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It's finally time for the last batch of house book summaries. For now.

First up is The New Family Home: Creating the Perfect Home for Today and Tomorrow by Jim Toplin (3/5). Toplin wrote Built-In Furniture: A Gallery of Design Ideas (Idea Book) (which I also read). This book has two general categories of ideas for making a great family home. First, the home must be flexible and able to change with the changing needs of a family. E.g., the shared rooms and play loft which worked great for children may give way to a relatively private room for a teenager. That may eventually turn into a room for aging grandparents or even, eventually, an easy access master bedroom as the home's owners age. The book has many suggestions around this.

The other category of suggestions was around customizing a home to make it unique and memorable. Many of these suggestions included ways to improve children's space: play lofts, built-in desks and beds, an in-bedroom sink to reduce teenage bathroom fights. Lots of interesting ideas. The main downside to this book is that it was organized as case studies. As I have mentioned many times before, I find books that I prefer books that spend some time extracting more general lessons from the specific examples they present. In so far as this was your standard figure-it-out-yourself case study book, I did not like it as well as I could have.

The second book was How to Work With an Architect by Gerald Lee Morosco, AIA (2/5). This book was full of valuable information about working with an architect, but at only 100 pages (half of which were pictures that were largely irrelevant), it would have made a better pamphlet or blog post series. As a book, it did not quite seem to be worth it's cost. That said, if you want to understand what an architect brings to a building project and the basics of how to work with one, it provides good, solid advice.

Sarah Susanka's More Not So Big Solutions for Your Home (3/5) is a fine sequel to the original Not So Big Solutions for Your Home (reviewed here). Like that book, this book contains reprinted magazine articles, each of which discusses a different issue. As with that book, if the issues discussed are relevant to you, you will likely find the book interesting. Otherwise, you will not. Study the table of contents.

More Not So Big Solutions has a fair amount of overlap with the first book. When the books covered the same issues, they tended to cover the same material. As such, if a topic of interest to you is in both books, you will get the most bang for your buck by just reading one of the treatments.

The last book I read was Ergonomic Living : How to Create a User-Friendly Home & Office by Gordon Inkeles and Iris Schencke (2/5). I am only giving the book 2 stars because the second half, on offices, was largely obsolete (the book was published in 1994). Much of the text in that half was spent on obsolete technologies such as dealing with the ergonomic difficulties of CRT monitors, green text on black screens, dot matrix printers, and other things that are not particularly relevant. 

However, the parts that were relevant were pretty good. The authors have a fairly prescriptive style, but they do give lots of good advice. Particularly useful were sections discussing good lighting, how to choose good furniture (such as chairs and mattresses), and how to make your home ergonomically friendly for children. The authors are big fans of task lighting, lever handles on door knobs and faucets, and configurable furniture (especially for children since they grow quickly). Overall, this was a good book that I will be consulting again for various ergonomic decisions.  
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Finished Creating the Inspired House: Discovering Your Place Called Home by John Connell (3/5). I am a big fan of Connell's Homing Instinct: Using Your Lifestyle to Design & Build Your Home, so I was quite excited when I discovered that he had written a second book, Creating the Inspired House.

In comparison to Connell's first book, this book was a disappointment. Where Homing Instinct really got down to the nitty gritty details of what it takes to build a house, Creating the Inspired House is just another addition to the genre of books which feature a number of houses and describe them. That said, this book was a stellar example of that genre.

The most important factor in judging a book from this genre is whether or not the book contains houses you like. This book contained homes of many styles, including several modern homes. Since our house is going to be modern in styling, I appreciated the presence of those examples.

The other factor which made this book enjoyable was Connell's choice to talk about the people who created the house, the owners and builders. Often these books talk about homes without including the personal stories which went into creating those homes. The personal details made the book more interesting.

Overall, Creating the Inspired House was a good read.
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Finished Inside the Not So Big House: Discovering the Details That Bring a Home to Life by Sarah Susanka and Marc Vassallo and Good House Parts: Creating a Great Home Piece by Piece by Dennis Wedlick. Both of these books earn a 2/5 from me, although they would likely have earned higher if it weren't for the fact that I am getting burned out on just reading house books. Once I am done with my current batch (just 3 or 4 more), I will consider myself done with general house books.

