Zoomerhouse is Underway!

by David Barrett

Boomers with a Zest for Living | A Place for Improvisation | The Zoomerhouse

David Barrett and his wife, Betzi Barrett of Four Star Realty, are designing and developing a prototype for-sale “aging gracefully” home in Boulder, Colorado. This is the first in a series of posts documenting the principles, ideas, and practicalities of this exciting endeavor!


More and more I think of design, and life itself, as a series of ongoing improvisations. As the anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson describes, “swimming in the vulnerability of the moment” kept her thinking alive, kept her awake. Our options seem to be denial or spending too much time prepping to ease the stress of an unknown future. So what does this have to do with the design of a “Zoomerhouse?”

Well, what if we have a tool for aging that makes change more comfortable? What if accessibility is seen not through institutional eyes, but as a way of freeing us up by empowering us to access life’s necessities, minimizing restrictions and barriers? What if home is akin to a Swiss Army knife, serving as a tool, rather than an obstruction? The Zoomerhouse is intended to support creative aging by allowing us to improvise as we confront the inevitable changes that come with age. By celebrating a generosity of flow, we can move comfortably through spaces,  reconfiguring to better meet our changing needs.

If we see life, and ourselves, as more verbs than nouns, active life might be seen as an ongoing series of performances. So as a demographic that questioned authority, why not throw away those tarnished scripts of our parents and take on aging from a creative place of improv?

Zoomerhouse has recently come out of the ground, and stands as an open empty frame. We will continue to construct this flexible home with the intent to provide a beautiful space in which one can age gracefully. We’ll keep you up to date on the progress as we seek out fresh approaches to our living architecture improvisations.

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April 16, 2014 at 11:30 am Leave a comment

Preparing for Disaster: Wildfires

by Maggie Flickinger

As spring is upon us, we can’t help but stretch toward the warmth and relax into the longer days and their promise of summer.  However, in Colorado we also overhear tense conversations about how great the massive highcountry snows are, but will they help mitigate fire danger or will the snowmelt just raise already swollen watertables? People are still impacted from last fall’s flooding, and even from the previous summers’ wildfires. Colorado has long been thought of as a relatively “disaster proof” state – free from hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. The recent years’ activity has shifted Coloradan’s thinking. Increasingly volatile weather patterns point to persistent and growing natural disasters as time passes – even the United Nations agrees, with their unequivocal March report on climate change and weather patterns.


Colorado and the Front Range has many communities that straddle urbanity and the wilds - approximately 40% of Coloradans live in this wildlands urban interface (WUI) – which increases the potential for disaster impact, especially from fire.  However, we’re also resilient and proactive, learning from the past to affect the future. Back in 2010, Sam Nishek, the Principal of Building Technology at Barrett Studio architects, wrote an article called “Wildfire Resistant by Design.”  The information in that post regarding designing for wildfire resistance is still useful, and we have some new tools for you as you prepare for summer and what it may bring.

Wildfire Preparedness Resources:

  • Prepare an emergency kit & emergency communications plan for yourself and family members who live in the area.
  • Insure your home and its belongings against disaster. Check existing insurance policies against the home’s current value and against specifics – does the policy cover outbuildings and the “toys” that may have accumulated in them over the years? The Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) has a helpful pamphlet on Wildfire & Insurance
  • Defend your home in advance by Creating Wildfire Defensible Zones, use Firewise’s 11 step checklist to simplify the process.
  • If you’re building a new home, seek an architect experienced in WUI issues, and follow Firewise Construction guides.  See our post on Wildfire Resistant by Design for more ideas.
  • “Pin” your home and learn about location specific risks and mitigation tactics with this interactive Wildfire Risk Assessment Mapping tool
  •  The federal government has been beefing up their disaster preparedness resources, with information specific to wildfires at their ready.gov site.
  • Join communities and individuals nationwide on May 3 for National Wilfdire Preparedness Day!  Join an event in progress, create your own community / neighborhood event, or take the day to protect your home with defensive measures. 


