In the Castro

One of my favorite neighborhoods in the City.

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There’s so much going on here especially at the Castro Theater. Going to see a movie here is more than just going to see a movie, its a cinematic adventure. Not only is it a one-screen cinema, but it’s a grand theater in the most traditional sense of the word. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the inside, but I will make a point of doing a blog post specifically about the different theater houses in the City.

I don’t know about you but I love the rainbow flag. It says so much about this City, the people who live here, the state of mind most of us share and the overall desire we have to create a City of singular beauty out of a variety of styles, cultures, faces and backgrounds. There is something here for everyone and that something is best represented by a rainbow  of colors which by the way, is not lost on the color choices residents here have made for their homes.

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This pink home is so visually delicious. It just calls out to be loved. Not every house, in fact, most houses couldn’t pull off this color but this one does perfectly. And I especially like the garden that will soon grow tall and wild. The green being a perfect compliment to the pink.

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This blue structure is both a business and possibly, a residence. With so much eye-candy in this neighborhood, it’s challenging for a business to announce its presence without being too obnoxious and turning residents off. People in San Francisco are sharp. They know what’s going on, especially in their neighborhood and one thing they don’t like, is being manipulated by someone drawing attention to themselves in order to sell you something. This choice of color is both a strong statement and a subtle reminder that you are in the Castro where beautiful color is everywhere and deserves to be celebrated!

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Now this business, so subtle, yet incredibly cleaver, made me take a double take once I realized what was happening. How cool for two buildings to share a strong diagonal; talk about cooperative! Its surprising how subtle this strong statement is on the street. With so much car traffic, people traffic, stores, restaurants and cafes, it’s easy to miss this wonderful and simple stretch of possibilities and yet, here it is! Just imagine how may other possibilities are out there for expanding one’s canvas if neighbors decide to work together.

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This unusual house on a hill caught my eye as I was looking for pictures to take. Needless to say, the people who live here have a fantastic view looking north but what really caught my eye was the red wing slats coming off the arched roof. Since it only exists on one side of the structure, I’m guessing that it may also act as a covering for a deck that wraps around the eastern side of the house. You can see how high up it is in the lower photograph.

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Not only is San Francisco built on hills, but the houses here are hilly too! Tall, narrow, rising up to touch the sky yet accommodating residents need to be outside. Lacking yards or yards with sun, these homes satisfy the needs of sun lovers by creating rooftop space exposed to the elements or enclosed with widows as the two examples below illustrate.

 

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Now look at this show stopper! How this roof design made it all the way to San Francisco is a riddle to me but here it is and it’s beautiful!

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Again, this house is almost invisible given its location right next to Market Street. Cars whiz by at 50 mph (or at least it seems that way). I’ve lived here almost 30 years and never noticed it before but I’m glad I did on this day. Houses like this one make me think anything is possible the only limit out there is one’s imagination.

So on that final thought, I bid you good night. Thank you for hanging in there with me. It’s been a real tough last few days with the horrible event that took place in Newtown, Conn. I know everyone has been thrown off balance because of it, I know I have, and I look forward the to ongoing dialogue and examination of values that we will collectively bring to the table for a better America.

As always, I remain your design detective,

Karen

 

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Fine Fences

Have you noticed that fences are going horizontal? I have and I like it.

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It could just be me but I feel horizontal fences convey a friendlier note of boundary delineation than vertical fences.

There’s something new about them; something a little bit exciting and unexpected, surprising if you will.

Horizontal is a position of comfort; we lay out bodies down, horizontal with the earth. The horizon, where days begin and end. Horizontal seems in harmony with the planet earth, the way streams flow and clouds pass overhead.

Trees are vertical but they are often inaccessible, unless one is so inclined to venture up a trees’ branches. Much more enticing, to me anyway, is to lay down, horizontal beneath the branches of a tree and stare up into the sky.

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Small choices, like the direction of the wood in a fence, can have a huge impact on the curb appeal of your home. Just like choosing the right colors to paint your home, the message you consciously, or not, express to the world will impact how the world sees and responds to you.

This simple truism is applicable to life in general as well. Afterall, how we live our lives is affected in great measure by how we view ourselves and the world around us.

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This fence was also a pleasant surprise to find. It reminds me of a purse a good friend gave me. And the fact that it provides a lot of privacy for the homeowner, it doesn’t do so by sacrificing my experience of the fence. My view isn’t compromised so that the folks on the other side can be left alone.

The fence says to me, the people who live here value their privacy but they also want me to feel valued. So they’ve come up with a creative solution that fulfills their need and respects my feelings.

