Saturday, January 26, 2013

response to "I require more updates of the finished product!"

Here is a panaramic shot of the studio when we opened for the LA Brewery Artwalk last October:

More updates soon

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cooking with Gas! (Liquid Propane Gas)

For those of us used to cooking with gas, it comes as a rude shock that industrial lofts don't necessarily have natural gas hookups. In an industrial zone, occupants may be expected to supply their own gas if  they require it to manufacture their goods. The industrial loft complex we moved into does not have natural gas supply lines so power for heating, hot water and cooking is provided via electricity. Since we prefer to cook over a gas flame instead of electric coils, the lack of natural gas posed a challenge.

After some research into alternatives to natural gas and electricity, we realized that denizens of high-altitude and remote regions generally utilize liquid propane gas (LPG) as a safe, effective source of cooking flames. We then discovered that there was a well-known, high-end appliance company in our area that was well-versed in manufacturing liquid propane-ready cooktops. Generally, LPG cooktops are hooked up to large propane tanks situated just outside the dwelling. Pressure regulators and reinforced gas lines and fittings ensure controlled and safe gas delivery. In our case, however, installing a big tank outside the loft wasn't an option, so we consulted with people familiar with LPG hookups and determined that there was no known reason why we couldn't connect the appliance to a smaller, portable, barbeque-style 20lb LPG tank. So we decided to take the plunge and purchase a beautiful LPG four-burner cooktop. The LPG cooktop comes with a factory-installed pressure regulator that automatically shuts off the gas supply if the gas force is too great. Furthermore, the propane supply tank - whatever the size - must be fitted with a second pressure regulator that also controls the force of the gas coming out of the tank. It is a fail-safe design that combined with the manually-controlled gas shutoff valve found of all portable tanks, is extremely safe.
Factory Regulator (connected to gas lines with "Pipe Dope" sealant)

Tank-Side Regulator
We drove a few miles to the factory to pick up the LPG cooktop and got to see the immaculate and very organized Japanese-style assembly facility where the cooktop was made. Once we got the cooktop home we examined the cutsheet (guidelines for the dimensions required to fit, install and power the appliance) and  fabricated a custom phenolic resin countertop to house it. Then we hooked the factory-supplied gas pipe and regulator to the propane tank line - the propane tank also had to have its own pressure regulator for the cooktop to work. A single pressure regulator won't allow the burners to ignite because the amount of gas pressure coming out of an unregulated propane tank causes the cooktop-side regulator valve to close. But with a pressure regulator attached to each end of the gas line, the gas flow is highly controlled and the burners light like a charm.
Easy Tank Storage

High-End Looks and Performance
Cooking with liquid propane has been fun and educational. At first, we anticipated the 20lb tank would run out of gas within two weeks or so. Thus far, however, one tank has lasted us over five weeks for daily teakettle heating, egg-frying and 4 nights-a-week dinner cooking. The little tank has not run out! In addition, we discovered that LPG burns hotter and heats faster than natural gas. Propane provides more energy per unit volume than natural gas -- propane will give you over 2x the BTUs as the same volume of natural gas. A kettle of water seems to boil in approximately 2/3 of the time and frying takes about 33-50%  less flame strength. It has been a rewarding solution to cooking with gas without a natural gas supply. As an added bonus, city folk who don't have experience cooking with LPG think it's a pretty clever and amazing setup.

Cooking with Gas!

Monday, October 17, 2011

LOFTwall Separation Wall

Several months ago when we moved into our work/live loft, we realized we wanted to screen off certain areas from the view of clients visiting the architecture studio. Since the loft is mixed-use and houses an office, a mezzanine live space, a storage area, and my pottery studio, we needed several walls and screens. We built walls around the storage room and we put up corrugated metal to screen the mezzanine 'live' space. 

We decided, however, that we only wanted to partially screen off the pottery studio. A pottery workshop shares some similar characteristics with an architecture studio and proximity to someone working on clay or tinkering in a workshop can be an interesting concept for visitors and a motivating force for employees. But workshops are often cluttered and can't always be cleaned up when an unexpected visitor arrives. The logical solution for a partition was a lightweight, partially translucent, room divider. While searching online for room partitions, we stumbled across LOFTwall - a company that makes mod-looking movable separator walls that could be customized through the selection of different color panels and wall sizes. The walls are also VOC-free and the frames are made from recycled content and the wall components are recyclable.

