Sunday, August 12, 2012

If A Kitchen Island Functions Like A Table...

A typical island configuration in a new house

In many kitchens now the island has gotten wider, and it's used for serving and socializing, not food prep. The serving side has cabinets, the socializing side is open below for chairs or stools.

So, one might ask, if the island functions like a table, why not finish it like one and put a wood counter on top?

Once you make that leap, a host of new possibilities open up, including one that's been handcrafted by a local cabinet maker. He'll make something very unusual because cabinet makers get their wood from many different sources, including local urban timber sawyers. These specialists prepare trees that are blown down in storms or cut down because they are diseased for a cabinet maker's use. A sawyer's wood will always have local cachet (it could be from a tree in your town or even your own neighborhood) and, depending on the age of the tree when it was taken down, the boards can be unusually wide.

John Haling stands next to boards that could be made into a "book matched" counter

John Haling (, a sawyer who works with urban timber in Whitmore Lake, Mi., said he often gets old trees that produce boards as wide as 40 inches, wide enough that a single board can be used to make a kitchen counter. Haling himself makes counters, including ones that are "book matched" (two boards from the same tree are laid next to each other so that the grain pattern of each board appears to mirror the other one) and counters with one or more "live edges" (instead of planing the edge of the board to be smooth and straight, the bark is left on and the edge is irregular).

Jeff Jenkins' butcher block counter combines local and exotic hardwood species

A cabinetmaker can fabricate a more conventional countertop with smaller pieces of wood, but the look will still be unique. For example, Jeff Jenkins (, an Alexandria, Vi., cabinet and furniture designer, has made butcher block counters that combine locally sourced maple, cherry, ash and walnut with unusually colored tropical hardwoods. 

Jeff Jenkins' walnut countertop made from a single piece of black walnut

Jenkins has also made single plank counters of black walnut, a species that is now so rare in the Washington area it took him two years to locate a small supply from an urban timber sawyer in Pennsylvania.

If you're ready to take an unconventional path, a handcrafted wood counter could be the beginning of an entirely handmade kitchen (, with handmade tiles for backslashes and counters in food prep areas, handmade cabinet knobs and pulls and handmade cabinets.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Les Haut de Porto-Vecchio

The welcoming committee

We booked our hotel on the web. Just after we arrived I heard the sound of animal bells and knew it was exactly the right place for us -- below our cabin perched high above the Corsican town of Porto Vecchio a dozen sheep were grazing.

Our greeters scatter

When I went in for a closeup, our greeters scattered.

Our cabin 

In Corsica big boulders are everywhere

The view from our cabin perch

Monday, June 4, 2012

Unspoiled Coast of Corsica

Northwest Coast of Corsica

Corsica is, by intent of the locals, a largely undeveloped island. There are many stretches of dramatic seacoast available for all to see and enjoy.

Marine De Ficajola, near Piana

Western Coast, near Cargese

Western Coast, near Cargese

Western Coast, near Cargoes

Southeastern Coast, looking towards Punta di a Chiappa

The beaches on the Southern coast are pretty spectacular too!

Plage de Cateraggio

Corsica, A Chunk of the Alps Tossed into the Mediterranean

Les Calanches region of Corsica

Many of the rocks are rounded by eons of weathering

Corsica was described to me as a "chunk of the Alps that was tossed into the Mediterranean." The island is solid granite, and this geological phenomenon is nowhere more beautifully seen than a stretch on the western coast known as "Les Calanches." Towers and sheer cliffs 1,300 feet high rise from the sea, a soft ochre or a bright orange, depending on what time of day you encounter them.

Profiles emerge from weathered rock formations

It makes for an interesting and memorable drive!

The True Source of Artistic Vision

 Picasso saw possibilities?
 The inspiration for Jaws?
Michelangelo sketching the Sistine Chapel? 

Is Nature the true source of inspiration in modern art (Picasso et al) modern entertainment (Jaws) and even looking back to the Renaissance and the power conveyed by gesture (Michelangelo) or is it the personal vision of the artist?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Eisenman House II On The Block

                                                                      photo Brian Venden Brink
Eisenman House II

Peter Eisenman’s House II is on the block.

For a mere $2,800,000 you can own this 3 Bedroom, 3 Bath 2,554-square-foot 20th century architectural icon that was built in the late 1970s. The house sits on 110 acres; there is also a 4-stall horse barn with a studio apartment upstairs.

                                             Photo Brian Vanden Brink
House II, Side View 

Not only does the house have impeccable credentials – Eisenman routinely appears on lists of the “World’s Top 10 Living Architects,” --  it has been fully restored. The current owners, John and Lydia Makau, bought a ruin in 2000 that had been on the market for 10 years, and they painstakingly brought it back to life, as Gwenda Blair vividly describes in a NY Times article with the header “House Proud: A White Elephant Restored.”

                                                   Photo Brian Vanden Brink
House II, Patio

House II, which is located in Hardwick, Vermont, is one of a series of ten houses that Eisenman designed early in his 5-decades-long career. The houses, which challenged every commonly held notion of “house” and “home,” catapulted Eisenman to architectural fame and, many would add, notoriety, as the houses had “confrontational” details like bedrooms separated by half-walls and large openings in the floors without railings or grates to prevent falling through.

                                                         Photo Cynthia Davidson
   Eisenman's Own House

In the years since he designed the houses, Eisenman’s own ideas on this subject have dramatically changed, as I discovered in an interview last spring:

For more info on the House II real estate listing and more pics:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Long Goodbye to a Dearly Beloved Neighbor

The House

For 22 years I lived across the street from a modest, one-story, modernist house designed by an architect who worked in Minoru Yamasaki's office in Troy, Michigan. The house was built in 1960, and it had some wonderful features. The most notable was the central living room with two glass walls and a 4-sided clerestory window that ringed the space.

The Central Living Room

My favorite thing about the house was outside -- an enormous, sheltering walnut tree in the front yard. It always reminded me of Longfellow and another very famous "spreading chestnut tree."

The Sheltering Walnut Tree

The original owners died. Their daughter lived there for a time and then sold the house last year. The new owners decided that they could not have the house they wanted simply by enlarging this one, so they elected to tear it down and start over. 

My beloved walnut tree went down the first day.

It took four days to knock it down.




The new owners are building a two-story house that's twice as big. It will be very green. In style it will be colonial. We hope that in time we come to love it as much as we did its predecessor.