Author Archive

The Curse of Houzz (and 5 ways to make it a blessing)

The Curse of Houzz by David Barrett

By David Barrett, Architect

Need ideas for your kitchen remodel? No problem. On you have access to four million colorful photos of interiors and exteriors. Simply filter on 15 different attributes including number of islands, kitchen shape, and even backsplash color.

Houzz has become a mighty mecca for savvy homeowners and home design enthusiasts looking for inspiration. The site is 25 million people strong, and growing.

From my perspective as an architect, Houzz is both a blessing and a curse.

For years design enthusiasts have been collecting ideas from coffee table books, articles from design magazines, and even snapping their own photos from all over the world of what strikes their fancy. Then they would meet with the architect, turn over their handful of clippings and excitedly say, “I want something like this!”

The trouble is, Houzz has pumped up any person’s image-gathering capacity a million-fold.

Which leads me to the curse of Houzz: dead architecture.

Houzz shows you yesterday’s singular creative designs for someone else in some other place. Even if it is unconscious, you can end up wanting this montage of Houzz images which if actually built, is a fragmented, impersonal, soul-less space that lacks connection to your site, your climate, your budget and the people living in your home.

There’s an even bigger loss with a heightened focus on image, style and consumerism: in some ways you are avoiding real creativity.

Real creativity is uncomfortable. It’s intense to step into the unknown and try to uncover some part of yourself that longs to be expressed in this world. Many times fear is the predecessor to the real moment of synthesis when you find that special convergence of nature, place, needs and poetics that is truly a reflection of who you are, and where you are. Short cutting this process may be safe, but it is shallow and is only temporary in its gratification – until the next wave of Gee Whiz images come your way.

That said, finally I come to the blessing of Houzz, and why Barrett Studio Architects is a regular contributor to the site: A picture is worth a thousand words. Communication is imperative in the design process so you want to do your due diligence in conveying who you are, what floats your boat, or what drives you absolutely mad! The whole process of idea gathering is exciting, and because the outcome of your efforts is ultimately going to manifest visually (and experientially), the natural language to express your desires is pictures.

Like most things in life it comes down to balance, and trust.

If you come to your designer with an intention to find the design of your home together, and you trust them to actually design versus assemble your Greatest Hits, then you’re headed for a co-creation-amazing-things-can-happen experience. The poetic seeds of your home have room to take hold – a home that is rooted in the soil of your life and memories – and your site will endure. Who knows, your unique living environment might just show up on Houzz!

If you’re a Houzz lover, or are feeling the gravitational pull toward Houzz, here are 5 ways to keep Houzz the blessing that it is:

  1. Houzz is great for getting new ideas and shaking up your viewpoint. But absolutely have an idea of what you need before going there. If you need flooring ideas, it’s a great tool to see what’s out there. If you hit Houzz with no goal, no vision, no soul searching beforehand….yikes.
  2. When viewing a photo, discern exactly what appeals to you. Is it the style, the color, the materials? If you saw the same photo and the countertop was blue instead of red, would it still be your favorite? Become a discerning viewer.
  3. Discover how the image makes you feel. Look at a clean, crisp kitchen that is white with stainless steel. Compare that to one that is warm, woodsy and cluttered. What is it that makes you feel comfortable, calm, energized, social, rested? Tell your designer the feelings that you want a room to evoke and they will love you for it!
  4. Rather than giving your designer multiple versions of a feature, pick the one that you like the most. One of our clients submitted three versions of built-in silverware dividers. We urged her to pick her favorite and eliminate the others.
  5. Know the location of the house you are viewing. When you click on a photo, Style and Location shows up on the top right of the screen. Think about the difference between the climate and culture of that house location, and your house location. Site-specific design considerations make a big difference in a house’s endurance in your life.

Happy Houzz hunting everyone!

October 27, 2014 at 5:00 pm 1 comment

Moody Chicago: Photos from AIA Convention

by Maggie Flickinger

Last month during the AIA Convention in Chicago, the Windy City showed off another face. Thanks to global weirding, a particularly hard winter left ice far off the lakeshore, pushing cool winds and fog over the waterfront. The fog consumed the lakeshore and the first quarter to half mile inland, dropping late June daytime highs to unseasonably low 60’s. One happy accident resulting from this phenomena? Amazing photo opportunities! Architecture buffs get all weak in the knees at the rich architectural history and contemporary newcomers on display in this vibrant city. Enjoy some favorite shots I snagged of architectural icons in a moody Chicago. And, stay tuned for highlights from the convention.

