Drôle House Blog

Postcard 10

{Postcard 10}: How can I make my kitchen entrance less problematic? - Submitted by Jenny

{Postcard 10}: How can I make my kitchen entrance less problematic? - Submitted by Jenny.

Jenny and her family enter their home through a door that opens directly into the kitchen, leaving only a small wall area for hooks with boot storage on the floor below. As she gears up for winter with her two young boys, Jenny is wondering if there is a fix for the entryway. In her sketch at the top, she points to the main problem: "walk right into kitchen".

Jenny's design challenge includes:

  • a main entrance into the kitchen within a few steps from grade (with no vestibule)
  • the need to store a family-of-four's worth of winter boots and shoes

Similar to the challenge in Postcard 9, entrances without vestibules are such a challenge in northern climates! Having a door enter directly into the kitchen isn't great for heat retention or circulation into the space, let alone the piles of outer wear that kids generate needing to be stored close by. This design challenge took a lot of head scratching, and unlike previous postcard ideas, really requires actual building to solve! If you must build, you may as well make it fun too.

The suggested solution to Jenny's problematic entryway is to build a new mudroom as a small addition to catch all the coats and boots, reduce the draft upon entering, and let the kitchen do it's thing. It's only about 64 sqft and includes a full closet with a window above, as well as a bench with coat hooks above and shoe storage below.

The bonus here is taking a very simple shed or gabled roof porch (ideally matching the style and materials of the existing house), and turning the upper exterior portion into a integrated and hidden playhouse. Oh yes! The playhouse is reached by a ladder concealed into the installation of board siding, has a little window looking out, and can even include a light so it light up as a lantern at night. Functional and fun.

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~Deborah

Playbox Fundraiser Reveal!

They're here! I'm pleased to reveal the finished playboxes curated for The Children's Storefront silent auction fundraiser. They are part art, part furniture, part play, and are intended for children aged 3-8. The makers include architects, a designer, a teacher and a scientist, and each of the five boxes is absolutely delightful! They can be stand alone toys, or can be affixed to the wall to become night tables or engaging works of art. They are available to bid on here until December 6th, 2016 and all proceeds go to the Children's Storefront and La Leche League Canada. If you want to see them in action, head to the Drôle House Facebook page.

Musical playbox made by Kyle England, Architect.

Musical playbox made by Kyle England, Architect.

Weaving playbox made by Nadine El-Gazzar, Architect. In her words: "t he spatial weaving playbox allows the crafter to weave strips of material through a network of strings in different planes. The strips of material can be re-positioned, twisted, crossed and intertwined. The quiet process of weaving allows the player mind space to refect on the craft, or whatever thoughts fill their mind."

Weaving playbox made by Nadine El-Gazzar, Architect. In her words: "the spatial weaving playbox allows the crafter to weave strips of material through a network of strings in different planes. The strips of material can be re-positioned, twisted, crossed and intertwined. The quiet process of weaving allows the player mind space to refect on the craft, or whatever thoughts fill their mind."

Circuit House playbox made by Wendy Graham of  Science Riot Grrls.

Circuit House playbox made by Wendy Graham of Science Riot Grrls.

Game Blocks playbox made by Ivan Ilic, designer and model maker Shop 116. In his words: " p  lay means an opportunity to explore, experience, and through a creative process further our understanding of the world. Game blocks are a collection of oversized wood dice that individually or in combination allow us to make our own fun games: games that may involve facial expressions, spelling, math, directions, animals, colours and some images what are just plain weird."

Game Blocks playbox made by Ivan Ilic, designer and model maker Shop 116. In his words: "play means an opportunity to explore, experience, and through a creative process further our understanding of the world. Game blocks are a collection of oversized wood dice that individually or in combination allow us to make our own fun games: games that may involve facial expressions, spelling, math, directions, animals, colours and some images what are just plain weird."

