Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday morning.

The boys are hard at work this morning.

The designers are dialed in:

And the green builders are making it happen in the field:

Cheers to the sunshine. Happy Friday.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The many postures of an architect pt. 1

It occurred to me the other day that architects do a lot of cool things. Namely Steve Swearengen. Every time I pass his office, or have a meeting, or visit jobsites, or have lunch with the guy it's a good time.

Exhibit A:

This is Steve's workplace, sort of. That picture was taken last week while Steve and I measured the interior of a client's El Cerrito home. Pretty glamourous right? True, his job might have some perks (like the view from some of the homes we remodel), but more often I see him in his office positioned something like this:

I think he's drawing in that one, but he very well may be crying from the stress... Kidding of course. He's a rock star.

Anyhow, I've decided I'm going to let you into the life of our Steve, with the intention of revealing how his efforts (and the teams) turn stuff like this:

into stuff like this:

And of course I'll poke a little fun... Stay tuned.

Image by Dave Shackleton in that last one. The project won a 2008 Remmie.

P.S. I don't have Steve's permission for this so I might have to use some of my spy skills.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My Hiro

Here's a great article about a great man.

Hiro is a long time friend and an amazing designer.

His son Ari is one of my best friends and in the marketing department at Kawasaki. It's great to be able to bounce ideas off of each other from different industries. Ideas like blogging... and Facebook.

Read the article and you're sure to be impressed with Hiro, one of my all time faves.

You can also visit to see more of his projects.

The Queen and Frank Israel

I was flipping through some old vacation photos the other day and I came across these ones of The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Palace is The Queen's official residence in Scotland, situated at the end of the Royal Mile. The pictures feature the ruins of the Augustinian Abbey that was built in 1126, and remains attached to the palace.

As I looked at the images I couldn't help but think I'd seen something like that before. Only the ruins and palace are one of a kind, and I'm not that well traveled. After some consideration I made up my mind that what I was really thinking about was the late Frank Israel's "Lamy-Newton pavilion" in Hancock Park, CA. Only in Israel's 1988 design the extension of the house is the new, whereas in the case of the palace, the extension is the old. Nevertheless they are both cool examples of contrast.

I'm not sure what the design process was surrounding the palace, but Israel was quoted in his self titled book to say," Extremely adventurous clients, the Lamy-Newtons not only favored the new, but asked for the outrageous. A strange inversion of the norm arose in which the architect had to restrain the clients, and not the opposite." I respect Mr. Israel for having the client's best interests in mind. That's something we're most committed to also.

The finished product is amazing. Notice how even with a new and different ascthetic, he was able to obey the principles of symetry. Wow...

Hope you like the pics. There's more of projects like this to come. Click to enlarge.

I'm Pumped!

Just got an early release copy of Sarah Suzanka's latest tome in her "...not so big..." series, Not So Big Remodeling.

Alongside co-author Marc Vassalo she's bringing her particularly rational and sensitive wisdom to bear on a discipline of residential design I find to be the most challenging: Remodeling. I'm like, "anybody can start fresh with new construction and tailor it to meet their needs. Try remodeling something sometime..."

Thanks to Suzanka's success in other aspects of her "not so big' uh, empire, her publisher appears to finally be open to letting the door for the rest of us be opened. Whatever the real reason is, we say go for it Sarah! (And Marc)

Supposed to rain this weekend... Thinking about cozying upnext to the hearth with this one. Will let you know what I think soon.

By: Steve Swearengen, Architect, LEED AP, CGBP

Steve Swearengen is an award-winning architect and the Director of Design for More Than A Carpenter.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Heart to Heart Celebrates 20 Years!

Valentine’s Day was special this year as MTAC was able to support the 20th anniversary of Heart to Heart at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley.

Heart to Heart is an independent non-profit organization founded in 1989 to teach physicians in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad, USSR) how to perform open-heart surgery on children. The break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War literally opened the door for Heart to Heart to expand its teaching to other regions of Russia, giving millions more children access to modern heart care.

Heart to Heart’s focus since 1989 has been teaching throughout Russia. Valentine’s Day marked 20 years of surgical-educational missions to that country and the 7,000 children whose lives have been saved by their Russian colleagues. Heart to Heart-Sponsored sites have already given access to modern heart care for children to the 68 million people living in three of Russia’s seven vast districts.

A great time was had by all at the event. We look forward to continuing support of Heart to Heart’s heroic and sustainable efforts.

Picture of the day.

This picture was taken of our only commercial project last year.

While the building is of course fixed in place, Dave and I wanted to convey the motion that surrounds the building every day.

Click the image to enlarge.

House Colors

Ever wonder what Steve Swearengen was doing before he was Director of Design at MTAC?? Designing of course...

In addition to having been published in Sunset Magazine and others, one of Steve's past designs is also featured here in Susan Hershman's House Colors.

The Oakland dwelling can be found on page 166. The home was new construction.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Something's Missing.

If you've passed by our building recently you may have noticed something missing: our signs! Yes our signs have been laid to rest... Finally.

While we won't be moving our location , we will be moving up. Since changing our logo last year we've been in need of an update.

So for now, please don't forget where we live (we're still at 9825 San Pablo Ave.). New signs are coming soon!

Oscar Time

Although not in real time, I was able to enjoy the Oscars because of our digital recorder. It was even more enjoyable because I could cut out the commercials and the categories I didn’t really care to watch. There was a different reaction by my wife at the other end of the couch. While I was playing with my favorite toy, the remote control, she assertively expressed displeasure with my fast forwards, skips and pauses. She is a ‘real time” girl and enjoys the journey. Me, I like the punch line, the results and the “winner is…!” Just get to the point! \ Kate, you deserved it Sean did too! And Amy Adams your dress rocked!