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This fence not only cares about privacy, it also cares about the trees growing around the house. After all, why shouldn’t these tall trees be incorporated into the fence? Do they not provide the same space delineation as the rest of the fence? And what does this fence say about the people who live inside that house on the other side? Do I like them? Would I want to get to know them? If my kid’s ball landed in their yard, would I feel okay to knock on their door to retrieve it?

This particular fence makes me want to know the people who live inside that house. I know I will like them and I have a strong feeling, they will be kind to me because they are kind to their trees.

Am I crazy? Do you think I’m reading too much into a fence? How else do we navigate in and around this world we all share if we fail to read and respond to unspoken messages? They’re all out there and they’re all putting across some message of warmth or fear, don’t we have a natural tendency to read all that we can so we know how to proceed? I think so.

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This fence is another example of a friendly fence. Clearly people passing by are more than welcome to have a peek at what lies on the other side. In this case, its a pretty garden.

I also like the trouble the owners went to to create the scallop shape at the top of the fence. Another detail one doesn’t see too often in fences like this. Again, the owners of this property took into consideration the message they wanted to convey to their neighbors and the world. Which is, this is our house, this is our yard, we enjoy it and we hope you do too but it is our private space so please, don’t come in. Or something less wordy but to the same point.

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This lovely fence, like the one above, invites inspection. The staggering height and planter box in front, make the experience playful and well as utilitarian. The uneven spacing of the various width of slats, all express a message of haphazard order. Randomly intentional. Fun and functional. A low fence that allows persons of all sizes to enjoy, discover and observe it’s request for minimal privacy.

 

Another notable item about this fence is the planter box mentioned above. As you can see, the owners not only took care to create a colorful garden on the opposite side of the fence, they went so far as to soften the effect of the fence by adding a small, horizontal garden on my side as well. It’s this understated thoughtfulness, that makes me happy to have this person for a neighbor.

Finally, we have the most popular, and typical fence around my parts. A vertical, tightly fitted wooden fence topped by horizontal lattice.

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What makes this sample so nice is the color the fence has been stained. Rather than letting the whole thing turn prematurely gray, the owners treated the fence to a heavy dose of wood stain. The warm golden glow of the wood adds a nice touch to what would otherwise be a boring fence. Also the pretty and delicate white flowers soften the height and strength of the fence turning a message of, keep out, into one that says, we value our privacy but we also care about you so check out our pretty yellow fence and white flowers!

Until tomorrow, I remain your design detective,

Karen

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Time is Everything

I started this blog after I read a book about moms who blog. The book related stories about moms who had good jobs and then had kids and either couldn’t or didn’t want to return to their old jobs but still wanted to do something with the talent or new interest they had in whatever it was. The book inspired me to start writing about something I felt passionate about, a subject I could write about everyday and that something was home design.

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I already liked taking pictures of houses so this was the perfect forum for me and hopefully, I’ll be able to write something for someone who wants to pay me for my words (hint, hint). Until that day comes, I’m enjoying my freedom and my commitment to my blog and to you, the few, the dedicated, my loyal readers; all 20 of you (on my best day so far).

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The book recommended posting everyday and that’s been my goal. Every morning when I wake up, I make a conscious decision to sit down at my desk and post a new blog. This particular entry marks my 24th post, I think, although I started writing more like 40 days ago. I just couldn’t keep up with the daily demands of posting new content and new photographs. My life was hitting a wall and posting is a demanding task and time consuming as well. I didn’t create a blog calendar, like the book recommended. Every entry is random exposition; stream of consciousness blogging within the rubbery confines of design.

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What I’m trying to get at is, this morning, instead of tackling this blog, I went to work on the script I’m writing tentatively titled, LOSER. I stayed with it for about four hours or so and then went for a walk with Derby. We headed down to Glen Park. On the way I took a lot of pictures of sidewalk cracks and old leaves and houses. I stopped for a latte at my favorite cafe and now that I’m home again, I feel ready to post this new blog. You see, time is everything.

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A complicated construction of our world around which we tie everything.

I started writing, seriously writing in my journal everyday in an attempt to hold on to the time that was always falling through my fingers. If I didn’t record what had happened, then what was the point of it happening and did it even happen at all? I needed to have access to my past if I was to really exist, that was my thinking anyway but I quickly discovered that recording the events of my day is pretty boring to write. My favorite subject was actually how crappy I felt about my relationship with my boyfriend who later became my first husband. When he and I broke up, that’s when the flood gates of my mind really opened up and there wasn’t a spiral bound notebook in the city of San Francisco that was safe from being filled up with all the rant and rage of a woman finding her voice.