Corn Cob City: The Marina Towers.

Corn Cob City: The Marina Towers.

Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion

Gehry’s Modern Jam: The Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park

Glitz & Gold: Carbide & Carbon Building

Glitz & Gold: Carbide & Carbon Building

Old and new: Trump and the Wrigley Tower

Old and New: Trump’s namesake versus the classic Wrigley Tower

Bertrand's Futuristic Folly: River City

Bertrand’s Futuristic Folly: River City

The Bean, Millennium Park Chicago

And, of course, the obligatory Bean shot!



August 4, 2014 at 3:21 pm Leave a comment

A Sharing Culture


by Maggie Flickinger

From Scott DuPree of Civil Society Transitions, I heard of the Zimbabwean idea of qoqelela: a community funded trust that allows individuals and families in the community to take turns purchasing things they wouldn’t have the means to otherwise – things that in turn help the community’s stability, such as livestock or looms. As Scott told, this tradition was formalized and expanded with the grouping of 40,000 tribespeople’s donations of $5 each to form a multi-tribe community foundation. The first four dollars were allocated according to the foundation’s rules, but the fifth dollar was somewhat of a mystery – would the initial donators demand that it be viewed as a return in their investment – directly given back to their tribe or themselves as individuals? Scott and his group met with representative tribespeople around a ceremonial fire and posed the fifth dollar question. In a confident voice a tribeswoman stood and said, “No, of course we do not expect this money to come back to us. Our dream is that the foundation will help everyone, that it will build a better future for everyone in our region. We know this future may be something that those of us here will never know.” Another woman chimed in, saying that “it would make no sense for us to benefit at the expense of our neighbors.”

A friend living in Scandinavia related the Nordic practice of parking on the outskirts if you arrive at the office early, since you have extra time to walk across the neighborhood or lot, allowing those who slept through their alarms to get spots “up front” and dash in before the clock hits 9.  Contrast that to our prevailing attitude of “me first” where we stalk the parking lot for the closest spot regardless of whether or not we’re in a rush.

These stories are the perfect summary of the compassionate mindframe versus the individualistic mindframe.  And there are many more like them – some from unlikely sources, such as a national call center that saved over a million dollars in training costs just by asking their workers what they wanted.  It’s just this shift in mindset that Barrett Studio has sought to tackle since David founded it in 1977.  How can we create a sharing culture – a culture of compassion?  I’ll be traveling to Chicago tomorrow to speak at the American Institute of Architects convention on our approach to formalizing this commitment.

At its core, compassion is about acknowledging, sympathizing with, and wanting to alleviate someone’s problem. Try sitting around a table and asking your coworkers what would better their lives with you.  Make sure your chat is focused on solutions, with timelines for implementation. You might have to have a thick skin, but the results are worth it.  We’ve enacted policies that range from including the community as a partner in our profit distribution, to recognizing different stages in life by allowing employees to choose between extra paid time off or extra salary. My favorite idea that we’re exploring now is tackling the alarming issue of student loan debt.  We know that the average student graduates with almost $30,000 in debt.  In noticing that our younger employees – emerging professionals – were not contributing to their SIMPLE retirement plans – which would be matched by the studio – we saw a correlation. They were choosing to pay down their student loans before making another investment.  To kickstart the process, why not offer a student loan matching payment as an alternative to a SIMPLE matching benefit?  Unfortunately, it’s not tax deferred, but it helps these important members of our team feel acknowledged and cared for.

That’s the magical thing about compassion in the workplace helping people transition away from an individualistic mindframe. You can get people to stop just thinking about themselves by making sure they know you’re thinking about them. Turns out that making people matter is infectious!

At the convention, I’ll be asking those attending my talk to share their stories of compassion in the workplace, or problems in the workplace that could be solved through compassion.  I’ll post some of these stories here, in the spirit of building a sharing culture.  My hope is that we’ll all start experiencing our businesses with a qoqelela attitude!


June 24, 2014 at 10:49 am 2 comments

Our Favorite Things Volume 16

by Maggie Flickinger


ecor_200Cradle to Cradle certified, ECOR’s sustainable building panels and “kit of parts” panel components including Honeycor & Wavecor  are lightweight, and easily assembled. They’re made from agricultural waste – cellulose fiber – with a closed loop water system in manufacturing leading to 99.5% reutilization.  Coming to us from a veteran sustainable materials inventor – Robert Noble – ECOR exemplifies the ethos of making waste great. As an alternative to particleboard, their no-VOC composition with no binders ensures healthy air quality. We can’t wait to get our hands on some samples and see how they could be used for creative interior applications! Currently available in 2’x8′ sheets, 4’x8′ coming soon.


