27 December 2011

Modernist Architect Andrew Geller, dead at 87

Beach house by Geller. Photo © Alistair Gordon.

Andrew Michael Geller, modernist architect known for whimsical beach houses, died on Christmas day at age 87 in Syracuse, NY (my alma mater).

Despite having a passion for modern architecture and it being a major part of my professional life, I have never heard of Geller before. Shows what an amateur I still am; you learn every day. My guilt only subsided a tad when I found that even Triangle Modernist Houses' massive modernist archive didn't catalog him (yet) either. 

WSJ contributing editor, blogger and author Alistair Gordon published a book about Geller in 2003: "Beach Houses: Andrew Geller", and a lovely article named "Andrew Geller, Architect of Happiness, 1924-2011", which includes excerpts from his book.

24 December 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a blessed and prosperous 2012!

Modern Home Christmas Decorations, Fort Lauderdale, FL. Photo ©tckaiser

Today is that most magical and ironical time of the year. It is the happiest and saddest of times, the most divine yet the most commercial. It is the spell when love or loneliness thrives or consumes. What is it about Christmas that opens up the heart of hearts and makes it more vulnerable?

Interestingly, the history of this holiday is in itself a paradox. Most Christians believe that December 25 is the actual day that Jesus was born, calculated nine months after the Annunciation when the Blessed Virgin Mary was singled out to be the Mother of Christ.

Some scholars have challenged this notion. They submit that in the 4th century, the Roman Church chose the day that coincided with the Winter Solstice, supposedly the birthday of Sol Invictus. They allege that the assignment of December 25 as Christmas day was a clever ruse to replace the pagan celebration called Bruma.

The universal theme remains the same whatever faith or country one belongs to. It is the ardent universal hope that the coming year will be better than the one gone by. The wish is backed by resolve to do whatever it takes to achieve ones definition of “better”, hence the ubiquitous New Year’s Resolutions.

As you celebrate this festive occasion, spare a thought for those who are unable to do so.

If you can, reach out and touch their lives in some way, no matter how small it may appear to be. It is the thoughts that count. And remember them in your prayers.

I wish all of you a very wonderful and blessed Christmas. Remember, its your choice!
Published originally at http://lifeisreallybeautiful.com/

09 December 2011

Home Security: Easy and Cheap Ways to Increase Your Home’s Security Based on Burglars’ Habits

I wrote on home security here before, but two events made me want to mention it again especially in the Holiday Season:

  • My sister and her husband became a victim of larceny. Without their knowledge or permission (!), their cleaning woman had brought a helper with a long rap sheet of arrests for drug dealing. He (or perhaps she with him?) stole irreplaceable items (hidden, but that didn't help). Even a $30 money box could have prevented this.
  • A really clever trick to scoop out burglary targets. This happened to me shortly before Christmas a few years ago: a neatly dressed man in a black SUV pulls into our driveway and says he's ready to take us to the airport now. My first instinct was to say "but we are not leaving until Wednesday". But I shut my trap just in time. Instead, I explained that we're not travelling anywhere over the Holidays. He apologised and left - one house less on his list of potential burglary targets. 

That in mind, here are some interesting tips from one of my favourite websites, Lifehacker:

Most burglaries occur between 10 am and 3 pm.

Burglars look for homes that appear unoccupied. Consequence:
  • If you're out of the house during those hours and are concerned about burglaries in your neighborhood, consider setting a random timer to turn the TV or radio on during those hours.
  • If you have a second car, keep it out in the driveway while you're at work. Or, perhaps you can rent your driveway during the daytime (besides making your home less attractive to thieves, you can make a few extra bucks. Win!). Park Circa is a website where people look for a parking spot, perhaps also in your neighborhood.
  • Schedule gardening services or other home maintenance services like window cleaning during those prime theft hours.

The typical burglar is a male teen in your neighborhood – not a professional thief – and 60 seconds is the most time burglars want to spend breaking into your home.

Enough security to thwart a regular person may be sufficient (and pros are difficult to deter anyways):
  • "My scary dog runs faster than you"-sign may be one of the most effective theft deterrents, other than—or in addition to—actually owning a scary dog. (Even a small dog prone to barking helps, though.) 
  • Regular "beware of dog" signs work too, especially if you add some additional supporting evidence of dog ownership, like leaving a dog bowl outside by your side door.
  • Deadbolt locks, bars on windows, and pins in sash windows may be effective theft deterrents. Make sure every entry point is locked.

Homes without security systems are about 3 times more likely to be broken into.
  • In lieu of actually signing up for a home security system, you could just buy decals and signs from ebay or elsewhere. Place the decals on your front door, where the majority of thieves enter.

Thieves enter through the front door, first-floor windows, and back doors, followed by the garage, unlocked entrances, and the basement (in order of popularity).

