Simple Living

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
— Leonardo da Vinci

We’ve all heard about tiny modern house living and here on Bento Box we’ve written about the economic and environmental benefits of living in smaller more eco-friendly contemporary home. Modern architects will tell you, that economic and environmental responsibility starts with thoughtful design. But, having a more compact and efficient modern design for your home also means living simpler and has its own inherent personal benefits. Reducing and minimizing your possessions can be a fun and self-exploratory exercise and it can help you be free from materialism and debt. Simplicity also declutters your life and helps you to focus on health, hobbies and life goals. But, fitting yourself into that lifestyle, whether you have a tiny home, a modern home or otherwise, has its own set of challenges. Luckily, there are many downsizing techniques that have been developed, shared, and tested. Some methods encourage reducing all of your belongings, some encourage only reducing personal items, and some only focus on wardrobe management. Any or all of these methods would be helpful in organizing and downsizing to your perfect modern house or to freshen up the one you have.

One of the most popular organizing and decluttering techniques is the Marie Kondo method. Marie Kondo has her own Netflix special that will inspire you to clean up your life by only keeping items that bring you joy. If you want to delve even deeper into the method with a step-by-step breakdown, she has a book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up in which she describes all the tips and techniques she uses to reduce, declutter and organize herself and her home. After trying this method personally, I will say that it does work. I am particularly fond of her techniques for folding and storing clothes.

Another technique, called the “100 Things Challenge”, is not as all-encompassing as the Marie Kondo method since it only deals with your own personal belongings instead of the entire house. It challenges you to reduce your personal belongings to only one hundred items. In other words, if you had to pack up your entire life to move into a tiny contemporary house and could only fit one hundred items to bring with you, including clothes, what would you pack? These personal items don’t usually include shared family items (furniture, board games), books, and personal items (dishes, vacuum, tools). You can also count your treasured comic book, geode, or baseball card collection as one item. If the exact number one hundred isn’t right for you, then use your judgement. Maybe your perfect number is ninety-five or one hundred and fifteen; the number one hundred is just a place to start. As long as the end result is that your life has been simplified, the exercise was successful.

Other simplification techniques only focus on the wardrobe since modern tiny homes don’t have a ton of closet space. One such method is the Capsule Wardrobe. It has been around since London boutique owner Suzie Faux coined the term in the 1970’s to describe a curated wardrobe of carefully selected seasonal shoes, accessories, outerwear, and clothing that are used exclusively for a period of time (usually 3 months). Basically, it means you have a wardrobe of staples that can be mixed and matched for each season. This pared down wardrobe allows for two things in particular; a decluttered and organized closet space and the ability to buy fewer high quality items that will last for years instead of months. This has the auxiliary benefit of reducing the amount of clothing that would be disposed of and sent to a landfill. Workout clothes, lounge and sleep wear, undergarments and sentimental jewelry don’t go toward the final count.

The Capsule Wardrobe is similar to and compatible with Project 333, which challenges you to use only 33 wardrobe items (including shoes, accessories, outerwear) for three months. For both challenges you aren’t stuck with all those items for the season no matter what. If your jeans suddenly have a hole, your heel breaks, or if something doesn’t fit, replace it.

Minimalism is not subtraction for the sake of subtraction. Minimalism is subtraction for the sake of focus.”
— Unknown

Whether you are building a space efficient modern home, a contemporary tiny home, or just staying where you are, removing the excess clutter from our lives helps to also remove it from our minds. A simple uncluttered life allows for focus on experiences and relationships. It also allows for us to focus on our life goals. Simplicity gives us the space to fill up our lives with meaning instead of possessions.

Tech Highlight: Flo by Moen

Has this happened to you? You go on vacation and have a wonderful relaxing time, expecting to come home to your house as you left it, only to discover that a pipe had burst while you were away, the ceiling has collapsed and there’s water all over your carpet or that the basement is now your personal indoor swimming pool. There was no way to know about the leaks while you were away and no way to do anything about them if you did. So much for being relaxed.

But, advances in modern smart home technology have led to new water watching devices. Modern builders have been incorporating smarter and more efficient technology into today’s modern homes. Flo by Moen is the latest and most advanced of those on the market. Flo will monitor water usage by running daily efficiency diagnostics. It learns your household water usage patterns to more easily detect leaks and sends alerts to your phone via the coordinating app when it does. Flo by Moen’s Microleak technology can identify the smallest drops of water leaking. This is essential to preventing not only rising water bills, but potential catastrophic future leaks.

