Home & Design

The first thing I asked my husband Charlie to build after we bought our teeny-tiny house seventeen years ago, was a picnic table.  Our little cottage was 700 square feet.  An efficient two bedroom one bath that we got for a steal , it had no real place to sit and eat dinner.  We dined at our coffee table.

So, as soon as the weather improved he set about building a big social picnic table so that we could have friends for dinner.  During the winter, we did have friends for dinner from time to time but two people would have to sit on the floor and two on the couch to use our coffee/dining table.  We only invited our closest friends to sit on our hardwood floor and eat.

True to his nature, Charlie designed and built a beautiful oversized picnic table with perfectly comfortable proportions for getting in and out without banging knees, with plenty of width to hold bowls and platters of food in the middle without crowding the diners and the most comfortable distance for conversation.  The top of the table was just a couple of inches shy of 4’ x 8’.  The structure was simple and clean.  We applied a translucent stain to give it a pickled look and protect the wood a bit.

That picnic table sat out in our yard for 15 years and played host to countless meals with friends and family.  The wood aged to a comfortable silver grey.

When we designed our new home, the center point/nucleus/origination point for the entire design was a large table that could host a new generation of meals with friends and family.  It took us two years to build our home and during that time the economy collapsed and along with that were any immediate plans to spend additional money furnishing the house….or finding  that perfect table.

Since it was November, we decided to bring our beloved picnic table indoors.  The top was pretty beat up from spending so many years outside in Seattle weather.  So Charlie fastened a new top to the table.  A 4×8 sheet of maple veneer plywood.  He put a nice edge trim on the top and finished it with the leftover polyurethane finish we used for our bamboo floors.

The result was a new favorite!  Smooth, glossy mod top with silvered, weathered soft bench seats….and you can even find a little moss underneath leftover from its previous  life in the outdoors of the Great Northwest.  It seats  8 comfortably and 12 is cozy…adding chairs to the ends.

It doubles as a ping pong table after dinner.  And an art project table.

So, we’ve decided we no longer need to search for that perfect dining table.  Now, what we really need is a new outside picnic table!


As I mentioned in one of my earliest blog posts, when we designed our home, I included space in the bathroom and the kitchen for growing plants indoors.  I wanted to design this in for so many reasons including improving indoor air quality, the ability to have fresh herbs during the winter and …the smell of Jasmine makes me happy! 

 While I do love gardening, I do not have a green thumb.  I have killed all of my indoor plants by neglect.  But by designing these indoor planting areas next to a water source and next to south and west facing windows…and in places where I am looking directly at them SEVERAL times each day…I am hoping to improve their odds of survival and my odds of success. I have been looking for months for a planter to start my indoor plant experiment in the kitchen. I found a planter online a few weeks ago and after several shipping snafus, have planted my first indoor box.

Now, for the Jasmine.  I started with Arabian Jasmine because it is my favorite.  While it does really well in warm and tropical climates, this “true” jasmine has to be a houseplant in the Pacific Northwest.  This is the kind of  jasmine that is used in tea.   The smell is amazing…soothing, lovely.  I put three small Jasmine plants into the planter and within two weeks it bloomed.  The scent in the kitchen is SO wonderful.  It makes me take a deep breath every time I walk up to the sink…another benefit. 

 There is almost nine feet of windowsill in the bathroom.  That’s going to be the next target.  Nine feet of Jasmine!  Yum.  I wish this blog had “smell-o-vision”. 

The next experiments will be with herbs in the kitchen.  I may have to find larger planters.

So, I highly recommend this to anyone that has a windowsill!  Enjoy!

Glass window sill planter

wonderful scent, small white flowers turn purple.

The style of the house is what I would call “modern cottage” .  Here are a few detail photos to give you a sense of why…

Corner sink with windows so we can keep an eye on the kids

Exterior Corner Detail - Cedar rain screen system at same window

Transition from mudroom marmoleum to bamboo through pocket door

Half round galvanized gutters and downspouts

Stainless steel cable guardrail

I have come to call the type of home design process we went through, “intentional design“. I could call it “family functional” but it is absolutely applicable if there is only one person that will be living in the space. The idea behind intentional design is that life has been considered…ALL aspects of life…today and in the future. How we live now, how we long to live and how life will change into the future. These ideas are supported functionally by the space, first. The home is really designed “from the inside out”, on many levels.
Here is an example:
On the top of my list of things I would rather not spend time doing, as a mom, is cleaning. Everything I can do to minimize the time spent cleaning or picking up, doing laundry, etc. is incorporated into the house design. I don’t want to spend time cleaning or spend any energy thinking about cleaning. It takes away from everything else I would much rather do… fun times with the family, friend time, exercise time, work time for me.   I don’t want to be stressed when friends drop in if my house is a huge mess. I want the design of the house to make it easy to maintain some semblance of cleanliness and organization with little effort on my part….and easy for the rest of the family to have rituals that keep the house clean. 
In addition, being able to maintain a “shoe free” living space should cut down on unhealthy stuff being tracked into the home, improving air quality.  Intentionally incorporating this into the design can make it much easier to achieve a shoe free home.