And, for inspiration from some resilient homeowners who have come face-to-face with fire and emerged out the other side, check out our series on Loss & Opportunity: Part I: First Responder & AAC | Part II: The Phoenix Rising | Part III: Resilience in Sharing

April 16, 2014 at 11:26 am Leave a comment

Our Favorite Things Volume 15: Let There Be Light!

by Maggie Flickinger

In honor of our recent Spring Forward, the first day of Spring, and a string of 70-80 degree days, we’re featuring some bright lighting options to spread the Spring Fever!  We’re also “Spring Cleaning” the Our Favorite Things series a bit – sprucing things up with larger images and general pricing information for featured products. Enjoy the light and the growth that spring brings!

Hubbardton Forge QuillThe craftspeople at Hubbardton Forge are devoting themselves to increasingly modern fixtures brought to life using traditional techniques and materials: hand forged wrought iron. These modern American blacksmiths play with bold geometry and often integrate biomorphic forms – albeit sometimes tritely as in their leafy table lamps. Our newest favorite is the modular Quill Pendant, all angles yet somehow softly organic. Outfitted with long-lasting, energy sipping LED bulbs, the sloped ceiling friendly fixture can be installed horizontally, vertically, and in connected multiples for varying spaces & volumes.  Reminiscent of a fractured feather quill, this piece would make a dramatic statement horizontally (as pictured) above a dining table, anchoring a living arrangement, or vertically above a double height stairwell.  Retail starting at $2,200.

Angled Plane SconceAbsurdly minimal,  the LED Angled Plane Sconce from Sonneman Lighting is a study in simplicity. Something about a light fixture that looks like a precisely tacked up stray piece of paper makes us architects swoon. The sconce is part of the new in 2014 A Way of Light collection, which also features other pared down stunners such as the Bracket Sconce and the Panel Wedge Sconce.  In our brave new world where form often trumps function, fear not: the Angled Plane Sconce is a workhorse too; with 900 lumens of output, it’s equivalent to a 60 watt bulb. Featuring a slimline 2.25″ extension from the wall, this aluminum fixture is the perfect choice for that white-on-white connoisseur seeking a barely-there energy saving light fixture that blends right into the wall.  Retail starting at $300


StarPath CoatingEvery once in a long while a product is unveiled that seems like an April Fool’s joke, a magic trick, or a plain and simple hoax (popcorn tulips, anyone?)  However, as far as we can tell, the innovative Starpath from the UK’s Pro-Teq Surfacing is the real deal. The spray-on application absorbs and stores UV energy during the day then releases the energy at night, resulting in a glowing starscape that clearly delineates pathways. Like a responsive organism, the light emitted naturally adjusts itself to the ambient light levels. Users would have to weigh the social / environmental benefits of increased path usage & safety, reduced electrical lighting needs, and retaining embodied energy by resurfacing existing worn paths instead of replacing them, against the chemical makeup of the system: an elastomeric system with a polyurethane base and polyaspartic top coat.  Need to see it to believe it? Check out the video here.

Urban Constellation LampIf the price of the Quill leaves your heart racing like the first jog of springtime, a simpler freshen up can be achieved by swapping out the lamps on your nightstands! Urban Outfitters, long reputed as a purveyor of “of the moment” fashions for of the moment hipsters, has dipped their toes into the home decor realm over the past few years. While often high on kitsch value but low on quality, some of their pieces stand out. We enjoy the whimsical yet modern Constellation Lamp. By day, the cool steel shade is subtly accented by the bright yellow pop of the interior. By night, the punched constellations glow, harkening back to sweet dreams under the summer stars.  Currently priced at $39.




March 9, 2014 at 10:54 am Leave a comment

How to Houzz from a Best of Houzz Architect

by Maggie Flickinger


Barrett Studio architects is proud to have been named “Best of Houzz 2014″ again after our surprise rookie win last year.  Since our first award,  our images have been added to over 15,000 new Ideabooks in the past year!

