea, and a soft pillow, and curl up for a calm, peaceful, and soothing respite from the stresses of the day.


Earthbound: 5 “All Natural” House Styles

Around the world today, as in centuries past, homes are being built, not with traditional wood, stone, or brick, but with earthy materials like clay, sand, and straw.

This is nothing new: For thousands of years, people have been living in shelters made from earth-based building materials—that is, homes more or less made from dirt. As sustainable practices have surged into the mainstream, natural modes of construction have found (or returned to) popularity.

Related: 12 Hobbit Houses to Make You Consider Moving Underground

Featuring thick walls that absorb sunlight, earthen homes remain cool through summer and stay warm through winter. Since they are not built from wood, they are not as vulnerable to termites and fires, though in comparison to traditional stick-built structures, they are more prone to dampness.

Scroll down to read about five different earthy approaches to building eco-friendly homes for today.

 

1. COB HOMES

Earth Homes - Cob

Photo: thiscobhouse.com

In Britain, there are some cob homes that have remained standing for hundreds of years. In 1997, the region welcomed the first new cob home to have been built in over 75 years. Though cob homes of old often included dung as a key ingredient, today’s iteration is built from clay, sand, straw and water. (The straw performs the same role that re-bar does in concrete.) That mixture is molded to create solid and smooth structures, which often have rounded corners.

 

2. EARTH-BERMED SHELTERS

Earthen Homes - Bermed

Photo: mazas.ca

An earth-bermed shelter is built into or against—you guessed it!—the earth. In essence, the topography of a building site, whether naturally formed or shaped by men and machines, allows for habitable space to be carved out in the creation of a semi-subterranean dwelling. Champions of earth-bermed construction praise the quality of insulation that soil provides.

 

3. ADOBE ARCHITECTURE

Earthen Homes - Adobe

Photo: b-greendreamscape.com

If you’ve been to the Southwest, you’re familiar with the beauty of adobe architecture. Adobe, long used by indigenous groups like the Anasazi, is water, straw, sand, and clay, a mixture that is formed into bricks and then sun-dried. Adobe is particularly well suited to hot climates; the material absorbs heat from the sun, fostering a cool interior.

 

4. RAMMED EARTH

Earthen Homes - Rammed Earth

Photo: motherearthliving.com

The walls of rammed-earth homes are built from dirt that is packed (by hand or by tamper) into small blocks or bricks. It’s a “dirt cheap” material, provided that your building site makes available a sufficient amount of soil that is usable for the purpose.

 

5. EARTHBAG CONSTRUCTION

Earthen Homes - Earthbag

Photo: akdn.org

Here’s another type of building that lives up to its name: Earthbag construction, a relatively recent technology, depends on polypropylene bags (or tubes) filled with dirt that is sourced either from the site or imported from elsewhere. No special binding or molds are required; each row of bags is laid, then compacted from above and left to cure to a hard finish.


FDR’s “Real” Springwood on the Hudson

The fabled home of an unforgettable political family, stately Springwood endures with vitality to match the Roosevelts' legacy.

FDR's Springwood

FDR

With the release of Hyde Park On Hudson, a Focus Features film starring Bill Murray as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt—moviegoers are treated to a rare, albeit theatrical, glimpse of FDR’s life at Springwood, the Roosevelt family home in Duchess County, NY. While the movie was shot on location in England and not at the historic property, Springwood remains unique among presidential sites, as revealed in this excerpt from Houses of the Presidents (Little, Brown; November 2012) by author and historian Hugh Howard.

 

BY 1915, FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT’S PUBLIC CAREER followed the path of his idolized cousin, Theodore. Both Roosevelts had been elected to serve in the New York State Senate and received appointments to be assistant secretary of the navy. Franklin’s private life was proving productive, too. In 1905, against his mother’s wishes, he married Teddy’s niece, Anne Eleanor, and she birthed five children in ten years. Another was expected.

With his large ambitions and growing family, the need became obvious: The house known as Springwood, located at Hyde Park, New York, simply had to be expanded.