Civil EatsGrowing awareness of food & agriculture’s impact on our environment has spawned a new breed of food activists. On the forefront of spreading “all the news that’s fit to eat” is Civil Eats, a daily news feed & editorial venue.  And they have some serious cred in the biz: they were recently named Publication of the Year by the venerated James Beard Foundation.  On this forum for promoting change, you can get inspiration from Oregon Counties voting to ban GE crops (take that, Monsanto!), educate yourself on topics like the impact of buying veggie starts from big boxes, get all riled up about our schools’ food system – and get tools to impact your personal and your community food footprint. Here’s to empowered eating!


orikami_200The woman owned Portugese architecture studio, blaanc, are concerned with empowerment and sustainability, and wanted to use their design skills to bring about change in disdvantaged communities around the world.  In 2011, they co-founded Adobe for Women, a non-profit that endeavors to teach women to build their own homes using native materials.  But how to interest the polished Western design world in this dusty but honorable intention?  The women decided to tap into the growing market of product for non-profit, creating the Orikomi Lamp.  Precise but bespoke, each lamp is handcrafted by the owners of blaanc and sold via Etsy, benefitting the Adobe for Women’s initial effort to build 20 homes for 20 women in Oaxaca.  $63 – $98, customizable color combinations & sizes available


Ecooler - Ground Source Beer CoolerThe canned craft beer craze has finally met it’s environmental match.  The Ecooler, from Denmark, is a 4′ cylindrical cooler that uses the constant cool temperature of the earth to provide you with a refreshing cool brewski.  Remember your grandparents’ root cellar?  The Ecooler models this and other time-tested tools for earth-cooling food, such as the Persian Yakhchal, but adds a hand crank for easy access.  While we certainly wouldn’t recommend digging a hole at your campsite for this (that’s what dunking your beers in the creek is for!), permanently integrating the ECooler into your patio or yard would free up some fridge space for more local vedge.  Plus, at just $350, this ground-source beer cooler gives you a smidge of eco-cred without the high price of it’s big brother, the ground-source heat pump. $350 through June 30th, works best in cooler climates




June 24, 2014 at 10:28 am Leave a comment

Living with Art

by Maggie Flickinger



Hot off the presses: our Bluebell Home was just featured on the cover of the June / July issue of Colorado Homes & Lifestyles. For this home, our Principal of Building Technology, Sam Nishek, worked closely with David Barrett’s design direction to overcome the site’s restrictions, including building height & bulk plane, and tricky soils & drainage. This neighborhood home lives large and reflects the spirit and style of the clients – all while proving that our custom solutions can pay off for clients looking to optimize in-town sites. The magazine’s theme, “Living with Art & Antiques,” is a great match for this colorful contemporary home.  How can you capture this creative spirit?

Tips for Making Your Home a Place for Art

  • Whiteout: Stick with white walls, adding neutral textural contrasts as seen in the Bluebell’s clay plaster hearth.  This allows the home to be a backdrop, showcasing colorful furnishings and art.
  • Alluring Accent: Of course, rules are made to be broken, and adding an accent wall in a bold color with a complimentary focal art piece can be a powerful way to set the tone in a room.
  • Let There be Light: Bring light in at unexpected places. Playing with translucency and screening allows diffuse light to wash walls and objects.
  • Storage Wars: Built-in floating shelves provide structured but visually unobtrusive space for art objects and collectible books.
  • Tone Deaf: Don’t be afraid to mix & match wood tones on separate elements – such as island to cabinets to dining table – to create a showroom / gallery feel
  • Fancy Fixtures: Select fixtures that fade into the background if the home as a blank canvas is your theme.  Otherwise, fixtures can make an artistic statement of their own - such as the abstract chandelier above the Bluebell home’s dining table.  It works because its shape and exuberance compliments the movement in the focal painting behind it.
  • Quality over Quantity: Periodically edit your collection so that it reflects your personality and taste, and be sure to allow each piece to have a special spot.  Think of curating with an eye to value (sentimental included!), not ornamentation.

Enjoy making your home into an expression of your creative aesthetic!  For more on the Bluebell Home, visit our website.


June 24, 2014 at 9:34 am Leave a comment

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.

zoomer3 zoomer2



April 16, 2014 at 11:30 am 3 comments

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 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

Older Posts

How to See our Work

Click below to get an email when we publish a new post!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers