When Baby Makes Three….

So, since we just welcomed our baby boy in July, I’m going to be one of those annoying people who can only talk about  things related to their baby.

Months before we were even expecting our bundle of joy, I looked at having a baby as not only a huge research project (all those books to read!) but also a fascinating design challenge. Until I started at Board & Vellum in January, I had worked from home for four years, and was trying to come up with some creative ways to fit our new baby in our 866 square foot, two bedroom condo while still allowing for a home office and guest room.

There are many ways to go about this. Some of the schemes included a fully customized built in system with a Murphy Bed and fold-down desk. Some included paring down to the bare essentials. We landed somewhere in between.

To move or not to move? The tips below are mainly for folks who want to stay in their one- or two-bedroom city apartments or condos. Our neighbors lived in their 650 square foot one bedroom until their daughter was almost three (with a dog and a cat). Even though much of the world lives in this amount of space, they were a fascination among people with houses (“Mary, come meet this woman. She lives in a one bedroom WITH A TODDLER!”). As a person who desires sanity, I understand their fascination. As a design professional, I believe that most problems can be solved with good design.

I think it’s worth it to stick it out for a few years in a smaller abode before making the leap to a [larger] house. You’ll learn how you use space as a family with kids and what is important to you.

Who doesn't love a loft? Creative kids space in the Bungalow West project.

Who doesn’t love a loft? Creative kids space in the Bungalow West project.

Here are some tips on planning on space for baby, when space is at a premium:

  • Aim to not take on too much stuff. Realize that you most likely will take on too much stuff. You will never again be the recipient of so much free stuff, which is awesome. And everyone will have recommendations. We have floor space for 2-3 moving/bouncy things. We will keep just what works at any point in time, and keep the gravy train moving by giving away what doesn’t work for us. It is overwhelming to step into a baby store. Keep in mind, at some point in time someone found that thing X (that babies didn’t need in previous generations) gave someone 10 minutes of peace, which could be worth its weight in gold.
  • Before the baby comes: simplify, purge, pare down, repeat. I realized there was nothing that I could really do to truly get ready, with the exception of simplifying our life and our space as much as possible beforehand.
  • Assess your need for a guest space. You want Grandma there, you want her to be comfortable, and you want everyone to stay as sane as possible. Provide a comfortable space for your guests. If you’re like me, you have only one extra room, so baby may need to sleep with you while a guest is there. Guest can always sleep on an air mattress, a fold out couch, or in a hotel, but personally, I love having guests, so having a place for them to stay is a priority in our small space.
  • In a small space, every cubic foot counts. Have furniture do double duty. Changing table with dresser and cabinet, bed with storage under, ottoman that coverts to a bed, crib with a drawer under.  Look for creative spaces for built-ins, like shelves high on walls (just not above where baby is sleeping).
Utilizing every square inch: Built-ins under the eaves in Bungalow West

Utilizing every square inch: Built-ins under the eaves in Bungalow West

  •  If you have only one bedroom: At first, you can share. Longer term, give it to the kiddo. You can still use their closet. They don’t need a ton of space, so their room can host wardrobes or large storage cabinets. Paint them a fun color or put them behind soft curtains–just be sure they are bolted to the wall! Longer term, a “pod” for living can contain all of their needs (bed, storage and desk) in one piece of furniture that takes up just half the room.
  • With the kid in the one bedroom, you can shut the door and the rest of your small space is yours. This will mean getting creative with your bed. Check out the always fun Buzzfeed for Totally Feasible Loft Beds for Normal Height Ceilings.
  • It’s the simple things: paint, a cute light fixture, and neat storage bins are all you need to create a peaceful, fun, and fresh space.


Jeff Pelletier’s 40 under 40 article

As mentioned previously, I was recently honored as one of Puget Sound Business Journal’s 2014 40 under 40 honorees.  It still feels more than a bit surreal but seeing it in print makes it even crazier.  I recently went down for a photo shoot and the full article has gone live.  Aside from a big editorial error (I was in New York City over 13 years ago), it is a pretty fun snapshot of some of my thoughts on working hard and working with great people.

There’s also 3 fun photos of me playing with toys and wearing trace paper as some sort of cape.  Let’s just say that the photo shoot was pretty strange.

Check out the article HERE

40 under 40 Jeff

40 under 40 Jeff with LEGO 40 under 40 Jeff with trace

Introducing Tina

Hi there! I’m Tina and I’ve joined Board & Vellum as the new Office Manager / Marketing Coordinator. Having worked as an Admin in a variety of different roles throughout my career, I’m excited to add a dash of creativity to my day by learning the ropes on the Marketing side.

Tina Witherspoon

Seattle has been my home for 20 years, having migrated from New England after college, but I’m seeing the Pacific Northwest in a whole new light these days. In June my husband and I sold our house in the suburbs and moved to Vashon Island. Our new daily mantra is “Every day is an adventure.” On my way to the ferry each morning I am greeted by a family of deer grazing on the side of the road.  I keep waiting for the nightly sunset views to get old, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Vashon Deer Family

In my spare time I design women’s clothing under the label BOHO republic and this month I’ll be showing my first full cohesive collection at Bellevue Fashion Week. My designs are inspired by the bohemian spirit of the 1930′s and the casual silhouettes of the 1970′s to create a line of ready-to-wear that is both comfortable and chic.

BOHO republic maxi dress

BOHO republic ikat jumpsuit

The low-back maxi dress and the wide-leg jumpsuit from the Spring 2014 capsule collection, modeled by Diana Oliphant. 





Introducing Sara

Aloha and hello, I am Sara, and I am super excited to be the next in this auspicious parade of new B&Vers!


I was born and raised just outside of Cleveland, Ohio where from before the time my father presented me with my first Lego set at age 4, I had set my sights on architecture. A childhood of pilgrimages to Fallingwater cemented my obsession with creative problem solving and a love for the innate intimacy of designing living spaces. After graduating from Kent State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Architecture, I escaped west with the intention of graduate school but landed instead at a boutique residential architecture firm in Tacoma where I spent a decade focused on new waterfront homes and remodels.  I’ve found working with clients and contractors to create unique, livable homes a truly rewarding experience.


Childhood memory book proving my awkwardly spelled desire to pursue architecture from an early age.  My spelling has only marginally improved. Thanks spell-check!

Childhood memory book proving my awkwardly spelled desire to pursue architecture from an early age. My spelling has only marginally improved. Thanks spell-check!



In keeping with the grand B&V tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright house bragging, Please enjoy these pictures of me in front of or behind the lens at  following Wright Masterworks, clockwise from top left: Marin Civic Center, Fallingwater, Louis Penfield House, and The Thomas House.

In keeping with the grand B&V tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright house bragging, Please enjoy these pictures of me in front of or behind the lens at the following Wright Masterworks, clockwise from top left: Marin Civic Center, Fallingwater, The Thomas House, and The Louis Penfield House.

These days I can be found instilling my love of the built environment with my son Oliver as we explore and discover new pockets of Seattle together. We are also the city’s unofficial spray park inspectors, intent on finding the best combination of splash, spray, and viewing area in the region. When not parenting, I enjoy contributing to the adult-onset diabetes of my family, friends and co-workers with an endless assortment of baked goods, the pursuit of great photography, reading historical novels and non-fiction, champagne sangrias, and making a fool of myself in dragon pants through the streets of Seattle.

Sara Ollie

 (Editor’s note: In no way are new B&V’ers required to prove their Frank Lloyd Wright bona fides, but I am enthusiastic about this new trend.)

A Hankering for Hexagons


At some point during the evolution of life here on Earth, honey bees had a really good idea. The started to build honeycombs in the shape of a hexagon. There is so much that is fascinating about this, and Robert Krulwich of NPR has a terrific blogpost on the topic. To sum up how remarkable it is that bees utilize a hexagon, consider how exhaustive it is on the bee’s part to make wax, essentially the mortar that holds their hive together. An individual worker bee produces a mere 1/12 teaspoon of honey over the course of its lifetime, which is typically less than 2 months. An entire hive needs to consume 6-8 pounds of honey in order to produce 1 pound of wax. This translates to bees in a hive collectively traversing the entire world 6 times! Which makes me feel a tinge of guilt about the lob of honey I dropped into that cup of tea I had the other day.

In any case, bees utilize the hexagon because it is mathematically the most efficient shape to enclose space. Well, that isn’t exactly true – circles enclose more space in say, a room. But, an array of circles positioned together equate to a lot of wasted space between the circles. I made a quick sketch to illustrate:


Notice how there is absolutely no wasted space (quick sketch, but you get the idea) in the hexagon pattern. The fact that bees figured this out is one of those amazing facts of the natural world that keep me in utter awe of it.

