Modest Modern


Tuesday, March 24th, 2009


Even though our house was completed over a year ago I have enjoyed continuing to write about construction, design and trying to live a greener life. The experience started as a way for us to track our journey while sharing with others. However, in the process it has become so much more than that.

The exchange of ideas and knowledge I have enjoyed over the past two years has been wonderful. During this time I have made so many contacts and friends. Some have given me their insights while others have asked me to share mine. Many have challenged my thinking or asked me for greater explanation. Out of this has come many long lasting friendships, from my architect Michael Huber who I love sharing my coolest new “modest modern” design ideas and finds with. Modern homeowners Matt and Laura Tills who we would commiserate with as our home projects and lives seemed to mirror each others  as we both struggled through the building process. My buddy Jeff Gallo (from the 5ive house, Minnesota’s first LEED Platinum house) for not only inspiring me “to do more ” green friendly than even I had planned, but for reassuring me that this obsession was a healthy one. And of course  there is a vast array of people from our general contractor (Benedict  and Associates) to the local watershed district, all of whom helped us to make our project a better one.

I have had so many informative and insightful conversations with such a wide range of people from as close as down the street, to as far away as Spain, Germany and South Africa. And so the process, even more than the project has been an incredibly dynamic, rewarding and enlightening experience, far beyond what I ever could have imagined. However, like everything else, it is time that it comes to and end.  My energy and efforts have shifted in the last few months as I work to help grow my company’s business and continue to pursue additional avenues for my passion for green living and modern design.

For now I intend to spend the coming summer working on a few little landscaping projects, adding a rainwater capture container, doing some paintings to fill our walls and taking in the fruits of the past two years of work. I will continue to write my bi-weekly blog for as well as pursue opportunities around sharing my “modest modern” philosophy via, which I plan to launch later this year. Some day down the road I plan to build a retirement cabin on our land in Northern Wisconsin, and this time I’d like to try and do something off the grid, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll write a blog about it.

Thanks again to everyone one who has come to these pages and participated in my journey.
Jason Hammond

Retro Fit

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

In our old house we had a fairly nice sized master bedroom, especially when considering the period and style of our home. However, it was oddly shaped making the location and positioning of our King-sized bed very limited, and as a result we had no side tables in our bedroom. Not having side tables meant that the placement of things link lamps and alarms clocks were nowhere within reach.  This inconvenient lead us to make sure that although, we were not doing a bedroom that was significantly larger than our old one we were going to ensure that it was designed to accommodate our bed.With one solution there always seems to come another challenge. In our case the added space around our bed provided us with ample room on both sides for side tables. However, we didn’t own any side tables, nor were we in the mood to spend $300 to get some of the ones we had seen  and liked. We considered building our own side tables but then Stacy found some affordable (around $120) hi-gloss white cabinets via CB2, a division of Crate & Barrel that offers modern furnishings at lower price point.

When the tables arrived they were easy to assemble, going together much of the furniture from IKEA (except a little more square based, on our previous experiences with this type of assembly).  PLacing thetables up to the sides of our bed we came to the conclusion that they were a bit low in relationship to the height of our bed. Not to be frustrated or discouraged by this we decided to remove the legs on the tables and mount them to the wall using some 3 1/2 framing screws, being careful to place to the screws behind the divider shelf so they would be obscured from view. The final result is well positioned floating cabinets at each side of our bed, and the next challenge, find side table lamps that better fit the space.

The master bedroom at our old house was a nice size, but the strange shape and positioning of doors meant the location of the bed was very limited.

The tables were too low for us to be able to access the shelves or see an alarm clock clearly.

By mounting the tables to the wall we were able to raise them to a height that better fit with the bed.

Waste not, want not

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

About ten years ago I was working as a designer/art director for a small company that published interior design trade magazines. Among our various publications We had a small industry magazine dedicated to wall finishes, namely wallpaper. It was, at the time, a dying industry where only the highest-end products in both commercial and residential applications were making any headway or profit for that matter, and it looked as though paint and faux finishes had finally done in the art of applying materials to walls . Fast-forward roughly ten years and both the supply and demand for wall decor has seemingly skyrocketed. However, unlike their existence a decade ago they are now being used more to create accent walls and interest rather than to cover entire rooms.The growing popularity of these wall applications seem to range from the extremely dynamic composite wall panels like those by modulararts, to the paper squares like those made by inhabit and finally the more traditional, but equally as cool strong graphical patterned wallpapers like the work of Nama Rococo.

The Clif™ wall panels from

The SHAN Sangri La wall panels from Inhabit.
The Sixty-Eight, one of the beautiful patterns from Nama Rococo.

After spending more than a year looking and considering a variety of materials and applications available to us, Stacy suggest that we might be able to create our own wall application with the idea of using some scrap material we had left over from other projects. After talking about what pattern we liked the best and what would be most easy to execute with both the tools and materials we had. We settled on a linear sliding plane pattern that mimicked the design of our house and was relatively easy to execute. Using scrap pieces of MDF in both 1/2″ and 3/4″ thickness we cut them down in to a series of long linear strips and then cut them down to varying lengths. To give it an added layer of dimension we spaced the pieces in a staggered manner and used the wall to create a third plane. Once the wall was covered we filled the cracks and nail holes with paintable caulk and then painted the entire wall bright white.

