From the archives – Grumpy architect time

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From the archives – Grumpy architect time:

1.If your house is adequately insulated there should be little temperature differential between the ceiling and the floor.
2. Adequately differs from code. Remember, a house built to code is the worst house you can legally build.
3. If you choose not to build an Energy Star certified home please give your poor starving architect the $2k that you obviously have to spare.
4. Does anybody with any real knowledge of building use fiberglass batts anymore? probably not anyone who reads this.
5. Air sealing folks! do it correctly!- not 6 mil poly vapor barrier – that was the 90’s We are SO over that. There are some great products and great information is available. Check out 475 supply and Green Building Advisor.
6. Why do people want to build a super-insulated house and then put a full on radiant floor heating system in? – see #3 above about where to send all that extra money.
7. Why do people want to build a new house that looks old? I think it’s just a phase this country is in. I see signs that the retro-anachronistic architecture phase is fading.
8. But I do it anyway – gotta feed the family + I enjoy it. Sometimes.
9. Bright side – the science of how to build correctly is settling out in favor of simplicity. That is what draws me to the Passive house approach.
10. Why do people have SO MUCH STUFF?
11. How did it happen that I’m going to my 20th year architecture school reunion tomorrow? – footnote: this was the summer before last and it was a blast!

Always know what and where your AIR BARRIER is.

By | affordable modern, education, links, mutterings, Passive House, projects, super insulated, traditional vs modern, Uncategorized, working with a builder, working with an architect | No Comments

I’m working on detailing out a smallish house in Greenfield, MA. We probably won’t go full Passive House on this but we will look at what additional costs and detailing it would take. And if we’re close…

We are doing some novel (to me) stuff for the shell of the house that, I suspect, will become more standard practice for me in years to come.
Here are some “progress print” detail drawings from the plan set. My drawings tend to look a bit different than most architect’s drawings due to two things: The time I spent wielding a hammer and trying to interpret my own drawings and the fact that I have worked as a sole practitioner for so long and have developed my own graphic style. I should add to that a third thing – my knowledge of building science informed best practices.

building section and details illustrating air barrier location and definition

The first thing you will notice about these drawings is actually the most important thing. The red and blue dotted lines represent the weather resistant barrier and the air barrier respectively. If your drawings don’t have at least the air barrier called out in the sections, (and continuous around the thermal envelope) The drawings are incomplete. I have been getting picky in my detailing about how to make the air barrier both easy to achieve and durable. In my opinion, relying on painted sheetrock to serve as an air barrier just doesn’t cut it – certainly not for the next 100 years.

Many builders and architects in the Northeast US are still building 2×6 walls with fiberglass batts and a poly vapor barrier. That’s how I learned to do it when I was just starting out in the 90’s. I also opened up a number of walls built that way that were full of mold.

    Good

builders don’t build this way anymore. Check the Building Science Corporation website for some pictures of what can go wrong.

One part of building science is probability and statistics. I often hear builders say “I’ve always built that way and I’ve never had any problems” – that you know about. But those builders are only looking at 50 or 100 projects. Luck plays a part here. What happens when you look at thousands or even tens of thousands? You start to see some patterns emerge and you start to see the luck factor drop out of the equation. You are able to formulate some best practice standards for a number of things including durability, air quality, energy use and even catastrophic failure. I prefer to work with builders who are informed about building science and involved in the discussion.

That’s easy here in the Southeastern Vermont area home of Building Green area, home of Building Green and SEON which sponsors a well-attended monthly building science discussion group and learning circle. – If anyone wants to get something like this started in their own community, send Guy an email at the address in their website.

I owe it to my clients to help them get the best constructed project possible. That, in addition to the most functional, aesthetically appropriate, finely crafted project possible.
– Oh and the budget thing too – Read More

A Smallish House in Massachusetts

By | affordable modern, Passive House, projects, Small house, super insulated, traditional vs modern, working with an architect | One Comment

I am working on a 1400 s.f house in Massachusetts. Given that the walls are over a foot thick, the actual square footage is quite a bit less (about 1200). The extra insulation (and cutting edge building science) allows us to forgo a heat system other than a relatively inexpensive minisplit – and monthly fuel bills. Here are a few images of what I’m up to. no fancy rendering for now, just the Sketchup model and some Vectorworks CAD drawings.

composite section showing stairs, construction details, interiors and exterior trim

Brattleboro architect Robert Swinburne

I spent a fair amount of time detailing the steel and wood stairs in Sketchup as I have found that is the only way for me to really figure out every nut and bolt and refine the design to the level that I am comfortable with before construction drawings. I like to approach the stair as sculpture with every piece exact and connections “just so”. Thus I am able to design something that is quick and easy to assemble with just the right amount of “fudge space” built in.
steel stairs

steel stair design

The floor plans have shrunk and simplified from the last version becoming more functional and comfortable.

