Corner Office

My office is located above the Wells Fargo Bank in downtown Dodgeville.  Just look for the "Time & Temperature" clock on Iowa Street, a half block from the Courthouse.  You'll find my name on a business directory in a little alcove to the left of the main bank door. 

Climb the stairs and go to the back office.  If you need assistance or would prefer to meet on the ground floor, just call ahead 608-935-9020 and we'll make arrangements.  Even if you don't have a project in mind, or are curious to see my "studio", stop by!                        

 

 

Houzz

Posted on: 08/05/2016

By now, it's probably trite to say "the internet has changed everything".....but in my 30 years of business, it has...in so many ways.

For years, I subscribed to a dozen or more trade and popular "shelter" magazines....for the articles of course but also for the pictures.  These I ripped out and filed under topics such as "bookcases", "bathrooms", or "stairs".  Whenever I got stuck and needed inspiration, or had an idea to convey to a client but didn't want to take the time to sketch it, I turned to these files.  Other designers did the same thing, and I learned fashion designers called them "tears".

Now, I direct my homeowners to www.houzz.com where millions of user-uploaded pictures can be searched with criteria like "contemporary kitchen counters" or "red entry doors" or "Arts & Crafts trim".  For detailed advice, search for professionally written articles on topics like "how to chose exterior colors" or "how to buy green products".

Cedar Rock

Posted on: 08/05/2016

A nearly complete example of Frank Lloyd Wright's vision for a new way of life can be found just an hour west of the Mississippi River in Quasqueton, Iowa.  Just beyond this small crossroads, along the Wapsipinicon River, is Cedar Rock, a home built for a forward-thinking couple in 1950, and bequeathed to the people of Iowa unaltered.

I finally made the pilgrimage, and found a quiet, elegant place fitted into a familiar Midwestern landscape.  A long covered walkway from a gravelled court led to a cool, dark, complexely geometric entryway.  Then, a 30 foot square living room that truly could be called a garden room.  Corner windows and rows of french doors flung open dissolved walls and there, the River.  Clearstory windows and skylights lifted the ceiling to views of the sky.  Broad overhangs with punched openings held a tangle of vines....shade and sunlight in one.  And at the ground plane, inviting furniture evoked rest and contemplation.

In the Usonian style, the kitchen was a machine of efficiency fitted into a 2-story tower, with bedroom wing stretched out long, with built-ins and high windows lining the hall.  Unique to this Usonian: Pullman bathroom units, with sink swiveling between toilet and bathtub.  friendsofcedarrock

Sculpting the Site

Posted on: 06/21/2016

 

We've all experienced the oppressive heat of a city street or shopping mall parking lot, and the cooling effects of a forest glen.  Come winter, we know enough to wear a hat when artic blasts bear down.  Is there a way to create a cacoon of 75 degree air around us all year round?  We could all move to Southern California or other charmed locales, but that's not practical nor even desireable for us die-hard Mid-Westerners.  But there are strategies to create a micro-climate around our homes and workplaces that will make life more comfortable, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and reconnect us to the daily rhythms of nature.

With Mark Morgan, owner of Bearpaw Design & Construction I've developed a workshop we call Sculpting the Site (click on link to download PDF) to teach business and home owners specific measures they can implement in new construction and retrofits that reduce energy costs.  Our first presentation was at the Better Buildings, Better Business Conference in Wisconsin Dells, where the event is held each March.  We repeated it at the 2015 & 2016 Midwest Renewable Energy Fair.  Along with our engaged audience we discussed: 

1.  How to work with or alter the natural topography to harness the earth's seasonal thermal flywheel, how to build earth berms, earth-coupled high mass building envelopes, and earth tubes.

2.  How to capture rainwater for evaportive cooling, and replace heat absorbing pavements like concrete and asphalt with permeable pavers.

3.  How to design for optimal solar orientation, the solar window, and ideas for effective shade devices.

4.  How to redirect the wind with berms and plantings, and funnel prevailing breezes in summer. 

Here's what people are saying:

"Best class so far!"

"My favorite in years!"