Flo by Moen helps to save water and money by encouraging water conservation goals. The Dashboard and Control Panel on the Flo app will allow you to see monitor water usage and set goals to reduce waste. This efficiency will be reflected in your water bills. Coupled with an energy efficient contemporary home, this could give you a significant reduction in your monthly utilities. You could also save money on home owner’s insurance premiums as some insurance companies offer rebates and discounts for installing water monitoring technology.

Flo by Moen also allows water to be turned on and off remotely via the app and will turn off automatically if a major leak is detected. This would have saved you from that water damage reveal at the end of your vacation. Once Flo detected a leak, either you would have turned off the water to the house preventing further damage or Flo would turn it off for you. Flo is also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant so you can control your smart devices from one convenient hub.

The number one preventable cause for homeowner’s claims in the US each year is water damage. A good modern architect will help you to design an efficient and well monitored home and will embrace the latest tested and effective technology. Constant monitoring is important to maintain healthy plumbing and Flo by Moen is an effective and convenient means by which to accomplish it.

Energy Efficiency by Design

Energy efficiency is the elimination of energy waste by utilizing less energy to perform the same tasks. Energy efficiency has many benefits including improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions & fossil fuel use. Usually, when given advice on energy efficiency, the advice encompasses appliance usage, and plumbing & electrical fixtures. While all of those are helpful to reduce carbon emissions and save money, when put into practice in a home that is not efficiently designed, they become more akin to band-aids than solutions.

The United States has one of the highest carbon emission rates globally, behind only China, which has a billion more people. The other of the top three on the list is India with a population nearly as large as China but with half of the emissions of the United States. Basically the US, a country with 4.27% of the global population emits 15% of the global carbon dioxide load.

So, what does this mean?

It means that Americans have very high personal carbon emission rates. A great percentage of these emissions originate in the home and thus can be mitigated in the home. Besides the larger implications of reducing carbon emissions, the reduction has personal implications as well. In a modern home, energy efficiency begins from the bare ground up. It starts with a responsible building site, materials management, and even earlier; during the design process itself.

Many homes are considered one-size-fits-all and a building plan is put on a lot and built with no consideration of geographical factors. But, in order to gain the most out of your lot and your modern house, it is important to take into account the home’s relation to the sun, existing trees and natural formations and the climate of the area. This will inform decisions made on the directions certain rooms are facing, window locations & sizes for the best utilization of light & temperature control. Not all modern architects and modern builders will adhere to this process. It’s important to do your research and ask the right questions to find one that will create an energy conscious contemporary home.

The size of the home is an important factor for energy efficiency as well. We have been conditioned to think bigger is better; we need the space for all of our stuff, for a spacious home, for a family to grow. But, unless you are holding a dance class in your living room, having a cavernous space isn’t truly necessary to fulfill those requirements. A smaller modern home, properly designed will not feel small. A well designed layout will reduce the footprint of the home and the initial construction budget. The efficient and thoughtful use of space and effective placement of windows reduces not only the initial building cost, but the volume of air that needs to be heated and cooled which is a major factor in on-going energy consumption. This can be a modern alternative to the new trend of contemporary tiny home construction that adequately deals with these issues.

Whether your reasons are global or personal or both, having an energy efficient modern home design will save you money and improve your air quality. Energy efficiency in your modern home will greatly decrease needless energy waste, your carbon emissions, and decrease your utility bills.

Subjective Colors

Color is too broad a topic to cover thoroughly or even adequately in a blog post. Of all the topics that color theory encompasses, including perception of color, the visual effects of color combination, the science of color, and the replication of color, the topic most relevant to modern home design concerns the messages that colors communicate. Color is a powerful tool of communication.

We are influenced by color everyday; by the bright bottle of soda that stands out on the shelf, and by the bold logo that draws our attention. Colors can shape our perceptions and even effect mood and behavior. How color effects you is entirely subjective. How we associate color is wholly cultural, historical and personal. Cultures may associate certain colors differently. White, which in most Western cultures is associated with peace, purity, & innocence is in many Eastern cultures associated with death and sadness. Colors can have more individual associative differences as well. A particular shade of blue may evoke a pleasant memory or association for one person but have a negative or neutral connotation for another.