It just so happened that at the time we discovered LOFTwall, they were having a contest to design a wall - the winner would receive a free LOFTwall! After consulting the architecture firm's design team and being advised that people get excited by red, I submitted my contest entry - a red and black wall with a translucent white panel in the center.

The LOFTwall Design Contest Entry
Voting was conducted on LOFTwall's facebook page and, thanks to the support of friends and fans, my entry made it through three rounds of voting and ultimately won! Now I could design my very own LOFTwall to use as a partition between the architecture studio and the workshop. 

We knew that the LOFTwall might have to be moved in the future for use in a reception area or to screen the conference table during meetings. So we decided that the wall should blend in with the overarching grey and white color palette of the office, let light filter through to the workshop, and not clash with the red kitchen. So we designed a grey, black and white wall with translucent panels and a two-sided dry-erase board that can be used for doodles in the workshop on one side and to convey ideas in the conference area on the other side.
Drawing on the Wall is Okay!

The LOFTwall arrived in three boxes with simple instructions on how to assemble the rails and panels with the provided allen wrench and screwdriver.

Unpacked & Ready to Assemble
First Row of Panels & Rails

Assembled and Ready to Move
It took all of 10 minutes or so to assemble and tighten the entire wall. Then we placed it next to the workshop. The modern materials and neutral colors blend perfectly with the space and the clear textured panels allow light into the workshop without revealing exactly what's behind the wall.
LOFTwall view from Conference Table

LOFTwall view from Workshop

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Kitchen Installation Part 2 - Phenolic Resin Countertops

We designed a modern office kitchen for the architecture studio, so we wanted to use an interesting material for the countertops - something other than the traditional granite, corian, or butcherblock. An industrial loft is a tough place, so unusual and industrial-looking materials are a logical choice. We threw various ideas around about what might look cool - concrete, slate, stainless steel, varnished plywood - and then we remembered the old-school, black laboratory tabletops from high school chemistry class. It turns out lab tabletops are made from phenolic resin - a descendant of the early synthetic resins that were used to make things like Bakelite back in the early 1900's. Phenolic panels are made by soaking layers of absorbent material such as paper, wood dust, linen or cotton fibers in phenolic resin and subjecting it to heat and pressure. Once the resin cures, the resulting product is a super tough, heat and stain-resistant panel.

Finding the Panels
We contacted one of the biggest manufacturers of architectural phenolic resin panels, Trespa. Unlike some phenolic resin panels, Trespa doesn't contain formaldehyde and is therefore eligible for indoor air quality credits under the LEED green building certification system. Their local sales rep, Greg, sent us samples in various colors and, sure enough, the old-fashioned laboratory black was available as well as mod metallic colors such as Aluminum. Greg offered us architect trade pricing which turned out to be more cost-effective than alternate countertop materials such as granite or solid-surface products, which generally cost between $30 and $40 per square foot. When we realized how many colors were available and how cost-effective it was, we decided we could use phenolic panels for desks, office shelves, cabinet doors and bathroom counters.
Red Checkmarks Show Panel Uses
We came up with a list of square footage we needed, which turned out to be quite a bit, so to keep the costs from escalating we asked if there was overage or scrap material available. Greg contacted one of Southern California's biggest fabricators of phenolic panels, who just happened to have leftover panels they were happy to sell to us for the cost of the labor to package it. We ordered 7 sheets (in black, aluminum, and metallic grey), which amounted to half a ton of panels.

Picking up the Panels
Getting the panels to the loft was complicated. To have them delivered would cost  $500 because it involved a trucker and semi driving almost 200 miles to our location and 200 miles back. Since we were already seriously over-budget, we decided to pick the panels up ourselves. But some of the panels were 6ftx12ft which doesn't fit in a pickup or regular van. In addition, they would be packaged on a big forklift pallet. Luckily, we knew that our neighbor, the set designer, regularly used a giant truck to transport sets. He directed us to the local production crew truck rental company, and we rented a 12 foot long panel truck with a lift gate for $100. We drove 200 miles to the factory, they loaded the pallet onto the truck and we drove back. Back at the loft, it became apparent there was no way the two of us could lift a panel, nor could we maneuver the panels up and around our landing and into the door in order to get them inside the loft. Thankfully, a neighbor with a large loading dock allowed us to store the panels on his dock and let us use his industrial woodshop to cut the panels to size. Two other neighbors helped us lift the panels onto the dock and then helped guide them through the table saw. We truly appreciated the community effort.
The Cut Panels
Buying the Tools
We contacted several installers who knew how to cut and install phenolic countertops and requested bids for the 6'x3' kitchen island counter and 5'x2' and 2'x2' kitchen wall counters. When we couldn't get a quote for less than $2,500 we decided to cut and install the countertops ourselves, which is not as simple as it sounds. Phenolic resin is as tough as hardwood, so you need powerful tools with sharp carbide cutting bits to shape it. We had a router, but it wasn't powerful enough to tackle phenolic, so we had to buy a big 3.25 horsepower router, a 2" long straight bit, a 1/8" roundover bit, and a carbide-tipped 60 tooth table saw blade. Since the panels are 3/8" thick, we also needed a two-part epoxy resin adhesive to build up layers for the edges so the counters would look the correct thickness once installed. We also needed a panel adhesive to stick the panels to the plywood substrate. 
Supplies for Making the Countertops
The Island Counter
We built the "easiest" counter first. A simple 6' x 3' counter for the island. First we cut the plywood panels that sit directly on top of the cabinets (the substrate) and made sure they fit.