Floor plans

Perry Road House photos

By | Living in Vermont, projects | No Comments

Some photos from the Perry Road project which is sitting empty and unfinished and for sale UPDATE: SOLD!– (It’s hard for people to earn a living around here so the owners made the decision to move to where they could work.. for money)

Perry Road House in Southern Vermont by Robert Swinburne, Vermont Architect.Perry Road House in Southern Vermont by Robert Swinburne, Vermont Architect.Perry Road House in Southern Vermont by Robert Swinburne, Vermont Architect.Perry Road House in Southern Vermont by Robert Swinburne, Vermont Architect.Perry Road House in Southern Vermont by Robert Swinburne, Vermont Architect.Perry Road House in Southern Vermont by Robert Swinburne, Vermont Architect.

This is a Structural Insulated Panel (SIP)house on and Insulated Concrete Form foundation (ICF) The windows are Marvin Integrity – there are a lot of them although they seem all very logical and needed. Too bad they are not triple glazed. The basement slab is piped for radiant heat, there is an air exchange system, two bathrooms, (plumbed for a third) up to 5 bedrooms, porch and sleeping porch. There is also a lot of land with a stream and waterfall.

Old Fashioned Stoves in New England

By | links, Living in Vermont, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

I grew up in Maine with a large wood cookstove similar to this one.
old fashioned wood cook stove
Cooking in it was sketchy and it was far from tight or efficient. The top surface and oven provided excellent places to keep pies and already cooked food warm on Thanksgiving. My own home has a small efficient and relatively airtight woodstove tucked into the stone fireplace. It has a knurled top surface which makes it hard to even heat water on but it does a good job of heating the house and the front is a large widow so we can watch the wood burn. (nice) We used to have an old fashioned parlor stove but it was too big and inefficient (and a bit scary when it ran hot) It now sits in the barn awaiting installation out there for use during barn parties. Here is what it looked like in place:
antique parlor stove in my fireplace
Please ignore the pink fuzzy slippers and yellow koosh ball. And the socks…
I would love to have a spot in my home for a modern wood cookstove such as this:
Ellis cookstove by Boru of Ireland

Here are some places in New England that restore and sell antique wood stoves.

Once Upon a Time Antique Stove Shop in Vermont. VPR recently did a story on them HERE

Good Time Stove Co. in Massachusetts
parlor stove at good time stove co. in Goshen MA

Bryant Stove and Music in Thorndike ME
wood cook stoves at Bryant Stove Works in Thorndike maine
I purchased my own parlor stove from this place and it is truly amazing. there are not only hundreds of stoves but an antiques museum and a huge room packed full of dolls and gizmos that, when you flip the switch upon entering all erupt into action including merry go rounds, dancing dolls, teddies on airplanes, circus bands….I can’t really describe it well. Here is a Boston.com article that does a better job and an image from their article
Bryant stove Works Doll Circus photo from Boston.com
did I mention Slinkys?

Education of an Architect(‘s wife)

By | mutterings, traditional vs modern, Uncategorized | One Comment

The Day I Became a Modernist—Guest Post by the Architect’s Wife

There was a time in my life when I would not have uttered the word “modernist” without an accompanying sneer. My aesthetic tastes then ran toward the…dilapidated. If it was old with a sagging roof, I liked it. Bonus points if it looked like it might fall over any minute. I loved dark little stone cottages that probably had little light and abundant mildew inside.

Abandoned house in Harrison Maine
No Bob – maybe more like this:
Stone cottage
but crappier – ed.

When I was a child visiting my grandparents in Chicago, I was bored to tears by the Frank Lloyd Wright tour.

Then I met Bob. Who will describe how he was moved to tears the first time he saw Falling Water.
Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright

Gradually, from listening to him talk I began to be more open-minded. I realized that much of what I had derided was not actually modernist, but rather the post-modern stucco’d bland that was the hallmark of the late ‘80s gentrification during my teenage years in Seattle. Under Bob’s tutelage, I developed an appreciation for the concept of modernism as something that embraced clean simplicity, elegance in minimalism, form in the service of function. But I still didn’t really like it.
Seatlle modern house

The other thing for which Bob helped me develop an appreciation was bicycling. I had not owned a bike since the one I had at age 8 that had pedal brakes and a coveted banana seat. But since he was an avid cyclist, I got a basic mountain bike and began learning some technical skills for riding the trails. I loved riding but rolled my eyes when he would wax eloquent about sleek steel or clean joints or carbon fiber. To Bob, a well-made bicycle is a work of art.

Firefly titantium cycles Boston Massachusetts
added by Bob – ed.

About a year and a half into our dating, Bob and I took a trip out West to Seattle (my childhood home), Portland and Northern California. Since one of Bob’s favorite pastimes was (is) visiting bike shops to ogle the merchandise, we stopped at a large shop in Portland. After forty minutes or so I was feeling glazed and wandered to a different part of the shop.

And there, at the end of an aisle, I saw it. It was titanium. It was sleek. It was retro. For the first time, I could understand the urge to hang a bicycle above the mantle. The angels were still singing when Bob found me staring slack-jawed at the Merlin Newsboy. If I recall, he nodded patiently with a knowing smile as I sputtered about how beautiful and perfect it was. That Christmas, he got me a Merlin decal as a joke (the actual bicycle was a limited edition with a price tag something on the order of $3500, and didn’t come in my size frame anyway).

Merlin titanium newsboy mountain bike

By the following Christmas after that, we had gotten married and bought our home together. Browsing through the tool department at Sears, the angels sang for me a second time. Bright red, ball-bearing Craftsman cabinets. Those drawers feel downright sexy, how smoothly they open and close. Open-close, open-close I went as Bob looked at table saws or something. And all I could think was : kitchen utensils!!

Sears Craftsman red tool chest with ball bearing drawers

So I guess that sort of clinched me as a modernist. And I even like the buildings now, too (I challenge anyone to not love weathered core-ten steel cladding).

core-ten siding

SIPs house Portland siding

I suppose fifteen years of living with Bob has rubbed off on me. But I still love dilapidated, too.

Progress on Mod ski home in Vermont

By | projects, Uncategorized, working with an architect | 3 Comments

One of the projects I’m working on is an addition to and renovations of a ski home in Vermont. The main house is well built and and other than a maroon and pink bathroom and rather 80’s finishes, we are not doing anything too major to it.

We are locating a family room addition between the existing house and garage which will provide a much nicer kitchen and living area plus additional bunkrooms and a multi-user bath on the basement level. I’m sticking with the dark clapboard and red standing seam roof of the existing as I think it provides a nice base for some fun things to happen with color at the doors and windows.





I am using big windows, wood, steel etc to create a warm, modern and relaxed space for lots of people to be in.


Here is the current plan:

and I put together a few videos of the sketchup model

Thermal bridging and Air sealing – simplified

By | bad ideas, education, good ideas, Passive House, working with a builder | One Comment

Just a quickie about thermal bridging and air sealing. I can explain it in way fewer words and terms and scientific-ness than what you find when you go looking for information on the web. Thermal bridging is when there is too much stuff that is not insulation in a section of exterior wall. This includes most traditionally framed houses. Especially near outside corners and around windows. In the cold of winter, the inside room surface of these areas stay much cooler than the surrounding room temperature and condensation occurs, then mold.

Improper air sealing is when your builder tells you your house needs to breathe and he’s not talking about an air exchange system. Improper air sealing allows air to enter your house through tiny pathways through and near these moldy areas. The mold spores are then breathed in by your children.

Get it?

Our vacation and train ride across the country – travel log

By | cool stuff, touristy, travels, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Every few years we we take a vacation!