His father had died almost fifteen years earlier, but his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, remained in charge at Springwood. Over the years minor changes had been made to the house (a staircase was shifted in 1892 and electricity arrived in 1908), but a more radical rethinking was required. Together, mother and son commissioned a respected New York architectural firm, Hoppin and Koen, to prepare a plan. The revamped house that resulted mingled the architects’ beaux arts training and Franklin’s fondness for elements of the Dutch colonial design native to the Hudson Valley.

The raising of the existing roof allowed for the construction of a large playroom. At either end of the original structure new fieldstone wings were added. The north addition contained a common room for the servants and a schoolroom on the first floor, along with five servant bedrooms and a bath above. The south wing enclosed a spacious library down, three bedrooms up. The new plan retained the old configuration of the principal rooms, but the house was doubled in size.

Roosevelt Springwood Office Roger Straus Iii Housesofthe Presidents

Sara Delano Roosevelt paid the bills and managed the year-long renovation, which saw removal of the old clapboard cladding and the application of gray stucco for a look more compatible with the coursed rubblestone of the new wings. Other decorative touches added formality to what became a more imposing house, with a columned portico and a fanlight over the door. A vernacular Victorian dwelling reemerged as an orderly and symmetrical statement that spoke for the means and expectations of the man of the house.

In the years that followed, Roosevelt’s rise seemed likely to continue. In 1920 the Democrats named him their vice-presidential candidate, though he and his running mate, Ohio Governor James M. Cox, lost by an overwhelming margin to the Republican pairing of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Roosevelt returned to his law practice but, less than a year later, on vacation at his cottage on Campobello Island, off the coast of Maine, he took to his bed. The diagnosis was polio and, for much of the next seven years, Roosevelt worked at his rehabilitation. He would never regain full use of his legs and, wary that people would think him unfit for public office, he attempted to appear more mobile than he was, delivering speeches while standing (he wore iron leg braces) and taking pains to avoid being photographed in his wheelchair.

Roosevelt Springwood Bedroom Roger Straus Iii Homesofthe PresidentEventually, he reentered politics, and, in 1928, was elected governor of New York. After two terms in Albany, the fifty-year-old Roosevelt pledged at the Democratic convention in 1932 that, if elected president, he would deliver “a new deal for the American people.” That November he won a national mandate, carrying forty-two of the forty-eight states. He would win a total of four presidential elections as he sought to lead the nation out of the Great Depression and, eventually, to victory in war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which he described as “a date that will live in infamy.”

Historians and biographers have wrestled with the popularity of the politician and the complex personality of the man. Franklin Roosevelt was raised an eastern aristocrat but seemed genuinely to like everybody, regardless of class or region. When he addressed people as “my friends,” whether among a small group, in a public speech, or over the radio waves in one of his periodic “fireside chats” (many of which were broadcast from Springwood), all kinds of people were drawn to the man with the welcoming manner and a passion for conversation and company. The American people not only accepted his friendship, but they admired his implacability and the seemingly bottomless optimism that had been in evidence since childhood. Everyone felt they knew this man, and most people liked him.

Roosevelt Springwood Elevator Roger Straus Iii Housesofthe PresidentsAlthough Springwood offers a superb vantage from which to consider Roosevelt and his many facets, the home never actually belonged to its most famous occupant. At his death in 1900, Franklin’s father, James, left it not to his son (then newly enrolled at Harvard) but to his widow, Sara; prior to her death in 1941, Franklin had asked his mother to deed the estate to the federal government. Yet Springwood remains unique among presidential sites, as the property at Hyde Park was Roosevelt’s principal home throughout his life; even as president he traveled there often, making almost two hundred trips to Springwood in the course of his thirteen-year presidency.

President Roosevelt spent languid summer days in the house that overlooked the Hudson; he ritually returned home at Christmas for his hearthside reading of A Christmas Carol to the children and grandchildren; he planned war strategies with Churchill there. After his death on April 12, 1945, his remains made one last pilgrimage to Hyde Park, traveling through the night past thousands of Americans who gathered to watch and grieve as the funeral train passed. He was bound for the resting place he had chosen, his mother’s rose garden at Springwood.

