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The Nest Thermostat

studioatja —  February 22, 2013 — Leave a comment


I purchased a Nest having been wowed by a sleek yet simple design, and the ability to operate it remotely via my iphone or laptop.

My house thermostat only allowed for four different temperature settings for each day of the week, was over a decade old and insensitive in its own way.


The Nest spends a week or more identifying a behavior pattern and adjusts the programmed schedule to work toward efficiency. Once programmed, it “notices” occupant absence and defaults to a pre-defined energy-saving temperature. If the house is empty during a cold snap, the Nest will maintain a temperature meant to keep the water pipes from freezing. The Nest website includes information for checking compatibility with heating and cooling systems, installation procedures, product features, and a community area for exchange of tips and suggestions for improvements. It also explains how you can access a 10-day record of energy use. Read more at the website,

Here is a simple installation:

parts old thermostat

wiring new thermostat portrait plate

horizontal plate


Pump up the Contrast!

studioatja —  January 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

Bland has been creeping in.  As a society, we’ve become so concerned about resale value, neutrality, political correctness, pleasing everyone, and dodging passing fads that we’ve engineered the spark straight out of our built environment.  So ubiquitous is bland that it has itself become a hallmark of the past few decades.





Squint hard enough at these images and the shapes disappear, melting into one another in a midtone abyss.  Eyes wide open and different colors are perceived, but they are all same tones.  No feature for the gaze to rest upon; so anonymous as to belong anywhere and to anyone.





 Yes, these looks can be “clean,” may be appealing in their simplicity, and do not cry out for an immediate remodel in the way that decades old wildly patterned wallpaper can, but as a society we are missing out on a greater potential.

We can do better.  We need to shift out of neutral.


Source: Cascadia Windows & Doors

 Dark windows pop the large window wall (and view); dark furniture highlights the seating areas.


Lake Washington Residence by Johnston Architects; photographed by Will Austin

 Dark and light play nice together, harmonized by complimentary linear textures.  Dark-toned floors ground the space and allow the architecture to stand out.


Source: Cathy Schwabe Architecture

 A classic and clean space, brightened and personalized with a graphic feature wall and contrasting pop of color on a sliding barn door.


Source: Pangaea Interior Design

 Clean modern lines contrast with wild natural wood elements.  The fabrics are tastefully neutral but the textures are anything but!  Deep charcoal and white are sprinkled in to make the ensemble truly shine.


Source: Searl Lamaster Howe Architects

 As with the previous example, contrast and neutral colors don’t have to be in opposition: the colors here are soft and classic, but squint your eyes and the bold tonal differences are prevalent and make this space pop.


Miner’s Refuge by Johnston Architects

 Dark floors and bold wood window give this light and airy white bathroom a pleasant spark.


Lake Washington Residence by Johnston Architects; photographed by Will Austin

 Bold fabrics are a tried and true (and noncommittal!) method to brighten a space, although the natural accents and dark architectural elements seen here can certainly stand on legs of their own.

In summary, we shouldn’t be afraid of a few bright or dark elements in our environment.  One can still maintain a truly classic and timeless look, even with neutral colors, as long as we pay attention to the tonal qualities of a space.  There needs to be a healthy mix of highlights, midtones, and darks.  A common thread woven through the inspirational examples above are areas of dark tones.  A friend of a friend—an interior designer—once said that every interior space should have some black in it.  I couldn’t agree more with the spirit of this advice.

Happy contrasting!

 North Bend Residence by Johnston Architects

North Bend Residence by Johnston Architects, photographed by Will Austin

KCLS Duvall Library

studioatja —  October 11, 2012 — Leave a comment

Duvall Library is an unusual amalgam of the rusticated design sense embodied in the town of Duvall and the sophistication of the modern library.  Duvall was founded in the late 19th century and retains pride in its pioneer spirit.  Its physical character is marked by this history and by an awareness of community and the arts.  The design of the new library was governed by the requirement to fit this history along with the scale and character of Main Street:  open and airy, yet somewhat rustic and properly scaled; friendly yet sophisticated, historic yet technologically advanced.

At the same time, the building was required to be LEED Silver.  This and the configuration of the site suggested non-traditional forms, geothermal heat, a green roof and other unusual treatments in the City of Duvall, but it also promoted the use of recycled material – perfect for this rural village.

On the inside the library would need to be cozy yet modern, open yet contained, friendly and warm yet well lit day and night.   The site added complexity. The new building would need a strong presence on Main Street, yet have easy access from parking above, be a good neighbor to the former church near the entry, yet have its own presence.

The result of our collective efforts is reflective of the wonderful character of Duvall:  rural yet urban, sophisticated yet authentic, warm and rustic yet modern.  The enclosing shell is adorned with recycled barnwood and a living roof, weathered steel and glass.

Inside this responsive shell, the materials remain, yet are transformed.  A perforated plywood ceiling creates an acoustic environment that is quiet and calm, but lively enough to create a communal sense.  Hand blown glass light fixtures speak to the craft still present in Duvall.  The children’s area sports circular cubbies perfect for curling up with a book – they are nearly always occupied.  And the meeting room provides a light and area resource for an active community.

Towards the center of the library, a sculpture by John Grade reflects the aesthetic of the building, combining sophisticated shapes and processed materials to make an organic, human form.  Recognition dawns slowly as one views the sculpture.  It is made of small trapezoidal tubes rendering the form semi-transparent.  The torso bends and twists, rising towards the wood ceiling above and adding an evocative element to this dramatic space.

The Duvall Library is a part of the King County Library System, annually one of the top two or three systems in the country.  The building is the result of a wonderful collaboration between citizens, the Friends of the Duvall Library, KCLS Administration and the design team.