This time around it was to visit Seattle to say goodbye to my wife’s family home which will be razed to make way for a bunch of poorly designed condos. The house is on a double wide lot in the Madison Valley neighborhood. The house itself is a nice little craftsman that would otherwise need a lot of work. The yard is full of plums, figs, apples, kiwi vines, blackberries and assorted other plants so the big sad thing for all of us is losing all that.

The neighborhood is being “gentrified” with new, maxed out square footage modern buildings with, for the most part, only a few token shrubberies.

The last straw causing my wife’s folks to sell was when the neighbor’s house came down and three new condo units went up, towering over their house. I toured the middle one at an open house and took pictures from the roof deck of the in-law’s house. They developer built a retaining wall right up against the foundation of the in-law’s house which was, apparently, illegal in this case but happens commonly because the hassle of litigation prevents most people from bothering and the fines for being found “at fault” are less than the profits from doing it in the first place. Apparently this was a utility easement not to be covered.

Seattle has most excellent playgrounds with much “vestibular stimulation” of which I availed myself on a few occasions, resulting in severe queasyness.

Vestibular play from Robert Swinburne on Vimeo.

The neighborhood had much interesting and new modern architecture to look at although Much of it involved gratuitous use of materials and forms (overdone) so I’m currently on modernist overload. Most of what I saw had little relationship to the site other than topography on sloped sites (long stairs outside of buildings) This is mostly because the new buildings were built for maximum square footage on a given lot. There was very little room for green space left over although there was much median strip gardening going on. There is still some pockets of eccentricity and a few green-space holdouts in the neighborhood but I fear that in 20 years, these too will disappear.

Seattle is nice and all. Charlotte poisoned pigeons in the Park
(click link for original video of Poisoning Pigeons by Tom Lehrer)

But the funnest part of our trip for me was the Amtrak train ride out there. We Left Albany on an overnight Amtrak train to Chicago to visit Grampa Allen there. Our train was delayed for several hours near Gary Indiana and I shot this video with my I-phone:

IMG 1331 from Robert Swinburne on Vimeo.

I think these are mostly steel mills (?) There were miles and miles of colossal and fantastic architecture right along the train tracks. It was stunning.

There was a very cool thunderstorm in Chicago one night.

Chicago Derecho Storm Video and Time-lapse Highlights – June 30, 2014 from Craig Shimala on Vimeo.

In Chicago we went to the Museum of Science and Industry where Charlotte fell in love with model boats which fit in well with her long standing aspiration to become a pirate.

Here is a view of the back of the museum which is more interesting than the front – Other architects will know what I mean, we are always ducking around back of buildings for a look.

This area of Chicago fascinates me because of the 1893 Chicago World’s fair with all the fascinating stories surrounding it (Read Devil in the white city) and all the amazing but temporary architecture.

We then continued on for two days to Chicago along Amtrak’s northern route. This led through North Dakota and Montana before reaching Spokane and Western Washington. Our country is very flat in places.

I found it interesting nonetheless and was interested to see the “placemaking” efforts of small homes in the middle of nowhere. The usual tack was to plant trees and in some places you could see a grove of mature trees signifying that a house once stood in amongst them. Some folks planted in a regular and geometric fashion and others much more randomly but in many cases there was nothing at all save a few shells of abandoned buildings.

LOTS of room for wind and solar power.

Things got hilly once we hit the Cascades.

We flew back to the East Coast at the end of our vacation but that was just a plain old boring plane ride. Although there was a full moon at sunset over Baltimore.

Now I’m back at work and the world didn’t end without me.

Video Post

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Be My Guest

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Marlboro, VT: High Performance House with Vapor-Open Walls and Roof

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Kent and I have worked together a bunch in the past and we are working on a project currently. This is a lovely little project that illustrates how using a few very high performance products can allow us to reconsider how we use materials elsewhere, often going back to more traditional materials. Note: I had nothing to do with this one.
I promise to get some more recent photos soon and there is a link below to the full article on foursevenfive.com

http://foursevenfive.com/marlboro-vt-high-performance-house-with-vapor-open-walls-and-roof/

A House for Slow Living

By | affordable modern, good ideas, Living in Vermont, Passive House, super insulated, traditional vs modern, Uncategorized, working with an architect | 12 Comments