The results of our little scrap project is a very inexpensive but fairly cool feature wall, that gives our first floor bathroom a sophisticated, mid-century modern meets modern contemporary feel. Because we used scrap material and the paint that we already had for the house our only out of pocket expense was roughly $6 for some decent 1″ paint brushes to get into the little spaces between pieces—a well worth it investment.

The MDF as we applied it to the wall in various sizes.
The finished wall.
A close-up of the wall dimension.

Modern in a lost city

Monday, December 15th, 2008

I have had the pleasure while doing this blog of sharing ideas and solutions with many people who have either done their own similar project or are interested in doing something like it in the future. Of the many people I have met during these various exchanges, one of the most interesting to me was Matt and Laura Tills. The Tills, like us, had recently added to their young family and outgrown their home at the time. Since Matt is an architect they began making plans to design and build their very own modern, green friendly home. Like us the tills were in search of resources to help aid them in the design and selection of the many materials they would ultimately use, and in the process we connected. Over the next, almost two years, we have corresponded back and forth, sometimes with questions for one another and occasionally just to commiserate with someone else who could truly understand the impact of taking on such a project and the impact that it can have on your life. Our connections have become much more random over the last 6 months or so as our projects have come to relative completion and both our families have adjusted to getting settled in. I sent an email to Matt and Laura recently asking to see some current images of their project in it’s completed form and if I could share their project with the readers of my blog, they graciously agreed to do so.

Matt and Laura didn’t do anything of the ordinary kind when it came to building their new home, not even the selection of their land. Although they are located within the city limits of Wisconsin’s Capital of Madison, their property is in what is referred to as the “lost city”, a part of the University of Wisconsin’s Arboretum. The section of land was not fitted with city sewer and they had to work to get the property rezoned to reduce the rear lot line in order to position the house in a place where they could avoid losing some large evergreens in the front yard.  Additionally, their property had the remnants of an old tennis court on it which would eventually serve as the site of their new home.

Matt designed the house with great care to consider the surroundings while introducing forward thinking modern and green friendly design and building practices. The exterior of the house which was constructed of SIPs and clad in steel, Prodema siding and stone seems to sit perfectly among the surrounding trees almost as if it had been their forever. The interior of the home with its carefully placed clearstory and large sections of windows invite sunlight into the space, creating a beautiful glow and blur the lines between interior and exterior spaces. The rich colors of the stained concrete floors are complimented by the beauty of the blonde woodwork and exposed beams of the roof and ceiling. The simple, elegant, modern fixtures that appear in the bathrooms and almost every lighting opportunity, seem to perfectly compliment the lines and form of the homes design. This home is truly an inviting and modern jewel to be discovered, in what was once known as Madison’s lost city.







True to Form

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

In December of 2006 I wrote a blog entry about my mailbox design. This entry was later posted on From the ground Up in March of 2007. either way it was quite early for me to have a mailbox design for a house that was only in conceptual form.  Now as we near the start of December, 2008 I am pleased to say that the concept is now a reality, but not without out a little help and a few modifications.

Although there are some decent design for mailbox out on the market these days most of them a really fairly pricey, and to be quite honest, most of the coolest looking modern ones are design for urban settings where the mail carrier goes door-to-door rather than in a suburban area where the carriers drive by boxes lined up along the street. For me this meant that I would need to spend a little time and energy to design and build my own mailbox in order to get exactly what I wanted. The trouble sometimes with being a designer is that you often times can envision it but you aren’t necessarily versed in the ways of making it, this was the case with my mailbox design. I had designed a tall rectangular shaped form to be divided into three sections. The first section would be a concrete finished base. The second section a light transmitting layer of some kind that would hold the house numbers. The third layer, and the one that posed the problem for me was the actual functioning mailbox, which I designed to be constructed out of steel. The problem, I don’t weld. As a matter of fact I didn’t even know where to get the steel I was looking for, let alone how to fabricate it— lucky for me I know people that do.

This past summer we spent a long weekend with friends at a cabin enjoy some of central Wisconsin’s beauty. Over a breakfast one morning I was telling my good friend Steve Severance about my mailbox and he said it would be something he could easily build for me. I sketched the design and the dimensions down on a scrap piece of paper for him to take home. Because Steve lives in Southern Wisconsin I knew that the next time I would see him probably wouldn’t be until one of our other annual get togethers later in the year. In August I saw some photos of the box in fabrication and learned that it was constructed out of scrap steel that came in a shipment from overseas. Then in mid-November Stacy and I made the trip to Southern Wisconsin for one of our annual get togethers, and to pick-up our prized mailbox. Not that this should be a surprise (knowing the kind of person Steve is) but I have to say I was super pleased with the way it looked and all the extra details that he had put into it —Thanks Steve, you’re an awesome friend.