Color photos courtesy of Roger Straus III; B&W image courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library


An 18th-Century Stone Farmhouse Reborn

Thanks to thoughtful material choices and a spacious contemporary design, a streamlined addition to an 18th-century farmhouse stylishly connects the old and new.

Farmhouse Reborn

Photo: Jeffrey Totaro

Over the past 20 years, Jeffery Wyant and Maria Keares Wyant of Wyant Architecture in Philadelphia have become known for their clean, uncomplicated solutions to tricky design dilemmas.

Not long ago, the enterprising team put their skills to the test, when new clients asked them to enlarge the footprint of their 18th-century farmhouse in Elverson, Pennsylvania. “The couple wanted an addition sympathetic to the original architecture, but they didn’t just want to replicate what they already had,” says Jeffrey.

Wyant Architecture Pa Farmhouse Addition Original HouseBuilt in the late 1700s, the two-story stone farmhouse had a cramped, compartmentalized layout with six-over-six double-hung windows that didn’t let in much light. While the architects tried to honor the provenance of the existing structure, they also wanted to create a new space for the family that was bright, spacious, and contemporary.

Slideshow: Tour the Farmhouse Addition

“We ultimately decided to make only minor modifications to the original living space and instead open it onto the new addition,” says Maria. Because the low ceilings of the existing house didn’t lend themselves to large, gracious spaces, the couple lowered the ground floor of the new addition to gain a more generous ceiling height on the first floor, and also opted for vaulted ceilings on the second level. The addition, which features a sleek master suite and a light-filled great room, expanded the family’s living space by roughly 2,000 square feet.

Besides creating more expansive common areas, one of the architects’ main goals was to redesign and re-orient the entryway. As it was, the front entrance faced out toward the road, but the driveway led straight to the back door, which, by default, had become the family’s primary entrance. To remedy this, Jeffrey and Maria sited the new addition at a perpendicular angle to the back of the farmhouse, thus creating a front entrance the family could access from the existing driveway.

Wyant Architecture Pa Farmhouse Entry 05

The reconfigured entrance serves to tie the old and new structures together. “When we drafted the plans for the new entryway,” Maria says, “we wanted the connection between the addition and the original structure to be very thin and glassy, with the glass itself becoming a design element that served as a separator.”

This transparency was achieved by flanking the door with fixed casement windows from Pella’s Architect Series. The aluminum-clad windows rise to the second floor, forming a clerestory beneath the roofline, then wrap around the side of the house to fill in the master bedroom gable. “When we first described our idea about the windows to the owners, we used the analogy of a baseball,” remembers Jeffrey, who likens the flow of the glass across the addition to how the leather of a baseball is bound together by one continuous stitch of thread. “All in all, Maria and I felt the windows made the whole composition feel lighter, like the roof was almost floating on top of the stone wall,” Jeffrey says.

In terms of materials, the husband-and-wife team united the exterior of the structures by sheathing the new addition with nearly identical stones purchased from a neighboring farm. Riffing off the house’s original copper downspouts, the Wyants chose a standing-seam copper roof, which they extended down to create the wall at the rear elevation of the addition. “The copper will age and patina,” says Jeffrey. “It was shiny and bright when we first installed it, but it oxidized right away to this warm, bronze color.”

Instead of wood, a Burlington Stone from Stone Source was used on the ground level and the terrace beyond the great room’s glass wall. “The terrace flows out of the family room and is protected on three sides—by the addition, a wing off the 18th-century structure, and the stone guest house—so it feels very intimate, which is nice, since the farmland beyond it is so open and vast,” notes Maria.

Wyant Architecture Pa Farmhouse Addition Master BathThe couple also installed a traditional Japanese-style rain chain on the terrace. “The chain hangs away from the building and becomes a water feature in stormy weather. The water’s both visible and audible, as it travels down the chain into the stone drainage bed below,” says Maria.

Besides the spacious master bedroom and its 400-square-foot deck, the second level of the addition includes a home office and a wide stair hall that connects the original and new portions of the house. Sustainable palm wood paves the floors. And the striking staircase features reclaimed lumber for the treads and a custom-designed railing made from plate steel.

