This is the house I designed with the Thai kitchen that holds water
And the Thai bath that drains it,
With the high windows to catch the cross breezes
Like air-conditioning in the tropics,
With the French doors open to the sun and the wind
And the birds and crickets singing,
With concrete walls and floors for ease and simple grandeur,
Like Thais use in the countryside, but never in the city.
This house is my attempt at those teak houses that were cathedrals in a garden,
This house is my hope to let the birds fly back into the modern mind,
And the smells of the earth back into our bones.
The house sits watching the lake, stretching long porches along it,
Where at night I sleep to the plop of mullet jumping, the wind purring against my skin,
And the highways distant roar.
A house where one cannot forget the land.
I think how like is this canal to that family one in Thailand,
Though no reed flute rides floating down these waters,
No paddles play by moonlight, smoothing a rhythm to ones dreams,
No lithe god stands upright in his canoe, swaying it across the water, because he can.
from "Ashes" by
Life is too short. Few of us have time for cleaning under beds, maintaining painted moldings, sopping up water around sinks and showers, etc. or working to pay others to do it. Why not apply the resourceful human mind to our living spaces, scrutinize and compare every type of house: European, Asian, Native American, etc. and invent ones that suits our needs? Most of us are devoting our lives to paying for a house and our waking hours to cleaning and repairing it. Aren't time, space, & nature the ultimate luxuries?
Few of us have time to clean or maintain large many roomed, many bathed houses.. Even supervising maids or maintenence crews takes time. Few of us have the time to do what we love: trees, gardens, camping, skiing, adult ballet (or trombone or karate) classes, raising orchids, playing with our kids! Houses should be planned to give us freedom!
The first floor is the concrete slab, polished & sealed. The plush wool rugs that I designed & had custom made in Thailand & the antique baby grand sit on the concrete floor for a relaxed but elegant combination. Concrete, if sealed is already dirt colored and easy to maintain.
I sold a big, 100 year old Victorian house to build this. Largely, for the kitchen. That old kitchen for all its new appliances and cabinets might have been Victorian for the distances I had to walk from stove to sink to refrigerator to work stations. And all its counter to wipe down and tile floor to scrub!!! Think this kitchen cuts cooking & clean up time over half. I can turn around at the sink and reach about everything used regularly in the kitchen. The main work surfaces, the wings of the sink/counter combo, drain all spills toward the sink. The slated shelves above & below the sink replace cabinets & drain basket. I wash dishes by hand, rinse & put them away where they live on the slatted shelves where they drain onto the slanted stainless steel counters and into the sink. I don't dry them, move them in & out of a dishwasher or in & out of a cabinet. Don't have to wipe up standing water repeatedly. Won't have to refinish formica or wood cabinets in five or ten years. Magnetic strips hold spoons & utensils handy. The rack of cutlery hangs on a hook & can be lifted to the table. The concrete floor slants to a drain under the sink where more slotted racks and hooks hold pots and pans to drip themselves dry.. Sorage cabinets go up to the !0' high ceiling on the left. For little maintenence and simple elegance: one set of dishes & glasses, as pretty as possible & one set of pots elegant enough to serve in, because they are the only sets and are always on desplay.
The house has neither air-conditioning nor ductwork for future airconditioning. In Florida! It is cool because of its orientation for the summer sun and prevalant breezes. Wide overhangs and porches along the southern exposure give shade . The attic has extra insulation. Ten foot high ceilings and vents above the French doors are esential to comfort without airconditioning. We can leave the house in summer with all windows closed, but the vents open, and return to an almost comfortable temperature. However, if we sit in the house in summer with all window open, but those vents closed, we'll be hot. click for more views
The two one-story screened porches are a vital part of the living space. They bring the house into the orchard. and we are lucky to have a small lake and an island. All sorts of birds fly by, hawks, storks, egrets, even a bald eagle alighted on the lawn. Racoons, otters play at the water.
Sleeping on warm nights with the French doors open gives the wonderful free feeling of camping out in the great outdoors while being snug in ones own bed! The sound of the wind through the bamboo and bananas a lullaby for easy sleep. Not like air-conditioning ductwork clanking on and off at ones head like a semi's engine. And the gentle breeze singing from the bamboo and bananas is a gentle massage - all day.
So relaxing that I know I'd need to see a massage therapist regulary if closed off from the breeze.
The property is only an acre and inside city limits, the lake a drainage canal, but still a paradise!