  • Look at reinforcing all of these entry points.
  • Make sure those points of entry are well lit (motion-detector lights are inexpensive and don't use a lot of energy).
  • Clear thief-hiding shrubbery close to your house.
  • Best places to put your security cameras: front and back door, first floor windows (Lifehacker featured quite a few DIY ones using old webcams or your PC.) 
  • Fake security cameras placed at those points might also be effective.

An average of 8 to 12 minutes is all a burglar spends in your home.

So make your valuable objects harder to find within those 12 minutes:

Protect your home while on vacation.
  • Make sure help from friends or neighbors includes little things like putting out garbage cans, getting mail, maybe even cutting the grass.
  • Don't forget the daily stuff like stopping newspaper and mail delivery, if you don't have someone picking those up for you.
  • Use a random timer on your indoor lights or TV.
  • Create a home inventory – for which there are plenty of good tools – and take lots of pictures of the place before you leave.

Got any tips of your own? Please share!

Via Lifehacker

02 December 2011

Impressions from Design Miami

Calling Design Miami an "appendix" to the annual Art Basel Miami would be unfair. 

The show, billing itself as "the global forum for design... in celebration of design culture and commerce" takes place in a rather large white tent erected in a parking lot next to the Miami Beach Convention Center. Once you found the entrance (on the north-east corner), you encounter an – at times stunning – collection of high-class pieces, albeit some with extraordinarily high-class prices. I'll get to that in a bit. 

On Tuesday, the show opened its doors, for collectors and the press. Easy to imagine what calibre of collectors get first dibs here. To the public it opened on Wednesday and runs until Sunday. If you're a modernist, you should go; details are here.  

Graciously invited (thank you very much, Brittany) to the Vernissage, which took place Tuesday evening, here are some scenes that caught my eye:

Wooden gazebo in front of the entrance by David Adjaye, 
winner of the show's Designer of the Year award.

A leather craftsman at Fendi. Yes. Fendi.
Melting Chairs at Industry Gallery.
Indescribable spatial feeling that can't be photographed (by me): a room-filling chandelier, made from white porcelain by Jenne Quinn. Todd Merrill 20th Century Gallery.
Detail of a large wall-installation by Jenne Quinn, Todd Merrill.
Room divider and art, made of lacquered wood, Galerie Seomi.
The most visitors, and the most styled ones to boot: Audi stand (official VIP transporter, 
with a fleet of A8 outside). Highlight: savouring Veuve Cliquot on a pressure-sensitive LED floor, by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. Turn-off: all-male bartender crew was hired purely on over-the-top arrogance.
Where do you meter the photo, on the brilliant white paint of the concept car or?
A Nakashima wall case and what the gallerist called either "wall art or a coat rack" by an unknown artist. Crappy photo–sorry. Great piece.
No, you can't faint into these: chairs by Jean Royere for the Queen of Saudi Arabia, 
ca. 1950. The pair for $180,000 at Magen H Gallery.
Extraordinary ceiling-mounted chandelier (isn't it, or is it a "lamp"?) 
by Jeff Zimmerman at R 20th Century Gallery.
The next cardiac arrest: stunning desk by Jean Prouvé at Gallerie Downtown. Sold to a collector before the show for an undisclosed price. Asking was € 350,000.
Whimsical floor lamps by Studio Job, at Galerie Vivid from Amsterdam.

All photos ©tckaiser

18 November 2011

Florida Real Estate Markets dominate Top-10 Turnaround Report

Miami was the top "turnaround town" in the country in the third quarter, according to a report from Realtor.com. The rankings look at median price appreciation, reductions in age of inventory and inventory counts, along with unemployment rates.

Miami has one foreclosure for every 407 homes, an improvement over the national rate of one out of every 213. Condo sales have also increased 79 percent in the first five months of the year.

Six Florida markets were included on the list, with Fort Lauderdale ranked fourth.

Read on at Realtor.com (via theRealDeal.com)

11 November 2011

Cash Buyers Rule

A phenomenon certainly not limited to the South Florida real estate market, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports that the vast majority of home buyers in Broward and Palm Beach County are paying for their deals in cash, whether they hail from America or abroad.

That represents a marked shift since the years of the housing boom ca. five years ago, when approximately 10 percent of sales in Broward and 19 percent in Palm Beach County were cash deals.

Now, more than 60 percent of the September transactions in Broward and Palm Beach counties were from buyers paying cash – twice the national average.

"The cash buyer is the market right now," said Mike Pappas, president of the Keyes Company. "It's amazing to see the number of cash transactions in the marketplace. It boggles your mind." (Full article: Sun Sentinel via WPTV)

In addition, when I look at the modernist market data for October and first week in November, I not only observe the usual seasonal amount of cancellations and temporary withdrawals – people want to forget the global crisis and rather nest, instead of having buyers trample through cocktail hours and dinner parties.

There also is a noticeable number of transactions hanging forever in pending or backup status, finally falling through and being cancelled or sometimes marketed again. And quite a few deals go to cash buyers at lower prices than to those with financing clauses.