Outfitted with a freestanding soaking tub, the open-design master bath pairs standard-issue white tiles with Erin Adams’ Zen Weave graphic tiles from Anne Sacks, not to mention 12-by-24-inch porcelain tiles with a copper patina, installed horizontally.

“We’re fortunate our clients were so open-minded. They gave us the freedom to design something modern and contemporary and in contrast to the historic structure,” says Jeffrey. “I think everyone was proud of the outcome.”

For a virtual house tour, click here. To learn more about the architects and other projects, visit Wyant Architecture.


Mobile Homes: Then and Now

From their travel trailer beginnings, mobile homes have evolved into finely tuned—and in some cases rather luxurious—permanent, full-time abodes.

Mobile Home Design

Photo: JDagmi

In Elkhart, IN, at the Recreational Vehicle/Manufactured Housing (RV/MH) Hall of Fame, resident historian Al Hesselbart has created a library dedicated to the evolution of the mobile home. Having begun the job with no prior knowledge of the subject, Hesselbart read all of the books before putting them on the shelves. Now the self-taught authority makes frequent public appearances, has been inducted into the Tin Can Tourists Hall of Fame, and will be giving a keynote speech at China’s first national RV conference in Beijing.

Hesselbart is good for a dynamic industry that still suffers from stigma (“trailer trash”), myth (“factory-built homes are not as strong as traditional homes”), and general confusion—is a manufactured home a vehicle or a house?

Though the metal trailers of yore bear little resemblance to the energy-efficient open-floor-plan manufactured homes of today, outdated attitudes and judgments remain. Hesselbart and industry executives, passionate architects and designers, the Manufactured Housing Industry (MHI) and state-level trade organizations are all on a collaborative mission to inform about the past, present, and future value of manufactured housing.

Mobile Home Design - Continental Trailer

Photo: Portable Levittown

SOME MOBILE HOME HISTORY
In the beginning, trailer travel was primarily recreational, as vacationers realized that it was a fun, budget-friendly way to tour the country. When the Depression hit, however, families who had lost jobs and homes packed their lives into these crowded campers. Though originally never intended as full-time dwellings, manufacturers identified this as a new trend.

The trailer home rose to the occasion during WWII as emergency housing on military bases and employee lodging near factories engaged in war production. With hundreds of manufacturers dispersed throughout the country, portable trailers were conveniently and quickly wheeled to locations, and over time, average square footage increased and livability improved.

Related: Manufactured Housing Through the Years

By the 50s and 60s, trailers were viable domiciles and mobile home ‘parks’ had sprouted up along the outskirts of thousands of towns. A typical park had a central shower and laundry facility with outhouses placed between every two units. The mobile home offered modest, affordable housing for young and old alike in all regions of the country.

In June 1976, the term “mobile” was officially set aside and replaced with “manufactured”, as The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) set national standards to improve the quality and safety of these homes. Bruce Savage, industry veteran and consultant to the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) explains, “The HUD code has evolved, and the guidelines are fairly strict, but how they are achieved is up to the manufacturer.” A certification tag attached to each transportable section verifies inspection to this standard. Since 1976, the HUD Code has been updated several times.

MANUFACTURED HOMES TODAY
Building homes in a factory makes sense. Joe Stegmayer, CEO of Cavco, says the factory construction process is “efficient and consistent.” At Cavco, it takes on average 7-10 days to complete a solid, system-tested home with a relatively high degree of finishing (painted dry wall, appliances installed, window treatments hung). In a controlled environment, homes are built by the same skilled workers every day, no matter the weather; materials are purchased in large quantities and delivered hassle-free; and precise measurements translate into reduced waste and a tight build.

Once delivered, a manufactured home can be hard to distinguish from a traditional site-built one. Savage says, “The enhanced aesthetics make these homes easy to place in traditional communities, both suburban and urban.”

Tony Lucas, Cavco senior architect/designer, works with developers around the country designing regionally styled elevations. He welcomes the challenges—designing profiles for challenging sites, for example, or utilizing materials that are attractive but also high-performing. One example of mobile home design ingenuity: Hinged roofs enable homes to be elevated at installation while still managing to meet transport requirements. Siding options, once aluminum and vinyl only, now include stucco, brick, and rock.