"Nice to see an outside the house focus"

Red House

Posted on: 06/21/2016

Four years ago, I designed a modest, high performance home for a family in rural Black Earth.  It became the subject of a new workshop I presented at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association's 2016 Energy Fair near Steven's Point in central Wisconsin.   I called it "A Simple, Super-Insulated, Passive Solar Home", or more affectionately known as the Red House.

Click on the link to download the PDF and follow along step-by-step as the owners & I select a site, sketch out an affordable plan, set R-value goals, find a builder, and survive construction.

Exterior Makeover

Posted on: 12/22/2015

 

My clients recently purchased this timber frame home in a lovely rural setting.  Only 10 years old, everything was in good shape, but the beige vinyl siding was a dissapointment and detracted from the rustic experience inside.  In front, windows were small and seemed to float, and the dormers loomed over a too-small porch.  All rather common design "faux pas".

 

 

 

 

 

 

My challenge was to find a way to change or conceal the awkward proportions at the front of the house, show how new wood siding could look, and provide a better sense of enclosure and shelter on the windswept backside (all within a reasonable budget).

To visually recede the dormers, I "padded out" the gable end fascia by 6", keeping the eye-popping white trim.  Dark stained vertical board siding adds to the effect.  My next move was to extend the front porch, shading and concealing the too-small windows below and putting the focus on the timber posts and beams.  The shed roof, topped by a 1x6 bandboard, takes up wall area, making the triangular window above a better fit in the remaining space.  A further help are wide frieze boards under soffits and trim boards around windows that reduce siding areas and thicken edges for a more substantial feeling.  Natural finish wood shingles in gable ends add texture.

From the backyard, the many-windowed wall presents a friendlier face with the addition of a pergola.  Dappled shade invite chairs to be pulled out from the lower level rec room, and help with late afternoon glare inside.  From living room windows above, looking out over the pergola adds interest and lends a sense of scale to the ground plane.  Trim bands corral windows into groups, where different siding types and colors can be modeled.  For now, we are choosing barn red shiplap boards.  Stay tuned for the final design.

Another Year, Another Fair

Posted on: 06/21/2015

I love the annual Midwest Renewable Energy Fair held the third weekend in June near Steven's Point, Wisconsin.  If you haven't attended before, I think you'll be surprised by how much you can learn.  The workshops are excellent, the vendors are informative and helpful.  If returning, you know it's just a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people.

Since 2011, I've been giving two workshops.  Visualizing with Sketchup (click on link to download PDF) explains how to use the free computer program to design passive solar features as a 3-D model.  I take you step-by-step from contour map to dolled-up exterior with examples of window sizing, shading devices, and the pattern light casts on thermal mass.  Here's what people say:

"Well done, great info....thanks!"

"Amber made a potentially formidable subject very applicable.  My fears have turned to excitement and opportunity"

"She was great!"

"While Amber is not fully expert with the computer program, it's helpful to have someone who is still learning a tool explain it.  She has expertise applying Sketchup to architecture and showed us lessons learned along the way"

From Napkin Sketch to Blueprints (click on link to download PDF) explains how to go from blank piece of paper and vague ideas to preliminary sketches to construction blueprints.  I use lots of great graphics andmake time for questions.  Here's what people say:

"Amber showed great knowledge with real passion, compassion, and concern for her work & those in the audience.  Thank you so much!"

"Excellent, learned a lot, great slides"

"Amber got us thinking"

"Very impressed with this talk last year and got more out of it this year"

"Very informative and organized.  Presentation easy to follow and understand.  She made you think in practical terms and added professional advice you wouldn't have thought of....great!"

 

How to Add a Garage to an Older Home

Posted on: 06/05/2015

A great old Victorian.  Narrow lot, no garage, dilapidated "summer kitchen", miserable basement stairs.  The list goes on.

Enter the local "designer lady" (that's me).  Could I add a kitchen, pantry, laundry/mud room, full bathroom, stairway, sunporch/breakfast nook, AND a 1-car garage (with storage)......?

Yes!  This house type is the easiest style for me to work with.  It can handle jigs, jogs, bump-outs, and all manner of assymetrical massing. 

The steep roofs offer convertable attic space.  Trim details are consistently well-proportioned and a joy to copy.  The first go-around fit in everything the owners wanted, including a master suite tucked under a shed dormer.