Fitting and Leveling the Substrate
Then we removed the plywood, applied panel adhesive to it and set it upside down on the phenolic resin countertop.  We then took long 2" wide strips of phenolic and epoxied them together to build up the edges of the counter. Since the phenolic was only 3/8" thick and the average countertop is 1 1/2" thick, we needed to epoxy 4 additional layers along the edges of the main counter panel.  
Panel Adhesive on the Plywood
Edge Layers Epoxied and Clamped
We then weighted everything down and secured it for curing overnight.
Countertop Drying Upside-down with Extra Panels On Top as Weights
Finishing the Edges
The next day, the epoxy was dry and it was time to clean up the edges with the router using the 3/4" diameter 2" long straight trim bit. The bit made the sides nice and straight. In order to take the sharpness off the top and bottom of the edges, we then used a roundover bit that shaved a quarter-circle shape off the edges.
Router Smoothing out the Counter Edges
Epoxied Layered Edge Before Router
Layered Edge After Router
The Final Result
All that was left was to move the countertop onto the island cabinets and secure it by screwing it down from the inside of the cabinets. Most cabinet bases come with holes drilled along the top edge of the frame just for this purpose. After much hard work, we now have an island countertop and the skills to tackle the more difficult counter that wraps around the kitchen column.

Countertop Installed
Final Stats
Cost: (Note: most costs cover add'l panel uses: desks, shelves, conference table, etc.)
6'x12' Phenolic Panel (only 1/3 used) = $50
Panel Truck & Gas = $225
Plywood Sheets = $25
3 HP Router = $350
2" Straight Router Bit = $22
1/8" Roundover Bit - $25
Liquid Nails Panel Adhesive = $20
Carbide Table Saw Blade = $40
Two-Part Marine Epoxy = $75
Acetone = $7

Difficulty: Hard (Requires Strength, Heavy Tool Skills, Poses Danger)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Studio Design

Now that the kitchen design is finished and in the process of being installed, we are ready to work on the layout of the architecture studio. This area will need to be flexible so it can be modified as the practice grows. This will be achieved with the use of modular furniture and a movable partition that can be reconfigured as the spatial needs of the practice evolve. Programmatic requirements for the design include a reception/lounge area, work stations, a conference room, and a workshop.

Floorplan with furniture layout

Through the use of 3D modeling, we are able to get an accurate view of how the spaces will be defined by the furniture layout.

Section view looking along south wall

Section view looking along north wall
The renderings help us determine if the layout, furniture design and color scheme work. In this case, the renderings helped us realize that we want to limit the red color scheme to the kitchen and not bring it in to the work area. The rendering also helped us fully realize how much a long line of wall cabinets will limit the studio's usable wall space, and we need open wall space to pin up conceptual designs and presentations for clients. We also would like to show artwork at various times, so we are going to eliminate the wall cabinets and just start out with base cabinets. We do, however, like the concept of a grey/black/white separation wall to screen the workshop. 

Now we begin the hard work of cutting and installing countertops and building desks and cabinetry. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kitchen Installation - Part I

After some months, the office kitchen has taken shape. The main function of this loft is that of an architecture-studio. The kitchen, therefore, has to be on the ground level away from the upper-level private quarters because it will be used by employees and serve as a design showcase and entertainment area for visiting clients. The area under the loft staircase was chosen because it forms a natural alcove, is not in the way of the space designated for the office work space and is along the same wall as existing drain lines at the front of the loft. The first step in building the kitchen was bringing water and electricity to the area. We designed the kitchen layout and marked the final cabinet measurements on the wall to serve as reference points for placing the new water lines, drains, and electrical outlets.

