Conquest in Normandie

Normandie – the region begs to be travelled to and yet it took me this long to finally make it over there. When said and done, I admit I was thoroughly conquered by this lovely region complete with its happy cows (yes, I believe its cows are even happier than California cows), apple orchards and half timbered houses.

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I felt that it was only appropriate that the first major sight we went to was Bayeux. We arrived late in the day to see the Tapestry with its great exhibit and thus was given our very first glimpse of the glorious history of Normandie. The nine centuries old Bayeux Tapestry in real life was more magnificent than any photo or history textbook could describe. One had to see in person the intricacy of the embroidery stitches, realize the length of the piece, appreciate the beautifully preserved linen, and revel at the animated faces of the characters and the almost comic like quality that exuded honesty and straightforwardness in the retelling of an epic story. The audio aide that was part of the exhibit gave a very thorough description of the scenes. Afterwards, we enjoyed a great dinner at L’Asssiette Normande and went to see an interesting light show at the side of the Cathedral.

Bayeux itself is a very quaint town. The Cathedral, rebuilt in the 12th century in Gothic style, was quite regal and majestic. One could spend an entire day at the town.

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Our next stop was Colleville sur Mer to visit the Normandie American Cemetery and Memorial and Omaha Beach. The exhibit at the Memorial Pavillion was very well designed and informative. The most moving experience for me was the first time I saw the white crosses and stars of David laying across the lawn in an unending vista. I had approached them by the side and didn’t yet have the view of semi circular the colonnade nor of the reflecting pool nor of the mall. Just a view of sky, trees and white crosses. My mind quickly replayed images of young men on the beaches , on the sand, on the landing grounds without fanfare, without glorification. That was when the meaning of “so much owed by so many to so few” hit me. The definition of courage and valor had a new setting for me- that of a small stretch of beach facing a tall cliff between the sea raging behind and artillery shelling in front.

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I was grateful to see the grounds so well taken care of. I was moved to learn about Les Fleurs de la Memoire Foundation which had enlisted French families to adopt the US graves and promise to visit the graves once a year to lay flowers on the graves.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant named La Maree by the boardwalk at Grand Camp Maisy, a nearby town and enjoyed a spectacular sunset. All throughout the trip, we sampled a lot of local delicacies and didn’t have a meal we didn’t like. There was always an apple tart ordered and well finished. We took a tour at a Calvados distillery. We had confiture de lait for breakfast on crepes, on bread and french toasts. We nibbled on caramels d’Issigny and thought the apple flavor caramel was a good combination. We had oysters and seafood platters and gorged on mussels and french fries. We encountered Camembert, Livarot and Pont l’ Eveque cheese done in a dozen ways – on croque monsieur, as desert cheese, in omelettes, au gratin… I came across a creamy cheese with truffles and had it for breakfast everyday until it was gone. I had a perfect Souffle au Calvados at Le Dauphin in Breuil en Auge. With regret, we missed out on lamb from salted marshes at Mont St. Michel. We were one day behind a tour of 300 people who ordered the entire restaurant’s larder.

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Honfleur was our next destination. The old town was quite charming. The marche’ near the harbor was full of life. The wooden church Ste Catherine, built like an upside down ship’s hull, was simply beautiful in its structure and details.

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On the way back  from Honfleur, we stopped by Deauville and Trouville. I imagined jersey dressed ladies walking out of Coco Chanel’s boutique and bathing houses…

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There were many towns that were delightful and were perfect for overnight stays. We thought Pont L’ Eveque was such a town with the right amount of shops, restaurants and interest. We loved Beuvron en Auge and spent almost an entire day at Pont Audemer.

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One couldn’t go to Normandie and not see Rouen. The Rouen Cathedral was such a monument that inspired many paintings by Monet and Pissaro. This building survived fire, lightnings, and was the tallest building in the world from 1876 to 1880. Richard the Lionheart’ heart was entombed there. This was a church with impressive credentials!

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The well reviewed shops at Rue du Gros Horloge didn’t disappoint. We had macarons at Grand Mere Auzou and I discovered an ingenious savory combination for macarons: foie gras macarons.

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D Day for our Normandie trip was Mont St Michel. We made a point to arrive there before 10 to avoid the crowd and good thing we did.  From the top perches, we could see the salt marshes extending uninterrupted to the horizon. I was overwhelmed by a sense of humility being surrounded by the calm vastness blurring the line where the sky met the salted water. Through the winding walks and steps, we toured the abbey among the simplicity of the abbey’s hall, the bareness of the courtyards and stone walls contrasting nicely with intricate quoin vaulted ceilings and ornate column capitals.