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Now that I’ve found it and am exercising it to sound as stretchy as I can make it, I discovered today that finding the right time to write is critical and for me, writing this blog first thing in the morning isn’t going to work. I need to work on my script in the morning, take pictures in the afternoon and blog in evening.

Still you design detective,

Karen

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Pretty Houses

Are everywhere in this beautiful city by the bay.

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As I move forward with creating this blog and taking pictures of houses I like, I’m struck by the colors and designs that attract me the most.

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As you, my dear reader, has already figured out, I am attracted to bold colors. I don’t mind subtle colors but like a funky beat, I move to a visual palette that makes me jump.

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I also like smaller, cottages and craftsman houses. My house looks big on the outside but inside, its pretty modest. When I look at some of the huge homes here, I imagine what it must be like to have to clean them! I suppose if you can afford a big home, you can probably also afford to pay someone else to clean it so that really isn’t a problem for the folks who live in them. And being unemployed, I’m all for spreading the wealth around and creating jobs.

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An added benefit to living in a smaller home is having to interact with the other people who live in the home with you.

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My sister once owned a huge home with her second husband in Pasadena, Calif. It was a old craftsman with beautiful, dark wood floors, grand staircase, built-in shelves and lots of bedrooms for the four kids who lived with them.

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The crazy thing about that house was that no matter how many people were inside, it always seemed empty. Granted, that has a lot to do with what the inhabitants were doing at the time, but frequently, I would go inside, knowing everyone who lived there was home, and yet, no one was around. The house was full and empty because everyone was in their bedroom, watching TV or working on their computer and I was downstairs alone. It was really weird and I have to say, I didn’t like it. And I doubt the family living there did either. In my mind, families need a place where everyone can be together, not just for dinner, but watching TV, cooking, playing games and interacting. I’m a strong believer in not giving kids their own televisions and computers should be in common places where the content their viewing can be seen by anyone. Until a child has moved away from home, or is in college, they still need parental guidance, even if they don’t want it. Kids don’t get to make the rules in a family. I have strong opinions on the subject and this isn’t exactly the right forum for them but it’s all about being together under one roof and that’s what matters to me and is partly why I created this blog.

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I don’t blame the house for my sister’s eventual divorce, but I’m sure it didn’t help the marriage either. Houses have a power over us that can heal us or make us sick; they can foster good times and relationships or they can create a bad environment that can be fatal.

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Imagine you’re a potted plant, what sort of container would you want to live in? Something too small will stunt your growth, force you to expose your roots, for you to seek more space, more food, more shelter so you can thrive and grow.

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Imagine if that container were in a warm sunny place where you received a full dose of sunshine everyday. Now imagine your container in a dark, dusty, drafty environment. Too much water? Rotting roots. Not enough water; starvation. Too much sun, you’re going to burn, not enough, you’re going to wither.

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We are, after all, a lot like plants but unlike plants, we have choices we can make to help us grow.

That’s all for now. I hope you have a satisfying Saturday night and until tomorrow, I remain your design detective,

Karen

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Haight Street, USA

This gallery contains 17 photos.

World famous, Haight Street, is in my backyard. Well practically, a short bus ride over the hill and I’m there. Unlike my neighborhood, homes in the Haight come straight out of the collective imaginations of everyone who thinks about what a … Continue reading

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Today the Sun is Shinning

Which is a great reminder that no matter how hard the wind blows and the rain comes down, the sun always, always comes out eventually.

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Yesterday was a tough day for me. I’m not sure why exactly but I just couldn’t get my head out from under a rock. I’m so glad I have this blog to keep me going and focused on something other than myself.

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I want to send out a special thanks to everyone who likes my blog and are finding my posts interesting to read.

Today’s focus is on nature, specifically trees. I mentioned in an earlier post how some trees are pruned to look like  balloons or other shapes and today, I want to make a case for leaving well enough alone.

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This is an example of two trees, exactly the same species, next door to each other, one has been pruned to look like a gum drop and the other left to its own, natural devices.

Is it just me or does the gum drop tree look rather silly? Do we really need to make trees look like candy? Or like inverted bowls? I certainly don’t want to put any gardeners out of business but is this practice really necessary? Wouldn’t it be better to leave the tree alone and give the money to a charity that helps feed, clothe and educate people?

