Life with an Architect: Soul of Beauty, Intelligence & Craft

In September of 2010 I got a bonus and took myself and my husband, Dan the Man, down to Bellingham Millwork to look at flooring.  Thus, began our saga.  I love this place, but it is a place that trouble goes to find its beginnings.  The kind of trouble that involves inspiration, design arguments and hard work and more time than any architect will ever own up to the project taking, I promise.    Millworks

Once, when we were new to our home, I thought we would put vertical grain Douglas fir flooring in our bedroom.  I was dreaming.  It is too soft a wood unless you don’t mind scarred and severely scratched floors.  So we looked at just about everything.  Because we have radiant heating in our floors, it is necessary to use engineered wood flooring.  I have learned that when you get it installed, there is no visible difference.   We decided on a good hard cherry floor. This is a photo from the website of the manufacturer.

American Cherry Elite by Kentwood

We have a lot of details in our house that are Vertical Grain Fir and we are very consistent in carrying through the same details for baseboards, window and door framing and many built in features that Dan has designed and constructed over the years.  Once we decided on the flooring, the plan for the remodeling was discussed for months before Dan could begin.  Any changes to any other feature in the master bedroom had to be taken into consideration.

Here is the incredibly ugly bedroom that we bought in November 2004.  I think it really takes the cake for ugly.

From the deck...

That door on the right went to a ‘walk-in closet’ that was too narrow to walk in.  You can see the room has good bones and wonderfully soaring  12′ ceilings with two skylights.  Dirty looking greyish Berber carpet from the big box store matched the quality of the cheap track lights that were jammed into the corners of the highest part of the ceilings.  The cheapest skinny moldings were around the doors and used as baseboards.

Here’s another view from the foyer. You can see the bathroom door next to the closet.  You can also see that in addition to the color of dried blood, baby diarrhea was chosen to accent its architecture.

View 2 2004 master bedroom

Living in this room convinced us that we needed to change it.  We were unable to center the bed under the skylights because there wasn’t enough room to open the closet door if we did.  That notch they made to accommodate the closet simply cramped the room and did nothing useful in the closet either, which needed reconfiguring. And there were five doors, counting the two French doors that lead out to the covered deck.  Where can you put furniture in such a room?

It didn’t take long and we realized our new home was both generally short on closets, and specifically in our bedroom, there just wasn’t enough wall space for dressers to make up for the lousy closet in the corner.  Plotting a change commenced shortly after we moved in but various events pushed remodeling our bedroom away from the top of the list of remodeling plans.

Once I had enough money for the flooring it was time to begin.  Dan is retired and all of our remodelling has been pay as you go so that we could stop at any time if we had other needs arise.  And Dan is the one who has done 98% of the work with heavy bits assisted by our neighbor’s son, Nate McConnell, who works in his father Gene’s cabinet making business.  He may be young, but he is knowledgable and creative when Dan needs help with something big or heavy and he has good ideas for alternative ways to accomplish things.  His father has been indispensable at times when Dan’s tools are inadequate to something that we need, or when Dan needs a better idea for how to build or finish something. We’ve got fine neighbors.

Things started with demolition, as they always do with remodeling.  That notch was removed and so was the doorway. Lighting was arranged around the perimeters of the room and installed both in front of, and inside, the new closets which flanked the French doors.  The chandelier was installed earlier and shades were removed to protect them.  I can’t stress highly enough how much you have to protect what is done from what is being done when you remodel.  One of those shades cost $30 to replace.

be gone doorwayThe closets begin


This is the other side of that wall!  A new closet is born, with entry from the bathroom.  All I lost was one wall hook.  What I gained was a lot of shoe storage, lighting and a wonderful cedar lined closet!   Since this photo was taken the towel rods and switch plates have been added.

The other side of the wall

There are multiple shelves overhead and beside the hanging space, using the soaring heights of the space for storage of suitcases and extra linens & blankets.  And Dan added that sweet mirror and lighting with an outlet so I could style my hair someplace where I could actually see what I am doing without my glasses.

drawers & hanging      Lighting


And of course, there are more closets! Another one for me, and one for Dan, who here is taking down protective paper from the staining of the closet.  We started with selecting the floor, but it is the LAST thing that gets installed as you can see in these photos.


Taking down paper


Closets 2

   Pottery Display

This was a test of the lighting and depth of the pottery display we decided to have between the wardrobes.  It creates a kind of nook for my Craftsman Rocking chair too. There will be collection of pots.


Closets near completion  Day 3 of floor installation

The floors are all done but for the last bit glued down and the trim will all be going in very quickly. The last photo is Dan visually fitting the next course. Next, a peek into what’s nearly finished, first my closet, then Dan’s.

My wardrobe  Closet 3

  • “Defining craftsmanship far more broadly than “skilled manual labor,” Richard Sennett maintains that the computer programmer, the doctor, the artist, and even the parent and citizen engage in a craftsman’s work. Craftsmanship names the basic human impulse to do a job well for its own sake, says the author, and good craftsmanship involves developing skills and focusing on the work rather than ourselves. In this thought-provoking book, one of our most distinguished public intellectuals explores the work of craftsmen past and present, identifies deep connections between material consciousness and ethical values, and challenges received ideas about what constitutes good work in today’s world.”

From Yale University Press regarding Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman. 