Consider me reminded that there are others in the room; people with valuable points of view and tastes, who might be as interested in the journey as much as the outcome. That’s why listening is so important to the design/build process. A project never truly becomes an award winner unless everyone on the team is valued. MTAC has never won a Grammy, but we have won our share of Remmies, the award of excellence given for outstanding projects by NARI. Each of those projects and wins were the result of a valued team.

As I arrived home this evening and headed for the family room to watch; I noticed that my daughter and a friend were already viewing in her room. “Don’t tell me anything,” I remonstrated. “I want to watch it myself!” Come to think of it, I guess I like the journey just as much as my wife … but at my speed!

By: John Ferguson Sr., CR, CGBP

Friday, February 20, 2009

Our dear friend Inge...

It is with sadness that we will attend the memorial service of our dear friend Inge Polese this Sunday. We had a special relationship, she and I... But I imagine that is a sentiment she left with everyone she ever met.

Here are two pictures of her lovely deck in her honor. She will be greatly missed.

Read Up!

Great intro to the February 2009 issue of Architectural Digest by Editor-in-Chief Paige Rense.

Click on image to enlarge.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Coming and going.

I'm headed off to the airport this afternoon. Unfortunately I'm not the one who's going anywhere...

The airport can be a busy place. You've got to check in, check your bags, take off your belt, shoes, unload your pockets, not forget your book, and even if you carry your baggage on, you better be sure that you don't have a bottle of shampoo that's bigger than 3.5 ounces. All that said, it doesn't leave you much time to appreciate design.

Much the same as our homes, airports can be places that only see us coming or going. But next time you've got the chance (whether you're kicking off your shoes at your front door or at the request of TSA) take a look at the design around you. I think you'll find that wherever you are, there's always the chance to be inspired.

Here are some airport shots to get you started.

There's also some great shots at from their remodel of Oakland International. Web design by our friend Michael over at Exoatmospheric.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It's raining, it's pouring...

Even though rain can sometimes slow down remodeling projects, here in Northern California we are ecstatic to see it pour. So in honor of the showers we so desperately need, here are some of the showers we've remodeled for ourclients recently. The first bathroom remodel shown (Kensington, CA) received a REMMIE Award from the SFBA NARI Chapter. Photography by Treve Johnson.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

It's Not As It Seems

As the economy implodes all of us are scrambling to make sense of how this might effect our families, our lifestyles, and our employment. In desperation most of us are willing to try anyting (legal, that is) to feed our families. However, this can often have a downside for the consumer. It is especially true in my line of work, home remodeling. A few tools, a magnetic vehicle sign and viola... Bubba's Home Repairs... or better yet, when the new home builders are no longer cranking out the track homes hoards of laid off framers suddenly become "remodeling professionals."

I own a full set of mechanics wrenches and have a reasonable understanding of how a car works but I use my ratchet to assemble lawn furniture and tighten the legs of a table or chair, not to tune up my Prius or change the shocks on my wife's Mercedes. Just as automobiles have become sophisticated pieces of technology so our homes have become more than boards and nails. They are full of systems that effect issues of health and safety. They are generally the most valuable asset in our portfolio. And they are the one place we'd like to enter and shut the door on the hassles on the outside.

Most of us want to make things simpler than they seem. That way they will be less expensive. Yeah, right. My experience tells me that when I try to shortcut a process or take the less expensive way out I'm usually dreaming! And I wake up to a nightmare.

So in this time of economic challenge think twice and pay once. Consider hiring the professional to do his/her job. It is sooooo worth it in the long run.

By: John Ferguson Sr., CR, CGBP

John Ferguson Sr. is the President of More Than A Carpenter, an award winning Design/Build home remodeling company in El Cerrito, CA.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What could make cooking worse?

This is a kitchen remodel we completed in Castro Valley, CA last year. It won a 2008 Remmie Award through the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).

NARI is a great place to start if you're looking for advice on how to begin a home remodel, or even just looking for a list of licensed, qualified companies.

Photography by: David Shackleton

Some of them will stink.

"Some of them will stink..." Those were the words of our Director of Design Steve as we discussed the idea of blogging and it's benefit to our company. The statement was in a response to my worry that not all of our ideas were exactly newsworthy, so why would anybody care? I suppose that's the difference between an architect like Steve, and a marketer like me.

When he has his design hat on, ideas are only concepts. They are the things that point to real solutions, and not always the solutions themselves. Every day he listens, and draws, and wads and throws, and draws some more until he solves the puzzle, and here I was, feeling like every post of this thing that didn't even exist yet needed to grab some readers that weren't even there.

The goal is to give you a true account of what life is like at our design/build remodeling company. Sure you read the shelter and trade mags, we all do. Only this will be a little more off the cuff, and a lot more behind the scenes. Expect to see pictures of projects (both amateur and pro), and to read posts about a lot of problems being solved by designer peeps and hammer swingers all under the same roof. Some of the problems will be about homes, and some will be about business. Some will undoubtedly be about us. Some won't be problems at all. We have a lot of successes too. Best of all we get to have a lot of really rad relationships with people who let us smash up there houses and put them back together. And there's also relationships with the awesome people who help us out. Anyway, the real idea here is to show you the process of the day to day.

So whether you're an architect, a designer, a contractor, a supplier, an estimator, an IT person (we love you), a craftsperson, an engineer, a marketer, an artist, a homeowner (which would be nice), or none of the above, check back and maybe you'll see something that interests you.

If there's anything I can promise, at least you'll be able to say "wow, some of those really do stink..."