For now, the cash buyer rules.

27 October 2011

Quiz: What Type of Buyer Am I?

Do you let impulse rule your decisions, or are you a more methodical consumer? Your past spending habits have a lot to say about what type of home buyer you'll make.

Take this quick quiz to see your strengths and possible buying pitfalls.

1. I save money: (a) on a regular schedule; (b) when I have money leftover; (c) pretty much never. I have very little savings.

2. When I shop: (a) I use a list; (b) I do pretty good about remembering what I need; (c) I tend to buy things that catch my eye.

3. How important is it for you to appear well-dressed and successful? (a) I know it's important for things to look good, but I don't like to overspend (b) looking good is worth spending a little extra money (c) I live to look like a million bucks!

4. I tend to return purchases to the store: (a) not often; (b) once a month; (c) all the time. If you have a receipt you can return it!

5. I have a car that I: (a) own; (b) make payments on; (c) lease.

6. Before I make a big purchase: (a) I research the latest prices and trends; (b) I think about what exactly I want to buy; (c) I've generally just gotten a raise or bonus.

7. Large purchases make me feel: (a) like a grown-up; (b) a little uneasy; (c) successful and in control.

If you answered mostly a's then you are a careful, methodical shopper. Your strengths in the home buying process are clear. You won't make an impulsive decision. Changes are you'll shop around a lot before you make your final choice. You have plenty of money saved. You are very money conscious. You and homeownership should have a beautiful relationship.

If you answered mostly b's then you tend to pretty good with your money. You don't overspend, but you should focus on saving more. Homeownership comes with a lot of unexpected expenses. Build up an emergency fund and a downpayment account.

If you answered mostly c's then you need to beware. You could very easily be an impulsive shopper. Looking good is really important to you, so be careful not to overspend on a home. You also may have a hard time with commitment. You may lease your car or return items to stores. Be sure you spend time running real numbers and putting together a solid plan for buying before you start the process.

Via Realty Times. Cartoon ©Matt/Daily Telegraph

14 October 2011

Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh, NC

Raleigh, NC, is going for architecture.

At least some times. (Endangering buildings such as the international-style offices at 419 and 425 North Boylan Avenue dull the shine a bit).

Aiming for good architecture is excellent. It's also more unusual than it sounds. Think "though the Spirit may be willing, the Flesh is weak".

A bit clearer: between politico lip-service, commitment and final action lie several abysses.

While architects and Raleigh's citizens are proud to watch Frank Harmon’s AIA-NC Center for Architecture and Design in Raleigh grow towards completion under much attention, a smaller gem has already opened earlier this year: The Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) of Raleigh.

Local architects Clearscapes and LA-based Brooks + Scarpa got to work and re-adapted an existing warehouse CAM owns in Southwest Raleigh’s “Creative District” to become the museum’s main exhibition space. The new design encompasses 20,000 sf (1,900 sm) and features perforated screens on the entrance canopy, a signature Brooks + Scarpa element.
Curious? Read on here:

  • Project name: Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) Raleigh
  • Client: Contemporary Art Museum
  • Location: Raleigh, NC, United States
  • Program: Exhibition spaces, archive and art storage, educational center, administrative offices, catering kitchen, sculpture garden
  • Area: Total Square Footage: 22,300 sf (900 sf new entry lobby)
  • Year: Completion 2011
  • Cost: $5,800,000
  • Architects: Brooks + Scarpa, Clearscapes 
Photo © John Edward Linden

I.M. Mima, 22 Dec 1920 - 14 Oct 2006 

06 October 2011

I.M. Steven Paul Jobs

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. 

And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

– Steve Jobs (24 Feb, 1955 – 5 Oct, 2011), American computer entrepreneur and inventor, co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Apple Inc , at Stanford University Commencement Address June 2005.

The modern world owes him; immensely so.
This blog created on a Mac, as is all my work since 1992.

28 September 2011

Open House Chicago, Oct 15 - 16

Chicago Opens Its Doors 
Following in the footsteps of a growing number of cities around the world—including London, Melbourne, Barcelona, Dublin, Toronto, New York or Denver—Chicago will launch its own Open House weekend October 15 and 16. 

Emil Bach house (1915), by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo © Caroline Stevens
 Sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Open House Chicago offers architecture buffs the chance to see, free of charge, more than 100 sites, including many that are normally off-limits to the public.
Details and a list of upcoming Open House events worldwide, for the Globetrotter in you, here.

An Open House event also takes place nationwide (!) throughout Germany every year in June, next time June 23 and 24, 2012. More about that here.

Via Arch Record Daily

26 September 2011

Vote for Kronish House / Modernism lecture in Fort Lauderdale Sep 29

  • Please vote for the Kronish-house by Richard Neutra (below) as Wall Street Journal's "house of the week". Your vote counts! A status update on the Kronish house demolition alert is here.

23 September 2011

Slideshow: customizing a modular home

From the NYT, an interesting and appetizing slideshow on how one couple customized a–somewhat modernist–modular home. Enjoy!

