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Tag Archives: douglas fir design

  • Douglas Fir in California Design: San Francisco Homes

    Posted on March 1, 2012 by Nicole

    Douglas fir in home design dates back before the days of the Gold Rush in 1849. Douglas fir had a big impact on San Francisco Victorian architecture from the 1850s to the early 1900s. The 1906 Earthquake and fire destroyed over half of the burgeoning Bay Area. Thousands of homes burned, including many Doug-fir-framed Victorians that dotted neighborhood streets.

    We’d like to look at the use of Douglas fir from the start of Art Deco in the 1920s on through the Great Depression, WWII, and through the 1970s to today’s New Modernism approach to sustainability.

    Douglas fir goes utilitarian

    We won’t bore with you the details, but there were a wide variety of architectural aesthetics popular in San Francisco beginning in the early 1900s on through the 1940s. Art Deco, Beaux-Arts inspired New Revival Mediterranean and Marina homes, and Art Moderne designs which all featured an eclectic mix of materials. New revival homes were outfitted with wrought-iron balconies and clay-tiled doorways which mirrored Spanish elements and emulated Beaux-Arts design with its brick and stone figural sculptures and classical details. If any wood was used, it was minimal in appearance – balustrades or wood shingles.

    Between the 1920s on through the 1940s, Art Moderne architecture reinforced innovation with design. The International Style became a façade trend in the mid-1920s, emphasizing a less is more aesthetic. The advent of new building materials - stainless steel, aluminum, Formica, and pigmented structural glass – figured prominently in these design movements. Meanwhile, factories churned out abundant supplies of steel in preparation for war and Old Fir went utilitarian, being made into automobile running boards, wall sheathing, and military applications.

    In response to a depressed economy, a Northwest fir trade association set out to promote plywood and the milling industry. Founded in 1933, The Douglas Fir Plywood Association –dubbed American Plywood Association today – sent out on a national mission to bring fir back.

    Douglas fir Boom and Bay Area Modernism

    After the war, the nation needed more housing to keep up with the 1940s baby boom. Thanks to the housing boom, Douglas fir was back in business. In 1955, the Douglas Fir Plywood Association put together 52 Fir Plywood Home Storage Plans. The 50 cent black & white booklet featured 65 do-it-yourself home projects based on a you-can-build-anything-with-fir-plywood motto. Crisp illustrations and clear plans outlined everything from drawer construction to edge treatments.

    In San Francisco, five years before the issue of 52 Fir Plywood Home Storage Plans, local architects were inspired by the old rural wood-clad buildings in the area. The decorated shed and building as billboard aesthetics turned into the next big design aesthetic and Old Fir had a home. Coined Bay Area Modernism – Third Bay Style, these wood-dressed homes featured wood paneling and flooring. Outside, vertical wood board siding, wood shingles, and vertical exposed sticks were dominant features. For wood enthusiasts, this was a welcomed change from the Art Deco and Art Moderne stucco-fashioned designs of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s.

    However, it was Joseph Eichler’s innovative use of Douglas fir post and beam construction, that popularized Old Fir into something entirely new. Starting in the 1950s, Eichler homes “invited the outside in” by using structurally graded 4 X 10-inch fir beams and 6 X 4-inch fir posts for the housing frames. Eichler’s signature fir grid held the expansive floor to ceiling windows – a second distinctive feature of his architecture. This allowed natural light in creating an airy living space. Mahogany was also used for interior paneling. Eichler’s aesthetic was seen in San Francisco homes until the ‘70s. Today, Eichler homes are just as important to the progression of San Francisco architecture as the city’s turn of the century Victorians.

    Eichler’s use of exposed post and beam construction influenced many residential designs across the nation during this time. In AltruFir’s own backyard, Portland home-builder Robert Rummer, inspired by Eichler’s post and beam grid, constructed 750 Rummers throughout the city in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And, perhaps in response to the Eichler fir grid trend in the Bay Area, the Douglas Fir Plywood Association put together its 1958 Leisure-Time Homes in Fir Plywood. The book was popular among families looking to build a second vacation home. Was it coincidence that the five models featured in the book featured fir post and beam construction? We think not.

    In 1965, 77 Ideas For Remodeling Your Home With Fir Plywood was published. The Douglas Fir Plywood Association promoted a variety of “worthwhile leisure-living projects you can make with fir plywood,” including a built-in book rack, demountable music wall, and a potting bench. As an introduction, the association wrote, “For remodeling… inside, outside, all around the house – there’s a fir plywood panel for every job!” A black and white diagram was included to pinpoint the places fir plywood fit perfectly in the mid century home. It’s no doubt that Douglas fir helped define mid-century modernism.

    Postmodernism and New Modernism

    Interestingly, Postmodernism and its contextual aesthetic, starting in 1960, retracted from Eichler’s signature fir post and beam construction. Postmodern homes emphasized a maze of juxtapositions in layout, materials, and motif. This aesthetic relied less on the durability of natural materials such as Douglas fir and more on flamboyance and cut-out construction.

