Thursday, February 28, 2013

VillaWitte #4--Entertaining

Next are the main entertainment rooms. The Dining Room can be accessed down the stairs in either direction, but it's through the glass double doors directly across the Atrium when you enter the front door.

First sight of what you see when you go through those doors I hope will take visitors' breath away. The room itself, beyond that the back deck with its brass railing, and then...the sun setting over the Hudson River beyond that and off to the right. The house should be oriented so that the Dining Room faces due south.

Here's a view from the deck. The whole south wall is entirely glazed. 
In a nod to one of my favorite architects, John Lautner, those are sliding doors. So the glass wall can disappear almost completely, opening up the whole room to the outside. The ceiling curves upward to amplify that openness and is painted sky blue. The walls are bookmatched black marble.

Across the deck is a built-in grill with a water basin for outdoor dining. I'll return to this later from the roof. The Kitchen is reached through a hidden door. The slabs of marble on the wall are cut and arranged based on the location of this door to keep it perfectly invisible. All the slabs will have a small incised piece cut out to correspond to the location of the handle on the slab hiding the door. The hidden door into the Office on the opposite side is treated the same way. As I'll point out when I discuss the Kitchen, there is a way to also cut an opening into the Dining Room directly from the kitchen counter which would make serving food even easier.

It becomes fairly obvious here that I included no light fixtures or furniture. Likely most of it would be store-bought anyway, but it also would have been terribly time consuming to create that many light fixtures from scratch.

The Powder Room is a black marble cylinder in between the Dining Room and Living Room. Although it can also be easily accessed from the Atrium, I saw no reason why there shouldn't be access to it directly from the room where you're consuming the food in the first place. Probably a small measure of soundproofing would be prudent, but if we're talking about the sonic privacy of guests, presumably there would be music playing and plenty of other background noise if there were a dinner party in progress.

Since, after dinner, guests will "retire" to it, the Living Room is at a lower level than the Dining Room. Instead of stairs, the floor slopes down to it. This was one case where Sketch-Up's awkward handling of curvaceous shapes worked to my advantage. In order to accommodate this slope in the white marble, I want to find a section of old marble that has cracked into pieces naturally due to old age (but isn't from a site with historical importance, of course). Then, these naturally cracked pieces will be fit back into place like a mosaic and installed like the rest of the flooring. It might be interesting to find the shattered marble first and then match the rest of it in the house by acquiring new marble from the same quarry, if possible. While the rendering isn't random like cracked marble, it doesn't look too far off from what I'd envisioned. The marble on the slope might be left slightly less polished to counteract slippage.

The water from the pool in the center of the Atrium falls down through channels in the floor and continues through the Powder Room--since this is a "wet" room. Some sections of the channels might need to be covered with glass, but I'm not convinced it would be necessary.

From there it pours from a brass spout into another pool in the Living Room.

It continues along an irregular channel where the cracked marble pieces are split apart, which should make the flowing water more dynamic and might also produce a lovely sound. It spills into a third pool at the glass wall, where the water feeds plantings through perspiring pipes again. Other than the ivy in the Atrium, I'd love all the plants in the house to be "functional." That is to say, that every single species would be flowering, fragrant, edible, repellent to insects, carniverous, or a combination of the above. It'd be especially cool to get a pitcher plant in there, but who knows how difficult they are to keep alive in this climate. Half of this pool is indoors, the other half outside. Probably this will require a valve between the two and/ or a method to heat it slightly when it freezes.

The water from here is pumped back up to the Atrium ceiling or continues out to the edge of the deck and spills over on its way to the Hudson. It would be nice to connect this to existing rain water runoff paths. I see no problem with creating a few new ones, as long as they're not very large, to watch how the house sculpts the land in a natural sort of way using flowing water. I predict family pets will love having fresh cool rainwater to drink whenever they like. I'll address sanitary concerns in a later post.