– In the meantime over at ModernSouthFlorida.com: the newest housing data for SE Florida for August.

16 September 2011

Security Check for (Modern) Homes V: Security Systems

Another missive from the Dept. "Boring but Useful" – an overview of home security systems:

Home security systems can provide a powerful deterrent. They send the message that yours isn't the weakest house on the block and give crooks a strong incentive to target another place.

You'll pay about $35 to $75 a month in monitoring fees for that peace of mind, but home security systems also save you money: Insurers will shave 5% to 20% off your premiums every year you own your home. With an average national premium of $800, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, that means a basic security system can pay for itself in as little as three years.

Before you call a pro

Sign me up, you say. Not so fast. Before you call an installer, take the time to give your doors, windows, and other entry points a thorough once-over (see posts I - IV, links in the right column). It doesn't pay to install new security equipment if you need to upgrade your doors and locks. Once you've completed your security audit and addressed the places where your house is most vulnerable, it's time to get estimates from security companies.

Security system basics

Home security systems typically consist of a keypad mounted in the entryway that communicates with smaller contact sensors and motion detectors attached to doors and windows around the house. The brains of the system--the control panel--is installed in the attic or utility room.

If an intruder breaks a window or kicks in a door, the sensor sends signals to the control panel, which in turn uses your phone line to contact an off-site monitoring station staffed by security personnel. (It also sets off an ear-splitting siren.) Staffers ring the house right away and prompt you or your family members to provide a password. If there's no response, or if the person who picks up the phone gives the incorrect password, they'll notify local law enforcement.

System setup and monitoring costs

Equipment costs vary widely, from around $250 to as much as $700, depending on the options you choose. Some security companies may offer a basic package at a deep discount, or even for free, just to get your business.

After all, they make their real money on the monthly monitoring fee, which ensures that someone is keeping an eye on your home 24/7, even when you're not around or out of town.

Choosing an installer

You may have a choice between hiring a national firm or a local company. Do you want the monitoring center to be in an entirely different state or just around the corner? The national firms boast that their call centers are fully redundant, which means if a center in OshKosh loses power, the center in Vancouver can pick up the slack.

Nevertheless, some home-security pros, like Chris McGoey, of Los Angeles-based McGoey Security Consulting, think it's better to go with local installers, who may have more experience with the equipment than a representative of a large national firm.

"Choose someone in your area who's been in the business at least 10 years," he says. If you go local, however, it's smart to quiz your provider about what provisions it has made in case, say, a blizzard shuts down power or a bug going around your local schools sidelines half their staff.

Wired or wireless?

Installing a basic system usually takes a pro about three hours. If you're building a new house or an addition, you have the luxury of running the wires through open walls. Retrofitting an older home takes more time, because the installer will have to snake wires for the keypad and control panel though existing walls. (Sensors can be wired or wireless.)

A typical approach is to run all wires into the attic or utility room, and tie them into the main electric box and the local phone company line. A battery backup is usually available in case you lose power.

Another option is to go completely wireless. In this case, every component of the system, including the keypad and control panel, houses its own AAA or lithium battery that provides just enough power to enable it to communicate with a remote cellular network. If you're a mobile-only family without a hard-wired phone line, have a VOIP phone, or if you live in an older house, you might be a good candidate for a wireless system. You'll need to check if this technology is available in your area. If it is, you may pay slightly more to install it.

A world of add-ons

Sensors or detectors can be added to the system to address just about any household danger, from fire to flood to carbon monoxide poisoning. Elderly homeowners can even get a wearable "panic button" that will communicate with the control panel in case they fall or need assistance.

"Consumers want these extras," says Bob Tucker, a spokesman for ADT Security, an industry leader. Just bear in mind that each add-on will up the cost of the system and push your monthly monitoring fee toward the top end of the range.

The weakest link: You

Burglars don't defeat security systems; homeowners do. If you view the system as a nuisance, or only use it when you're away on vacation, you're more likely to forget how to operate it and inadvertently trigger a false alarm. That can result in fines from your local law enforcement agency. Resolve to learn how to arm your system, use it daily, and teach your kids as well.

Report your new installation to your insurance company to claim your discounted premium. And don't forget to affix stickers and signs broadcasting your new system in your windows and front yard. "That's 90% of the deterrent right there," says McGoey. "That sign in your yard tells an intruder that he could potentially set off an alarm."
©HouseLogic; article by Joseph D'Agnese, journalist and book author who has written numerous articles on home improvement. He lives in North Carolina.

03 September 2011

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

Outside Port Everglades/Fort Lauderdale, FL, February 2011. Photo© tckaiser

02 September 2011

DIY Security Check for (Modern) Homes IV: Home Office

Making a home 100% burglar-proof is not totally impossible, but it would be outrageously expensive and overshoot the target (more on that in an upcoming post–stay tuned).