    In 1980, Third Bay Style and Eichler designs gave way to New Modernism, which emphasized the use of modern materials and technology to their greatest advantages. Humane Modernism reintroduced nature into living spaces, similar to Eichler’s architectural achievement. Wood cantilevers and wood trellises shaded windows. A post and beam both supported the entrance awning and added structural expression to a home’s front porch. Stone, wood paneling, and stucco were distinctive elements used purposefully in these façades. And conscious use of naturally energy-generating methods were incorporated into homes and buildings – photovoltaic panels.

    Today, Douglas fir is very much a part of the architectural and design movements in San Francisco. Victorian homeowners rely on Old Fir to renovate and maintain the authenticity of say, an 1890 Queen Anne dining room floor. An Eichler enthusiast knows how to treat the fir post and beam frame when stripping paint to reveal its natural grain. Homeowners of a wood-clad Third Bay Style home trust Douglas fir to bring their home’s vertical board siding back to life. And, savvy first time homebuyers expect to see Old Fir show up in the reclaimed flooring of an industrial loft, a trellis shading the front window of a LEED-certified complex, or on the paneling of a secluded yet sustainable private residence. Douglas fir is as versatile as the homes in San Francisco.

    - Nicole Morales

    This post was posted in Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim, History and Interest and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir design, douglas fir beams

  • Douglas Fir Designs: The Latest in Architectural Ingenuity

    Posted on October 26, 2011 by Nicole

    Wood is wood. Right? Well, we beg to differ. Douglas fir has been made over, though you might not recognize the Old Fir from his usual rosy-hued self as flooring, trim, and paneling. But, today’s architects are using this go-to wood in new ways. These design wizards are concocting remarkable residential dwellings (and art) that are not only aesthetically-appealing, fashionably-fresh, and structurally-sound, but also environmentally-conscious.

    We at AltruFir don’t want you to be left out of the loop. We’re excited about how far this tried ‘n’ true timber has come since the days of David Douglas way back in the 1700's. These next five designs bring the best out of Old Fir.

    Design 1 – We’re crossing the Atlantic to London, England where Kyson Design worked wonders on Cadagon Corner. Located in the city’s tough east end, the Modern East-Ender hugs the street corner where Victorian terraced homes once stood but were destroyed in WWII. Today, three well-sheltered homes are banded together by a beautiful black palette of Douglas fir. The wire brushed and vacuum stained planks block out car noise and views of the nearby freeway. The horizontal position of the planks draw attention its natural vertical grain as does its juxtaposition to each unit’s oversized two-storied window facing the neighborhood park. Kyson Design tops each new home off with an atrium on the glass-constructed roofs. The London-based design team used sustainable materials when possible and incorporated a specialized air pump to reduce its home’s carbon emissions. Though not quite the Queen’s residence, we’d fancy a look inside the Modern East-Ender.

    Design 2 – Next, it’s down to Tours, France. This rustic open cubed home had us ooh là là-ing at every turn. Jean-Charles Liddell, from RVL architects, redesigned the original 1960 house that sits on a charming country orchard. Douglas fir dresses the refurbished home inside and out. Untreated exterior planks “float” above steel mesh sliding shutters that protect from the elements when closed and integrate living-space with the outdoors when open. Naturally finished Doug fir partitions and flooring – leftover from the exterior planks – create fluidity between living quarters. The result is an airy space based on a simple construction. We think Liddell’s lofty home looks like a breath of fresh air. And get this, it was delivered on a semi-trailer and assembled in two days…Gasp!

    Design 3 – Let’s bring it on back home to the good ole USA in Kansas City, Kansas. Studio 804 designed the green-building LEED Platinum Prescott Passivhaus. When we took a gander at this contemporary construction we thought it was the Modern East-ender’s twin – the dark Douglas fir clad home is located in an urban area undergoing transition. But, on further inspection, there were some notable differences. Being one of a kind in Kansas, it’s achieved a 90% reduction in the average use of heating and cooling energy, which is well above today’s green-building standards. The single residential home is equipped with multiple slats, super insulation, and high-performing windows. The Prescott Passivhaus is also equipped with thermal mass, which is the home’s ability to absorb heat into its material makeup. The foundation consists of laminated veneer, a key component in Studio 804’s design goal. The Prescott Passivhaus is also teaching the local community a thing or two about sustainable living. We couldn’t ask for a better multi-tasker.

    Design 4 – More and more people are living large by living smaller – literally. The design team at Alchemy Architects out of St. Paul, Minnesota has taken big steps in the micro-housing movement. Welcome the weeHouse, an adorable boxy pre-fab home designed with the environment in mind. Recycled paper and resin countertops, dual-flush toilets, and natural energy components like smart roofs and geothermal heat are just a few of the weeHouse’s earth-friendly features. These micro homes come super small as 435sqft. studios or larger in the two-story double-decker design at 1,335sqft. The original weeHouse, built in 2003, features an all-over Douglas fir interior. Pretty darn good-looking if we say so ourselves.

    Design 5 – We couldn’t help but mention how B&N Industries, INC. in California is bringing high school back and putting it in your home – though you wouldn’t know it at first glance. They’ve taken those dusty old Doug fir gym bleachers and made them into wall art. The B&N Iconic Panels are made by carving intricate designs into the reclaimed wood which are then covered with a protective laminate. Take your pick from paisley or geometric-inspired designs. The finished panels are easy to install and can also be used for shelving. The Douglas fir ones are beautiful and the patina really packs a punch. Besides being pretty cool, they’re really nice for the environment too.