However, preliminary contractor estimates proved daunting.  My revision kept the good lines, but pared down to essential spaces.  We are now awaiting final estimates.  A reminder why taking the design in phases is a good idea.  When I first meet with a client, I want to know the budget.  For many people, that's a Catch-22.  They're willing to spend the money if they can get something really great.  Resale value or over-building for the neighborhood may not be a concern especially if they're planning to stay put for the foreseeable future. 

There's no one right approach to preliminary planning....there are gray areas, gut feelings, and flights of fancy.  It's important to give air to all ideas, then judge later.  Thus, two basic approaches:

1.  Put everything in.  Get a quote.  Experience sticker shock.  Cut square footage or special features/materials (granite counters, a whirlpool tub, a fireplace).

2.  Design small, with simple shapes.  Avoid tempting luxuries or complicated details.  Get a quote.  Be pleasantly surprised.  Add a bit more room or splurge on something.

As your design muse, I prefer 2.  Though with this project, we made a successful transition to something smaller, while keeping the good materials and all the details that make the addition fit the original.  I'll post pictures when it's done!

Nook & Canopy

Posted on: 06/05/2015

                                                                                             Here's a project now under construction in Dodgeville.  A big 4-square with Arts & Crafts styling, much of it lost in past remodelings.  I was charged with replacing the shallow bay windows with a french door leading out to a new patio.  The existing door and not-original canopy were to be removed, with a cozy breakfast nook taking it's place.

                                                                                     

Game Changer

Posted on: 06/05/2015

I'm a late adopter.  I resisted answering machines when they first came out.  I didn't have a cell phone for years.  A simple point & shoot camera is fine with me.  I generally deplore gadgets or anything overly complicated. 

Those who knew me well weren't surprised my plans and elevations were drawn in the traditional way, with parallel bar, triangle, and mechanical pencil.  And after 30 years, I was pretty good at it.  I managed to graduate from school without taking a single CAD class, because back in 1985 it was an elective.  The firms where I worked were transitioning, meaning they still needed someone to handle the manual drafting while others tackled the new-fangled technology.

But the economic crash in 2008 left me with plenty of time, so I applied myself to Sketchup, a software program for modeling objects in 3D.  The learning curve was steep.  When I wasn't tearing my hair out, I supplemented my regular workflow with a few perspective drawings, to help my clients visualize.

By January 2014, I was ready to make the Big Switch.  While I still noodle at the drafting board, my drawings for clients are now produced with SketchupPro.  It's been a game-changer!  The drawings rely less on arcane architectural symbols and conventions and more on easily grasped visuals, full of color and texture.  Here's an example of a simple bathroom remodeling project.

Artist Studios

Posted on: 06/01/2015

What are my favorite projects?  Small, exquisite spaces designed for creative people who are just bursting with ideas and the urge to fashion raw material into something beautiful and useful!  I love helping woodworkers, painters, and gardeners figure out a functional layout with good light and easy access to their tools.

Here's a weaving studio for a fiber artist in rural Mineral Point, to be built this summer.  It's a 24' x 24' square with room for 3 looms, a worktable, and open shelves all around.   Simple in plan, but wonderfully complex in three dimensions.  The roof is vaulted on all sides, with diamond windows facing the cardinal points.  This airy space will fill with daylight for optimal color-matching and textural contrast. 

The cross beams will help the weaver drape yarn when setting up the looms, and later for hanging finished pieces.  The exterior design is in the Carpenter Gothic style, to match the family's home of my design.  Here's what my clients are saying "It's wonderful.  We love it.  It's what we wanted all along.  Amazing."

The Seth Peterson Cottage

Posted on: 01/08/2014

 

I have become a Frank Lloyd Wright “bucket lister”. Just like many visitors who I meet at Taliesin, I have a list and I'm checking it off.

On a brilliant day last fall, I finally saw the Seth Peterson Cottage. This masterpiece of compact design is tucked away in a corner of Mirror Lake State Park, near Wisconsin Dells, and was designed by Mr. Wright at the age of 90, one year before his death.

 

Under a soaring roof is a wall of glass that doesn't quite face the lake. Stepping out to the side, under the sheltering eave, is a stone patio where one can take in the view less obliquely. The patio nests within the plunging stone wall. A stone tower anchors the other end.