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Other notable towns we visited were as memorable. The houses were the typical half timbered houses. Some had bricks, some had plaster between the timbers. My eyes never got tired of the textures, the colors and the shapes.

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We left Normandie with a greater appreciation of the glorious history that people have managed to record and preserve, a deeper gratefulness for the young men whose lives were struck short for the humane continuation of that history and an unrelenting reluctance to go back to our everyday routines.  If only time stopped when I caught this image…

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Grounds for Coffee Tables

Against competing features such as  the fireplace, the large heirloom painting, and a view beyond, the coffee table serves to refocus our attention to the center of the living room. By size, it’s also among the more diminutive must have items in the room. It is also surrounded by taller furniture such as the sofa and the armchairs or even the side tables and yet, such a piece occupies the center of the seating group, the center of conversations and could very well display the center floral arrangement or the conversation piece coffee table books.   It’s ironic that such a tremendous position is given to a “lowly” object.

The term “coffee table” might have made its first debut around 1868 in “Victorian Furniture” by R. W. Symonds and B. B. Whineray and in “The Country Life Book of English Furniture” by Edward T. Joy.  These forefathers of the modern day coffee table were probably taller to really serve tea and coffee at a height more suitable for straight back, prim and proper ladies.  Lower coffee tables probably came forth with the influence of Japanese low tables.

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Most famous architects had at one time in their career designed coffee tables to adorn their projects.

The 50’s gave us quite an array of classic coffee tables.

Noguchi table

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Modern day designers and architects came up with their fair share of coffee tables.

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A cursory browse at popular web sites and magazines gave me clues of today’s trends in coffee tables.  The rage is all on the raw wood look championed by Restoration Hardware.

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Then there is the live edge slab tables.  Nothing like letting nature do all the talking.  I myself would breathe out various sighing curse words in various forms of inappropriateness every time I see one of these tables.

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There is nothing wrong with wanting a wood table.  Wood coffee tables can be quite sculptural and beautiful.

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The glass coffee tables never went away.  There is the seamless modern glass table that is so versatile and there are others that takes on the  more classic motifs and shapes.

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One doesn’t mention glass coffee tables without mentioning their distant cousins, the lucite tables. They can be quite attractive, definitely higher than the rank of a poor relation.

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Glass and lucite… What come next are mirrored tables. I prefer the antiqued silver finish for mirrored tables.

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Lacquer finishes on coffee table often exude elegance. Let’s hope the finish is durable enough to avoid scratches.

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Stone tops are sturdy and add a cool touch to the room.  Most of the stones used behave well as neutral colors such as White Carrera, Calacata Oro or Asher Grey  with the occasional greyish lines.  Greige is so in right now. For warmer climes, travertine and Crema Marfil are the thing to go to.

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For a more casual look, rattan or woven natural materials are used.

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The industrial look is not far behind among the hotties. The coffee tables come with greige woods, metal legs, casters and mechanical fasteners.  I love this look especially when the tables are equipped with wheels. I get under the illusion that I can move them somewhere else when I decide to clear the living room for such things as dancing…

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Chinoiserie is quite timeless when used sparingly.

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One should also list the proverbial tray table. How appropriate it is to serve tea or coffee on a tray table! These tray tables come in all the styles and types mentioned in this post.

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The ottoman coffee table. What a concept. The ottoman gives us the option of putting our feet up and getting even more comfortable. If coffee or tea is served, we just have to add a tray on top of it.

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Coffee tables double serving as storage are great for the efficient minds. This is where trunk coffee tables work best.  We see wood chests, storage trunks, and travelling trunks. The travelling trunks fuel our imagination with exotic souvenirs being kept inside the trunks.

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I see the coffee table as a calm island amidst a sea of tumultuous beauties – a couch begging us to lounge and stretch our legs, the side tables with the pretty lamps, the rug that spreads warmth throughout the room and the armchair that offers cozying up.  The coffee table is where I would anchor the room.  For that reason, I like it to be of a simple – no fuss swooping gesture.  I like my coffee tables bold, to the point and unique in its statement.  Below are some of my favorites.

The half logs.

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Oval coffee tables are the epitome of grace.

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A modern metal tray table.

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A marble top table with walnut base.