What is this need to control nature that is so pervasive in our society? Trees have been growing on this planet a lot longer than humans, and unless they are presenting or causing a danger, leave them alone. Observe and enjoy the organic way they spread their branches, its a language we don’t speak but we can try to understand or at least become inspired by the turn of a limb and the shadows they cast on sunny days, like today.

Okay, I made my point and if I see more examples of silly trees, I’ll post them but for now, I’d like to share with you pictures of trees that have been left alone.

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Lovely, aren’t they? You may however, be asking yourself, but what has this got to do with design? A question that is constantly on my mind as I stretch my design detective’s net and find in it, nature. What does nature have to do with design? The best answer I can come up with is, nature is the seed from which good design sprouts. So the take-away from these pictures hopefully will inspire design creators to look more at nature to create homes that are in harmony with their environment. And when I say harmony, I don’t necessarily mean without contrast.

 

Contrast is a wonderful tool for bringing out the best, and perhaps at times, least noticed, elements in the environment. Like the bare tree above left. It’s random, wildly searching branches, are a nice contrast to the structured, angular building rising up behind it. Had either element been photographed without the other, not only with the result have been be dull but the starkness of each would go unnoticed. I also like the curving road that echoes the curving hilltop and the path that curves off to the right of the photo. All of these elements, organic, structured, angular, curves can be incorporated harmoniously into good design.

Well, I’ve run out of things to say, possibly because I have to pay bills and that task has a way of numbing my senses.

Until tomorrow, I remain your design detective,

Karen

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It’s Raining Outside

The sky is dark, the streets are wet and the end of 2012 is just around the corner.

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This is my least favorite time of year when all the worn out jingles are heard and frantic messages consumerism get shoved into everyone’s faces. This year its particularly bad because Thanksgiving was so early but even before Thanksgiving, xmas decorations and music could be heard inside my local Sfway. I guess the marketing execs know what their doing because consumerism is already up and from the stories I heard on NPR, shoppers really liked leaving their Thanksgiving tables to run around cold box stores to snap up TVs. I don’t understand the madness of it all. Maybe if I had a job, (the 17th will be my 2 year anniversary of joining the ranks of the unemployed), I would feel differently. As fate would have it, I have learned instead the valuable lesson of getting by with less, much less.

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For the past 15 years, I’ve been a proud car-free, SF family. People ask me how I do it. With two kids, a husband, a house and a dog, how do I manage not having a car? It’s been a challenge at times and we’ve rented cars to go to LA and Yosemite, but my favorite moment when renting a car is when I return it. Driving is really stressful in this city, at least for me it is. The independence of mind and body expressed in San Francisco is also frequently expressed in how people here drive. If you don’t want to wait for a red light to turn green, don’t. Just blast through it. Or if you don’t have the patience to wait for the car ahead of you to turn left, blast past them. Pedestrians? They better watch out.

When I owned a car in the City, I never disliked San Francisco more. It’s not just the lack of parking but the way people drive here that’s so unnerving. Especially for someone like me who learned to drive in LA when it was less congested and a bit more civilized. Whenever I’m on public transit, I feel a strong connection to the real ideals of a civilized society. Public institutions like libraries, schools, fire and police departments, mass transit, free concerts and events, all show me the best face humanity has to offer. We are a collective being. Each one of us was created by a union of two unique individuals that came together in a fleeting moment of great passion (hopefully anyway). We are meant to share and give and take, not to be isolated in a metal box acting like assholes to one another.

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Life is stressful for most people the great question is, how do we deal with that stress? Individually and collectively. Would we all not benefit if it were much easier to get where we wanted/needed to go without the stress of driving? I know, a lot of people like to drive. I like to drive too, not in San Francisco, but other places. I like sitting on a couch, music playing, the heat or air conditioning set at my perfectly desired temperature and going wherever I please. I get that but there is a big price to pay for that freedom and in my mind, it isn’t worth the price of war, death and destruction of our planet.

I love being a tiny part of something much bigger, much better than myself. I want to contribute, in a small way, to making the world a better place to live in. The way I do that is by walking everywhere, riding buses and trains. I believe that when people see me walking, they might think twice about getting in their car. Why not walk? Why not spend the extra time it takes to get somewhere and experience the journey rather than just the destination? And its from my walks that I’ve come to understand my interest in houses; the way they’re painted, the variety of weather vanes mounted on rooftops, the window treatments, gates, doors, driveways, entryways, gardens, mailboxes, everything that belongs to a house catches my eye because I am walking.

I invite you to experience the joy of discovery on this cold, wet, dark December day.

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With my nose pressed up against my window, I remain steadfast as your design detective,

Karen

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