 

 

Inside is as rustic as out, with a similar dichotomy of soaring and sheltering. I especially like the couch built into the low back wall, with fireplace nearby. 

 

The cottage is open for tours monthly and is one of the few Wright homes you can stay in overnight. If you go, think about how he fit a large living room, kitchen, mechanical room, bathroom, and bedroom in 880 square feet.

 

More on Tiny Houses

Posted on: 01/08/2014

The tiny house movement is popping up everywhere. Last fall, I attended the Driftless Film Fest in Mineral Point and sawTiny”, a heart warming story about a young man with no previous skills who built a house-on-wheels in Colorado.  The project was written up by the Huffington Post.

Thanksgiving found me in Washington D.C. visiting my daughter, who knew about a little outlot nearby where four tiny homes were parked. Boneyard Studios occupies a wedge of land deemed unbuildable by the city. Trailers are unregulated, as long as they're not permanent residences. The folks who live here get their mail elsewhere. It looked like a lot of fun, and when we visited the owners were relaxing around a campfire after one of their monthly open houses. The larger home (right in photo) is named Minim, and won an Excellence in Design Award from the local AIA chapter.   Again, the press were all over it. 

 

Lucky me, I was in the Bay Area for December. At lunch one day, I happened to pick up the San Francisco Chronicle and was just amazed to find a front page, above-the-fold, big picture spread of Jay Shafer, the tiny house guru. A text message renewed our connection, and he invited me to attend his upcoming workshop in Berkeley. Folks there were fired up, and we all learned a lot. Here's the tiny home he trailered down for us to see.

 

 

 

 

Back home, I learned about Occupy Madison. These good people are working very hard to provide shelter for the homeless. An army of volunteers just completed their first tiny house-on-wheels for a material cost of $3000.  

Teahouse Wins Contest

Posted on: 08/13/2012

Wow, was I excited when I heard that my teahouse won a spot in Fine Homebuilding!  This magazine is the pinnacle of cool for people in my profession.   None of this was possible without the vision of my clients, Jim & Cheryl Smeja and the contractors who contributed their talent & expertise, Randolph Fleming, Larry Terrill, and Joel Duncanson...all from neighboring Mineral Point.

Taliesin Specialty Tours

Posted on: 08/13/2012

It's been another enjoyable year as docent at Taliesin. 

When I'm not giving Hillside tours, I love to listen, observe, and tag along.  I recommend these new tours:

The Landscape Tour winds around the estate, with a good long look at Midway Barn.  Farming at Taliesin has a storied history, and the red buildings hugging the middle hill are picturesque, clever, and quite decrepit.  There are several majestic oaks, and I hugged one that may be 300 years old.

A leisurely pace was set by Sidney Robinson on the Exploring Taliesin Tour.  As Frank Lloyd Wright scholar and architect, Sidney showed us how to see Taliesin through his eyes.  As we sat in the fabled tea circle, we were challenged to put our observations into words.  This tour is about sharing ideas.  I left feeling invigorated.

The Preservation Tour led us down dank stone steps into the bowels of Taliesin.  The basement under the grand living room will one day be rooms for special guests and students as they were in Wright's time, but with more headroom and in-floor radiant heat.  The crew often must work at the pace of an archaeological dig, hauling dirt out by the bucketful and shoring up rotting beams with new engineered material while preserving it's story.  Fascinating for anyone in construction.

I haven't yet been on the Loving Frank Tour, but hope to soon.  In rereading the book, my courisity is piqued to learn about Ellen Kay and the early feminist movement that was so much a part of Mamah Borthwick's life direction.  Just out is Ron McCrea's Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright's Home of Love & Loss, with previously unpublished photos of Mamah's home.

MREA 2012

Posted on: 06/20/2012

Another amazing Fair wrapped up this past weekend just outside Steven's Point.  What I call "Summer Camp for Adults".....tents under the pines in the back 40, biking, and swimming (if there was skinny dipping or pantie raids, I didn't hear about it).  Workshops of all kinds, food carts, vendors of the latest model Prius to solar ovens to macrama belts.  Live music each night, inspired dancing, and Central Waters beer.