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The most beautiful are usually the purest in form.50a0b781cde1e4997e4d2a4e6c6146aa

The lacquer table in the simplest form.

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Last but not least.  Splurge and don’t feel guilty: pure silver on reclaimed timber.  Have some tea on this piece de resistance and wonder about the dichotomy between luxury and recycling…

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Click on photos for sources.

Name that Greige

Greige and grey and their derivative taupe are so fashionable these days.  I had posted “Greige is the New Beige” post some time ago and thought to complement it with a look at the application of colors for the effect of Greige rooms.  We can browse the paint fan decks and can see quite a few options from which to choose our paint colors.  The new questions seem to be which greige?  Is there an answer to that simple question?  How does one go to choose a greige to answer all greige questions?

As the color specifier to all my projects, I do have a few favorites.  Do I start naming them and be done with? Or do I attempt an entire post dedicated to the selection process?

To be careful, I should also have a disclaimer: the beauty of colors is in the eye of the occupants and in the light of the room it graces.

I sometimes wish I have outfits of the same color I love for a room. It is a rare occurrence since fashion moves with seasons and I, for one, cannot keep up with fashion’s capricious muse. I looked up Design Options, an LA based color forecasting company, and found that the company packages color palette cheat sheets and sells them.  Wow.  I wonder who buys these.  How effective are the cards made for home design trends? I must admit I like some of the color cards that they put together.

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I found a site that explains the mix of colors that can be found in greige colors.  I must say my ideas of greige might not meet the correct mix of colors but then some eyes see more colors than others’…

greige mix

I went to Benjamin Moore’s color trends. They seem more relevant as a more precise color guide.  They also give us the actual names of the paint colors which takes all the guesses away from our constant search for the perfect color.  For 2013 color trends, I especially like the “Urbanite” trend’s “Sparrow” color and from the most searched Benjamin Moore colors, I am drawn to “Ranchwood”.

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I found these Benjamin Moore greys as the more popular greys from their best sellers colors:

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Since Benjamin Moore came out with Color Stories, I have never chosen colors without first consulting that CSP fan deck.

My favorite greige colors are Cathedral Gray, Gothic Arch and Urban Sophisticate.

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Gothic Arch  CSP 80

Urban Sophisticate CSP 160

Let’s not forget the most ingeniously named paint color: Farrow and Ball’s Elephant’s Breath!

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The Color Association gave us “Urban Grit” for 2011-2012 interior color trend. I particularly like this group of colors as it pertains to our search for Greige albeit the colors are on the cooler side of greys.

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The Color Marketing Group names ReBlue as the It color for 2014. So  much for greige…

Of course, one must not forget Pantone which announced Emerald as the color for 2013. I went back to the years before and couldn’t find any greige as color of the year according to the world of Pantone.

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My search continues… and finally, Sherwin Williams pinpoints “gray as the new black” for 2014 color trend. It is a relief to see confirmation that gray is not yet a thing of past seasons.

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So much for greige color search among the paint companies. Their color trends involve many colors such as paint companies should promote. I went back to an outfit that can’t afford change their look every year: Restoration Hardware.  It is a comfort to find their Spring 2013 inspiration looks still filled with grey and greyer images.

c3fa3a305a55c0b05214b286a7443223I decided to double check with Crate and Barrel and was happy to report the same coloring graced their inspiration section.

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Then there are those must go to interior designers.  Candace Olson has her pick in Gray Mirage. Darryl Carter likes Asford Grey.

Asford Grey. Benjamin Moore DC 20

Mary McDonald’s favorite is Benjamin Moore HC166 Kendall Charcoal when dramatic effects are called for.

Kendall Charcoal

Barbara Barry loves BM 976 Coastal Fog.

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Several blogs and websites have their take on favorite greiges.

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Will we ever be tired of Greige? Global Color Research has predicted a way to wean out of Greige:  Dusky Berries for 2015… It seems that we might be leaning toward a greige berry trend.  I will have to revisit this romantic color trend in 2 years…

Dusky Berries

Click on photos for source

Story Book and Tiny Cottages

My very first experience with fantastical architecture had to be from fairy tales.  I used to get lost in the illustrations rather than the stories themselves.  Fairy tales illustrations must have played such an influential role in furthering kids’ imagination and fueling their dream state.  Never underestimate the power of fairy tales in an architect’s earliest education- at least, for me, they meant a whole new world of possibilities in a realm of magical environments.