Why is it then that architects avoid this amazing shape when it comes to the design of the human built environment? The main reason is that most furniture is designed to fit in the shape of a rectangular room – tables, beds, almost anything really. You can have some pretty awkward furniture arrangement in a hexagonal shaped room. This is why, for example, when Frank Lloyd Wright (more on him in a minute) played with geometric shapes in his designs (including the hexagon!) he was keen on designing custom built-in furniture to go along with the shape of the space. Unfortunately, custom furniture is more expensive, so it’s economical to design for what is more widely available and therefore more affordable to clients.

That said, there are other issues with hexagons – they are an incredibly distinctive shape. An equilateral hexagon is so prominent that you can’t really ignore its existence in a space. I once stayed at a resort for my Aunt’s wedding in Bloomington, IL – it was designed entirely of hexagons.

indian lakes2

While I appreciate what the architect was attempting to do, the end result felt rather extreme  and rigid. You feel like you are literally beaten over the head with infinite hexagons. Sometimes we designers like to make more subtle choices.

Further, fitting hexagons together forces you to maintain a consistent shape and size of a room. The beauty of a pure form hexagon is there are no acute angles at wall intersections, but if you start to subdivide a room in such a way, it becomes difficult to maintain a functional space. See below:


Also, circulation can become an issue with a circuitous route that puts a building occupant in the position of having to take a very indirect path of travel. This can be cumbersome from a wayfinding perspective, or even perilous in the case of an emergency if you can’t see where you need to exit.

Hexagons have an additional benefit as well – acoustics! As it turns out, 90 degree (right) angles like you find on rectangles reflect sound back toward the source. In other words, they echo, especially in large spaces. Not so with hexagons, which have a natural inclination to avoid this problem. In fact, the 135 degree angle of a hexagon still reflects sound but disperses it. Given the right balance of elements, this actually can amplify sound and improve the sound quality. If you ever get the chance to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert compound, Taliesin West you will tour the famous Cabaret Theater, which is a venerable subterranean wonderland of hex magic.

caberet fllw

You’ll notice there is not a single right angle in the entire space – it’s all hexagonal, even the built in seating is at an angle to the stage. The stage by the way is hollow underneath so it acts like a drum and sound is amplified into this narrow space essentially made out of concrete. Normally, based on those conditions, this room should have terrible acoustics. But, Wright knew how to pull it off – employ the power of the hex. It goes without saying the acoustics are damn near perfect.

All that said, Board & Vellum is working on the design of a new School of Rock, which is a music training program for kids using a performance based approach. Some of the challenges that we faced were ensuring that acoustic isolation in the suite would be maintained and not spill out to the adjacent tenants of the building. Seeing how kids would be tearing it up on the drums or practicing any number of guitar riffs on a regular basis, it was imperative to work on a successful acoustic solution. It was also the perfect opportunity to play with hexagons since there wouldn’t be a lot of furniture and instead focus on musical instruments. Below are two options proposed for the new space:


While both options feature hexagonal room shapes, we also worked on grouping spaces together that share similar acoustic requirements. The drum studio and rehearsal rooms are the loudest, so they are arranged at plan south where the adjacent space is a parking garage (and not say an adjacent retail space or office). Lesson rooms require acoustic reinforcement but to a lesser degree and so they can be adjacent to neighboring tenant. We also wanted to retain existing walls where we could to cut down on costs, so the restrooms and staff areas will get nothing more than a minor face-lift.

While the client was pleased with both of these options we ended up going with the more simplified Option 2, with some variation. There is still a lot of opportunity here to create interesting moments in our design that are both fun for the kids and functional as a place to discover the power of creating music. We’re really excited about fleshing out the design further, and it’s been fun to take on the challenge of hexagonal space making in the process and create like the bees – a functional design that is really efficient in its use of space.

One postnote: check out how the Belgians are using hexagons for portable sleepers. These were initially designed for music festivals, but are also being looked at as temporary homeless shelters in some cities.

Le Dîner en Blanc – Seattle

Back in 2010, I was searching for something special for my husband Tolga’s birthday, when I got an email from an old client inviting me to be one of the “Gentil Organisateurs” (GO) to host a table for the first ever Le Dîner en Blanc in Seattle – A flash-mob style dinner where everyone dresses in white, appears at a public area without any official city permits. The location is quietly announced to the GO’s only 3 hours before the Dîner.


