When I bought my little house in southern Oregon, I knew I’d be removing the existing concrete patio and the funky patio cover. The concrete had been mixed in a wheelbarrow and poured in sections, maybe over a decade or two, at least that was the forensic evidence. In some places the finish was smooth as glass, in others there was a heavy broom texture, and in a few sections, no finish at all. It was cracked and heaved.
The patio cover also fulfilled the definition of a patio cover, but not much more. It had zero slope and drained in all directions, sometimes, depending on the wind, right up against the house. And not only were the posts 4x4s, but the headers were, too! And if it weren’t for a chain and turnbuckle at one corner—tying it to the house, the whole thing probably would have fallen down years before. But like a good carpenter, I waited until I had enough cash to cover the project, and then I waited until the plans were finished.
Once again, I worked closely with Todd Murdock on the design and the details. I didn’t want to remove the tall carport, but I wanted to ground it somehow, and make it appear shorter; and there was no disagreement that the patio cover had to tie into both the amateur roof lines of the little house—with its low-slope shed roof covering another one-time patio, and the tall R.V. carport, which meant a gable roof that turned at an irregular angle. And yet that roof had to be supported by a minimal number of support posts, otherwise the patio would be nothing but a forest of tapered columns.
Like most projects on this home, I wanted to not only work within an architectural period I admired, but I wanted to enjoy the full experience, to enjoy both the ‘making’ and the memory of the making.
Using careful measurements from the site, along with images from Google Earth, we were able to determine the angle of the dog-leg intersection and locate the support posts.
With the roof plan in hand, we spent hours, days, weeks, months exploring details that best expressed my late-in-life love for the truly organic Craftsman style. After visiting the Gamble home countless times, and walking Pasadena neighborhoods around the Arroyo Seco since my teens, touring the Blacker Home, the Thorsen House, the Batchelder-Winter Home, the Hindry-Hibbs home, and countless others, I knew what I liked—organic architectural design.
I’ve heard and read a wide variety of architects and architectural historians use the word ‘organic.’ Vincent Scully described the Queen Anne style as organic; Frank Lloyd Wright described his work as organic; at a lecture I attended shortly after the Getty Museum was completed, Richard Meier described his work as organic, too.
The architecture I admire most emulates organic forms—the curves and shapes found in nature, not perfectly straight lines. After all, there aren’t a lot of straight lines in the natural environment—there are none in the human skeleton. While I don’t see much that is organic in the Classical orders, I can certainly see it in Falling Water.
But for me, organic design is most powerfully seen in the Greene brothers’ Ultimate Bungalows.
|Since my first visit as a teenager to the Gamble House, The Green brothers’ cloud lift designs have haunted me. The screen doors at the rear of the home are an exceptional example of the form.|
|Three tapered sun rays pierce the cloud lift rail and drop in parallel terminating at the bottom rail.|
|At the Thorsen Home, in Berkeley, CA, the exaggerated cloud-lift pattern in the center bay window resembles a lightning bolt.|
|At another home in the same Pasadena neighborhood, those coupled posts support truss work incorporating a web of the same tapered or splayed sun rays.|
No doubt the most iconic image of a Greene and Greene decorative truss is in the living room of the Gamble House, where an enormous cloud-lift spans the inglenook fireplace.
Those were the details I wanted to work into the carport and patio—the entrance—to my little home. But I wanted more than the experience of drawing them. I wanted to touch the wood, cut it, join it, curve it, ease the edges. I wanted to feel that organic connection. By helping me integrate those features into the drawings, Todd made the experience possible.
As soon as the demo was done, we called in Dana Porter and he tore out the concrete and set forms for the pour.
While Dana and his crew handled the concrete, Scott Wells went to work in my shop, preassembling all the faux timber-frame trusses.
I helped a little.
Check out our companion article, “Framing a Patio Cover” by Scott Wells, to see how this project all came together.