Certainly a professional home security system can prevent losses.

But you better also prepare for burglars once they entered your house. Not taking a few extra steps – by protecting personal data, computer equipment, electronics and such from theft, fire and other dangers – is asking for trouble. Let’s highlight the hot spots:

Make sure you're insured

Take a look around your office. Are you properly insured for all of your equipment and possessions? Don't assume that your umbrella homeowner's policy is sufficient. Most policies will cover replacement of computers only up to a specific dollar amount, say $1,000 or $2,500. You'll bear the rest of the cost, unless you add a rider to your existing policy. (Riders tend to be inexpensive; you may pay an extra $50 a year to cover all your camera equipment, for example.)

Equipment that you use solely for business may not be covered at all by your homeowner's policy, necessitating a separate commercial policy. The cost of these policies varies widely, depending on the type of work you do and the value of the items. Equipment on loan from your employer, such as an office laptop, should be covered under your employer's policy.

Back it up–twice!

There are two types of computers users: those who lost data and those who will loose data.

So are you are currently backing up your data to an external hard drive? If you are, good for you. But you can't rest there. If you lost both computer and backup drive to theft or fire, you'd be SOL (...out of luck). Use a cloud-based storage such as DropBox, Wuala, Spideroak or Sugarsync, or a service like CrashPlan, which charges $100 a year to constantly back up all your critical data to a remote server.

Another inexpensive option is off-site storage, where you back up to a rotating number of external hard drives, such as small portable a 1 TB (T stands for truckload of storage... just kidding) USB3 drive by WD, recently offered at Costco for $89. Keep at least one drive always off-site, means in another location not afflicted by the chaos that befell your house.

Paper documents are slightly trickier than the digital variety, because they're usually one-of-a-kind. That's why important data–insurance policies, Social Security cards, passports, auto titles, a list of your family's credit card numbers, etc.–should be stored off-site in a safe deposit box ($50 to $75 a year), or in a fireproof safe bolted to your basement slab. Better is to scan these documents as a PDF to keep them handy, but be sure to back up the digital versions, too.

Bear in mind that digital media, such as DVDs and CDs, can still melt in a fireproof safe. Media safes constructed by companies such as FireKing are built to block heat transfer, but only for a certain time and you'll pay for the extra protection. A 650-pound, 1.5-cubic-foot safe that can hold 140 CDs might run you $3,000; smaller ones that hold 20 CDs cost about $400. (I have once seen a whole house burn down, and I bet a safe with 2 or 4 hours of fire protection won’t cut it. That’s why I prefer off-site storage).

Avoid data and identity theft

Backups are fine, but they won't keep prying eyes off your data if your computer is stolen. Most computers have built-in security features--controlled via their system preferences panel--that you probably aren't using. For example, you can drag your most sensitive data into a single password-protected folder. And you should, by all means, "disable automatic login" so the computer can't boot up or wake up from sleep without a password.

If you want to go whole hog, activate your built-in encryption program (comes with Mac OS X as well as Windows 7) or install a third-party program such as the free download TrueCrypt that will scramble every file on your computer. Without the password, no one can access a single file.

The downside: If you lose or forget the password, adios data. If you're not comfortable with high-tech data security measures, then the best advice is probably the simplest: Install a solid office door with a good lock. And don't forget the office windows (see previous installment).

Protect against power surges

Electronic equipment that you use every day should be plugged into surge protectors ($40 and up). These devices, which look like high-end power strips, guard against occasional fluctuations in electricity coming from your local power company, or from electrical appliances cycling on and off inside the house.

Surge protectors can't make up for improper wiring or insufficient power coming into the house. If you're unsure of your home's power capacity, consider hiring an electrician to do a wiring inspection. Ask him to check how many amps your electrical panel carries (200 amps is typical of most modern homes).

Even if a wiring upgrade isn't in order, ask him to clamp a whole-house surge protector onto your electrical panel and to any other incoming transmission lines, such as cable or data lines. These units, which cost between $200 and $300 installed, can stop a 40,000-amp surge in its tracks.

Not even a top-of-the-line surge protector, however, can guard against a direct lighting strike. As an added measure, unplug all sensitive appliances during a lightning storm, or if you're leaving your home for a lengthy period of time.
Next installment: Home surveillance.

Have a happy and relaxed Labor Day weekend!

Based on an article series by Joseph D'Agnese, journalist and book author who lives in North Carolina, for the National Association of Realtors®.

26 August 2011

The South Florida Real Estate Market In July


After the party comes the after-party. Or the hang-over. 

And as so often, that’s the case here with July housing numbers. No wonder: June sales stats were exceptional, while in July the general public experienced a Congressional budget debate that was without precedence... (full article at http://www.modernsouthflorida.com/current-market-data.html)

DIY Security Check for (Modern) Homes III: Windows

In part III of the Do-It-Yourself Security Check for Modern Homes (I had to find a modern tie-in somehow, no?), we’ll examine your windows to see whether they are an open invitation to criminals.