A House for Slow Living
The original concept came to me in a dream (yes – I dream architecturally) I think the dream may have been generated by this image which has been on my bulletin board fora few years:

The original sketch was called “a house for food”

The core concept was centered around the growing, preparation and consumption of food which lends itself to the idea of gatherings of family and friends and leads to the notion of how to live in a close relationship to the local environment. From my own experience I drew upon the old fashioned ideas of hunkering down by the fire on a cold winter evening, opening the house up to the sounds, smells and breezes of a summer day, “putting food by” and making routine preparations for winter in the Autumn, starting seedlings on a windowsill in the spring, caring for children or elders. Also, how can we appreciate the beauty of the winter landscape and light without feeling overcome by it. This is a common issue in the Northeast. Where do you sit to watch a thunderstorm rolling in or to watch the snow fall? Music! – not just acoustics but around here, everybody is also a musician. How does that fit into our daily lives?
Much inspiration is to be found in images and stories depicting rural life from previous times in Europe and America. I am drawn to the imagery of hard working English country houses where the real life of the house centers between the kitchen and the door stoop leading directly to the working yard and gardens. Think: Peter Rabbit in Mr. McGregor’s Garden by Beatrix Potter with a potting shed, cold frames and lots of cabbages.
I am fascinated by early New England farms and town dwellings and how lives were played out in them. Not the big events but the little, day to day, season to season routines. Light and fresh air are celebrated and sought after and even, perhaps, taken for granted in an age before television and telephones. Materials are worn but durable, practical and show their age and history and that is where their beauty lies.

The Building Science aspect of design and detailing that we are all so immersed in lately addresses the idea of being able to lock the door and walk away for a month in the winter and not worry about much of anything. The neighbor has the key and will water the plants. Building Science addresses being what we are calling “net zero” so you are not storing and burning fossil fuel on site and paying for it as well. Building Science addresses the notion of simplicity – who needs a heating system that could go on the fritz and bust your pipes and freeze all your house plants so when your neighbor comes over to water the house plants, he finds an awful mess and has to call you in some recently devastated country where you are doing relief work. Building Science allows you to return in March to a house filled with fresh air and no mildew. (building science can’t help with what you left in the fridge) Building Science can free you from many previously taken for granted maintenance issues and expenses such as painting and periodic repair, maintenance and replacement of the mechanical parts of the house because now you have fewer and simpler systems.

How then, to marry my heady and romantic thoughts with the physics of modern building science? How do I pack all of this sensuality and feeling into a house that celebrates the process of living this chosen life rather than reminding one of the potentially inherent drudgery?
Since these ideas are very personal to me, it isn’t very difficult to make a series of design moves and decisions that bring me pretty close. I have been moving in this direction for much of my life. I am often “pretty close” but getting to that higher level is tricky and elusive. I’m not there yet with this design but it’s still early….

In this design, I’m trying to balance small and simple with a richness of space that goes far beyond light and shadow, a good floor plan and simplicity of form and add my own interpretation of what it can mean to live in Vermont and lead a life integrated with the climate and culture of the place. I’m drawing heavily on history and my own sense of aesthetics as well as all my cumulative observations and experience.

Dang! Maybe I should tear down my own house and build something like this!

For those interested in the Slow Living Movement, Brattleboro has a Slow Living Summit coming up in June associated with the Strolling of the Heiffers parade and festival.

Nulla Magna

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Finding space without adding space

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I did something for myself! Soon, we will be faced with fitting two kids in one small bedroom in our small house and I had some ideas spinning around in my head about how to make our limited space work much better. Size isn’t everything – it’s how you use it. These two images are packed with lots of little moves that add a ton of space especially storage and closet space. I put some Ikea bureaus in there from the Sketchup warehouse after removing the closets. Sometimes closets take up too much space for how much storage you gain from them and this is a perfect example. The kids each will get clearly defined space within one bedroom to minimize the inherent fratricide potential.

bob’s bedrooms from robertswinburne on Sketchfab.

And here is the original – current layout

Steel Stair retrofit

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Here is a lovely little project I’m working on. The existing steel spiral stair shown here is tight and impractical as well as in a poor location for the floor plan of the house.

I designed a fairly minimalistic steel stair which will be installed in a different location and will be much easier to negotiate. The design process included trying every solution possible in rapid fire succession to make sure I wasn’t overlooking anything better. Then developing this with a sketchup model just enough to see how it could look in the space.