Woodland natural playbox made by Eva Mendonça, teacher. In her words:  "my inspiration for the playbox was nature and the outdoors. Some of my best memories of childhood are running around outside or foraging in the forest. Growing up, most of my toys were found in nature or handmade from ordinary objects {buttons, clothes pins, milk bags!}. It's all about trusting the magic and letting simple objects come to life. Allowing imagination to shape the play experience with minimal influence of toys. It's about letting your souls run wild + free - to wander into the woodland and get lost."

Woodland natural playbox made by Eva Mendonça, teacher. In her words: "my inspiration for the playbox was nature and the outdoors. Some of my best memories of childhood are running around outside or foraging in the forest. Growing up, most of my toys were found in nature or handmade from ordinary objects {buttons, clothes pins, milk bags!}. It's all about trusting the magic and letting simple objects come to life. Allowing imagination to shape the play experience with minimal influence of toys. It's about letting your souls run wild + free - to wander into the woodland and get lost."

Happy bidding!

~Deborah

 

Postcard 9

{Postcard 9} - "How can I make my narrow apartment entrance more functional?" Submitted by Tarryn

{Postcard 9}: How can I make my narrow apartment entrance more functional? - Submitted by Tarryn

Tarryn's second floor apartment entrance is up a narrow flight of stairs. In her sketch, she points to the "shoe mess" that inevitably collects in piles right at the doorway, making it challenging to move through especially dragging a stroller and pre-schooler.

Tarryn's interior design challenge includes:

  • a narrow shared stairway entrance to a second floor apartment
  • the need to store a family-of-four's worth of winter boots and shoes outside the door
  • the need for solution to be moveable (i.e.: no holes in the wall) because it's an apartment
  • keeping the passway and landing as clear as possible for neighbours
  • re-using the solution in a future home

Entrances without vestibules are so frustrating in northern climates! Having a door enter directly into a hallway leaves very little room for anything but circulation. Where is all the stuff supposed to go? Not clutter, just everyday boots, umbrellas and stroller stuff. The design of this apartment complex didn't accommodate wintertime use let alone the needs of families with littles ones. So, how to fix it?

One possible idea is a tetris-like custom shoe storage bench that fits directly on to the stairs. It's made as bench structure first, with a stepped plywood back for sturdiness. Channels can be routered in the main structure to fit 1/4" panels to divide the storage into cubbies of different sizes. It keeps shoes organized off the floor, as well as comfortable child's height bench (and adult on the longer end) for putting on and removing shoes.

Though a custom piece like this wouldn't likely fit on any other staircase because of the variety of stair riser heights, it can have insanely fun alternate uses. It can be flipped to become a modernist play structure/dollhouse or wall mounted to transform into a child's desk. See? Like tetris.

What alternative uses can you see?

~Deborah

 

 

 

 

 

Playbox Fundraiser

Calling all local Toronto makers, designers, scientists and artists! Drôle House is organizing a fundraiser for charity and I think you'll get a kick out of participating! 

Drôle House's PLAYBOX FUNDRAISER --here's how it works:

1. An empty wooden playbox is delivered to your home or office in Toronto by October 28, 2016.

2. You create an inviting visual and useable playbox installation within it by November 14, 2016.

3. Drôle House will pick it up and auction it off on the Children's Storefront online silent auction between November 15 and December 6, 2016.

Email for details and to register your participation HERE.

If you aren't a maker, but are excited to bid on one of these one-of-a-kind playboxes for your family, go to www.childrensstorefront.com for the online auction between November 15th and December 6th, 2016 or come see them in person at 826 Bloor St West in Toronto.

Please share widely!

~Deborah

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Positive and Negative Space - Landscape Play

This past August was a month of construction projects during our yearly holiday away from the city at my parents' property in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The whole family helped prep formwork and pour concrete, framed and sheathed a building addition, built a treehouse, and installed solar panels like it was NBD.