Copper Water Pipes, Cast Iron Drain & Electrical Conduit
The second step was building a new wall/alcove perpendicular to the main wall to serve as a place for the refrigerator to rest against and as a visual boundary of the kitchen area. The alcove had to be a very specific width to accommodate the refrigerator, the required airspaces at the top and sides of the fridge, and the tall cabinets that would frame the fridge. Since we didn't have the fridge or cabinets yet it was important to consult the manufacturers' cut-sheets for exact measurements. The width of the drywall also had to be kept in mind when we set up the steel framing, otherwise the alcove would have been too narrow once the drywall and mud was on. 
New Fridge Alcove Walls (Ctr)
Plumbing and Electrical on Left
With the completion of the walls around the new kitchen area, we were ready to install the fire-engine red cabinets. While the choice of cabinets and appliances seriously strained the firm's budget, we felt it was a necessary business expense. The architecture studio is intended to showcase the firm's design sensibilities as well as display different kinds of materials, casework, and modern appliances. We need clients to be interested and inspired, and kitchens generate a lot of interest because they are a central gathering spot associated with entertainment and comfort. An architecture firm's need to exhibit examples of design sensibility as well as the business need to host gatherings, talks, and various client functions where appetizers and drinks will be served means a showpiece kitchen is a necessary part of our business. It is the main trade fixture expense we have incurred thus far, although we were able to negotiate trade discounts for various of the materials and appliances.  
Cabinets After Installation.
Countertops & Island Siding Remain to be Done
The modern, red, glossy cabinets are eye-catching and have a commercial look that blends into a professional office environment. We designed the kitchen so that the components can be easily dismantled and removed, and the electrical and water lines are surface-mounted to avoid causing damage to the existing structure. 

 Office Micro (Top) and Small Oven
The next step is to install the counter tops, backsplashes, facing materials, sink, cooktop and exhaust hood. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

How to Rescue a Cat from an Industrial Catwalk

Industrial loft buildings contain all sorts of strange nooks, giant pipes, and random ledges left over from the original factory or warehouse. The building where our loft is located is connected to the adjacent four-story building by an industrial catwalk. Under the catwalk are a variety of huge cast-iron pipes used for water supply and drainage.
The Catwalk
For several days last week, we could hear the plaintive meowing of a cat. Despite investigating, we couldn't locate the cat. It turned out we couldn't find it because it was four stories above us stuck on top of a pipe under the catwalk. On the third day, someone realized where the cat was and called animal control. An attempt was made to use someone's boom lift to reach the cat, but it couldn't reach high enough. So the animal control officer called in a special team that is intended for just such a scenario - the Los Angeles Small Animal Rescue Team (SmART). The SmART team is an amazing group of volunteers from the Animal Control division who are trained in rescuing animals from difficult and precarious situations such as cliffs, trees, sewers, and swiftwater.

The SmART Team
The SmART team arrived in a special van filled with all manner of rescue equipment. Because the cat was four stories up and unreachable from the surface of the catwalk, the team donned their rappelling gear complete with harnesses, helmets, ropes, carabiners, and orange rescue bags for storing the animal during the rope descent. A crowd gathered as night fell. The rescue team gathered on the catwalk and anchored themselves for the descent. Two team members, Annette and Sean, rappelled off the sides of the catwalk and positioned themselves on either side of the pipes. The cat began to meow ever louder as they approached and, when Annette called it towards her, it complied. Getting the cat into the bag, however, was not as easy since even a desperate cat fears the thought of a four-story drop. Finally, the cat was pried off the pipes, cinched it into the bag, and the rescuers lowered themselves to the ground to much applause. The cat was taken to the local animal shelter for rehydration and we were warned someone would need to claim the cat within 5 days. Fortunately for the cat, Spike, her owner was found and he retrieved her the next afternoon.

The Catwalk Rescue
Photo Credit: Vern Evans
Team Members After the Rescue
Annette (right) Got the Cat in the Bag
So, if you live in Los Angeles and need help rescuing a small animal from a precarious situation, the SmART team is the team to call. They are a fantastic group of people from the Animal Services division who volunteer to do this tough side job. They don't get hazard pay for putting themselves at risk and they pay for all the special equipment themselves. The service is entirely FREE, and there is always need for donations of rescue gear to help them do their job.

Click here for List of Items Needed
See photos of the entire rescue, and learn more about the SmART team, on their facebook page. You can also follow them on Twitter.