Historic Rewards

I am fortunate to live and work in a bucolic and picturesque part of the world.  I live in a small town, filled with historic buildings, hemmed in by two mountain ranges that are protected against development.  Visitors come to our area from around the world to share our beautiful setting.

 Historic Renovations, Burlington, Vermont

Historic Renovations, Burlington, Vermont

What makes this area so attractive?  It is a balance between the region’s natural beauty and the community’s understanding of their role as stewards of their environment.  Guidelines and restrictions exist on both state and local levels that have been thoughtfully crafted with the intention of preserving our natural and scenic resources. And…while I may not always agree with these restrictions, I fully support their mission.  So often people arrive in our area amazed by its beauty.  They purchase property in the community, and then are offended that a committee of their peers has the right to tell them how to build on their lot!

 Mid 19th c. Contextual Detailing

Mid 19th c. Contextual Detailing

Working in a historic district can be particularly challenging.  On the other hand, it also provides designers with a vocabulary to employ while crafting buildings.  What’s important in working in a historic region is understanding that we are not trying to fool anyone by having our contemporary buildings masquerading as historic impostors.  Rather, we need to understand the point in history in which we are working.  The fabric of built forms, current technologies, and social patterns all contribute to the context of the buildings we are creating.  It is important to understand the fundamentals of form and materials, and how those came to be in the framework of our projects, so that our decisions to employ them, or choose not to, come from a place of meaning. 

While projects in historic districts are some of our most challenging, they often prove to be some of the most rewarding.

6 Tips for Updating your Bathroom

Your bathroom is your sanctuary. You start and end your day there. In a hectic household, it is sometimes the only place you get to be alone and have some “me time”. It is also one of the hardest working rooms in your home. It typically includes three sources of water, electricity and myriad surface and storage requirements. Remodeling a bath can be a huge undertaking, and I have seen numerous incidents where a small mistake had huge ramifications.

 A peaceful and hard-working bathroom

A peaceful and hard-working bathroom

 A repurposed Bombay Chest becomes a perfect vanity

A repurposed Bombay Chest becomes a perfect vanity

Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your bath project:

•Draw it up and plan it out. If you are not working with a design professional, start by measuring your spaces and drawing it on graph paper so that you understand what your space limitations are. Be as accurate as possible, and write in your dimensions. This will be very helpful as you choose fixtures and order materials.

• Understand how you use your bath.

How many people use your bath at one time?

Do you need lots of storage for medications or makeup? Do you have small children from whom medications must be carefully stored away?

Do you spend a lot of time in the shower? Do you use a lot of products there that require space for storage?

Is there towel and linen storage in close proximity to your bath? Do you have enough space to hang damp towels?

Do you actually use your tub? If not, get rid of it and use the space for something useful. If so, are there attributes you wish it had? (Space to set a book and a glass of wine? A ledge for candles and bath salts?)

• Find Inspiration. There are so many great visual resources on line to get ideas from. Check out Houzz and Pinterest. Both sites have ways for you to search for, organize and archive images.

• As you start to select plumbing fittings, consult with your plumber to see what is readily available in your area, and easily serviceable. Don’t just by a faucet because it’s pretty. It has to work!

• Unless you are dead-set on a color for your porcelain fixtures, choose white. It’s timeless and goes with everything!

• Consider hiring a professional. As the saying goes: “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur!” A design professional will know where the pitfalls are and have an arsenal of products and insights that will save time and money, and add value to your project.

 A punchy "pocket bath" that serves a small guest room.

A punchy "pocket bath" that serves a small guest room.

In the end, remember that this highly private space is often the first thing to greet you in the morning and the last to say goodnight. Make it something special!

Front Porch Culture

I am fortunate enough to be spending some time at our cottage on Martha’s Vineyard this summer. And one thing that keeps coming back to me is the role of the front porch, and how that impacts the way we interact with each other.

 Bowen Cottage

Bowen Cottage

Our cottage is in a very pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. And while our street is very quiet, people walk or bike by on their way to the beach or to a friend’s house. Choosing to sit on the porch is a passive invitation to interaction. In an age where we spend our time communicating through texts, chats and IMs, it is refreshing to have these spontaneous encounters face-to-face.

 Two renovations of seaside homes by Ramsay Gourd Architects.

Two renovations of seaside homes by Ramsay Gourd Architects.

 Note the wide, welcoming stairs.

Note the wide, welcoming stairs.

In thinking about this phenomenon, it occurred to me that rarely do people invest in a front porch in a vehicular neighborhood. The suburban street-scape in the age of the automobile has a very different feel from the turn-of-the century fabric where I find myself today.

I remember, as a young man, being highly offended when I saw the remodeling of an old Shingle Style house here. While the new owners preserved the sweeping porch of my friend’s childhood home, they eliminated the wide stair that beckoned passers-by to join them in enjoying the company of others. I found the omission of the stair to be a clear sign that these new owners were more interested in privacy than community.

