Crowning the Tower. It’s Just Like Legos! Not.

Bjella Architects Sonoma California Tower

“Do the workers on the job site ever throw things at you”?

“Have you ever had a nail gun “accidentally” discharge into your thigh?”

“Do you have to dodge dirty buckets of water tipped from floors above”?

The answer to these questions is no, but probably should be yes. Why? Not because architects are mortal enemies of contractors (usually it’s more of a love fest with our contractors – we are fortunate to work with the best), but rather because we often push them to extremes.

This house and winery in Sonoma, California is a good example. Its heavy timber “crown” was painstakingly built on the ground and lifted by crane to cap the home’s lookout tower. It sure was easy to draw it on paper, but building it was somewhat more complicated. It is designed with concealed connections, which is where it gets tricky. You cannot simply nail or glue heavy timbers together. You have to bolt them (for some reason our clients don’t like their homes crashing down on them in the middle of the night – go figure). But we didn’t want to see the bolts.

If you are wondering about the design idea, the inspiration, for this home/winery:

  • The tower is symbolic of a wine bottle (this is a winery after all!).
  • The crown is the cork in the wine bottle.
  • The arched, barrel roof is derived from a wine barrel lying on its side.
  • The colors and materials are natural and “of the vineyard.”
    • The lumber for the crown was milled from trees on the site.
    • The colors of the home are found in the surrounding soils and Madrone tree bark.
    • The stone emanates from a nearby quarry, selected to match the site’s natural rock outcroppings

 Silhouette of Modern Home in Sonoma California by Bjella Architects

For more about the vineyard and its fantastic wines, check out the Gustafson Family Vineyard.

See more of my work at Arteriors Architecture.

People Who Live in Glass Houses… Live in Our Houses. A Hilltop Home in Los Angeles, California by Arteriors Architects

Los Angeles Hilltop Modern Glass House

In my neverending quest to create “art you can live in”, I present this home in Calabasas, California. But, not as art for art’s sake. Anyone can design a home as a piece of sculpture, or as a shocking statement, but the true art lies in creating an artful home that also embraces the occupants. A thoughtful home that cuddles them and makes them feel comfortable. A romantic home that enriches their lives with textures, light and pleasing spaces throughout their day; all the while breaking away from the standard memes that we think of as a traditional home.

Los Angeles Hilltop Modern Glass House View from Above

This provocative hilltop, floor-to-ceiling glass house just outside of Los Angeles, California provides stunning views of the city below across an infinity edge pool. Its flat roofs are green-planted and hold an extensive solar panel array along with water reclamation systems.

See more of my work at Arteriors Architecture.

Modern Zen Kitchen Design in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Zen Kitchen
A loft designed for a couple moving from the suburbs to the city, wishing to embrace the change of location as well as lifestyle.

The owners of this loft desired a contemporary, yet warm and welcoming, subtle Asian aesthetic. To this end I employed a series of yin yang contrasts: dark vs. light materials, textured vs. smooth, horizontal vs. vertical elements.

The couple spends the winter in warmer climates, but wanted the design to subtly remind them of the winters they were missing when they were home for the summer. The cabinetry was designed to abstractly recall the leafless tree branches prevalent in a Minnesota winter. To achieve this, the cabinetry doors were stained dark grey. A branch pattern was then routed into their surfaces. Finally they were overlayed with a layer of sandblasted, black glass.

The materials are natural, quartered white oak cabinetry, sustainable warm-toned bamboo flooring, black slate and glass tile, black granite countertops and stainless steel. See the video interview or read the article at Trends Magazine.

This kitchen won first place, “Best of the Best” in Subzero’s coveted 2013 biannual regional kitchen design contest. It also garnered the 2013 RAVE (Residential Architects Vision & Excellence) award.

See more of my work at Bjella Architecture.

Trends Magazine Interview with Architect Tim Bjella – Modern Zen Kitchen Design in Minneapolis, Minnesota

I stumbled across this video on the web today of a penthouse loft I designed back in 2012. It’s an interview with New Zealand’s Trends Magazine that I had missed when it published. See the photos.

See more of my work at Bjella Architecture.

The End of an Era – Novelty Architecture sketches

My all time favorite sketch is… drum roll, please… a hot dog stand. Yep. Of all my sketches, this kitschy, little hot dog stand truly flips my boat, floats my world and rocks my switch (in all conceivable variations): Tail o’ the Pup – an icon of Los Angeles since 1946, and one of the last remnants of days long past. You know, the good ol’ days when buildings looked like the things they sold… otherwise known as Novelty Architecture. O.k., it wasn’t that great of an era, but still, it’s mostly gone, so show some respect.

The Pup is currently in mothballs, but slated to reopen in 2016. As befitting a work of (almost, kinda) art, Tail o’ the Pup is now a designated cultural landmark (the bar is apparently not all that high in L.A.). Greece has the Parthenon. We have a 17 foot long greasy wiener in a bun.

So why do I like it? Because it’s memorable. It’s silly. It’s fun. And, the Parthenon doesn’t make me smile. By way of context, I’m also a guy who thinks that all water towers should be painted with giant googly eyes. Seriously. That would be SO cool!