Here is one of the ways I am trying to achieve this (hopefully not impossible) dream!

There is a dirty zone and a clean zone. The dirty zone, our mud room, has everything a dirty adult or child would need to access. The mud room is rather large as mud rooms go. It is separated from the “clean zone” ie. the rest of the house, by a door. Ah, the door. That wonderful visual reminder that says, “NO, you may not come in here looking like that.”

There are two other doors in the mud room that lead to the outside…two different sides of the house. Why two? Because we humans can be pretty lazy and tend to go in the door closest to us. Even if it is not the mud room door…AND we have muddy feet. So to accommodate laziness, there are two doors.

The mud room is equipped with a small bathroom. No need to come in the main house when you gotta go so badly you can’t stop to take your shoes off, or your dripping wet from a hose fight, or plastered with grass clippings from use of the weed whacker.

The mud room also has a utility sink and countertop for all those messy projects…cleaning paintbrushes, potting plants, washing muddy hands or caked baseball cleats, or even wonderful art projects.

There are cabinets galore to hold all the sports and beach equipment that tends to be full of hidden sand or dirt, cleaning supplies, shoes, winter gear, biking gear and tools. No need to keep those things in your room or the attic. There is a long bench for sitting to take off shoes and boots and is long enough to accommodate several kids after a few hours of sledding in the park.

The mud room is also home to the dog and all of his necessities. This is where he gets fed and watered. He has a bed in the mud room to access from his dog door. The door to the rest of the house can stay closed and keep him contained when we need him to be….still with access to a nice warm house but not able to track muddy paws up on the couch to take a nap. I want my dog to have indoor/outdoor access when he wants it…I just don’t want to clean up after him. And I know my life will always be full of dogs.

The mud room is where the trash and recycling go out the door. It is also where the groceries from the car get unloaded while it’s raining.

The finishes are all rugged and easy to clean. No ridges or bumpy surfaces that hold dirt. Just smooth surfaces. The cabinets are easy to wipe off. Did I mention the door to the rest of the house?

So, whereas mud rooms in many houses occupy maybe a four foot by six foot space mostly taken up by the swing of the door, I am declaring the mud room ELEVATED in importance. Perhaps to the top of the list. In exchange, I anticipate less carpet cleaning, less sweeping, less “reminding” to take off shoes, less yelling, less chasing children back outside followed by a trail of mud, less dirty paw prints on my comforter, less frustration….and more peace. I hope to achieve this…through this intentional design process. For me, it’s how I “long” to live.






Moving from 700 square feet of living space to 2700 will be sheer bliss… I think.

For quite a while, I was worried we would lose the closeness that is inevitable when living practically on top of each other and always being within earshot of every word, every conversation. I imagine it’s how the pioneers may have lived in their one-room cabins. Hell, even the Ingalls’ had more space than we did in that little house on the prairie. I remember they had a pretty cool sleeping loft.

Granted, I have always been a proponent of small houses. I have no idea why people would NEED four or five thousand square feet like you see in the suburbs….unless you were a family of eight or more. If you are very organized and not into owning too much “stuff”, two people can live comfortably in 700 square feet. It is certainly more affordable.  My husband and I did for almost five years. Even when my oldest son was little, it was “cozy”. That’s 10 years total.

But after boy #2 came along, “the screamer”, my brain was nearing its limit, especially during the seven months out of the year that I couldn’t always send them outside to play. Or if we hosted a playdate at our house, the noise of one more child was simply too much in a small space. There was no way to get away from it. It frayed everybody’s nerves.

And forget about ever having a grown up “debate”. Little ears were ALWAYS a few feet away. And “whisper-yelling” behind closed doors in a tiny bedroom is just plain frustrating.

I do know that rats start to cannibalize each other if there is not enough living space in their cages. I am sure I have bitten off more than a few heads. Apparently 175 square feet per person is not enough. Rather, make that 140 per family member. We always have a big dog.