Check ground-floor and basement windows

Ground-floor and basement windows are more likely to be targeted than those on the second floor, and deserve the most attention. The exception is those second-floor windows that can be easily accessed by a deck or other elevated structure outside the home.

Start your home security check by looking at your ground-floor windows from afar. Are they blocked by high shrubbery? Bushes give ideal cover for someone planning to break or force open a window; cut greenery back so that front windows are fully visible from the street. And do not forget your basement windows.

Keep locks locked

Make sure all windows can be opened, closed, and locked with relative ease—and then remember to keep them locked whenever you’re not around. The biggest problem that occurs with windows is when home owners exit their home and leave windows wide open.

In spring and fall, when daytime temperatures swing and windows are frequently opened and closed, get in the habit of locking windows as you shut them.

Install simple security devices

Add blocking devices to the most easily accessed windows so they can’t be opened from outside:
  • Wooden dowels placed in the track block windows that slide horizontally, and require no installation.
  • Steel locking pins (about $7 each), inserted in small holes that must be drilled through the frames, prevent vertically-sliding windows from being opened.
  • Aluminum clamps with thumbscrews can be affixed to casement windows, preventing them from being opened too wide for a person to reach or get through
  • Your friendly neighborhood hardware store can advise you on other lock types which are easy to mount and inexpensive
Should you install a home security system later, the pros will install glass-break sensors on your most vulnerable windows.

Check garage windows

Garage windows are often forgotten—give them a home security check to make sure they’re securely locked. Install curtains or apply translucent security film on garage windows so that valuables aren’t readily visible. Thieves are more likely to attempt a break-in if they see items worth stealing.

Next installment: Your home office.

Based on an article series by Joseph D'Agnese for the National Association of Realtors®

19 August 2011

Security Check for (Modern) Homes, part II

This from the Dept. Boring-But-Useful:

Mid-century modern home or fake Spanish Revival MacMansion: burglars don’t discriminate, certainly not when it comes to building styles. Any home can be burglarized, especially when times are tough. Unemployment is up, and so are property crimes.

It is difficult to make a house completely burglar-proof, but it is rather easy to increase your odds dramatically. In the second of a five-part series on home security, let's look at your doors.

Doors are First Line of Defense. Protect against break-ins with a security check that shows where the entrances to your house – your doors – are vulnerable.

Think like a burglar

First, stand back: is your front door visible from the street, or is it obscured by bushes? A door that's covered by shrubbery offers thieves the perfect chance to break in without being seen. Trim back or remove shrubbery that offers cover for potential intruders.

Upgrade strike plates and deadbolts

Open all doors and check the strike plates, the metal fittings that catch bolts and latches. Chances are, they're fastened to the soft wood of the door jamb with two screws only. Not good. Upgrade security with four-screw strike plates ($3) and 3-inch screws that bite all the way into the stud behind the jamb.

When conducting your home security check, make sure exterior doors have deadbolts that throw at least a 1-inch bolt. Ask your locksmith to upgrade to Grade 1 or Grade 2 locksets and deadbolts ($25 to $80), the most secure options.

Check garage doors

Back doors and garage doors are more likely to be attacked than the front door. If you have an attached garage, disable the automatic opener and lock the garage door before you go away on a long trip. The door leading from the garage into the house should be outfitted with the same hardware as exterior doors and kept locked at all times.

Patio doors are vulnerable

Sliding doors leading to a patio can be a home's weak spot. To beef up security:
  • Closely inspect the doors and their hardware.
  • Replace any missing or broken locks.
  • Consider installing locking pins to prevent the doors from sliding.
  • Get into the habit of locking the doors, not just the screen, when patio doors are unattended.

Replace your entry door

Check the construction of your entry doors. Steel, solid wood, and impact-resistant fiberglass are all good choices for security. If you must have glass, make sure it is tempered or reinforced for added strength. Expect to pay $1,400 to $2,300 for an exterior replacement door, including installation.

Strengthen the lock on your outdoor storage shed

Don't ignore the doors on your outdoor storage shed, especially if you store tools there; they could be useful to a burglar. As with house doors, the best option is a secure deadbolt. If your shed doors are unable to accommodate a deadbolt, a heavy-duty slide bolt ($15 to $25) secured by a padlock is a good substitute.

Now, doesn't it feel good to increase the odds in "You-against-burglar" in your favour?
Next installment: Windows.

Based on an article series by Joseph D'Agnese for the National Association of Realtors

12 August 2011

Home Security Check, part I

Burglars do not discriminate, certainly not when it comes to building styles: modern or not, any home can be burglarized. And though it is difficult to make a house burglar-proof, it is rather easy to increase your odds dramatically.

In the first of a five-part series on home security, let's start with the overall perspective.

The first step toward protecting your home from break-ins is to conduct a home security check that will show where your property is most vulnerable.

This step-by-step list, arranged according to the hierarchy of risk, is a good place to start.