Inside of a manufactured home, architect Tony Lucas says the greatest stride has been the transition to sheetrock. Suzanne Felber, a.k.a. The Lifestylist, stages model homes and loves the mainstream fixtures, fittings, and decorative options now available. Concrete countertops, tiled backsplashes, and large kitchen islands are increasingly common. As Felber says, “The industry is incorporating trends that we see everywhere.”

Despite all the style changes, the tell-tale sign of a manufactured home is the permanent chassis. At Paradise Cove and Point Dume Club, two mobile home parks in Malibu, CA, David Carter sells million-dollar trailers. “Buyers strip the old mobile homes down to the metal chassis, build out to the maximum allowed, and then put a regular stick building on top,” Carter says. People own the homes and lease the land (for up to $3,000 per month, depending on the lot’s size and location).

Mobile Home Design - Briny Breezes

Photo: JDagmi

Across the country, in Palm Beach County, FL, Mayor Roger Bennet presides over the town of Briny Breezes, a 488-home mobile park community. Tin Can Tourists from the North started to stake out Briny in the 30s, back when it was little more than farmland. The community later thrived as a tropical paradise for snowbirds, or “Whiny Geezers” as Mayor Bennet’s daughter teasingly dubbed them.

Briny residents own their homes and have shares in the co-op that owns the land. In 2007, developers sought to buy out the Briny-ites. Mayor Bennet laughs, “We used to be a trailer park, and then all of a sudden we’re a quaint seaside village.” The deal fell through along with the economy.

While the desire to live beach-front has led some to places like Briny Breezes and Paradise Cove, the typical park dweller has other priorities. Kevin Flaherty, VP marketing at Champion says, “In the family communities, people are looking for an affordable home with security. In the adult community, they are often driven by a desire to minimize their housing investment so they can protect their savings.” Flaherty adds, “Buyers appreciate that they can purchase just the home and not have to liquidate as much money, since they are renting the lot.”

Mobile Home Design - Champion Homes

Photo: Champion Homes

While the construction of manufactured homes has gotten more solid, Toni Gump, former editor of Upwardly Mobile magazine, believes the future of mobile home communities is getting shaky. Speaking about the situation in California, Gump says, “Many of the oldies are disappearing, since the county or city doesn’t get enough tax money from them and doesn’t care about protecting our most vulnerable.” She has also witnessed bullying by management companies. On the flip side, Gump says, “The majority of today’s manufactured homes are ‘in set.’ When they’re placed on regular lots in cities and counties, they avoid a lot of bureaucracy, plus you get a nice home for less.”

For more on the evolution of factory-built homes, don’t miss our Mobile Homes Timeline

Photo credits: Photos credits: Vintage ad courtesy of Portable Levittown; Escape Series Log Cabin, bottom, Champion


Vacation in a National Park

Consider these seven National Parks every American should visit, plus recommendations on great places to stay once you decide to go.

National Park Vacations

Photo: National Park Guidebook

Nearly 140 years ago, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the act that made Yellowstone the first national park in America. Since then 58 of the country’s most spectacular natural spaces have been safeguarded for future generations to enjoy. Each year, tens of millions of Americans visit the parks, all of which are overseen by the National Park Service.

While the majority of the nation’s best-known national parks—Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Olympic Zion, Rocky Mountain—can be found in the western United States, the most popular park in terms of visitation is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles North Carolina and Tennessee and welcomes nine million guests each year.

The 58 National Parks in America range in size from the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska—which at 13.2 million acres is bigger than Switzerland!—to Hot Springs National Park, a bucolic 5,500-acre Arkansas park, whose thermal waters and wooded hiking trails attracted nearly 1.4 million visitors in 2011. To learn more about visiting America’s National Parks, visit the National Park Service website.

1.  YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK (Wyoming/Montana/Idaho)
Why go? Besides being one the most beautiful spots on the planet, its nearly 3,500 square miles of wilderness are home to grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of free-ranging bison and elk. And don’t miss seeing Old Faithful, a spectacular thermal geyser that erupts once every 45 to 90 minutes.