So, we doubled the footprint of our house: 1400 square feet. Then we went to a second story, another 1300 square feet for a total of 2700 square feet of living space. That’s 675 square feet per human family member, not including our Labrador Retriever. That’s quite a jump.

Aside: Unfortunately, our method of “valuing” real estate pushes people to build more square footage. It is a flaw of the system. In order for a builder or owner to get a construction loan, the bank has to have an appraisal that says there will be enough “value” there when it’s complete to more than cover the loan amount. So they send an appraiser to come up with a number. The appraisal method weighs heavily on how much square footage there will be. The more square footage, the higher the value, the more money the bank will lend. Because this has been the process, all the new homes out there that are used for comparable values, have the larger square footages. If your home has less square footage, according to the appraisal, it is not worth as much. This is the conundrum of building a small home…it is much more difficult to finance because the appraisal says it’s worth so much less. But it doesn’t cost so much less to build as to offset this value loss. Therefore, in many cases, the smaller home cannot be built at all.  (I have simplified the method, but the result is the same.)


So our new home may indeed be larger than what is optimal for a family of four. We did pull in some new uses that we were not able to accommodate before. We now have a place to eat with friends. Our old house had no eating area. Ours was the living room coffee table for many years. Our friends sat on the floor. We now have an in-home office so that I can work out of the home and not have to commute and still manage the day to day kid details. We have guest accommodations for visiting friends and family, enriching our relationships with those that live far away. And most importantly to us, as grown children living 3000 miles from aging parents, we will have the ability to take care of our parents in our home, if and when we need to.

So, we’ll see.

The line we always hear from friends is “What are you going to do with all that space, now? You’re not going to know how to act.” They have visions of us all following each other from room to room in our new house because we are so used to being together.

I have visions of being alone. Blissfully alone. Reading in my room, alone…Not able to hear the screaming on the first floor. And I glance around my room and it is clean. No one else’s shoes, clothes, toys, “art projects” from the recycling bin… Just me, in a simple grown up space, behind a locking door, alone.

Many readers have asked about the green features we designed into our house. So allow me to elaborate.
Achieving a ‘green home’ was NOT the main driver of our design and planning but a result of other decisions we made. These decisions were mostly driven by short and long term affordability, indoor air quality and what I think is just common sense. (And I guess if I look a little more closely, having been so immersed in passive solar design and geomancy in architecture school, I could not have made design decisions that work against nature.)
Let me just list the elements that would fall into the category of “green”:



  • We salvaged plumbing and electrical fixtures, doors, wood, cabinetry, metal, appliances etc. from the old house to donate to the ReStore for reuse and our kitchen cabinets were installed at the Woodland Park Cooperative Preschool for a whole wing of new storage space, food prep and reading area.
  • Foundation is slab on grade to minimize earth disturbance and ground water disturbance.
  • Placement of the building on the site for maximum solar gain for passive solar heating and daylighting. Placement also allows south facing patio to absorb sun/heat during the day and radiant heat during the evening allowing for longer outdoor time.
  • Placement on site to allow utility areas to be located on the north side and social uses and food growing areas on the south side.
  • Roof form and orientation to allow for installation of solar photovoltaic and hot water panels.
  • Window placement for multidirectional natural daylighting in each room. Each room has windows on at least two different walls. This cuts down on the need to turn on the lights during most of the day.
  • Window, door and room opening placement to allow for natural cross ventilation and cooling. No AC.
  • Hydronic tubing in the concrete slab and minimal hydronic tubing in the second level floor joists allow for even heating of the whole house. Half of the house is not even directly heated but stays warm due to high levels of insulation and natural heat flow patterns that are aligned with daily life.
  • Highest efficiency, on-demand, natural gas hot water heater only fires up when you need it. A recirculation loop on a timer helps to conserve water during peak demand times (morning showers) by eliminating water waste while waiting for the hot water to get to the fixture.
  • Motion sensor lights for energy conservation in rooms where people are likely to forget to turn the lights off…bathrooms, laundry, hallways, mudroom, etc.
  • Soy based insulation…and lots of it.
  • Use of exterior grade plywood throughout the whole house instead of OSB (Oriented Strand Board) to prevent outgassing from the OSB and allow for better indoor air quality.
  • Indoor plant growing areas in kitchen and bathroom to take advantage of window orientation, natural moisture and access to water. Indoor plants help clean the air. And I am less likely to kill them by neglect if they are right next to a water source and the natural steam from a shower helps them be a bit more independent.
  • Simple building and roof forms and efficient location of walls and windows allowed for efficient framing, minimized cuts and minimized construction waste.
  • Bamboo flooring, marmoleum, natural tile and other sustainable materials.
  • Simple, basic cabinetry so that the interior style of the house can change/adapt over time but the underlying “bones” do not have to be disposed of and replaced with a more current style. My plan is that you will never walk into my house…30 years from now…and say “that’s SO 2009!” and I will not have had to replace the cabinets.
  • Energy efficient lighting, energy star appliances, dual fuel range/oven.
  • Low flow toilets, showers and sinks. Low water use washer.
  • Under counter composter and recycling areas in the kitchen.