Your home's appearance

Burglars want an easy target, so try to think like a burglar. Stand on the street outside your house and ask yourself: Does this property look neglected, hidden, or uninhabited? A front door or walkway obscured by shrubbery offers crooks the perfect cover they need while they break a door or window.

Consider trimming shrubs away from windows, widening front walks, and installing outdoor lighting with motion detectors. Simple motion-activated floodlights cost less than $50, and installing them is an easy DIY job if the wiring is already in place. All sides of your house should be well-lit, not just the front.

Doors: The first line of defense

Are your front and back doors vulnerable? Steel, solid wood, and impact-resistant fiberglass are all good choices for security.

Open all doors and check the strike plates, the metal fittings that catch bolts and latches. If they are fastened to the soft wood of the door jamb with two screws: you need to upgrade (details on how to upgrade and what to install in the next post “Doors”.)

Especially vulnerable are back doors and garage side doors. If you have an attached garage, secure the door by disabling the automatic opener and locking the door before you go away on a long trip. The door leading from the garage into the house should be outfitted with the same hardware as all other exterior doors and be kept locked at all times.


In order of risk, ground-floor and basement windows are more likely to be attacked than second-floor windows. The exception is second-floor windows that can be easily accessed, by a deck or other elevated structure outside the home. Make sure all windows can be opened, closed, and locked with relative ease–and then remember to lock them. The biggest problem with windows is that homeowners leave the house and leave them wide open.

Don’t ignore the doors and windows on your garage as well as an outdoor storage shed, especially if you store tools such as ladders, saws, screwdrivers, and hammers, any of which would be handy to a burglar. As with house doors, the best option is a secure deadbolt. Hasp closures are easily defeated because someone can insert a crowbar behind the hasp and snap it.

Patio doors

It's relatively easy to lift a set of older patio doors off the track, even when they are locked. Don't attempt to do this on your audit, but take time to inspect the doors and hardware. Replace any missing or broken locks, and consider installing and using locking pins to prevent them from sliding.

Consider your family's habits: Do you leave the patio doors open all summer? Locking the screen door isn't good enough; it keeps out bugs, not thieves. Get in the habit of closing and locking patio doors when they're unattended or you're not home.

Safeguarding household valuables

Thieves want easy-to-grab electronics, cash, jewelry, and other valuables, though some are not above running down the street with your flat-screen TV. Most make a beeline for the master bedroom, because that's where we're likely to hide spare cash, jewelry, even guns.

Tour each room and ask yourself: Is there anything here that I can move to a safe deposit box? Alternatively consider a home safe, bolted to your basement slab–a good spot for everything else. These safes come in various sizes, from drawer-safes to wall safes that go between wall studs to free-standing monsters, not to forget dummy can-safes. The rule: anything that costs a burglar time helps you. Run a search on amazon.com for safes, and you'll get a good overview of cost and availability.

Have you made a video inventory of other items of value in your home? Are you properly insured for theft? Understand that high-ticket items in your home office, such as computers, professional camera equipment, or other business essentials, may require an additional rider or a separate policy. And take steps to back up the personal information stored on your home computer.

In the next installment: Doors.

Based on an article series by Joseph D'Agnese for the National Association of Realtors

23 July 2011

The Kronish house by Richard Neutra in Beverly Hills threatened by demolition – for sale at $13.995M

For the first time in 30 years, this Richard Neutra Beverly Hills home has been offered for sale. In essence, it was listed as a tear-down in April for $13.995 million, with no real photos and no mention of the name Neutra. Those details were added a few weeks later.

Named for its original owner, Herbert Kronish, and built in 1954, the one-story house sits at the end of a 250-foot-long driveway on a 2-acre, flag-shaped lot with mature trees and a swimming pool.

With 6,891 square feet of living space, six bedrooms and 5 1/2 bathrooms, the contemporary home is the Modernist architect’s largest in Southern California, according to his son, Dion Neutra. Walls of glass open to a terrace that steps down to the pool.

Dion Neutra, who runs Neutra Architects, says that the owners have refused to let anyone in to photograph the house and that he's hoping any plans for demolition can be stopped. Beverly Hills doesn't have strong preservation laws and has let other mid-century houses by big names bite the dust.

Eyewitness reports from commenters say the house is in bad shape, but it is large (6,891 square feet) and it does have a pool. Either way, a buyer will end up with a two acre flag lot off Sunset and an occasional next door neighbor named Madonna.

Commenting on the fact that a demolition permit has been applied for but not yet granted – or so it seems –  blogger Barbara Lamprecht writes

“The proposed demolition of any work anywhere by a master architect is automatically discretionary. Period.”

Please email me if you are interested in preserving this important property.


