An exterior Trellis: design concepts and ideas

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The full weekend is in front of us, spring is finally coming and I find myself working with 3 clients on exterior living spaces, sunrooms and even an orangery. As we shift our focus to the outside of our homes,  I wanted to share some of my early design inspirations and talk through my approach to design and construction. Good trellis-work is a hallmark of Timeless Building. When done properly it can transform a space, as it does in the picture above.

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Where do you start? Well the most important thing is to find good Inspiration.   Pinterest, Houzz and HGTV are ok to browse, but the best resources comes from the past. The black and white scans in this post come from a wonderful portfolio of work titled “Garden Ornament” by Gertrude Jekyll. Miss Jekyll lived from 1843-1932 and is most famous for her gardens and collaborations with the architect Sir Edwin Luytens. These 2 created some world-famous homes and gardens and a tour of their work should be a part of any trip to England.

It is clear from these scans that there was an extensive use of trellis and lattice-work in historic gardens. They even used trellis material to form up classical elements like columns and pedestals. Today we have a gaping lack of quality lattice and trellis material. My company is often forced into making custom elements just because good basic details are so hard to find. Truly, the proper use of lattice and trellis-work is a lost art.









The next key to success is to insure proper construction techniques. You do not want to go to this level of effort only to see your work fall apart (literally) in a few years. Construct the trellis from long-lasting woods, mahogany, Spanish cedar, white oak, and then plan on treating the wood with paint or some other preservative. I would also go to the extra effort of designing the construction details so that they shed water. Standing water is the enemy. Joints should be constructed to drain water, and all flat surfaces pitched away from the structure.

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The goal of this is always beauty. Have fun and enjoy your weekend.

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The library-Part 2. 5 books to build your personal library

Part 1 of this post (2 weeks ago) dealt with 5 “must have” books for the builder and contractor. This week I list 5 books for the homeowner. These books are a little less technical but there is still some overlap between library types. This overlap is necessary because there is still information that must be shared between the homeowner and the builder/architect which encourages the building of Timeless Houses. Please review and let me know what you think. If there are obvious books I have forgotten please feel free to ad on.

Sub nationSuburban Nation:    If you have been to Seaside, or Rosemary Beach or Alys Beach in Florida you have enjoyed the ideas and ideals of New Urbanism. This ground breaking book lays out  the fundamentals of the New Urbanism, which of course drives the design of these places. Andres Duany of DPZ Architects is the author and you will learn a great deal about what makes a great neighborhood by reading this book.

Field Guide coverField Guide to American Houses: Virginia McAlester’s newly updated book also helps with identifying details of neighborhoods along with the houses in them. I would consider her book as the starting point for any research in American architectural home styles.


HaleThe Old Way of Seeing:  l really like Jonathon Hale’s book on why old houses look better than new houses. It is a nice combination of theory and design that will help educate you and give you a great appreciation of good historic design.



Sell dwellSelling the Dwelling. Richard Cheek put together this amazing book recently for an exhibit at the Grolier club in NY. It highlights the books that influenced American house styles going back to the 18th century. The book is not only informative but beautiful.



At least 10-Style specific design books. Whatever style of home you love, you need to research the style extensively before you build. You need to be informed because you may find you need to fight for good design details on your home. I would consider 10 books the minimum and think your collection should include a mix of new books as well as old (pre-1940) books.

If you like colonial style homes, then for an old book I would start with the “White Pine” series, which is a study of 18th century homes on the East coast originally published in the 20′s and early 30′s. For a new book, I would include Creating A New Old House by Russell Versaci. This kind of blend of old and new books is a good way to cover a broad area with unbiased information.

Have fun researching and building your library.  Always remember the great renaissance thinker Erasmus who wrote about books and building his library, ”When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”

5 must-have books for the craftsman/builder’s architectural library.

In my upcoming book, I contend that we have lost “the art of building” and need to learn how to build timelessly again. This re-learning, starts with books and it is the reason I think builders and craftsmen should invest and build working libraries. Part one of this post is geared for craftsmen and builders. Part 2 (next week) will focus on the homeowner’s library.

That you should have a library, I hope is not in question. If you hope to make a name for yourself in this business than building a library is key as it will inspire, teach and provide a foundation (pun intended) for future design and building decisions. This list is just a start, I believe a minimum goal should be 100 books.

1. Get your house rightGet your House Right, Marianne Cusato. Marianne’s book is filled with countless tips and techniques for building timeless and traditional houses. The basis for these tips are grounded in classical and new urban ideals. She clearly teaches proper precedents for building size, spacing of windows, proper use of columns, etc. This is a great book.


2. Trad Const PattTraditional Construction Patterns. Stephen Mouzon. Full of pictures and details which show the wrong and right approach for various construction elements; cornices, porches, railings, etc. This book is a great reference tool that makes it easy to explain to framers and craftsmen how proper details should look. This is a fun book to peruse and study.


3. audels guideAudel’s Carpenters and Builder’s Guide -1926.  1926 is the first year of publication for this classic 4-volume set of books on building and construction. It is a fascinating and informative guide that highlights what a carpenter/builder was expected to know 88 years ago. You will notice that things have changed a great deal; for example, we no longer need to know how to sharpen our saws.  In your search you will find later editions after 1940. I encourage you to hunt for the 1926 editions as they have more information on timeless building techniques. I found a set recently on Amazon.


4.Field Guide cover A Field Guide to American Houses. new 2nd edition.  Virginia McAlester. I have just had the pleasure of looking through Virginia’s long-awaited 2nd edition to her classic book. I’m happy to report her book is still relevant and equally valuable to any one interested in understanding the details of America’s vast and varied architectural styles. The 2nd edition now includes houses built after 1940 as well as clues for identifying neighborhoods. This was one of the first books I ever read on house styles and I have handed out at least 8 copies to clients and employees alike. It is the bible of American architectural identification.

5. Any historic trade catalog before 1930.This isn’t a cop-out on my part because I can’t name a 5th book. Instead, it is a challenge. As I look through my library, I see countless books that each hold special nuggets of information. To build timeless houses, we must understand the details and methods of timeless building. Go on eBay, go to books and manuscripts, and then search for millwork, or house plans, or plumbing, or whatever your field of interest.  Begin bidding and collecting and building your library. You should have a minimum of 50 historic trade catalogs. They are invaluable.

As a timeless builder, you will need a mix of historic books as well as new books. There is great information in both eras. Good luck and have fun building your library.