Inside the Not So Big House covers much of the same content as Susanka's Home by Design: Transforming Your House Into Home, but through case studies rather than through discussion of the principles involved. Since I prefer a balance which leans toward principles, I did not find this book particularly useful.

Wedlick's book was better; it presented a balanced alternation of principles and case studies. However, it did not really cover anything new. It fits into the category of books that would make a good (maybe great) first book, but is not worth much as an Nth book.
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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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I got 14 house books from the library. None of them are particularly high content. They consist largely of pictures (which is exactly what I want right now). This, fortunately, makes them easy to review in batches. So here are the first 4.

First up is Wright-Sized Houses: Frank Lloyd Wright's Solutions for Making Small Houses Feel Big; by Diane Maddex. Other than the terrible pun in the title, this was a pretty good book. I give it a 3/5. The book is divided into two parts. The first part describes some of the techniques Wright used. The second part has a number of case studies. The degree to which you'll like this book is probably directly proportional to the degree to which you like Frank Lloyd Wright (and are not already an expert in his techniques and homes).

Sarah Susanka's Not So Big Solutions For Your Home is a collection of articles from Fine Homebuilding magazine. I am a big fan of it (4/5) because it talks about practical solutions to a lot of modern real world issues (e.g., dealing with the TV and entering from the garage). Given the format, the articles do not cover a lot of issues (there are only 30 articles), but the topics that are covered are generally covered in more detail than elsewhere. I will admit that the last section, on remodeling, failed to interest me.

Next up is John Wheatman's Meditations On Design (4/5). This book considers features which make a successful interior design. As such, it's not so useful at this point in my design process, but I still really enjoyed it. It reminds me of Pasanella's Living in Style Without Losing Your Mind. I appreciate how the principles Wheatman discussion are not limited to any particular style.

Last up we have Marc Vassallo's The Barefoot Home. This was my least favorite of this batch (2/5). A barefoot home is a home that is informal and open and has a strong indoor/outdoor connection. All good ideas that I can get behind, but the concept never really gelled for me. The idea of a barefoot was never sufficiently differentiated from all of the other ways of describing a good house. Plus, the case studies were largely vacation cottages. These can provide inspiration for a non-vacation home, but there are a lot of things about them that cannot be translated to a full time home.

4 down, 10 to read!

Some detailed notes on the Wright book, mostly for myself )

Some detailed notes on Wheatman's book, mostly for myself )
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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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Finished Living In Style Without Losing Your Mind )

Now I just need to get around to applying all these ideas to my own home.
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Finished House Thinking: A room-by-room look at how we live by Winifred Gallagher. "House thinking" is thinking about a home in a behavioral way. Instead of trying to make your home look like something from a magazine article (or ignoring appearance completely as is more my style), house thinking means to think about how your home can be arranged to better support how you actually use it. For example, I have blankets in the living room for when it is chilly. From a decorative point of view, I should fold them neatly or drape them decoratively when I am not using them. From a practical point of view, I know I will never do that unless we are expecting visitors. Applying some very simple house thinking to this makes me realize that getting a basket for the blanket would probably be a good solution.

Gallagher's book is takes a look at how people use different rooms in their home. She explores the purpose of each room and gives examples of homes that are functionally good. The book is rather short on details and focuses mostly on the architectural level. This was somewhat disappointing since the introduction made the promising claim that sometimes all you need to do to make your home more behaviorally appropriate is rearrange the furniture; ideas of that sort could be extracted from the rest of the book, but were not obvious.

The most valuable aspect of the book was the behavioral look at the different rooms. For example, the chapter on the kitchen discussed how the kitchen has changed over time from a highly used but not respectable place to a under utilized place that also acts as a social hub for the home. Also useful was the introduction of basic environmental psychology terms. One particularly useful pair of terms is "prospect" and "refuge". A home that feels comfortable has a balance of prospect (areas from which you can see and be seen) and refuge (areas which are more private). Places such as window nooks are delightful because they provide both prospect and refuge.

If nothing else, this book has inspired me with a new interest in environmental psychology. Now I just have to start applying house thinking to my own home.


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Erika RS

May 2012

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