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Four more books complete!  (Which means only 5 more library books and three more books I own to read before I am done, for now.)

I'll start with just the first one since my notes ended up kind of long.

Home By Design, 4/5 )


More notes )
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Finished The Emotional House: How Redesigning Your Home Can Change Your Life by Kathryn Robyn and Dawn Ritchie. Disappointingly shallow. The outline of the book seemed promising. Part 1 had you develop an "emotional blueprint" of your home where you would find areas of your home that do no support you emotionally or functionally (because a room that does not function right is an emotional sink). Part two was built around "house rules" which explained various rules that rooms should follow (e.g., rooms should actually be lived in, comfortable, organized, etc.). Part three went through the major common rooms in a home and analyzed them.

All that made for a great book idea, but the execution was shallow. The authors made unsubstantiated claims that did not take cultural variations into account (e.g., the emotional effect of colors) and they gave lots of nice sounding generalities without providing much specific advice.

An illustrative example can be found in the discussion of televisions and living room furniture arrangement. They say things like
increasingly [the living room] has become a place where families and friends commune with video games and the television set instead of with others. The result is an increasingly alienated society with a growing sense of disconnection [unsubstantiated claim of causation]. ... In this room, group dynamics depend on the layout of your furniture. Social scientists have identified sociopetal seating as an arrangement that encourages participation and communication -- charis that face each other and are not too far apart, but far enough to giv some sense of personal space. In essence, you want to create a congenial conversation pit where comfortable chairs and sofas encircle a coffee table, with lamps for accent lighting that bring out everyone's best features and a focal point that puts everyone in an upbeat, talkative mood. [okay, but is that the only option? and how do we integrate the television?]
The book was filled with passages like this. I could agree with the sentiment, was doubtful of many of the claims, and, most importantly, was constantly left asking, "so how do I actually implement that?"
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Finished Homing Instinct: Using Your Lifestyle to Design and Build Your Home by John Connell. In the introduction, the author calls this "Your First How-To Book". The book provides very basic information on how to design and build a house. Connell covers how to evaluate your site, how to develop your program, and introduces you to pouring foundations, framing, temperature and moisture control, roof design, door and window design and placement, thermal comfort, energy for power and heating, and plumbing and drainage.

Obviously, in only a bit over 400 pages (including appendices) the book only provides a rudimentary introduction to those topics. However, the author made that decision intentionally. This book does not aim to teach you how to build a house. There are many existing books to do this (Homing Instinct" book includes a bibliography). Instead, the author wants to accomplish two things. First, set up a framework on which design/builders can hang additional knowledge. Second, show how every aspect of the design/build process influences every other. The site influences the framing system influences the plumbing influences the power sources influences the site and round and around again.

The book succeeds. I do not know how to pour a foundation, but I now know the general features of a well designed foundation and how it influences my home's ability to stay upright. I do not know how to build a frame, but I understand the basic constraints that traditional stick framing puts on structure.

Even though we are not building our house with our own hands, this book was worthwhile. It provided me with a better understanding as I go into the design process, and it provided me with the beginnings of a vocabulary for talking with my builder. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who hopes to be at all involved with designing and building their own home someday.
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Finished The Value of Design by Marianne Cusato. This is a short (50 pg) guide to designing better communities. From the back
Design matters. Design adds value to our homes and communities in terms of dollars and cents, but its value is deeper than monetary. Design can greatly improve our quality of life and the condition of our fragile environment. How we build our homes nad communities is a choice, not a given. It is within our reach to build nice places, to find change and to live more sustainable on our planet. This is the true value of design.


This book uses lots of pictures to explain what design elements make for good neighborhoods and homes and which detract from the quality of life defined by a place. For example, I now understand why I hate the false brink or stone fronts most modern construction. First, a home is three dimensional, and it is only in listing photos that you can see the front of the house without seeing the plain siding sides. Second, false fronts use things like brick and stone like they are wall paper and contradict our understanding of those materials as structural elements. Even though the brick and stone are not structural, when the front of a house is covered with brick and the rest is not, it feels like the front is going to tip over and fall off.

My one negative comment about this book is that there are a few places throughout where it reads like an advertisement for JamesHardie, the fiber cement siding manufacturer that sponsored the book (mostly at the very end). That said, it is still worth a read, especially if you just want a quick overview of what makes for a well designed community and home.

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Erika RS

May 2012

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