Not to be outdone, however, I’m currently working on an idea of my own. It’s a house, that looks like a shoe. Hope nobody’s already done it. I’ll get back to you on that.

Tim Bjella Sketches - Tail o the Pup

Tim Bjella Sketches - Tail o' the Pup

Tail o' the Pup

Below is another example of a novelty roadside attraction. Can you guess what type of food is served here? If you guessed Chinese, you are wrong (and probably don’t get out enough – or take-out enough).

Tim Bjella Sketches - Roadside Stand

Before you start thinking that Novelty Architecture as an art form lacks versatility and is limited to fast food stands, here is (was, actually) a famous (or not) real estate office in Hollywood, the Sphinx Realty:

Tim Bjella Sketches - Sphinx Realty

Sphinx Realty

And lastly, a long since demolished burger stand in Coulee City, Washington. A Tee Pee. Maybe they served bison burgers?

Tim Bjella Sketches - Coulee City, Washington

Tim Bjella Sketches - Coulee City, Washington

Novelty Architecture. Can’t get enough of it? See more on Pinterest .

Cheers! Tim Bjella

You call that a staircase? THIS is a staircase.

Modern Sculptural Winding Stair

Architects LOVE staircases. To us, they’re like candy, except less sticky. Ask us to design a house and we’ll probably suggest you put a staircase in every room, just so we can design a few more. A typical exchange with a client goes something like this:

“Yes, sir, of course you need a staircase in your bathroom.”

“But, but, but… it’s a 1-level house.”

“That is true, sir, but how will you get to the toilet we installed on the roof? And, you get to take the slide back down. Won’t that be fun?”

“The SLIDE????”

Modern Sculptural Winding Stair

See more of my work at Bjella Architecture.

Something Alive

Modern Kitchen with Flower Niche

I’m beginning to think that all of our kitchens should have a special place set aside for a flower – a place for something alive (but not alive like a monster or Frankenstein – unless you are into that kind of thing. In which case, call me. I’ve got some great ideas for an Evil Villain’s lair. Don’t think it will fit in your neighborhood? No worries. I know people. Bring suitcases full of money. These things don’t come cheap.

Modern Kitchen with Flower Niche

See more of my work at Bjella Architecture.

In the old man’s footsteps… Snowman Ornament – 2015 – Part 2

Ahhhhhh. The sounds of power tools and small children!

One of Beck’s buddies, Andres, came over mid-December to play with him, so instead of Xbox (mostly because we don’t own one), we went into the shop to play with the power tools. Rather than launching projectiles off the belt sander or seeing how many sparks we could make with the grinder (like on a typical Saturday night), we decided to actually build something.

After the kids received a crash course in safety, had an impromptu meeting with my attorney, signed all the requisite forms, and were blessed by a priest, we powered up the drill press, band saw and lathe (thankfully, without any significant crashing, or bleeding). I’m still, sort of, nervously shaking. The doctor says it will pass in time.

Because of my apparent obsession with snowman ornaments, we decided to each make one. Beck started out working on the lathe. That’s his snowman below. His mom thinks it’s a Christmas tree, but he and I know it’s a snowman.

Tim Bjella - Snowman Ornament 2015

After that, he and Andres made a snowman like you see below.

But Beck wasn’t content to make a single ornament for mom, so he decided to make one for Grandma and Grandpa, too. Then another. Then another. Then… well, Henry Ford could have learned a thing or two from him. Beck went all out, or as he would say, “hard core” (yeah, we’re working on that). 18 total.

Beck Bjella Snowman Ornament 2015-6

When he finished, he was so excited that he wanted to give them the ornaments right away, before Christmas. A simple question, “Then what will you give them on Christmas day?” and, “I guess we could go to the mall shopping,” nipped that thought in the bud. Like father, like son.

“Time to learn gifting strategy, son. So, how best to give them to Grandma and Grandpa? Well, you could give it to them first thing on Christmas morning, or… you could use a little showmanship (or, in this case, snowmanship) to lower their expectations, then hit them with a sucker punch. But don’t actually hit them. Seriously. Don’t hit Grandma.” “That sounds good,” he said (anything to get back to playing Minecraft).

“So, here’s the plan: you wait until all of the other presents have been unwrapped, and just before you go off to play with yours, you tell Grandma, “Oh, I guess there’s one more. Sorry, I forgot, and it’s from me.” They will think that they weren’t getting a present from you. Then they will think that it will be just another ordinary one because you didn’t even remember it. Finally, when they open it, their jaws will drop!”

And that’s exactly how it went down (jaws and all). And, he didn’t hit Grandma.

Beck Bjella Snowman Ornament 2015-3

Beck Bjella Snowman Ornament 2015-5

See the 23rd year snowman ornament saga, part 1: Snowman Part 1

The Making of a Christmas Ornament

Here are a few pictures to give you an idea of what was involved in making this year’s minimal Christmas ornament (I say it’s a snowman, some say chicken, others penguin). My wife, Robyn, thinks these ornaments just appear by magic, or maybe elves (it is Christmas, after all), so this is really for her. See the rest of this year’s ornaments and read the story here: Snowman Ornament – Year 23 – Part 1

Tim Bjella - Snowman Ornament 2015