This is not an exhaustive list. And again let me emphasize, the green element was a byproduct of our other design goals. We didn’t “build green” to gain a new marketing angle, to sell something at a higher price, to impress anyone or to make a point. The house is “green” because it made good sense to us to make these decisions. That, I think, is the most important piece that someone may take out of this.

The main focus of our design was family functionality and social interaction. These are my favorite to talk about and teach. I will spare you a long explanation now. But if you want to know more, I would love to share. I am  leading workshops on this type of “intentional design” and how you can do it yourself before you engage an architect. More to come!







I’ll start with what is closest to me right now. Our house.

We have been building our home for over a year. Almost every day someone walks by and asks questions. Are you building it yourself? Did you design it yourself? It has been surprising to us how many people are seriously interested in building a home and finding out more about our experience, the design and green considerations.

A little background:

In 1994, we purchased one of the last homes in Seattle that were priced under $100,000. One of the familiar single story, “post-war boxes” that were built in the 1940s, it had two small bedroooms, no dining area and measured 700 square feet in living space. The yard was overgrown, waist high with grasses and blackberries and contained shopping carts, a collapsing shed and other miscellaneous trash. The previous owner had developed Alzheimer’s and eventually was not able to take care of the home or herself and had moved into a care facility. Prior to her move, however, she had taken in at least a dozen cats that eventually took over the house.

When we arrived at the realtor’s “open house”, with no real intention of buying a house for another year or two, the realtor came out of the house with a mask on. She offered two masks to Charlie and me. The house smelled terrible but was a simple, reasonably built little house on a corner across the street from a park and three blocks from everything you would ever need….grocery stores, buslines to downtown and the University, a Fred Meyer store, drug stores, coffee shops, a theatre and cheap ethnic food. After weeks and weeks of denial followed by deliberation and them dropping the price and begging for an offer, we purchased our “little crappy house”. We were just over a year out of college and both making $10 an hour.

It took us about six weeks to get it into livable condition which included sanding, bleaching and refinishing all the hardwood floors that were under the forty year old carpet and were damaged by cat urine. In the process of putting on a new roof ourselves, in November, we discovered we had stumbled upon a gem of a neighborhood. One by one, neighbors began to show up to offer us food or tools or stories. There were long time residents that had grown up there and raised their children there who were now grown up and living in the neighborhood. There were families  living on the same block as grandma or across the street from an uncle. They had history with each other and with this neighborhood. This neighborhood that wasn’t pretty. But beneath the surface of the haphazard home styles, no sidewalks, some unkept lawns and the odd happenings of an urban park, this neighborhood had a beauty about it.

We fell in love with the neighborhood and all its quirkiness and we grew to know ALL of our neighbors. And after fourteen years and two children, we outgrew our 700 square feet home and began to design a new one to be built on the same lot. We had developed such a wonderful network of friends and neighbors, we couldn’t leave. You can’t buy that.

Background Flashback:    So, Charlie and I met while we were both studying Architecture at the University of Colorado. Actually it was an “Environmental Design” program and we officially met in Phil Tabb’s Solar Technology class. And as you might have guessed, studying Architecture in Boulder at that time already had a strong environmental consideration…including geomantic design or blending design with nature and its rhythms and energy. At the same time, Willem Van Vliet was there and had a big impact on my view of housing affordability, sociology of housing and how design effects the behavior of its occupants and those around it.

Of course we had to design our own home. It took about eighteen months of brainstorming, discussion, debate, drawing, fighting, redrawing, starting over and finally multiple dinners and saki with uber talented architect Roger Gula, to break the deadlocks and counsel us through to agree on a final plan.

The plan boils down to the following “intentional design” basics:
It had to make everyday family life better, more efficient and allow for less cleaning.
It had to accommodate fun with our friends and our children’s friends and our neighbors.
It had to be healthy and utilize the natural environment, not work against it.
It had to be affordable to build and affordable to maintain and power.


The house is not complete yet, but we thought it might be fun to open it to others that are interested in a tour and may have questions.