Then back to the site for more careful measuring and consideration. Then These detailed drawings. The design and detailing allow for a fair amount of “fudging it” and flexibility in adjustment as an inherent part of the design. – I expect to get some good feedback from the steel fabricator as well.

Passive House Training – One year later.

By | business, education, mutterings, Passive House, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Note: this blog entry was published on Green Building Advisor on March 31, 2014

I have been asked about my Passive House consultant training by other architects enough times that I though I’d write up a quick synopsis, one year later.

For me, the Passive House training was very useful for several reasons, not the least of which was the networking aspect. It is a small community with some really great conversation happening and it is fun to be a part of that. There is a lot of controversy as well, especially on GreenBuildingAdvisor.com Such as where does the law of diminishing returns kick in when it comes to insulating and how to handle latent loads (excess moisture). Plus there’s the whole U.S. vs the rest of the world thing which I won’t go into as I find it rather annoying, or at least boring. Secondly, It represents state of the art science on how to build good buildings with an overriding emphasis on simplicity and quality. Passive House is really all about quality and even, as I’m finding out, represents a necessary re-thinking of how to get something built. A much more collaborative approach is necessary than often happens when building even high-end projects. The process gets much less linear. I also like the idea that the Passive House approach is a valid part of the conversation, not just achieving certification and getting the plaque to hang beside the front door. I see projects being showcased that utilized the approach in a value engineering manner to get the most bang for the buck that simply don’t have the budget to go all the way and attain certification and I like the general consensus that that is okay.
Much of my own work had been trending in the PH direction anyway so it was good to undergo the intensive training so that I could make decisions with much more confidence and authority that comes with PH credentials. As an architect who was never very (ahem) enthusiastic about the numbers and physics of things and more into the airy-fairy poetic nature and scholarly aspect of architecture it was also helpful in terms of training my weaknesses. I call myself a Passive House designer rather than a consultant in part because If I were to attempt a full-on certified Passive House, I would want to hire someone more experienced who does this on a daily basis to do the actual numbers part and look over their shoulder through the process – at least for the first few times.
There is also the notion, similar to my approach to structural engineering where I try not to design anything too complicated to engineer myself – I prefer not to design anything that would require a complicated heating/ventilating system. It does get more complicated in renovation/addition work though for sure. My approach to structural engineering has always been very intuitive and very related to my own building experience and knowledge of materials, assemblies and connections My structural engineering professor once told me that the intuition part is vital and more than half the battle. First you intuit the solution then you apply numbers and formulas to check yourself. The Passive House training augmented my intuition and gave me more confidence to apply the numbers as well as a perspective on when, where and why.

Plus it was really good for marketing.

Houzz- Eric Reinholdt’s ideabooks

By | cool stuff, good web sites, Uncategorized | One Comment

I’m becoming a fan of Eric Reinholdt’s Houzz ideabooks. His writing and editing is a cut above plus he has very similar tastes to my own so I look forward to each new ideabook. He also worked for one of my favorite firms in Maine – Elliot and Elliot Architecture.
His Houzz page is HERE

And here area few of his ideabooks:

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Browse top designers interior portfolios, from high-quality pots and pans and a decorative dinnerware set to ideas for remodeling bath and kitchen.

Observations from Rachelle (my co-#1 fan)

By | bad ideas, ego, mutterings, working with a builder, working with an architect | No Comments

Bob has been asking me for some time to write a guest blog entry and since he has happily been to busy of late to write much himself, I thought this was a good time to finally make good on my promise to do so.

Last year, I had a visit with an old friend who had recently moved back to the area. I hadn’t seen her for a while, and it was the first time I’d seen her new house since it was just a partially-erected timber frame. It was lovely to see my friend after such a long gap, and also fodder for pondering and a blog entry.

The house was nice—open, tasteful, bright and spacious (huge by our standards) and it fulfilled their goal of functioning as somewhat of a community gathering place as well as a home. For example, they were holding a weekly meditation group in a specially designed meditation/yoga area. But I couldn’t help thinking that if Bob had designed it, it could have met their needs so much more simply, elegantly and with much less square footage.