Houzz is an unparalleled visual resource, with almost three million photos of quality architectural & interior design spaces from all over the world.  Now that we’ve used Houzz to share our work with the world and to help our clients as we design their homes, we’d like to share our simple guide to maximize Houzz as a valuable piece of the “information in” phase of your project.

How to Houzz: Seven Steps to Success

  • Become a Collector Collect images into Ideabooks based on colors, materials, and how spaces make you feel – we’ll worry about architectural details that tie the whole together.
  • Focus & Organize Don’t get sucked in by the aesthetic “wow” factor!  Try to think of how it would be for you to inhabit the spaces.  Just because I love what an open air tropical grand family kitchen looks like (especially since it’s February in Colorado!) doesn’t mean that’s what would work – or what I would really want – for my cozy couples home in the West. Organize your Ideabooks by room or space in the house: Kitchen, Bathroom, etc.
  • Thumbs Down! Include images that you don’t like…add notes.  These “thumbs down” images are just as informative as images you do like and can avert the potential trap of going too far down a design path that won’t satisfy your needs.
  • Sharing is Caring Give your architect access to your Ideabooks, and if they are involved in Houzz ask them to create their own Ideabook for your project. This sharing is the beginning of co-creation!
  • Nuts & Bolts Make sure this image sharing is paired with a programming questionnaire from your architect.  This defines the “program” or what goes on in the house – number of bedrooms, bathrooms, connections and adjacencies, special use spaces, how you want those spaces to make you feel, etc.  Even though a picture is worth a thousand words, there are still pragmatic and emotive details that you just can’t convey with images alone.
  • Talk Money Talk with your architect about the level of finishes and materials you’ve placed in your Ideabooks and how they stack up to your overall budget.  If things align, great, full steam ahead!  If not, your architect can give you an idea of areas where splurging makes sense to enrich experience, and areas where alternative materials or design solutions can save money and still evoke the same feelings as your Ideabook images.
  • Letting Go Trust your architect to take these often disparate images and morph them into something that is not a copy, but uniquely yours! We’re trained to spot patterns, listen carefully both aurally & visually, and interpret the likes and dislikes of our clients into a special place that is theirs – that’s why it’s called a custom home!  We’ll use these images + the program questionnaire + our discussions with you, add in what we know about our specific climate and spirit of place, and ultimately synergize a design that tells a visually consistent story – but not just the digital Houzz story, your story.

February 13, 2014 at 1:44 pm Leave a comment

Our Favorite Things Volume 14: Materials Mashup

by Maggie Flickinger

This time of year, everything can start taking on a wash of, well, dreariness…boredom…familiarity.  It’s the February doldrums in full effect!  Not that familiarity is bad, but things can be a lot more fun with a dash of the unexpected.  Some of Our Favorite Things surprise us with Materials Mashups.  Familiar forms reinvented with unexpected materials, materials applications that inspire a rethinking of function, new production techniques for ancient building systems – here are a few of our Materials Mashup must-haves…

MilkGlass Concrete PendantBack in the day – by which we mean the 1920′s – the popular petticoat shade was demurely crafted of delicate milk glass.  Then along came feminism and a dash of steampunk…the creative minds at NativeCast reimagined the petticoat form with a stronger, more rough and tumble concrete shade.  Their Milkglass Pendant doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, keeping the throwback filament bulb and solid brass fittings typical of this vintage style.  The juxtaposition of the coy ruffled form crafted of unexpectedly heavy concrete is quintessential material mashup.