To the grown-up builders among us, construction is as close to creative, challenging and risky play as adulthood allows. Assembling seemingly unrelated pieces to create, test and reassemble, climbing too high and feeling the thrill of fear, problem solving, collaborating, all the while testing the physical limits of our bodies. I went to bed exhausted, dreaming about banging in roofing nails in two precise and satisfying blows (if only!). It was the adult version of loose parts play that I wrote about here

At the same time we were building, I felt the urge to take something away. Clear out a space, carve something out of the dense wilderness around us to balance the work. I wanted to explore the idea of using voids for play in a way that would be impermanent (i.e. so I couldn't screw it up). I decided to attempt this dance between positive and negative space with two small landscape projects.

The first was a simple maze cut out of a disused baseball field.

By cutting something away, the field was transformed from a static lookout to the ocean, to a dynamic mini-landscape to charge into and explore. The kids couldn't help but run in, leap and hide behind the taller thickets. A maze invites movement and exploration. It is a small, temporal project with great impact. No construction, just void.

The second landscape was what I call a forest tunnel. The woods are mostly too dense to penetrate on foot. I carved a tunnel, not for walking through, but as an unexpected view to connect one landscape to the next.

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 It's a tube of space cut at child height, and only visible in one particular spot on either side. One side frames a road- and way home- and the other frames a view to the water. From any other angle, the forest tunnel is just the same old forest. Unexpected views like this one can be an invitation to find a way to the other side. Surprise and delight.

Reflecting on the summer of building and taking away, I realized we all seek positive and negative spaces whether we know it or not. We accumulate and purge, seek enclosure and expanse, build spaces to be together and spaces to be alone. They are the two sides of the same coin. However, in that negative space - inside that void - holds the greatest potential for play. 

It's a concept worth exploring more: how to discover and create negative spaces in the places we live, the space where play is born.

Where are the voids in your home?

~Deborah

Postcard 8

{Postcard 8} - "Is there another way to use my long driveway for storage?" - submitted by Aaron

{Postcard 8} - "Is there another way to use my long driveway for storage?" - submitted by Aaron

This design challenge hails from Halifax. Aaron demolished his 12'x22' delapidated garage this summer, but noticed how awesomely large his yard could be for his kids if he didn't rebuild it in the same place. He wonders if there is a way to rebuild something for storage and privacy while benefiting from a larger yard.

This design challenge includes:

  • an already demolished garage
  • an underused, 11 foot wide, ridiculously long driveway that is a pain to shovel in the winter
  • the need to maintain the access through the backyard for oil tank refilling
  • the need to store a snowblower, winter tires, bikes and a plethora of kid and yard equipment

Aaron is not concerned about keeping the garage for future resale, he'd rather have a bigger backyard and more accessible storage for the next decade.

Suggested solution:

In this schematic design, two smaller structures - joined by a gate - replace the garage. One is an 8'x8' shed, situated right adjacent to the wall of the house, between the side door and the first floor window. An overhang can be included in the shed's hipped roof to serve as a shelter for the side entrance (bonus!), as well as partially cover the walkway. Access doors to the shed can be on any of the three sides, depending on what needs storing. The second structure is a beefed-up fence to create privacy from neighbours and provide amble storage for yard tools and toys.

There are many benefits to re-imagining exterior storage space. 

Benefits include:

  1. By locating the shed further along the driveway, there is still room for two cars but cuts down on a 150 sqft worth of winter shoveling. Score!
  2. Two smaller structures (built at the same time over over a couple of summers perhaps), the square footage falls under 100 sqft (or 10sqm) which takes his build legally outside of building permit territory.
  3. Aaron and his family can properly enjoy the large tree in the corner where the garage used to be...a place to build a treehouse or patio perhaps?

What has your garage done for you lately?

~Deborah

Scrappy Toys

Have you heard about loose parts play? If you've ever been to a playground like Dufferin Grove Park in Toronto, then you've seen how intensely kids play when they have the freedom to create their own spaces with wood, shovels and dirt. Messy? Oh yes. Risky? Debatable. Fun? Undeniably. Having loose parts in a school playground would basically be a (traditional) principal's nightmare!