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Fairy tales have their shares of distinct buildings and building types.  The grandest that comes to mind is Sleeping Beauty’s castle and thanks to Disneyland, Neuschwanstein Castle became the prototype where Prince Charming awoke his slumbering intended.

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The tallest would be Rapunzel’s tower accented by a cascade of golden hair.  We found the most eccentric building in the Shoe House and the cutest in the Hobbit’s house.  Then there were vague descriptions of  houses of witches, dwarves, and such delightful characters as the Red Riding Hood’s Grandma and a Mad Hatter.  The most edible prize went to the ginger bread house in Hansel and Gretel.  The most described interior fell onto the three Bears home in Goldilocks.

Real houses that were inspired by fairy tales could take from a most literal adaptation to a conceptual embrace of everything cute and whimsical.  Small cottages sometimes fell into the category of story book houses just by being too adorable that they could only have come from a fairy tale.

I found the least successful of fairy tale houses in the small castle. One just couldn’t resolve the dichotomy of a castle look being imposed on small diminutive and humble abodes.  To take on a castle look, one must start with a sizable mansion to pull it off.  The common language for this type sports the obligatory tower, the undulating crennelation and the constant stone facing.

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The ginger bread house could be seen in Victorian houses where lots of fretworks and fancy trims were used.  On the other hand gingerbread houses as in Hansel and Gretel’s were quite different than their Victorian offsprings.

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The Shoe House had to be the most whimsical with the shoe shape being quite literal.

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The Hobbit house made popular by the Lord of the Rings films were delineated quite well in the movies. The common features were round doors under a bermed roof.

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Other less described fairy tales houses were put into the category of tiny whimsical story book houses.  This was where we could apply all kinds of design exercise and juggling of architectural elements to create the cutest story book houses.

Roof design was the most critical element for a story book house since from there, the shapes were determined and cuteness ensued.

The steep roofs, reminiscent of a witch’s hat, required no effort as they in themselves were quite spectacular.

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Thatched roofs with curling and hugging eaves evoked the old cottage feel.  It was too bad they were not your Class A fire resistant kind of roof but they certainly exuded comfort and coziness.

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Curving shingled or shake roofs were excellent substitution for the fire prevention conscious dwellers. Dreamy after all didn’t have to be impractical!

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Then there were roofs that were comical and unique.  In the world of fairy tales, all shapes were allowed!

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Next to roof shapes were the half timbered details.  They took on from the simplest shapes to the most undulating curves.

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Doors were important as they hinted of  a world of witchcraft, dwarf living or that of a lost princess playing homemaker beyond their threshold.

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It would be remiss if stonework of the most uneven kind were absent.  One found them on low wall, chimney or entire walls.

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The turret – A remnant from castle architecture but also a result of romantic occurrences made that much more dramatic when happening in a remote tower or highly perched turret.

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Dormer galore. No story book house was complete without the obligatory dormer.  It went with the low plate height and attic rooms more suitable for step daughters and poor relations.

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The success in a convincing story book house came from morphing and melding so many shapes into a lump of a house.  From the look of the exterior, one pondered what small creature lived in those cramped rooms and low ceiling spaces.

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Then there were those small ordinary cottages.  Their small sizes just screamed story book because who else but dainty maidens and sweet old grandmas could live there happily – even if they eventually moved to castles to settle happily ever after?

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And now that story book houses are quite a thing of the past, and that no homeowner would want to build a new story book house because it wouldn’t do to have low ceilings and tight spaces when mcmansions are de rigueur, one can always go back to those books and dream away…

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The tower with the golden “rope”.

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89ae40f6711cfa9d2284ce9f5a7bcf49And the castle where happily ever after is always within grasp…

Pooling for a Swim

Pools make the best statement for a property.  Pools command views and set the mood for one’s backyard.  Does one go simple in the traditional rectangular shape for pools? Does one take on the natural shapes of ponds? So many options- to make the strong statement or to let nature take over and blend the pool in its garden surround.

For such an important decision, designing pools is a serious business. First and foremost, the shape of the pool has to be decided. Rectangular Pools – My favorite shape because of its simplicity. The promising freshness of the pool water is best contained in the simplest shape.

Organic shaped pools – When the edge of the pool is not well defined, the pool lends itself well to an organic shape. These shapes, sometimes quite random in its configuration, blends into the natural forms of their surrounding borders.

Curved edge pools.  They add interests but are not great for swimming laps…

A pool with a view – a fail safe solution. It enhances the view and it bridges the house with the view beyond by bringing the view closer in the pool’s reflection.