 This is a porch that beckons passers-by to come, rest, and share the gorgeous ocean view.

This is a porch that beckons passers-by to come, rest, and share the gorgeous ocean view.

It is amazing how a couple of simple architectural gestures can impact the way we relate with each other. Whether part of the simple Campground cottages like mine, or the grand Shingle Style homes along East Chop Drive, each of these porches acts as a warm smile that draws you in, and says “Welcome”.

 An inviting screened porch that flows from the front porch of a recent renovation by Ramsay Gourd Architects.

An inviting screened porch that flows from the front porch of a recent renovation by Ramsay Gourd Architects.

Stepping Outside

 Wisteria Arbour at Beaver Brook - Hollis, NH

Wisteria Arbour at Beaver Brook - Hollis, NH

After enduring what felt like and endless winter in New England, it is refreshing to see the greens of summer and feel the warm kiss of the sun. This turn to balmier days has my mind moving outside. I find that the best outdoor spaces provide a special, sometimes tenuous connection between man and nature. It is in these spaces that we start to re-connect with the awe-inspiring world in which we live.

 

 The Villa Lante

The Villa Lante

As an architect, often working in bucolic rural settings, I am very conscious of how my buildings relate to the landscape and how, through framed views and circulation patterns, I connect the inhabitants with the outdoors, drawing them both literally and metaphorically out from the shelter of our built environments. The Italian architects of the Renaissance can be credited for some of the finest examples of integrating architecture with the landscape. Consider the amazing palazzi that extend out into the countryside with gardens and vineyards that knit structure and order with the organic fabric of the untamed landscape.

 

 

The notion of the Outdoor Room has been exploited by the likes of Home Depot and Webber. When we hear the term, we often conjure up images of built-in grilles, trellised ceilings, and furnished spaces, even with indoor/outdoor rugs. But outdoor spaces can be as loosely defined as a clearing in the woods or pattern in the ground plane.

 

 An inviting path of natural elements

An inviting path of natural elements

We must be careful in our enthusiasm to celebrate outdoor spaces that we don’t lose the essence of what makes them so special. I like to use natural materials in outdoor settings. And when appropriate, indigenous materials that speak of the place where they are. There are countless “weatherproof “ products that to my eye clash with the landscape rather than integrate with it. I’ll take a courtyard of pea-stone over a terrace of stamped concrete any day!

 

 

 

 A living fence made of rooted willow cuttings

A living fence made of rooted willow cuttings

 Natural stone steps knitted into the landscape

Natural stone steps knitted into the landscape

Vermont's Hidden Resource

I have to admit my frustration with our culture’s sense of disposability when it comes to our built environment. I hate to think about the cubic tonnage of discarded building material that has gone out of vogue.

 Live Edge of Danby Imperial Marble

Live Edge of Danby Imperial Marble

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Square miles of stone countertops and flooring have been replaced in the past decade alone! Selecting and specifying materials is a big part of my job. It is something that I take very seriously, especially when it is considered in the context of sustainability.

I recently went on a slab-selection trip at the Vermont Quarries facility in Danby, VT. It was an awe-inspiring experience. This quarry has been in operation for over 100 years, providing the marble for such esteemed buildings as the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Shanghai Temple and the New York Public Library. Additionally, it is the source for the pure white stone used in the National Cemetery.

 New York Public Library

New York Public Library

 Entry to the Danby Quarry

Entry to the Danby Quarry

We arrived at the quarry at 9:30 on a Tuesday morning. If you didn’t know where you were, you would never believe that behind the garage door in the side of a mountain, there was a cavern that continues for a mile and a half! Upon arrival, we were fitted up with hard hats and oxygen devices in the “unlikely event of an emergency”.

The space inside this mountain belittles that of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Driving through the enormous vaulted chambers, I felt of Lilliputian scale. Enormous blocks of marble lined the passages everywhere you looked, and a whole network of transporting machinery has been inserted in the mountain like some sort of skeletal structure.

 

 Inside the Quarry

Inside the Quarry

 Wetting the slab to determine the colour of the finished product.

Wetting the slab to determine the colour of the finished product.

Our tour guide, Mike, the quarry manager, was a wealth of knowledge, and very helpful in locating the type of slab we were looking for. It is very important to wet-down the stone you are viewing to reveal what the true colour is. (We looked at one slab that surprised us with a green hue when soaked.)

The stone’s color and pattern is the result of both its geological makeup and how it is cut. The cut of the stone also effects the durability of the material. Two of the most common cuts are “flurry cut” and “vein cut”. In vein cut stone, the material is cut perpendicular to the natural layers of the metamorphic process. This reveals the striation of the individually articulated strata. Flurry stone is cut parallel to the strata, exposing a more random veining. Because of the inconsistency of the stratas’ densities, vein cut stone is considered more brittle and often requires epoxy & fiberglass reinforcement. However, its’ dramatic patterning makes it ideal for book-matching.

 

No matter what your application, it is important to consider natural stone as a truly precious and limited resource.