Perspectives on outdoor play are changing. There is a re-emerging field of research called playwork, which links free outdoor play, child development and creativity. You may have seen glimpses of it in The Land movie, or read about it on Playgroundology, or even here and here.  One facet of playwork is based on the theory of loose parts, described by architect Simon Nicholson in the seventies. He believed that creativity was intrinsic to each child and wanted to developed ways to make play spaces more engaging for children. My kinda guy! Nicholson wrote:

"In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it" - Simon Nicholson (click here to read it yourself)

Scrappy toys like these fit well into playwork. They combine re-use of scrap building materials, outdoor play, risk (danger + play I will get to another time), gross and fine motor skill mastery, and result in engrossing creative play. It works for a range of ages because the complexity of the creations develop along with the child. At first, kids cobble things together without much planning. Maybe your kid ends up nailing a million nails into one end of a plank (ta da!) - just for the fun of banging - and maybe next time nailing is easier and another skill can be tested, and so the creation evolves. It takes time without parents hovering over kids to see a creation unfold, perhaps into WWII war ships like the passionate builder of some of the models here, or discard ideas completely and start anew. My in-laws were at the head of the pack in the seventies letting their kids do this (many of these boats were made by my spouse at age 9). No surprise there as they were educators and highly creative people themselves.

The next time you have a few scrap two-by-fours around from a home reno, try it out. A few hammers, lots and lots of nails of different sizes - and submitting to the fear of a bashed thumb- is all it takes. If it's not for you or your kids, donate your materials to Pop-Up Adventure Play or your nearest Habitat re-store.

Happy building!

~Deborah

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Postcard 7

{How to separate sitting space from play space for kids?} - Submitted by James

{How to separate sitting space from play space for kids?} - Submitted by James

James' backyard, like most backyards, has two personalities. The grown-up needs for entertaining, hanging out and gardening can conflict with kids' independent play and the inevitable scattering of toys. James wants to enjoy his backyard, have more privacy from neighbours but still maintain a kids' play zone. 

This outdoor design challenge includes:

  • a zig-zag shaped backyard with lots of concrete
  • three active boys who love sports and need some hard surfaces to play
  • the need to maintain the access through the backyard to the basement apartment for tenant
  • allowing intimate dining and kids play to happen side by side

The first suggestion would be to take up all necessary concrete and replace with grass or vegetation to help define the visual separation of the adult zone (green zone) and kids zone (hard surfaces for playing sports). Using the garage as an anchor point, you can build a moveable partition wall that first slides out on a track and includes a rotating half (with multi-directional wheel at the base) that can be folded in both directions to create "rooms". Each side of the wall can be clad with different materials and have multiple functions. 

Configurations for the room can include enclosed dining, a room and screen for outdoor movies (adult side) as well as playing/climbing wall, drawing or writing surfaces, and a cabana/fort (kids side). The cladding materials can be subtle and interchangeable, or quite sturdy to endure boisterous play.  When the partition wall is tucked back into it's 'closed' position, the kids can have the run of the place.  

What functions would you add to an moveable outdoor room?

~Deborah

 

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Do I Really Need A Building Permit?

Getting a building permit is seen to many homeowners as an unnecessary complication, a time waster or city money grab when planning a renovation. You've probably heard horror stories of renovations-gone-awry that go overbudget or get drawn out for years that may make you want to stick your head in the sand. Though not all home renovation requires a permit, here are six benefits to getting one when it calls for it:

1. Your neighbours can't rat on you. 

There is nothing worse than doing what you feel is harmless work on your home, only to be anonymously reported by a neighbourhood NIMBY, be scolded and slapped with fines and be forced to un-do the work. You can't get a permit after you begin work, that's even worse. It's like waving your arms saying yoo-hoo! I'm breaking the law over here! But come help me fix it! Just no. 