Of course I said nothing (how can you say something like that and what would be the point?) as I had said nothing during their design process. It seems rather self-serving to say to a friend who’s designing their own dream house, “you know, you should really consider hiring my husband.”

But what I learned next makes me question whether that was really the best approach. When somebody builds a house, you expect them to be excited, even jubilant with the result. Instead, my friend told me that she felt like she had PTSD. There wasn’t a single corner of the house she could look at without dredging up the stressful arguments with contractors over that bit of construction. She wished she could be rid of the house, but they were sunk in it for so much more than market value, that wasn’t an option.

The biggest mistake they had made was to get sweet-talked by the GC into inadequate planning and problem-solving. One thing Bob stresses to all his clients is how much easier it is and how much cheaper it is to work out problems on paper. My friend believed her charismatic contractor that they could figure it all out as they went. What she figured out is that it’s very expensive to pay for an entire crew to stand around and wait while hasty compromises are made.

I could go on, but you get the point. My friend’s unfortunate house-building experience is a classic example of why it pays to pay for someone good to be on your side. Of course, that’s no guarantee of satisfaction either, I suppose. I’m thinking of some clients who fired Bob a few years back after he showed them a rendering of what the addition floor plan they loved would look like in elevation. Not at all what they’d expected. You’d think they might have been appreciative to discover that after a few hours of design time rather than mid-construction. No accounting for people. It’s now once again been a while since I caught up with that friend. I hope she’s come to peace with her process by now, and that she’s enjoying her home. And if another friend embarks on the process of building a home? I wonder if I’ll serve them by being self-serving. I’ll probably just give them some generic advice about working all the kinks out that they can on paper, and leave it at that. After all, my friends all know I’m married to an architect.

Thinking ahead

By | good ideas, projects, traditional vs modern, working with a builder, working with an architect | One Comment

HA! This happens a lot. I just got a call from a contractor who wanted to modify roof trim on an addition to make it both easier and he thought it would look better. Which it would except that a future phase of the project involves adding a porch in such a way that the frieze on the addition becomes the casing for the porch beam. The continuity was important to the client to calm that side of the building. In the image, the red over the window is where the contractor wanted to case the window with 1 x 4 thus creating a narrower frieze board. When that line got over to the porch on the left it would have to drop down to case in the porch beam. Not smooth. On the windows above, the casing for the windows is independent and below the frieze which is preferable, however, I was setting the three lower windows as high and large as I could over a countertop to maximize light into a deep room. We were squished also in terms of the roof in order to get it well under the upstairs windows. Especially over the porch area. The contractor’s solution would be fine and what I would have designed were it not for the open porch to the right.

I found, during the years I worked as a carpenter, that it was easy to concentrate on the task at hand and lose sight of the overall picture. As a designer, sometimes I’ll make a foundation more complicated in order to make framing or trim more simple. Or sometimes I’ll do things in a more complicated fashion due to an aesthetic historical precedent. (Isn’t much of traditional design like that?) Sometimes I will complicate things to make the end result look simple. Sometimes I complicated things just because I can be really really picky.

Recent Design Work

By | projects, Uncategorized, working with an architect | 2 Comments

Then I looked at a larger barn with more “clipped” New England eaves. Need to work on the front windows. Traditional barns often utilized some asymmetry here but more modern barn builders seem to stick rigidly to symmetry. The side windows are not good however. -see last picture. Perhaps two large windows

Further work:

Photos! Stratton Modern is nearly complete

By | projects, super insulated, traditional vs modern, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

I visited a recent ski home project near Stratton mountain ski area to get some photos. The house is nearly complete. As usual there are things I would do differently next time and things that didn’t quite follow the drawings but that’s for me to know and no one else to notice. I really like the “presence” of this house. The coloring and materials are first rate. It is very “touchy feely” and very responsive to the changing light as the clouds raced across the sky. I can’t wait to do the local, green hemlock over Solitex Mento again. and better. Click on the photos for big screen enjoyment.


Robert Swinburne in Brattleoboro, VT on Houzz
Robert Swinburne in Brattleoboro, VT on Houzz

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Robert Swinburne Architect, LLC AIA, NCARB, CPHD, DAD bob@swinburnearchitect.com 802.451.9764
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