Another thing that can't be seen here deserves some explanation. I love fireplaces. I always thought the fireplace in Charles Foster Kane's mansion was awesome. It was so huge that it was practically the size of a small room that you could walk into. This led me to question why, if handled properly, an indoor fire would necessarily need to be enclosed at all. Certainly primitive humans didn't enclose their fires, although they were mostly likely constantly burning their homes down to the ground. I've also always loved the idea of an open fire in the center of the room (better for exploiting the heat it produces anyway), with a canopy suspended from the ceiling to deal with the smoke, which for some reason I associate with panthers and ski lodges. It means the central fire can be enjoyed from both adjacent rooms simultaneously.

Newer technology has made the hearth obsolete along with a lot of other things, unless you consider the symbolism of it. I suspect all but the most corny of traditionalist families actually do sit around a roaring fireplace singing songs, telling stories, and roasting marshmallows on frosty winter nights anymore. The technology I'm talking about was pioneered by EcoSmart Fire. The fuel their products burn is renewable bioethanol, which produces practically no pollutants or fumes whatsoever. In fact, they say that if the room is relatively large, it doesn't even require any special measures for ventilation.

Surrounding the irregular channel of water, where small pieces of cracked marble are left missing, there will be clusters of these burners creating a sort of invisible fireplace. At the press of a button, that whole section of floor at the center of the room will just sort of be, well...burning. The larger slabs of marble surrounding the burners will be touch sensitive so that whenever someone approaches, it will automatically shut down the fire. Some solution will need to be found to prevent the floor surface from becoming dangerously hot, perhaps by having the burners rise up out of it, but interestingly, the flowing water might be useful for this, also.

The television is mounted into the wall with a marble slab that will pop out and slide out of the way when it's turned on. Special prize for anyone who knows who that is and in what movie (there isn't really a prize). The full width of this wall and the black marble wall of the Dining Room will be backed with the invisible speakers I discussed a while back. The walls themselves will be the speakers, immersing the whole space in a complete sound environment. I'd love for the Dining Room wall to be the left channel and the Living Room the right, but this would need to be switched around for viewing movies. Surround sound would be spectacular.

The Living Room is the one place where I specifically intend to design custom furniture, because it's part of the concept of the room and the house in general. The seating will be deeply cushioned chairs with backs. They'll support well but be soft enough that you just sink down into them. One arm will swivel around to the back, the other will swivel up and over to the back. All of them will be on heavy, smooth, industrial hospital gurney wheels with brakes. Any configuration of couches, loveseats, or individual armchairs could be created just by rolling them around and sticking them together with magnets in their bases. They could also be very easily rolled out onto the back deck.

The tables will be on wheels, as well, with scissored legs allowing them to change height. There will be a few smaller tables strewn around which could be attached to one another to form larger surfaces. It's the coffee table, however, which will truly be the heart of this room. It will also be on wheels with scissored legs and will appear to be a plain, glossy black table, about six feet long by three feet deep, and somewhat thick like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. As I sort of hinted earlier, when activated, the top surface becomes a touch-screen computer interface that controls everything that goes on in the room and some other parts of the house. All sound and video, lighting, climate, water, fires, everything can be controlled on this table. It will also bring up the image of the turntables and mixer that disappeared from the study. By sliding your fingers across its surface, you can flip through digitally-stored music files, slide them over to put them on the virtual turntables, and mix them as if they were vinyl records. If I wanted to get really fancy, I could say that at the end of the night, you touch a "recharge" button, and it will automatically roll itself back over to its charging station against the wall.

The overhang of the second story above here is calculated for this latitude so that sunlight at noon will only shine inside the house during the colder winter months. During the summer it will stop just short of the glass doors. On winter evenings, this room should be completely saturated in golden sunlight. The overhang should also mean that the sliding glass doors should be able to be left at least halfway open even during a rainstorm, arguably the best time to have free ventilation on a hot summer day. A stair from the back deck takes you southwest down to the riverbank and maybe a dock? Maybe I should design a matching houseboat next.

