Friday, January 28, 2011

Design in Tight Spaces; outside, in

What happens when a Landscape Architect needs some space?

Design Goals:
Maximize the amount of perceived and visual space in a long, narrow room with a low ceiling; visually-define task locations, and provide separation and storage for entertainment components, videos (adults vs. kids), and gaming. 

Beginning in lower division studios at the University of Florida, prospective students for Architecture, Urban Planning, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture, and Building Construction, all plied for desktop space to build required design projects involving the three dimensional use of space and/or the sometimes-dreaded ‘Kit of Parts.’  Our late nights were filled with various fumes to effect patina, epoxy parts, or form concrete structures.  This late night camaraderie made and solidified “Friends for Life.”  The vibrant buzz, literally from our Dremels, CD Players, and the effects of caffeine, fueled our desire to experiment with materials, and perhaps, more importantly, Space; but I digress...

Fast-forwarding years in advance, we all specialized; however, I have never lost sight of the lessons learned, and it applies to each and every Design Project that I undertake.  The top priority is the “Program,” an amorphous term that investigates and then establishes, space, money, and the end goal.  Personal Projects are no different.  And I donned my hats, as Interior Designer, Finish Electrician, Cabinet maker, and Trim Carpenter for one of our own 'builds.'  Be prepared, this ‘jumps-the-shark’ from Landscape Architecture completely!
Our challenges, for lighting and an entertainment unit, were to work with a living room which had a low ceiling and one, limited horizontal direction.  Along with the fast forward in the Professional world, life now involved children and pets – thus, safety become paramount, fixtures hot-to-the-touch and pointed protrusions had to be avoided. 
Lighting – Cost; varies by application and quantity; ours were purchased through Randal Boone, Phillips, 239.732.5631.  Time to install; 4 hours for stand-offs, track assembly, and lights.
task/room lighting

The initial suggestion by an Electrical Contractor to place a junction box/power source in the center of the room was typical – most install it there – so when I mentioned two alternate locations, at the sides and ends of the room – this guy shook his head, muttered ‘dumby’ under his breath, and I laughed at how the Design Vision’s ‘path’ is not seen by all, until it’s complete.  This ‘move from the center,’ avoided any hanging fixture/fan, and design-wise, allowed the room to be perceived as larger…no interruption in the ceiling plane or a leery sense a fan could provide a haircut.  We purchased two “Basis” track systems from Translite ( which offered efficiency in MR-16 fixtures, with targeted lighting.  The solution provides light from above or a “bounce” off the ceiling via the adjustable fixtures installed.  We installed two parallel, straight-run tracks, cut-to-fit, as necessary, and lined up the brackets with Architectural elements in the room, in our case, columns, an electronic dimmer on the TV side allows for complete control and minimizes light competition at night.  Back to kids, as they grow and the room layout evolves (from art easel to computer desk, for instance), the light can adjust with locations, tasks, and even highlighting Art, through changes lamp voltage, fixture aiming, and simple track repositioning of the lamps [without tools!] – we chose the “Microspot D” (
final lighting solution - highlights architecture, art, play zones

3 envelope, design evolution sketches
Entertainment Unit – Cost; $25 for a ‘ponderosa’ veneer top purchased from Lowe’s Home Improvement Store, remaining lumber was ‘re-purposed’ from other Projects.  Time to build; 40 hours for rough/finish/trim.
I drew some initial sketches, and with my wife’s input, we figured out something that worked to organize DVD’s, A/V components, and Video Games/Console…The initial concept’s shape was evocative of a surfboard, a simple ‘wedge’ design and incorporated NO CORNERS for little heads to bang on…we tweaked and customized the design to fit our particular components, incorporated design elements in the room, and built a distinctively-shaped element for the room.  Of course, the design evolved in many ways – for example, materials (a ton of re-purposed wood was used) and the original ‘floating’ design was ‘grounded,’ to remove the potential “dust bunny hold” at the floor…Three weekends later, the finished unit is installed, and we are that, much happier –  Is it Green?  You have to buy into the ‘sustainable forests’ or labels on the wood; however, we used many materials that otherwise would have been deemed Construction waste, so we feel good about it…
former prefab TV stand location

Probably the most satisfying aspect to the entertainment unit ‘build’ was the family involvement – remember this was not a pre-fab purchase, so everyone could be involved at various stages.  My wife helped with the rough/finish carpentry and final finish, our 12 year old son received his first lesson on the proper use of a Compound Miter Saw (held his eyes shut tight behind safety glasses, winced, pulled the trigger, and cut framing), our 6 year old daughter would scramble away, prior to every Miter and Circular Saw cut, pleading “please don’t saw yet Daddy…Please don’t…it’s too loud” / become irritated that sawdust was on her bike, and our 2 year old son, joined in to either watch with fascination, push the button on the Cordless Drill (as I held it), sat next to me on the floor to remove trim, and/or grabbed his play-tools and helped me out!  The project just became the family “Story for Life,” either by virtue of design input, a learned skill, annoyance at the disruption, or “help” – each family member will have their own perspective, and the experience will be talked about for years to come…as guests arrive and, inevitably evoke a response…and that’s an experience you can’t buy off the shelf…
ready for touch-up work


Amy P. said...

Great project and an even better story to go with it to be cherished by the entire family for years to come and hopefully this beautiful piece of furniture gets passed from generation to generation. Job well done by everyone!
Amy P. In Mukwonago, WI

Jeffrey S. Curl ASLA CLARB said...

Thank you, Amy! We sure enjoyed the process and are enjoying the finished projects!

Jeremy Randazza said...

Nice job Jeff. Glad to see you're keeping busy. I like the story that went with it too. I can just visualize all three of the kids reactions. Good stuff!!!

Jeffrey S. Curl ASLA CLARB said...

Jeremy-thanks! Fun for the whole family, indeed, and we added value to our home (via the built-in nature of the project)!