15 July 2011

A Day of Architecture

Update: 2012 dates are June 23 and 24, 2012. The main event site has not been updated yet... let me know if you need help translating ;-)

For the 17th year in a row (!), in June Germany celebrated a “Day of Architecture” throughout the whole country, with 1668 open-house-projects in nearly every state. Organized by the Architekten-Kammern (Architect Chambers, the German equivalents to state AIA chapters), the focus this year was on modern and contemporary residential projects, which generated intense interest from a curious public.

The 2011 event, under the motto “Better Living. With Architects” (which probably did not mean to imply that you necessarily live better if you share your bed with an architect), tackled subjects such as new forms of living, demographic changes, new use-concepts and building without barriers for handicapped residents.

The “Day of Architecture” – actually whole a weekend, always the last one in June – is such a success that it has become a permanent item in the annual calendar of every architecture-crazed fan as well as the professionals (except this writer, who only learned about in late June). US-style “open houses” are otherwise unknown in Germany, but on this weekend, builders, owners and architects fling open their doors to let the public romp through their new homes, renovated buildings and rehabed interiors.

A selection of interesting projects from all states in Germany can be seen here (use the arrows next to “Bildauswahl” to scroll through the photos on that page; click on a photo to read a brief description in German; click on the link under the word “Projekt” to get a detailed description).

Some of the featured projects (below not linked):

01 July 2011

Have a Great Independence Weekend!

A mid-century-modern summer pool scene, Strümp/Germany 1958. Photo © G.Kaiser

24 June 2011

The Modernist Bird

Any bird, afflicted by the same modernist virus as their garden's owner, now has two more splendid options, one being this International Style feeder:

10 June 2011

Modernism on the Jersey Shore

This week, I am vacationing on the Jersey shore, in Avalon north of Cape May to be precise. I had never been to this small town or the barrier island referred to as Seven-Mile-Island before: a beautiful area, especially this time of the year, before the masses arrive (if you can speak of masses with a serious lack of hotels and most residential structures being single family homes).

What caught my eye right from the first minute in Avalon was the rather uniform building style, locally referred to as Nantucket architecture:

Nantucket style via Jersey shore: mostly two stories, steep roofline, lots of 
dormers, shingled roofs and siding (often vinyl, sometimes cedar), emphasized 
fenestration, covered porches, ocean-facing balconies.

(Do bear with me, we're getting to modernist houses soon...)

A lot of the area houses are now build as pre-fabs, with plumbing, wiring, windows etc. pre-installed:

 Prefab "upside-downer" with main living area on second floor and six bedrooms, 
constructed from 14 modules. Time between two shots: one day. Move-in date: 
approx. three to five weeks from photo date.

Long-term visitors told me that even in the 1960s, Avalon and its neighbour Stone Harbor were expensive. $300,000 for a house on an interior lot was not uncommon then. Currently, oceanfront starts at approx. $5m asking, a vacant lot on a high dune is available for $10.0m, a small interior single story ranch home with 3 bedrooms and no pool on 8,000 sf in walking distance to beach is $1.0m. Originally however, most homes were humble seaside cottages:

(Really interesting, but no modern architecture? Anywhere? Just one?

From that style evolved a slightly larger variant, sort of a ranch on stilts, to counter occasional flooding typical on barrier islands (please note the gable windows below, first sign of modernism):

And – deep sigh – as everywhere, there's always room for more bling and less taste:

Misplaced Italianate on the ocean, clad in white marble.
18,000 sf Nantucket Style on steroids in the dunes. Potatoe-chips build that residence.

After one or two days, I started to see hints and glimpses of modernist architecture: 

Modern interpretation of the salt-box? Geometrical fenestration 
is actually a residential version of a curtain wall, facing east.
Ensemble of three individual residences on a triangular oceanfront lot near the inlet.
Detail of above ensemble shows house 1 and house 2. All three houses utilise 
different exterior materials and colours to emphasise their separate structures.
Architect's remodel of a non-modernist home includes greening of garage roof plus new facade.
Oceanfront residence with roof terrace, facade in typical local color (stained wood? planking).
Fourth house from the ocean (on right); vertical emphasis of wood planking and fenestration 
countered by three massive horizontal blocks formed by retaining wall, balcony on 
second floor and roof terrace on third.
Contemporary but clean interpretation of the upside-downer, with main living areas on second floor. 
Upside-downer on the Bay with lovely cedar-shingled facade. House orientated 
west towards the Bay. Garage and closed front facing east and street.
Looking elegant at first glance at dusk.
West elevation however shows messy design, restless details, fenestration not 
lined up and overall neglect. Pity.
Unassuming oceanfront; narrow 5,500 sf lot necessitates a smallish front and deep 
footprint. Three stories visually compensated by emphasis on the horizontal through 
bands of windows and pale horizontal planking.
 My favourite, right next door to above home. Near-Neutra-like use of emphasising 
the contours and construction with gray timber, spaces filled with white vertical 
planking (wood?). Smaller windows to the west, large expanses of glass facing 
the dunes and the ocean (on the right).

Thank you for reading this post. I hope you had fun – and looking forward to your comments!