Where to stay? Overnight at Old Faithful Inn, a rustic log hotel with an 85-foot-high stone fireplace in the lobby (from $98 for room w/out bath to $217 for a 2-room suite with bath), or Lake Yellowstone Hotel, the oldest lodging in any national park (from $139). For more information on Yellowstone National Park, click here.

Yellowstone Old Faithful Inn

2.  YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK (California) 
Why go? It is 1,200 square miles of wilderness right in the middle of California! There’s Half Dome, a towering granite peak that sits 8,800 feet above sea level; the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias (the Grizzly Giant is 2,700 years old); and the stunning Yosemite Valley.

Where to stay? Overnight at the laid-back Wawona (rooms start at around $150), an old-fashioned family-style hotel nestled under the pines and aspens. For more information on Yosemite National Park, click here.

Grand Canyon National Park Bright Angel Cabin3.  GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK (Arizona)
Why go? It’s the only official “natural wonder” in the U.S. Best known for its painted desert and sandstone canyon—and the Colorado River, which surges through the valley.

Where to Stay?  Overnight at Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins, a popular South Rim hotel designed in 1935 by noted architect Mary E.J. Colter. The check-in point for the park’s famous mule rides, the lodge charges $94 for a standard room with bath and $183 for a cabin with fireplace. For more information on Grand Canyon National Park, click here.

4.  ACADIA NATIONAL PARK (Maine)
Why go? You can explore the rugged coast of Maine, climb Cadillac Mountain (the highest peak on the Atlantic Coast), and hike the park’s historic stone carriage roads.

Where to stay? Overnight at one of two campgrounds, including Seawall, rated one of the coolest spots to camp in America (from $14 to $20). For more information on Acadia National Park, click here.

5.  ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK (Colorado)
Why go? You can straddle the Continental Divide, hike more than 300 miles of trails, and see some of the most majestic mountain peaks in North America, including at least 60 peaks that reach an astounding 12,000 feet.

Where to stay? Overnight at one of five campgrounds in the park, including beautiful Moraine Park ($20 per night), or book a room at the 1909 Stanley Hotel, a Colorado landmark in nearby Estes Park and the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. For more information on Rocky Mountain National Park, click here.

6.  GREAT SMOKY NATIONAL PARK (North Carolina and Tennessee)
Why go? For the sunsets on Clingmans Dome Road, the wildflowers, the 19th-century Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill, and the chance to cruise along what some consider America’s most scenic byways. It’s also the nation’s most visited national park.

Where to stay? Overnight at LeConte Lodge. The only hotel in the park, it’s located at 6,360 feet near the summit of Mt. LeConte (depending on the trail, you may need to hike five to eight miles to get there!) A rustic, hand-hewn lodge room or cabin (plus dinner and breakfast) costs $121 per adult per night and $85 for kids. Two- and three-bedroom cabins that sleep eight to 13 are also available. For more information on Great Smoky National Park, click here.

Zion National Park Lodge

7.  ZION NATIONAL PARK (Utah)
Why go? Everyone should see the park’s magnificent 15-mile-long Zion Canyon and Checkerboard Mesas at least once.

Where to stay? Overnight at Zion Lodge (from $159) or Flanigan’s Inn (from $129), a great small hotel with standard rooms and efficiencies that is within walking distance of the visitors’ center. For more information on Zion National Park, click here.


Chicago’s First Prefab Modular House

This is the story of the C3—a trailblazing modern prefab home that ushers in a new approach to city dwellings.

Chicago's First Prefab Modular House

Photo: Square Root Architecture + Design

One unusually warm and sunny November day, a giant 225-ton crane deposited five prefab house modules onto a 25’ x 125’ plot of land in Chicago. Many people came to watch this unprecedented show, including Kathy and Michael Caisley, the couple who had bought the house. Also in attendance was Jeffrey Sommers, the architect who had designed it. This is the story of the C3—a trailblazing modern prefab modular home.