©2013, Ryan Witte

Monday, February 11, 2013

GET LOST: A New York Tour Guide's Guide to New York #12g


There are plenty of places to rent bicycles, especially near Central Park. I was shocked to learn how cheap they can be. You might need to leave a credit card or identification behind for collateral, but it shouldn't be much more than about ten dollars an hour. I don't recommend this as solely a means of transportation, unless you're very used to riding a bike in a large city. Even if you are, it can be extremely dangerous. We have gotten many miles of new bike lanes recently, but we're not yet at a point where motor vehicles and self-propelled ones can move together in complete harmony. For seeing the park, however, this is a fantastic idea.

A couple of times I spotted people rolling around on a conference bike. Either they were unpopular, deadly, illegal, or all of the above. I have no idea, but I really hope they retired them because they're absolutely idiotic on the streets of Manhattan.

Another self-propelled mode of transportation worth mentioning is rowboats. Getting a rowboat in Central Park with two or three friends is very inexpensive and a boatload of fun. [Ugh, that was so awful, sorry.] You can keep them out on the water as long as you want (for a fee), but this means that sometimes there can be a queue of people waiting for boats. Before you enter the park, stock up on wine and cheese or beer and sandwiches, just not so much that you fall out of the boat. Surrounding the park are some of the most exquisitely beautiful (and expensive), turn-of-the-century high-rise apartment buildings in the world, and from the lake is one of the best places to see them.

Although it's very much off the beaten path compared to most of what I'm discussing in these posts, I wanted to mention the kayaks because I just think it's so cool. The Long Island City Boathouse gives out free kayaks in the summer months at high-tide that you can paddle out into the East River. For visitors who may be more active and adventurous but are on a tight budget, I think it's fantastic that they're doing it. I haven't taken advantage of it, myself. I prefer canoes to something that can flip over so easily. I may very well talk myself into doing it one of these summers.

©2013, Ryan Witte

13. Tipping

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

VillaWitte #3--Office

The first room to discuss is down a couple of stairs, the first door on your right coming in through the main entrance. For lack of a better term, I'll call it the Office, but this room has evolved so far from what it once was that I find it difficult to find a single word that describes it properly.

As I originally conceived this space, it was to be a Front Parlor and Study on the ground floor. Towards the center of it, a DJ Booth with turntables and mixer could be opened with shutters onto the Living Room to entertain parties, along with a doorway. At the far end of the room, a second, more private staircase would take you up through two-story library stacks for records, CDs, DVDs, and books to a proper Home Office on the second floor, which could be accessed directly from the Master Bedroom. At various times, an automated DVD storage and playback system, data and information processing, and a mainframe for the smart home software were added to the study, also.

Well, as technology has progressed, most of what I've just described has become entirely obsolete. Practically everything has become wireless and so requires no "station." Hardcopy media is obviously on its way out as everything possible becomes digitized (although I still love the sound of vinyl). And if the latest technologies are exploited, a glass kitchen table could almost as easily be a touch-screen monitor and workstation as a desktop computer. This room has shrunk considerably over time, as its different functions have become impossibly tiny or unmoored from any permanent physical location.

So as I conceive it now, it's first of all a place to meet and greet guests who are visiting more for business-related reasons than personal ones. Traditional shelves for hardcopy media may never go completely out of style (as with the appeal of rare first-edition books, etc.), and we still have perhaps several decades before the entirety of human knowledge is available as digital information. There's also no reason there can't be a nice space dedicated to finding, acquiring, downloading, and processing all that information, with perhaps a stronger, faster, hardwired internet connection. If and when desktop manufacturing becomes more prevalent, that's something that might necessitate having a physical location with specific characteristics--room for storage of raw material, adequate ventilation, control of vibration, perhaps even sterility. But since that technology is in its infancy, it's difficult to say if that would be here, the garage, the kitchen, or some other place. The shelves could obviously be used for the display of art objects and treasured belongings, as well.
There's still a hidden doorway from here into the Living Room, since that's where the digitally-stored movies and music will be enjoyed. It also has its own separate entrance from the outside so that it can be used for a professional practice and accommodate clients, patients, or whoever, without bringing strangers with muddy shoes through the main entrance of the house.

©2013, Ryan Witte