2. Permits ensure minimum standards. 

The Ontario Building Code Act and its regulations are minimum standards to follow. Cutting corners with permits and inspections means you can end up with work that is inadequate for fire protection, life safety, health, sustainability or durability. Your house is not just about you, it's about visitors and future owners too. You can tell yourself I don't need a railing on my stairs thankyouverymuch or I'm only going to punch a really small window through the wall except a child may visit your home and be injured, or a fire in your neighbour's house can spread to your house because you have too many unprotected openings. See? You can do better than the minimum. 

3. Avoid future real estate consequences when you go to sell.

Prospective home buyers can do a permit record search on your property and access any surveys or drawings on file. If the city doesn't list any permits for work that has clearly been done...aiiiiieee. Even getting home insurance on non-permitted work can get complicated.

4. Your designer and/or contractors are held to a higher standard of work.

When you hold a permit, you get backup. The city's building inspectors work for you! They provide extra sets of experienced eyes to check the drawings before you start and inspect at crucial stages during construction. Blindly trusting your contractor (or your FIL) to do things to code doesn't hold water because as the homeowner, you are ultimately liable for work done incorrectly and any impact to your home and your neighbour's home in the future. If you only need to do a little bit of work, you can always fast track your application.

5. It makes you take the time to plan your renovation and phase the work to fit your budget.

Taking some time with a qualified designer to draw out exactly what you want and can afford, being specific with the sizes of the spaces, how you plan to use them, materials and details, means not only will it turn out how you expect it to, but it also makes cost estimating for construction much more accurate.  Planning out the phases that work for you money-wise and time-wise means less stress and less uncertainty. 

6. It's the law!

This is not a benefit per se, but you'll be modelling good citizenship to your community. Whining they didn't get a permit, why should I? is like saying why do they get to litter but I have to put my trash in the garbage? Yeah, because that's what good citizens do. Laws protect us from doofuses.

Having said all that, not all renovation projects need a permit! Here are some of them:

  • installing a skylight between existing joists/rafters
  • decks under 0.6m off the ground (not attached to your house)
  • insulating (Toronto specific)
  • new cabinetry and built-ins
  • fences 
  • retaining walls under 1m high
  • new detached accessory buildings under 10 square meters (like sheds or treehouses)
  • upgrading your existing heating and ventilation system
  • refinishing your garage
  • refinishing your basement (not making it a dwelling)
  • re-roofing and re-cladding
  • replacing windows

PS: Feel free to share and tag a friend who's thinking of undertaking a home renovation (get to 'em early!).

~Deborah

Postcard 6

{Postcard 6} - "How can I design metal legs for an multi-use table to avoid knee knocking?" Submitted by Gary

{Postcard 6} - "How can I design metal legs for an multi-use table to avoid knee knocking?" Submitted by Gary

Gary is a woodworker and hobbiest furniture builder. He is building a large custom dining table out of rectangular slabs of wood and is stuck on how to fashion metal legs to support them and requested some design problem solving. He wants a small table for everyday family use, but the ability to have other narrower tables he can move around for bigger gatherings. He doesn't want the obvious pedestal styled bottom because he "thinks that the stability of the length would not be good if people lean on or put too much weight toward the ends."

This industrial design challenge includes:

  • several identical 2'x4' wood slab table tops
  • that need be able to stand on their own as side tables elsewhere in the home when separated
  • be able to be joined together to form a large dining table
  • allow for flexible dining seating with no 'knee knocking' on table skirts or legs

One idea is to make several L-shaped (extruded metal) legs that work by pivoting and latching in place. With four legs per table, each can be rotated out from a 'closed' pedestal position to several configurations. Latch holes can be drilled from the underside along the routered arc of the leg to enable latching into a traditional 'open' position at the corners, as well as to diagonally connect and support the adjacent table. The legs can be positioned to stay out of the 18 inches needed for knee clearance. Magnet and plates can be installed flush inside the edge of the table for added connectivity, and the adjustable 'toe' to the table leg can make up for any surface discrepancies.

~Deborah