 

Jeffrey Sommers started thinking about prefab modular building roughly eight years ago. The C3 was four years in the making. C3 stands for Cube, Cut, Copy. The name—which has a math vibe consistent with Sommers’ Square Root Architecture + Design firm—describes the steps taken to conceive the original prototype. “It also has references to modular construction and the repetitive assembly line process,” Sommers says. Designed initially without a client, Sommers incorporated “all of the knowledge of previous clients’ requests for what they wanted in a dream home.” Words and phrases that kept coming up were “modern”, “energy efficient”, “sustainable”, and “affordable”.

The C3 is Sommers’ architectural translation of this conscientious vocabulary. Kathy and Michael Caisely knew the language well, yet it took four years for Chicago city officials to understand its meaning. “We were repeatedly told that no one would ever be able to build a prefab modular home in Chicago,” said Kathy Caisely, “and thus a challenge ensued.” John Gueguierre, senior VP of Hi-Tech Housing, the Indiana company that built the C3 modules, says, “The intense work on design and accommodating Chicago requirements stretched over 2009 and the first half of 2010.”

C3 Prefab Floor Plan

Once green-lighted, Sommers rallied the players. The project demanded energy and landscape consultants, a green rater, solar specialists, and other LEED-minded professionals. With project radar set on LEED Platinum certification, Hans Fedderke, Helios Design Build’s project manager, prepared the underground utility work and the foundation. Hi-Tech Housing gathered LEED-appropriate construction materials and built the C3 modules inside its warehouse. From the first nail to shipment of the modules was about 15 days.

C3 Prefab Containers

It was an industrious endeavor, which involved routing the 20,000-40,000 ton modules through urban streets. “The actual distance would only require about a four-hour drive,” Gueguierre notes, “but we needed to make sure we could work within the eight-hour time span of the street closure permit.” Naturally, prior to installation day, there was a dry run to verify overhead clearances. Caisley says, “If we just wanted a ‘house’, the C3 wouldn’t have made sense. This was a ‘project’ for us in partnership with Jeff—to build the first LEED Platinum prefab modular house in Chicago. It was bigger than us.”

The original prototype first had to be scaled down to fit the lot size. Then Sommers and the Caisleys tweaked the 2,039 square-foot interior. Whereas the original floor plan proposed 1.5 baths, Sommers maneuvered the plan and plumbing to reap 2.5 baths including one en suite bath in the master bedroom. They modified the original four-bedroom plan into a three, simply by ripping out a closet and turning that 4th bedroom into a den. The staircase was revisited too. Caisley says, “We wanted a floating staircase. Well, floating staircases are expensive. Jeff was able to provide a beautiful, very open staircase that fits our needs, and we don’t miss the alternative!”

C3 Prefab Kitchen

The C3 has a HERS rating of 46. While it still awaits LEED certification, here are some of the energy-saving features that contribute to its high rating and level of sustainability.
- solar thermal panels and on-demand water heating
- exterior siding that is both low maintenance (Galvalume corrugated and fiber cement boards) and reclaimed (barnwood).
- Mostly LED and compact fluorescent lighting
- Ductless heating and air conditioning system with zone controls
- Low VOC water-based sealants and finishes
- Water conserving plumbing fixtures and energy star appliances

The Caisleys have lived in the house for 15 months, and their utility bills are sizably lower than the 1,200 square foot, two-bed and two-bath condo from whence they came. The water bill maxes out at $20. Because of the great insulation and ample natural light, the Caisleys don’t often use heat or A/C. Beyond super low utility bills, the smart configuration includes a backyard, a second floor deck, and a one-car garage. To Caisley, the house, rich with amenities, looks much more expensive than it is.

C3 Prefab Outdoor

Jeffrey Sommers wants to see more prefab housing in his city, and after enlightening the Department of Buildings and working through the kinks with the Caisleys, his vision appears more do-able than ever. Through Living Room Realty in Chicago, a company that specializes in “mindful, urban living,” Sommers is now able to offer customizable green homes priced at $150 – $250 per square foot. To increase its marketability, C3 has taken on new meaning: Create, Customize, and Conserve—which any potential homeowner can certainly comprehend. Since the Caisleys kind of co-pioneered this prefab possibility, perhaps there should be an honorary “C” for Caisley.

Check out the time-lapse video below to see how the modular components were delivered and installed at the site:

 

Photos courtesy of Mike Schwartz Photography