Dan the Man
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Life with an Architect: Soul of Beauty and Love of Craft

Our beautiful new Master Bedroom Suite

A great deal of inspiration for what we’ve done came from Sarah Susanka’s series of Not So Big House books.  My husband, retired California architect, Dan Edward McMullen and I don’t think folks need McMansions to prove something about themselves.  Dan’s been inspired, since his days in UC Berkeley’s architecture school, by it’s Dean at that time, William Wurster, whose residential design was noted for its simplicity. We believe people live well and best in homes that fulfill their needs in a variety of ways. Our home has 2186 square feet.  Not a tiny house, but certainly not a behemoth.  We have sufficient room for visitors and for each of our activities, including my home office.  We’ve been doing nearly all the remodeling work ourselves–that is an imperial “we”–over the past seven years. Last Christmas we resolved to get this done, and it is!

In a basic sense, we needed a better way to store our clothing.  We needed new flooring.  We had a wonderful bed already.  We needed better lighting.  On a personal level we wanted a suite that restored our souls, launched our days in peace and which included art works properly treated and displayed, and enough ‘white space’ to allow both the eyes and our minds to rest, whether our eyes were open or closed.

This room preexisted those ideas and our remodel was meant to bring it into line with those ideals without breaking our budget.  Good rooms have thoughtful details and a high level of craftsmanship, and this one certainly does.

You can find out more about Sarah Susanka’s work and philosophy at http://www.notsobig.com/ 

MBR1
The walls in this room were already textured, and so they remained.  The paint was expertly done after some corrections were made to the wall to make sure that they were straight and plumb.  The closets would never have fit well if that work had not been done.  Retexturing in those areas was a bit tedious, but those changes are invisible to the eye due to painstaking work.  The color is called Oriental Silk and is a cream color that has a hint of warmth.  It’s Behr paint available through Home Depot and we learned that Behr is highly rated by Consumer Reports for durability, and standing up to cleaning.  That research means we won’t have to paint again for a long time.  We’ve used it for ceilings throughout our home because of the way it warmly reflects light.
The paintings in front of the closet are by my dear friend, currently visiting her home in Spain, Maria Gracía Brunsó, who goes by Grace when she is in San Carlos, California with her husband, architect Miquel Aymerich, a friend and colleague of Dan’s.
The chandelier, bed side lamps and sconces are Robert Abbey Beaux Arts designs.  We have smaller models of the chandelier in our dining room and entry hall.  We have pendant lighting over the island in our kitchen.  This kind of consistency gives a smaller home a feeling of peace.  The light from the shades is warm, like candle light.
MBR2
The art works are important to us.  The painting just outside this door was done by Pacific Northwest artist, Mary Moore Baileywww.marypaints.com; the pastel of the coastal foothills above Skyline Drive not far from Pacifica, California hangs over the bed,  by JoAnne HorsfallBeasley who died in 2006. We bought it just before moving to Bellingham at the end of 2004 from The Main Gallery in Redwood City.  We also purchased two of the Raku pots in the next photograph at the gallery from potter Jeff Carlick. The small, lidded Raku pot is an early example of work by our brilliant nephew, Tim McMullen.  He is one three partners in Silica Studioswhere they provide both gallery and studio space.  They also teach.  It’s a great place to learn on every level!  The large plate in the center is by Gene Buckley of Stony Clearing Studio here in Bellingham.  We also have pots by his wife, Cheryl Lee, one on the table through the doorway under Mary’s painting.
MBR3
MBR4
 The rocker is an Arts & Crafts antique that was in bad shape when I got it, but Dan refinished and reglued and clamped it and we recovered the seat with a German upholstery leather remnant we bought on ebay.  We got enough to cover 6 dining chairs and a Morris chair & ottoman.  We enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes of being self-sufficient. The floral painting is the first purchase in our art collection and is also by Mary Moore Bailey.
The small carpets are Safavieh Anatolia.  The floor is Kentwood American Cherry Natural Elite, an engineered wood floor with a 25 year guarantee. The baseboards and door frames are clear vertical grain fir, hand finished to match the doors and closets by my husband, Dan the Man McMullen.
MBR6
Firecat and Honey Boy test the new floors.
MBR5   The watercolors on the right were painted by Dan in 1959, when he was at UC Berkeley studying Architecture.  On the left is a eucalyptus grove above the Greek Theater, and on the right is a bridge over Strawberry Creek, both on the campus. These paintings represent so much about Dan’s life as a student and later as an architect.  Their peacefulness makes them perfect for our room.

Other Resources:

  • Bedding, comforter, shams & matching shower curtain are a discontinued Arts & Crafts organic print from Pottery Barn.
  • Sheets, wonderful cream Veratex 800 thread count — We splurged on Overstock.com
  • Shaded yellow quilt and shams, a find at TJ Maxx
  • Box spring cover, Matlasse from Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Pillows, 2 sets of Sleep Innovations® Memory Foam Down Pillow online at Kohl’s.  So comfortable!


This is our wedding portrait, December 31, 1990.  You can tell by my dress and flowers that we agreed that we would already be doing things a little differently.  I am the extra mother to these four wonderful additional McMullens.  The handsome devil with his arm draped over my shoulder is the infamous cradle-robber of his class of 1962, Dan the Man, my beloved.
Our Wedding 21 years ago

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