I enjoy being part of the setup & tear-down crew......like a colony of ants, we make a couple thousand folding chairs appear, then dissappear all within hours. 

I gave a workshop called "From Napkin Sketch to Building Permit"....here's what people had to say: 

"Thank you so much for an excellent presentation.  You did a great job.  I appreciate how well you selected the information and how you supported it with examples.  I really appreciated your thoughtful tips on how to focus on what you really want, how to stir up creative solutions, and how to modify a design to incorporate energy efficient and passive solar design."

"Thank you for the great presentation.  So many points you made struck home as useful ways to process our dreams for a new home into reality."

"The information you presented was great.  You gave so many helpful points.  You are very thorough & knowledgeable about the process from start to finish.  The examples were great and showed how the process works in a real application."

Tiny Houses

Posted on: 02/17/2012

 

There's a terrific workshop in Madison this weekend. Tumbleweed Tiny Houses has made national news (including The Oprah Show) with their homes-on-wheels, some as small as 65 square feet. I attended the workshop in Nashville last year, and found it inspiring.

 

Owner Jay Shafer was in the River Valley yesterday to tour Taliesin with me. While still closed for the season, with furniture & artifacts draped in bedsheets, we were able to poke around and talk with the Preseration Crew about their work rebuilding the loggia.

 

As a designer and artist, Jay found many interesting details & spaces. Frank Lloyd Wright's rooms are small by modern standards (with low ceilings), but manage to be both spacious & intimate.  And bursting with the odd & quirky.

Concept House

Posted on: 01/12/2012

 

At last year’s Energy Fair, I teamed up with Alex Greene to roll out our first Concept House…..a small, smart, sustainable home featuring locally harvested lumber.   From my plans, our colleague Eric Wallner built an exquisite wood & cardboard model.  Here’s a picture of the model and Alex’s booth at the Fair.  We're looking for just the right person or family to customize this home for.  Could it be you?


 

 

MREA 2011

Posted on: 01/12/2012

The Midwest Renewable Energy Fair is billed as the longest running event of it's kind in the country.  In 2011, I presented three workshops.  My first time with powerpoint & speaking to a large group.  Ignoring a few minor glitches, things went pretty well!

Extreme Downsizing

How to Work with an Architect or Designer

Using Sketchup to Visualize Your Next Construction Project

The Energy Fair is fun & educational.  A great place to spend the weekend…besides top notch workshops, there are children’s events, home tours, hands-on demos, nationally known speakers, dance parties, and a beer tent!

Even more rewarding when you’re part of the action.  As a volunteer, you get in free & get a good workout: setting up tents, chairs, staging, hauling recyclables & trash, doing dishes.  A great way to meet people and learn new skills.  Maybe I’ll see you there.  Always the third weekend in June outside of Stevens Point in central Wisconsin.

Midwest Renewable Energy Fair

Natural Home Magazine

Posted on: 01/02/2012

Natural Home magazine recently published a story about one of my projects.  This beautiful Japanese inspired farmhouse was built for neighbors Pat & Gordon Greene by local contractor Rick Hanson.  The stunning timber frame structure is by Alex Greene of Redbeard Woodworks & Artisan Builders.

Alex felled, milled, and solar kiln dried the wood on site, following Full Vigor Forestry's philosophy, developed by Spring Green’s Jim Birkemeier of  Timber Growers.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                 Natural Home Magazine

California Dreamin'

Posted on: 12/15/2011

Most designers don’t have the opportunity to work for their client before planning a new building.   I just got back from a month in Oakland, California working in my sister’s business.  Stationed at "Tools", I picked & packed dozens of orders a day.  Here's me with my supervisor.

TKB Trading sells colorants & supplies to makeup artists, soap crafters and other creative types.  Situated in a non-descript warehouse in New Chinatown, orders are received online and shipped out daily.  Business is booming, and space is tight.

A promising lot came up for sale in neighboring Alameda.  Here, a retail presence could be established, as well as an apartment for a shop manager.  My weeks working "in the trenches" helped me understand the complexities of the business and the aspirations of my sister. 

