Monthly Archives: September 2011

London House Steps into Dimension


I have a confession: I’m a city girl who loathes steps. I’ve always had one-story apartments wherever I’ve lived (with one slight exception): in Chicago, Florida, China, Peru. But that’s a personal issue. It contradicts my love of urban density and my understanding that larger, more luxurious abodes that fit on a simple one-story plan in a major metropolitan area. Therefore while I would dream of living in a residence with so many stories, I can certainly appreciate the design of London-based Belsize Architects Sheldon House.

There are three primary reasons to like it: the visual play of dimensions that create a sense of mystery, the cool tones and bridging of in/exterior realms done via not just one but two methods, and the designer’s use of context.

The Sheldon house, in London, is situated on a long, narrow plot that the designer was skillfully able to build a U-shaped form into. Meanwhile the designers insisted upon sustaining a sense of neighborly appreciation. They respected the house’s existing forms for context yet subtly introduced new architectural themes, yielding a classic Modernist feel that blends in rather than commands attention. Furthermore, the new design was implemented without expanding the volume of the house’s modest predecessor. 

A triple-height atrium softly descends like DuChamp’s Nude Descending the Staircase. It brings daylight into the house through a variety of window shapes and sizes, and it extends views from each floor to a nearby golf course and gardens. The circulation spaces are arranged around the edge of the atrium. The main gathering and eating areas are located like a warm embrace within the lower levels.

The atrium and inherently stepped arrangement articulates the overall form of the house. They work together to create a succession of tiered levels, according to the architects. Walk down the steps to the basement pool area, the composition of which offers safety like a harbor. Its vertical and horizontal emphases, its deep and reflective surfaces, and its multiple ability to blur the indoors and out and serve as a circulation method may make this the focal point of the house. The pool partially extends between a landscaped rear garden and a sunken courtyard.

Playful use of vertical and horizontal glass planes encourages visitors to pause upon introduction to the house. There I would run amongst staircases letting the mysteries of the home reveal themselves. 

A Traveler Returns to What He Misses from Home


It’s been 12 days since I left home. I’ve hiked. I’ve camped. I’ve roamed glaciers, climbed steam craters, slogged through the strangest terrain. I’ve eaten raw fermented shark, thrown axes, and drank a shot of milk straight from a cow’s teat.

It’s great. But a small part of me misses home, and feels it more acutely each day.

Sure, I love travel. But I also love home — my routines, my haunts, my usual activities. What do I miss most?

The Cat
Really, my cat is nothing special– just an uncouth, ill-bred former alley cat who adopted me. He’s a great furry buddy, though. He never holds a grudge about my long absences. Within moments of my return, he’s ready for petting, play, and maybe a good brushing– gotta keep that coiffure lookin’ good!

My Band
About eight years ago, I got dragged back into playing music. Eventually, four people jamming in a smelly industrial park became Hung Dynasty. Soon, we were regulars at venues around Phoenix like Donna Jean’s Libations and Hollywood Alley. Whenever I hear live music on the road, I wish my bandmates and our instruments were with me. By the time I land in Phoenix, I can’t wait to rock.

The Bike
I can ride just about any quality bike and be happy. Bike shorts, shoes, pedals, and helmets are another story. I’ve gotta have my own … and they take up a lot of room in a pack. So I forgo the mountain biking when I travel. Unfortunately, I often see people riding and I wind up with a serious jones to go for a ride.

The Car
There’s something about my Subaru Forester. Sitting in the seat, stickshift in-hand … I just feel at home. I know every noise it makes, every quirk. And I can MacGyver just about anything from the contents of its backseat. It also out-drives just about any car I’ve ever rented … except the Subaru Impreza I rented in Portland. It’s quite a few steps above the tippy Suzuki Jimny that I coddled all over Iceland’s wild and wacky terrain.

The Mexican Food
Sometimes, I can’t even go straight home from the airport. I have to stop at Le Condessa and get a quesadilla. And one of its many types of savory salsas– like chipotle, cilantro, and even pecan (yes, you read that right). If I’m somewhere like Iceland or the Midwest, the craving gets even more powerful. Oddly enough, I haven’t found an Ethiopian restaurant anywhere to equal Cafe Lalibela– just 10 minutes from my house.

Justin Schmid’s Wandering Justin blog shares his ideas for finding the unusual, the fun and the unforgettable wherever you go. He lives in Phoenix, where he starves for quality soccer but has all the ridiculously good salsa he can handle. His Twitter handle is @wandering_j.

Riding a Combi in Lima, Peru


Riding a Combi in Lima, Peru

A woman boards the combi and stands at the front like a chaperone. Her eyes are ever so slightly almond and her skin is the color of a russet potato, both of which reveal her ethnic heritage as East Asian and Spanish. She’s armed with a headset and portable microphone kit that attaches to her belt. I only notice that, however, after she bursts into a rant that I’m seeing as commonplace on combis (one of three forms of buses in Lima, Peru).

“Disculpen, damas y caballeros,” she shouts into the headset. From there I lose her Castellano, my head in a literary fog thick as Lima’s garúa or obscured grey, drizzled skies. She continues talking, saying something about how good it is to give to charity. I return to the copy of Graham Greene’s Ways of Escape in my lap. Yet in my peripheral vision she remains.

Her pencil skirt in muted jewel tones is alpaca, like mine. Unlike mine is her choice of cap, a black baseball cap to my green gypsy rag of alpaca. Hers too, like mine, is a thick black winter coat that protects us not so much from the balmy 17 degrees Celsius as the 82 percent humidity of the so-called subtropical desert that is Lima’s province.

Suddenly she opens a professional legal pad holder. In it two lines of blue, black, and red pens are lined up neatly enough to resemble an orthodontist’s masterpiece.

“This is a unique charity gimmick,” I think. She has finally arrested my full attention with a collection of cheap pens. The particular kind she solicits sell for four or five soles at an office supply store I’d shopped at last week.

She drops a blue one. At first I thought it accidental until she bent over to pick it up and continued squawking. Her calm Peruvian expression would have been lost on me a couple months ago, but by now I can read it enough to see no derivation from her sketch.  She drops it again, demonstrating its sturdiness. This time I discreetly look at passengers sitting in the combi’s torn black leather seats around me.  Whether she’s actually convinced that this pen possesses the tensile qualities she claims, and whether the other pasajeros believe it, I am not quite localized enough to understand.

I know these pens. They were the bane of my writing process while living in China, where they’re made. That they withstood her repeatedly dropping them onto the bus’s embossed metal floors piqued my curiosity. Was she a witch? I had often attempted to use these pens, usually not on my own volition, in the big red country, and just as often been frustrated. If the pen doesn’t crack and break to pieces upon uncapping it, be surprised. If it actually writes more than ten lines of script, be doubly surprised. Hell! If the ink is even the same color you might actually have an instrument with which to write your check out to this woman’s charity.

I’m back in my literary mind, recalling those shameless devices, as she moves toward the back of the combi. A man who I take for her coin collector replaces her. He moves slowly among the seats. A fellow rider before me crumples up the bus receipt in his large milk-chocolate-colored hand just as the collector reaches me. The woman’s voice comes to a harsh break and she races out the back of the bus, barely able to close her portfolio. Did she find a buyer? I’ll never know.

The ticket checker passes by and out. A young boy stands up from his front-row seat and takes center stage at the front of the combi.