The yard has as many tropical fruit trees as can fit in: Lychee, mango, papaya, 4+ kinds of bananas, lots of citrus, berries, avacado. . . it's Florida!
When I visited an old Florida settler house and saw a "dry sink," I tried to imagine using it and could only envision water splashed all around. Mopping up must have been continual! Watching folk from other cultures living with our baths and kitchens and seeing how quickly surfaces gathered mold when they weren't continually mopped or scrubbed, started me counting all the maintenance we do almost unconciously. Then I had children. Most Americans know the litany: 'Wipe up the water on the floor, don't leave the shower curtain open, why do you splash water all over the sink?' The training it takes to live in and maintain our living spaces starts in childhood! We spend a great deal of time and energy dealing with equipment, surfaces, and methods that we haven't changed in centuries.
Living in the Thai canal lands and seeing different ways of handling water and household processes, seeing different organizations of kitchen and bathroom spaces and methods, I began to wonder what sensible energy and material savings systems the modern American house might incorporate. Living in the States, renting houses here, renovating kitchens, looking at new houses in developments, I got the feeling that American ingenuity focuses on areas other than the American living space.
While trying to maintain time for my own work, keep an American house, and keep my children in their various activities, I started thinking of ways to skip time consuming, repetitive tasks like sweeping around furniture legs & under beds, constantly wiping up water in kitchen & bath & yelling at the kids to do so . . . refinishing of kitchen cabinets because of water damage . . . scrubbing woodwork. . . repainting woodwork. . . yelling at kids to keep their dirty hands off woodwork. . . scrubbing tile grout lines. . . . washing shower curtains & tub glass enclosures. . .etc.! Scrubbing kitchens & bathrooms, washing and handling dishes, either in the dishwasher or by hand seemed endless. Dishes always had to be moved & moved again.
When my husband and I both worked and had to come home to cook for ourselves and toddlers, the time needed to cook & clean up after a meal was painful. We were stressed and angry, the kids tired and hungry and wanting our attention. This was quality time with the kids? There had to be a better way. I started to fault the modern American living space. Besides the living room and bedrooms being full of things the kids shouldn't touch, there was the dusting, especially knickknacks. I began to see our houses as full of - stuff - visually chaotic, time consuming and exhausting, financially draining. Take this for repair, warranty for that. Stuff. (And I should have thought of giving the kids a wall by the kitchen to draw on!)
As my art was simplifying to an esthetic core, so was my idea of a living space. Religions teach simple living. So how to design a living space where one can live simply????
For decades, I played at drawing my own house plans and collected elements and systems that were simple and effective. . .like ways of using water, ventilation etc. I had lived in Thailand in an old teak farm house on a canal amid houses that were combinations of our antique barns and chapels with porches opening to tropic orchards - with few possessions or furniture to distract from the grand wood beams and posts, but a sense of timeless luxury that I think modern man has lost.
The house I eventually designed and built incorporated many of my ideas. After living in it for 12 years I find that most ideas work, but also many flaws that could have been avoided.
After talking to contractors & residential designers & suppliers about ideas, materials, and structural methods, I started running numbers and eliminating costs and unfortunately a few esesentials like cisterns and solar heating of the concrete floors. I could have listened to my architect and designer when they gave me basic architectural design principles, like the relation of the windows to the mass, the patterning of windows as a vital part of the basic design. . . the relationship of the masses, lines and other elements, etc. Having been an artist for decades, I already had a need for balance, composition, line, texture etc., but didn't translate the two dimensional paper drawing as well as countless details & ideas into three-dimensional architectural forms very well!
Major mistakes: Not listening to my architect friend saying to give it a flat roof, that a high attic was no longer needed to absorb heat, modern insulation advances would work as well or better. AND if the house had a flat roof. . . then the circular stairs could have gone up to a roof deck nearly 4 stories up. AND I would have spent money on awnings over the windows so that one doesn't have to run around closing windows when it rains, and the awnings could have doubled as fold-down hurricane protection. Also, I forgot that I'd always admired a Thai concrete block house set on piers that had troughs around each that held water or ant poison, essentially ant-proofing the house!!
The cabinet is designed
around a front loading washer and also hides the top of an 80 gal solar tank (the bottom of which is recessed under the porch). The dryer is solar (clothesline) and pivoting from the washing machine to hang clothes on the clothesline and look out over the birds in the lake is luxury.
Our electric bill is about $30/month IN FLORIDA! Not only the lack of air-conditioning and the solar hot water, but in winter we don't need to run the heat any day the sun is out. The long side of the house faces south and sends in warmth.