Since we are surrounded by color at all times and since it has such a pervasive effect on our moods and our behaviors, using carefully considered colors in our surroundings is paramount. In a modern home, the thoughtful application of color can create your desired environment. Do you want your space to feel light and open, calm and serene, cozy and warm, or bright and energetic? All of these environments can be created in your contemporary home with harmonious use of color and form.

When choosing color for your modern home, consider how that color makes you feel. Disregard the conventional rules and psychological associations of color that many modern architects and modern builders will use. Not all blues are calming, not all yellows are energetic. Color trends and temporary fads may be great for a season or even a year or two, but won’t have the staying power of a color that invokes the proper personal emotive response in you. Instead, choose a color that is as individual as you are for a personalized modern home that is unique to you.

Shou Sugi Ban

Shou Sugi Ban or Yaki Sugi is a Japanese wood preservation technique for exterior siding. Traditionally using Japanese red cedar (sugi), the surface of the wood plank is charred with fire to a rich charcoal black. It is then cooled down, brushed clean, and treated with oil. Newer adaptations of the technique have introduced different wood species and vibrant color for a greater variety and application perfect for a modern house design.

Not only is the finish of Shou Sugi Ban uniquely beautiful, the charring technique also has several benefits for siding for your contemporary house. The carbonization of the burn makes the planks waterproof, insect repellent, and fire resistant. That means no additional chemical preservatives, stains, or treatments are needed for your Shou Sugi Ban siding to last a lifetime. After all, a resilient and long-lasting space can also reduce necessary maintenance costs and environmental impact. Modern architects, modern builders, and modern designers love Shou Sugi Ban for these properties but also for its variety and adaptability of application.

For modern and contemporary home design, this material is not only complementary of the aesthetic of your space, but is a material that will last and that is healthier for you and the environment.

Wabi Sabi

Wabi Sabi is known as the art of imperfection. It is the traditional Japanese philosophy and aesthetic sensibility that appreciates and even celebrates the beauty and harmony of imperfection, impermanence, and the incomplete. Sound a bit too quixotic for you? Really, it’s not overly idealistic. It’s an appreciation of the aesthetics of simplicity, age, and inherent natural impurities. Impurities tell a story. A story of time, of the nature of materials, and most importantly a story of their use and life.

When you come into our office for a design consult, the table where we will meet is marked by years of use. There are rings from countless drinks and splatters of ink, old and new. This table tells the story of all the work and collaboration done here, all the conversations and late nights, and is made more beautiful by these impurities than it would ever have been without them.

You may think it odd that a modern home design business is talking up an aesthetic that celebrates age and imperfection. After all, isn’t modern design all about crisp clean lines and controlled results? Sure. But only as it creates a backdrop for the natural and imperfect beauty of Wabi Sabi to feature.

In a modern home, Wabi Sabi is the cedar siding that ages to a beautiful gray over the years. It is the unplanned and variegated whorls of color in the finished concrete floors. It is the corten steel panel allowed to rust before it is used as an adornment and it is the burnished copper accents that patina to blue-green brightness.

Wabi Sabi may seem, at first, too abstract an ideal to apply to everyday life. But, it is by its very nature a celebration of the everyday. Take a moment to look around you right now. Is there something made beautiful by time and use that you might normally overlook? It could be faded artfully, or perfectly worn in. It could have an interesting and appealing pattern. Maybe the sunlight shines through it delicately at a certain time of day or maybe it feels perfect when it is held or touched. Whatever the object is, it is made more treasured because of its age and use. Any object can be new. But not all become wabi sabi.

Bento Box

What is a bento box? You may have heard of it before. It is a Japanese meal tradition dating back a millennium. The boxes were derived from compartmentalized farmers’ seed boxes and used for lunches up to a thousand years ago. Today, the idea of a bento gohan, or bento meal, has evolved from its utilitarian roots and is often intricately crafted and aesthetically pleasing.

So, what in the world does a bento box have to do with a blog about modern home design? Well, nothing on the surface. Like modern home design, bento boxes are seemingly simple and unadorned but, are, in fact, meticulously curated, crafted, and assembled. In Japan, it is said you eat with your eyes. Aesthetics and content are equal in importance. There is a balance in the crafting so your eyes and senses can feast.

For the purposes of this blog, the bento not only represents the convenient bite-size format, but the well-balanced variety of interests that we will share. So you bring the tea and we’ll bring the gohan and we’ll see you here every week with something new.