Pool within walls –  When a little privacy is needed or when the view beyond is not that worthwhile, walls with texture would define the pool enclosure and create its own world.

Lap pools – In their elegant elongated forms, they speak of leisurely pace and lazy languor. They stretch…

Edges of Pools – Some pools benefit from a well defined, thick slab edge.  Some want to mimic a beach approach or a rocky pebbly shore.

Some pools like to be surrounded by ruins. Mystery pools can be quite enchanting.

Glass pool edges can be quite scary.

Waterfalls feeding water into a pool.  Combining ponds and pools – Great when higher grounds abut the pool.

Geometric walkways and edges.

Ponds – When we just want an excuse to have a water feature in our yard and swimming is not necessary.

When to have an infinity edge? when there is a view and a drop.

Pool styling per house style- Traditional homes are best served with rectangular pools.

Pools in Greek towns can be just about any shape. We don’t care, just get us there.

Pools for modern homes. As long as the edges are sharp…

And one shall always endeavor to make one’s pool as dreamy as possible…

The moor’s last “sight”…

The borderless pool…

Too cool a pool…

Camping is not quite that rough when you have this:

Halloween Eye Candies

Hallloween treats for those who have to curb their sugar intake like me tend to be feasts for the eyes only.  I scoured the internet for the most creative plays on the theme.  We, the “grown ups”,  have our own delights in the fun of coming up with ghoulish, freakish, devilish but goodish edibles.

Here are my kind of treats.

Speaking of eye candies…

These ones give me the frights.

Finger food…

Mummies from Mommies…

Unwrap me…

Dappling in apples….

Bite me…

Itching for witchings…

Hats off!

Mulling over skulls…

Webbing from Charlotte…

A host of ghosts or is it the ghost of the host?

Smashing ghosts.

Don’ t forget to invite a few of our favorite characters…

Can a grin be any wider?

Jack!

Frankie!

When in doubt, resort to packaging…

Go for pumkins with characters or are they cataracts?

Containers and cutouts.

Blackened food.

Rustic in black.

Candles go a long way.

Eeries in blues.

Basic Jack.

Sometimes, the thing to do is to invite yourself to a tete a tete with Miss Havisham…

Happy Halloween!  Cook up a hoot of a time!

Photo sources: click on images.

The Gable End of All

Gable ends are one of the strongest tools used to make an architectural statement in residential architecture.  The iconic symbol of a house is in the shape of the gable end side of a house.  The connotation stems from a house providing a roof over our head.  Graphically, the angled roof resulting in a triangle front makes it a very distinct geometric shape.  Historically, it’s a breakthrough in structural design, away from the simple post and lintel construction, allowing for larger spans between walls.  On a comfort level, it sheds water better than a flat roof and therefore gives us better protection against the inclements of weather.

For this post, I will skip the usual suspects in gable end designs and will direct my focus on the clever, the ingenuous and the romantic treatments of our beloved gable ends.

The “soft story” look.  A gable end over large openings to give it a featherweight look.  It floats and looks effortless.

The gable end is the only facade showing in each of these row houses.  Let’s only show the side that matters!

Let nature enhance this gable end by molding it to its shape.

Combining the triangular shape with a strong horizontal entity.  Make it seem anti-gravitational by facing it with rocks supported by a white ephemeral arm.

Modern inserts against the traditional hay used non traditionally on the gable end instead of on the roof.

The strong symmetry with bisecting chimney line serves to accentuate the clean outlines of the mass.

The truncated gable end.  It’s best when the slope is steep.

Sometimes, it’s simple enough to keep the traditional form and play with the material. In this case, making it translucent is anything but traditional.

Another “soft story” gable end.  This time, it leaves room for a nice cozy porch.

Texture it with slats.  The pattern it makes at night gives off a quite splendid effect.

An outdoor room overlooking a river. Such a romantic gesture with vertical siding without a bottom trim to add a modern take to a rural scene.

The glass gable end. Light, textured and effortlessly supported. 

The gable end window allows you to enjoy the gable geometry from inside as well.

Purely graphic exercise to juxtapose the traditional against the cubist approach to a house form.  Can this be any more poetic?

 The truncated gable end next to the long shed form. Simply magic. The grey wood siding against a stark landscape evokes the quietness of just being.  One senses the sharpness of the roof peak as equal in roughness with the bare cliff beyond. If there is a place to escape to, this surely is.

Click of images for photo sources.