We worked out a floor plan, and I provided four elevation sketches.   Scheme A offers a traditional design, with masonry columns supporting a large cornice and signboard.  A repeating cornice defines the edge of the parapet wall.  Multiple crown moldings layer to create depth.   Scheme B replaces columns with a heavy stucco base punctuated by an archway opening with a metal gate or carriage house style door.  Scheme C is a bold departure towards modernism, with stucco panels in a geometric grid. 

Scheme D is my strongest proposal, blending traditional elements with contemporary materials.  Deeply scored cast concrete columns flank a metal storefront & loading dock door, and support a simple cornice.  Horizontal wood slats top the windows, adding a touch of rustic texture & warmth.

Slag Furnace

Posted on: 09/15/2011

 

                                                                                         BEFORE

Dodgeville began as a mining camp back in 1827.  Lead deposits were so abundant that ore lay exposed atop rocky knobs.   Miners immigrating from Cornwall dug small shafts into the hillsides, throwing the overburden aside.  This is how Wisconsin became known as the Badger State.  Besides the odd piles and occasional sink holes (quickly filled in by city crews), physical evidence of the city’s rich history has been erased.

The exception is the Slag Furnace, built in 1876 to extract marketable ore from the waste of initial smelting.  Badly deteriorated, efforts to raise funds for restoration were undertaken by the Historic Preservation Commission, the Women's Club, and especially by neighbor Carolyn Meuer. Work was completed in 2010 by Laufenberg Masonry of Highland.   Take time to visit & marvel.  The furnace is located on East Spring Street just past Singer Lumber, and includes an informative sign prepared by the Iowa County Historical Society.

Iowa County Historical Society

  AFTER

Chicken Coop

Posted on: 09/01/2010

One of the most interesting design challenges I’ve tackled!  Green Squared Builders Association was asked to design and build a chicken coop for a benefit auction in Madison, a hotbed of the backyard urban chicken movement.  Sketchup Model

Our design features locally harvested, solar kiln dried aspen, oak, walnut, and cherry….all scraps laying around the woodshop.  The broad roof is clad with cedar shingles split from a downed tree at Taliesin and further references Frank Lloyd Wright and the prairie style with repeated geometric shapes and Cherokee red accents.

We paid careful attention to the finicky ways of chickens by providing an indoor to outdoor branch roost, a strutn’ ramp, cozy nest boxes, backside egg doors, and a roof monitor for ventilation.  The coop is built on sturdy runners, and can be moved to fresh patches of grass by pulling the roost handles.  Two or three chickens are happy here.  Plans available for a small fee.

                                                                                                                 Green Squared Builders Asssociation

Meeting Room

Posted on: 11/05/2009

 Since 1998, interesting discussions, fresh concepts, and spatial breakthroughs happen around this table.  My best work results when you share your ideas and insights. Collaboration raises the bar!

 

 

Taliesin

Posted on: 08/20/2009

My summer reading has been devoted to the study of Frank Lloyd Wright.  In May, I joined the staff at Taliesin in nearby Spring Green as a docent.  I give tours of the Hillside School buildings about one day a week.  It has been fascinating to learn about the history of the Fellowship, an architectural & allied arts community he founded in 1932.  I love walking around, observing the space, and explaining it to people.  The esprit de corps among the tour guides is great!  Taliesin

Alley Stage

Posted on: 11/25/2009

  Alley Stage began as the dream of a local playwright.  

Coleman discovered a forgotten quarry, its towering limestone wall overgrown in brush and vines.  Located on a back corner of Shake Rag Center for the Arts in Mineral Point, it was the perfect venue for an outdoor summer theatre.  His vision was to create original plays in a rustic, historic setting. 

He asked me to design a stage that would work for a variety of backdrops and props, with seating for 120 people.  The theatre opened in the summer of 2007, and we were wowed with the amazing talent of the playwrights and actors, many of them our friends and neighbors.

We are now looking at upgrading the audience area with tiered platforms and more comfortable seating.  Coleman covets a permanent sound booth and storage for hand props, to replace the folding table and tent now in use.  I presented this design concept at a recent winter production, and a generous silent donor offered to fund the project!!

608-935-9020 178 1/2 N. Iowa Street Suite 204 Dodgeville, WI 53533 amber@amberwesterman.com