If you’ve ever thought about constructing your own mailbox, there is one thing you need to remember, once you put the mailbox up it’s no longer yours, its the property of the U.S. Postal service. This means that before you go and throw any old box up, you need to make sure that it meets the standards of the U.S. Post office. As a rule the mailboxes that you purchase at your local hardware store or home improvement center have been constructed to these standards. In my case I needed to arrange for an inspection of the box via the postmaster at my local branch. I was a little nervous about this, but as it turns out there was nothing to worry about. The maibox needed to meet some general standards for size and access along with making sure that it was safe for operation, all of which my mailbox more than complied with. in addition to the mailbox construction we talked quickly about the location of the box (being on the curve of a cul-de-sac the placement was little tricky) so that was accessible and yet woldn’t have issues with the snowplow clipping it, and then we were good to go.

Over a the long holiday weekend I decided it was perfect time to put the mailbox up. We have had a rather nice run of warm weather for this time of year and the ground still hadn’t taken a deep freeze so I was able to get my posts set in place for the base. I decided that instead of pouring a concrete base I would use concrete backerboard and attach it to a base that I prebuilt, this was one of a several modification from my original idea that would be needed. For he second section I used left over pieces polycarbonate instead of plexi or glass. When I went to get the house numbers that matched the one on the building I found out there were discontinued and they were out of ones, of which I needed two. I had to run by Menards to pick up some pieces of wood and while I was there I found some great looking pin mounted modern styled house numbers, that worked perfectly. I was also able to find a solar panel and floor light at Menards that happend to be on sale. I mounted the floor light on the inside of the frame so the polycarb would be illuminated from the inside and the house numbers would be easily seen from the outside.

By noon on Saturday the mailbox was completed and the mail carrier had deposited the first parcel in our new mailbox. By Saturday evening I was able to see the final piece of the mailbox come to life as the solar floor light lit up the front of the mailbox. I have to say I was feeling pretty proud that my design had stayed s true to it’s orginal form almost 2 years from its orginal design.

The original design done in December of 2006. I wasn’t even sure of the house numbers at the time, but got fairly close with my guess.

The finished mailbox in place.
I think the box nicely mimics both the structure of the home but also the use of materials.


This little solar panel gathers light that eventually illuminates the inside of the mailbox, making the house numbers visual at night.

The LED solar flood light puts out a fair mount of light for a good 4 to 5 hours from what I could tell. Long enough to make sure the pizza man can find our house at night.


Monday, November 10th, 2008

The boxes go into place.
The walnut top goes on.

The boxes get a coat of paint and the top gets a layer of poly.

The shelves are installed.

The doors go on and the cabinet is complete.
And now…

…the door to our bedroom…
..finally closes!
In our bedroom there is a small closet space that was designed to feature a nice built-in cabinet. This was something we had originally decided would not be a part of our initial design, build project, so in the interim period we would place our old dresser in the space. Unfortunately the dresser proved to be about 1/2″ to deep to fit into the space and allow the bedroom door (which is on a track) to slide shut. So for the past 10 months or so we have not been able to really use the space, and maybe more importantly, we have not been able to seal ourselves off for even a few minutes from the madness of two small children. This alone was enough to prompt me to finally take some action and build these cabinets.

I knew we had a few pieces of walnut plywood that we had saved from the design of our upstairs fire place, so with that in mind, along a quick dicussion on how me might best use the space, I came up with a design. We would divide the space up into three even cabinets. The two outside boxed would be open shelves while the inside box would be slightly recessed to account for doors that would be flush with the surface of the other cabinets. Although I am pretty comfortable working on most projects, the idea of building my own cabinets was a bit daunting. After some close study as to the method applied by our cabinetmaker (Eastvold Custom) I set to work building the frames.

I decided to use MDF to construct the boxes which turned out to be fairly easy to do. I then laid out a template and drilled holes in the boxes along the sides that would be used to hold pins for shelves. We slid the three boxes into place and they fit fairly well. I cut the walnut plywood down and we used it to create a nice countertop for the cabinets. Stacy painted the cabinets white and put a coat of poly on the plywood which really made the entire thing look good.

The one thing that remained to be done was to figure out the doors for the center cabinet. We had a couple extra pieces of walnut plywood around, and had decided that it was a nice connection to the rest of the piece to use those to create the doors. The challenge was that the pieces we had either were not big enough to cover the entire space, or the grains didn’t align so that we could do two doors from one sheet. Stacy came up with the idea that we do two doors. One with a horizontal grain on the top and one with a vertical grain on the bottom that was slightly larger. This solution for the doors turned out to be a nice one.

To finish off the pieces I decided to drill holes in each of the doors to serve as handles. The circles were dual purpose as they tied to the sub-theme of our homes design, while at the same time created an out-of-the-way handle that didn’t interfere with the sliding door like traditional hardware may have done.

After a couple of coats of poly on the doors I was feeling really good about the way the entire cabinet was looking. I was also  pretty proud that we were able to do the entire thing for under a $100′s worth of new material and some leftover pieces of wood.