    - Nicole Morales

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim, History and Interest, Douglas Fir Paneling and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir design, douglas fir cladding

  • Douglas Fir in California Building Design

    Posted on July 28, 2011 by Jennifer

    Los Angeles is America’s city of dreams—the sun-drenched town where hopeful folks go to make their dreams come true. And the city is known for homes that reflect that California dream—from elaborate Hollywood mansions to simple suburban ranches, much of California architecture is about taking the best of the state’s natural beauty and bringing it into the home.

    The Kaufmann House in Palm Springs makes great use of Douglas fir paneling.

    For decades, home designers have turned to Douglas fir—naturally beautiful and native to the West Coast—as a key element in creating those California dream homes.


    Many of the earliest structures in Southern California reflected the influence of Spanish settlements, making use of stone and adobe. However, in the early 20th Century, the Arts and Crafts movement swept the country, and L.A.’s residents were not immune to its charms. As the name suggests, Arts and Crafts-style homes reflect a love of quality, hand-crafted elements. Wood paneling, built-in cabinets, and use of natural materials like stone and wood are key features.

    One of L.A.’s most notable Arts and Crafts homes, the Gamble House, was built in 1908 for wealthy residents David and Mary Gamble of the Procter and Gamble Company. Douglas fir is one of several types of wood used for the exposed beams, window and door frames, and other intricately-crafted woodworking that fills the interior of the home, known as one of the “twelve great man-made wonders of L.A. county.”

    A 1917 issue of “House Beautiful” magazine includes an article on native building materials of the Pacific coast, calling Douglas fir “a wood destined for extensive building uses in this country” and mentions that it holds “exceptional possibilities for paneling.” The Historic Highlands area of Pasadena, Calif., which was built from the turn of the century to 1925, is another area where surviving examples of Douglas fir’s use in the Craftsman/Bungalow area can be seen.

    However, as 20th century continued, Los Angeles homes evolved, and architects began using Douglas fir in new ways. Beginning as early as the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s, a simpler, sleeker style of architecture began to arise—known as mid-century modern, or as California modern. Characterized by simplicity and integration with nature, architects such as Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler and Gregory Ain epitomized the California style.

    douglas fir trim and siding

    Skyrose Chapel has 10 miles of Douglas fir trim and siding.

    Douglas fir continued to be important to mid-century modern architects, as a building material that was both natural and widely available for west coast homes. Many mid-century modern architects were very conscious of designing homes that were accessible to anyone—using readily available materials and designs that were easy to build.

    The Crestwood Hills area of L.A., for instance, was developed in the late 1940s as a neighborhood of modern homes to meet the needs of the post-World War II baby boom families. According to a 2010 article in Westside Today magazine, the houses of Crestwood Hills “set a standard for excellence in postwar tract-home development.” They used simple materials like concrete block, Douglas fir, and plate glass. “With thoughtful planning and the use of level changes, the original structures housed a post-war family quite comfortably. Large areas of glass in the walls and sliding doors dissolve the boundary between house and garden,” architect Cory Buckner writes.

    Richard Neutra, a noted modernist architect, was another designer who experimented with creating simple homes out of affordable materials like Douglas fir. His 1936 “Plywood House” built out of Douglas fir plywood was designed as part of a competition at the California House and Garden Exhibition—it was meant to pay homage to his love of small but spacious homes and was finished inside and out with Douglas fir.

    The mid-century modern style did not necessarily mean the homes were utilitarian or not attractive, however. The Dorland House, designed by America’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1948, uses Douglas fir ceiling beams as one of the many features that set off the beauty of its setting in the Altadena foothills by deliberate use of organic materials that echo the surrounding natural beauty.

    Wright’s colleague Richard Schindler also chose Douglas fir for one of his most lovely homes, the Rodriguez house in Glendale. Vertical grain Douglas fir, Santa Maria stone, and slate are among the many natural materials showcased in the house.

    As the century has continued, California’s love of natural materials like Douglas fir has continued too. Once-lost historical gems like Richard Neutra’s classic of the modernist movement, the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, which features Douglas fir ceilings, have been recently restored.

    In 1997, Douglas fir was used in the Skyrose Chapel of Whittier, Calif., one of several funeral chapels at Rose Hills Memorial Park. Skyrose Chapel features stunning exposed beams throughout, soaring ceilings, and more than 10 miles of trim and siding.

    And in 2010, the California Home & Design Award for residential interior design went to a Costa Mesa home that features Douglas fir doorways and ceiling beams, adding an earthy flair to an otherwise modern home.

    From craftsman to modern, simple to ornate, Douglas fir is an adaptable wood that’s well-suited to the California aesthetic: organic materials meeting natural beauty for more than a century of L.A. homes.

    - Jennifer Rouse

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Trim, History and Interest and was tagged with Douglas-fir, Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir trim, douglas fir paneling, douglas fir design, california design

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