CONNECTING WITH THE OUTDOORS - SUMMER 2019
We’re finally enjoying the outdoors after a cold, rainy spring - only to hear the whine of pesky mosquitoes! Spraying pesticides will wipe out birds, amphibians, and pollinating bees - but there are a lot of safe products and good practices out there (see below). Mainly I’m feeling sentimental about the gracious screened porch my parents had.
This has gotten me thinking, as recent studies have shown the positive effect of nature on humans: good architecture makes the outdoors more accessible. We also bring nature indoors through biophilic design. This is a new movement emphasizing the health benefits of designing in harmony with nature. In this issue you can read how we’ve made this happen by taking cues from history and responding to surroundings with regional, sustainable design.
A big thank you to the Main Street office of Caldwell Banker for a generous opening celebration! And to everyone who helped make it a festive event. “SPEAKING VOLUMES: Light and Space in the Maine Vernacular.” 11 Main Street, Concord. April 3 through June 30. Concord’s Coldwell Banker team has partnered with Julia Miner Studio to donate part of the painting sales to help homeless refugees.
Connected to the Outdoors: Where History and Sustainable Design Meet
When I moved to Arizona years ago, I was delighted to find that we spent eighty percent of our time outside. Patios and porches were our extended living space.
Our 1930’s house had eighteen-inch adobe walls, typical of how desert people have built for millennia. The mud bricks conduct heat slowly in response to the enormous temperature swings, providing shelter from searing heat and warmth during cool nights. However, the house felt closed-in when we bought it.
Desert living easily connects with the outdoors, as some part of the day or evening is comfortable. Every room in our house had at least one exterior door. Without destroying the home’s historic integrity or the adobe walls’ energy efficiency, we increased several of the openings, adding glass French doors to join with outdoor “rooms.” We painted interior walls white and lightened wood to reflect light inside. There was a soothing gentleness to the uneven, rounded edges of the beamed ceilings and plastered walls.
Although I love transparent, minimal modernism, adding walls of glass would never have been appropriate for this house. Instead, we lived in those outdoor rooms. Winter evenings in the long portales (porch) focused on a new kiva fireplace I’d designed. New flowering desert plants helped cool the patios. Sleeping porches, popular before air conditioning, provided spaces to read in a hammock or enjoy the sunset over the mountains. Evaporative cooling, practical except for humid days, allows for open windows, connecting you to the sounds of quail and doves instead of the hum of an air conditioner.
In the two decades since our Arizona days, the building industry has raced to supply outdoor kitchens, luxury outdoor furniture, and glass “Nano” walls that open entirely to the outdoors. An authentic desert lifestyle helped pave the way. Enhancing that lifestyle in our house was gratifying not only for us but for the community, as the project won the Arizona Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation.
New studies find that turning occupants’ attention to outdoor views or welcoming the natural world in increases productivity, creativity and unity. A 30-year study at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne has found empirical evidence of social, psychological and physical well-being from greenery designed into city spaces. Anxiety levels and crime diminished and immune systems improved. Other studies show that our minds and bodies respond positively to light, and that more expansive thinking happens in spaces with higher ceilings.
In each project I strive for a relationship to the outdoors that fits the region, the site, and the client. We work with a landscape architect early in the process. A local house had a pool behind a garage that was directly behind the house – with asphalt parking between the house and garage. It cried obstruction, not connection! Rooms were small and dark, and a wraparound porch addition brought the house uncomfortably near the road. The renovation completely changed the home’s relation to the site.
1. Demolishing the garage and asphalt and adding a lawn created a view past the pool, redesigned by ESSARC, to conservation land.
2. Opening up interior spaces and adding a glassy breakfast area brought in light and an indoor/outdoor flow with views to the back yard. One end of the breakfast area opened onto a new screened porch, and on the other end a mudroom joined with a trellis to a new garage. The garage placement created two outdoor rooms -- a U-shaped one in back with a deck, focused on the pool, and a side courtyard with an entry porch and bluestone walk.
3. Demolishing the front porch and overgrown hemlock hedge let in southern light and warmth, creating a front yard. The view across the road took in the house of Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School and The Architects Collaborative firm in Cambridge. Taking cues from the Gropius house with its modern, stark relationship to the landscape, we edited out plantings for an understated, low maintenance result.
Well-designed porches and mudrooms are crucial amenities in this cold, wet climate. But too many “farm house” style porches on builder homes are shallow and look out of proportion. They should be at least six feet deep to be able to walk past a bench or table. Screened porches are a sustainable way to enjoy summer evenings close to nature and they need to be accessible, expanding and opening the interior.
Because of that project, a new client asked me to design extensive renovations. We turned a dated sunroom into a large porch with views to the front, side, and pool in back, with easily removable screens for colder months. An existing chimney flue provides for an outdoor wood stove. Like the previous home owners, they love the porch for al fresco meals.
Here was another historic house where walls of glass would have ruined the existing rhythm and proportions. On the second floor, by lowering existing window sills to the floor where appropriate, we enhanced views of the landscape below, bringing you close to nature even in the private areas.
In urban or multifamily settings, where privacy and pavement reign, we concentrate on bringing nature and light indoors, in an approach to biophilic design that’s unique for each project. Skylights and interior windows let light into inner rooms; mirrors reflect light inward and maximize views outside. Natural materials connect you with the outdoors. Planted “green” walls, open stair treads, good storage and minimalist furniture eliminate clutter and expand the space. This focuses your attention on the windows and greenery, breaking down the boundaries between inside and out.
Isn’t being soothed by daylight, scenic views, natural wood and stone, and fragrant, flowering plants, one of the feelings we so often need and seldom find as we go through our day? Imagine coming home to nature as an integral part of your life. If you or someone you know would like to pursue this idea further, let’s talk.
The Best Natural Ways to Control Mosquitos
There’s a whole internet cult with instructional videos of homegrown contraptions - and a slew of them are designed to get rid of mosquitoes. When I was researching ways to avoid spraying pesticides, I clicked on a couple of way too graphic videos! But mercifully, in one more click I came across this intelligent article, with some obvious and not-so-obvious good practices. https://endmosquitoes.com/how-to-get-rid-of-mosquitoes-in-yard-naturally/
A few of their common sense points:
- Remove any standing water including potted plant saucers, bird baths, kid’s toys.
- Plant mosquito repelling plants - here’s a list of 20. https://endmosquitoes.com/mosquito-repellent-plants-outdoor-yard-that-work/
- Scatter coffee grounds around and in standing water you can’t remove
- Use an outdoor oscillating fan
- Spread red cedar mulch, which also repels other insects.
We’ve used one of those attractors that uses a bottle of propane. Have you found methods the article doesn’t mention (other than spraying chemicals)?