Walking School BusHow about replacing the materials of gasoline, glass, metal, and combustion with the clean energy of our own two feet? That’s the idea of the Walking School Bus.  The “bus driver” still takes part – but as a “bus walker,” acting as an adult chaperone to keep kids safe and on track…often there is a front bus walker and a rear bus walker.  While not a new concept, it’s gaining traction in the US partially thanks to a nod from Michelle Obama in a July 2013 speech: outside of the environmental benefits, she touts the added bonus of pushing back the alarming childhood obesity trend.

watershedblockSince Neolithic times, earth has been employed as a functional, spirit-of-place building system.  In recent years, the comparative cost of rammed earth has skyrocketed when pitched against commercially available, mass produced building systems like the stick frame and the ubiquitous CMU.  On-site block building machines can help, but structural integrity and specialized construction techniques can be problematic. Now, Watershed Block has commercialized the production of rammed earth blocks,  clocking in at just 15-20% pricier than a colored ground face CMU.  While we have concerns about insulating exterior applications in our mountain climate, this seems like a great contender for internal mass walls in passive solar homes.  Only in CA for now, they’re currently on the lookout for suitable mico-manufacturing sites nationwide.

David Benjamin's Hy-FiEcovative has been pioneering sustainable packaging and insulation grown from Mycelium – the vegetative part of fungus – for a few years, and is now expanding into architectural & structural possibilities. David Benjamin’s seasonal Hy-Fi folly for MOMA/P.S.1  will grow building blocks out of mycelium and corn husks within a reflective framework designed to maximize the growth by increasing solar delivery. Mycelium is also the basis of mycoprotein – found in the popular Quorn brand vegetarian food – so I wonder how far off we are from an organic, renewable, edible structure…the mushroom revolution is here!

February 13, 2014 at 11:49 am Leave a comment

Barrett Studio from Above: Biomorphic & Geometric

by Maggie Flickinger

What does Google Earth make of homes designed by BARRETT STUDIO architects?  While creating a custom Google map for a springtime Barrett Studio Homes biking tour, we got excited about seeing our finished homes from this previously inaccessible (unless you have a pilot friend or a fancy UAV) vantage point.  In this first edition of the Barrett Studio from Above series, Google’s satellites & airplanes spy daring biomorphic forms that mirror shifting geology and geometric arrangements with sacred roots.  In several instances, there’s an uncanny resemblance between the finished home as shot from above the earth and the study model as shot from above the drafting table.

Biomorphic Homes from Above

A fuzzy shot caught a mysterious radial UFO touching down in a fan on the rolling Wyoming hills, while in neighboring Montana, a vesica pisces vessel evocative of a fall leaf settles lightly.

Radial & Vesica Pisces Homes

Google also spies simple elegance in the deliberate repetition of square pavilions, and more complex clusters inspired by clues from agricultural & mining vernacular.

Geometric Repetition & Clustering

While architecture is experienced in 3D, studying the procession of spaces, organization of forms, unifying elements, and contextual clues in plan view early in the design process helps architects to inform that 3D experience in a way that palpably resonates.  Seeing the results of this study in Google Maps often reveals the inspiration or “big idea” behind a home’s design: tying elements together to elicit a “can’t quite put my finger on it” feeling of unity and belonging as you live in the home.  Next time you’re up high, peek out the airplane window or down valley to the town below and see what all those roofs tell you about the order within – what goes on there.

And, keep an eye out: next up in the Barrett Studio from Above series: Neighborly Neighbors!

February 13, 2014 at 11:41 am Leave a comment

Barrett Studio Named “Best of Houzz 2013″

by Maggie Flickinger

Best of Houzz BadgeBarrett Studio architects is proud to have been named “Best of Houzz 2013.”  This honor goes to professionals with project images most often added to Houzzer’s Ideabooks.  Since we first uploaded a few images six months ago,  we’ve added more and more, and now our images have been added to over 10,000 Ideabooks!

Houzz is an amazing visual resource, with over a million photos of quality architectural & interior design spaces from all over the world.  Feel free to browse our images below, and you can get even more involved by clicking through and asking us – or other designers – questions about their photos!  Even though it sometimes means playing detective and digging through our archives, we really enjoy being connected with design enthusiasts this way…feel free to use us as an information resource, and we’ll do our best to find answers / solutions for you!  

May 9, 2013 at 2:09 pm Leave a comment

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