The most important rule, the “mob” must arrive at the same time! And we do, for the 4th year now, with a party that has grown to over 500 participants… equipped fully with tables and chairs, porcelain plates, white linens, and silverware.  Tables are decorated with Balinese parasols, white summer flowers; women wearing whimsical head pieces, silk gloves, light up feather hats, men in tutus, white tuxedos, and anything else you can think of as long as it’s white.


The Dîner starts with everyone waving their napkins in the air and cheering. Each guest brings hor d’oeuvres, and delicious deserts to be served on beautiful platters, while champagne flows through fountains. As the sun is replaced by a beautiful moonlight (and this year it was the largest full moon of the season) candelabras are lit, people start dancing to the violin or the accordion, mingling, laughing, enjoying the summer evening, and our beautiful Seattle skyline.

the food

During planning, I always complain how much work it is to put everything together, but while it’s happening, I’m truly mesmerized by the beauty of the evening… This year Le Dîner took place on Pier 62/63 which is scheduled to be demolished this fall – so we wanted say goodbye.


The waterfront was packed with people taking pictures with curiosity. One foreign tourist asked Tolga what this party was for, and Tolga responded that it was for speed dating, and asked if he wanted to join!! The man was so confused!!


The evening ended with sparklers true to tradition, while we all cheered and congratulated each other for this beautiful evening.


These iPhone photos (some taken by fellow co-worker and attendee Ben) don’t do it justice. You can find better images on the Seattle Times Article and also the Puget Sound Business Journal Article.

Summer Hikes by Ryan

Warning: this blog post has absolutely nothing to do with architecture or design. Please read at your own risk.

This summer I have been exploring the mountains of the Pacific Northwest in search of some fun hikes in my free time between the office expansion, softball, and a bunch of other trips… My girlfriend (Steph) and I set a goal to hike over 100 miles this summer.  We have quite a ways to go… We have hiked plus or minus 54 miles so far. Here are my field notes for some of the hikes we have done this summer. If you click on the hike names it will take you to the Washington Trails Association Website and give you more information about the hikes.

Grand Valley

This was a really fun one out in the Olympic National Park (which is my favorite area to visit).  You start by driving down the narrow steep dirt road for about 45 minutes.  When you hit the trail head, you hike along a ridge for a while and then descend down into the valley.  Once in the valley there are lots of huckleberries ripe for the picking. This can add some time to the hike, <cough, cough> Steph. Keep hiking through the valley to arrive at Grand Lake.  It’s a very calm protected area with the mountains springing up all around.  We saw a doe and two baby deer walking around.  When you are ready to start heading back you can go back the same way you came in or you can make it a loop hike and go through Badger Valley (the long cut).  If you choose this option (highly recommended) make sure you save some energy for the end because it is a steep hike out.  We maybe saw all of six people the whole time.  Here are a few pictures we took.

Grand Valley (1) Grand Valley (2) Grand Valley (3) Grand Valley (4)

Wallace Falls

This is a fun hike out in the Central Cascades.  There are three waterfalls on the way to the top. I enjoyed this hike because there are a lot of great lookout points and the waterfalls are really cool. Unfortunately, Wallace Falls is a very popular and an incredibly crowded hike.  If you want to check this one out I would recommend trying during the middle of the week. Here are some pictures that we took.

Wallace Falls (2) Wallace Falls (1)

Hoh-River Rainforest Trail

This is another Olympic hike.  I highly recommend this trail even though it gets a lot of traffic you can still get large separation between groups.  On this hike you walk along the river for most of the way.  The views are awesome with lots of old growth and wildlife.  Here are a few picture we took.

Hoh River (1) Hoh River (2) Hoh River (3)

Sauk Mountain 

This Hike is out around the North Cascades. It is a short 45 minutes to an hour hike to the top.  Some of the best views I have had are at the top.  Firefighters even use it as a lookout for forest fires.  We hiked this one on the 4th of July so its hard to say how much traffic it normally gets, but regardless of how many people are on this trail it is still worth checking out. Here are a few images we took.

Sauk Mountian (1) Sauk Mountian (2)

Ira Spring Trail

Located near the Snoqualmie Pass, this hike is quite the climb up, but wow is it worth it!  I would highly recommend trying it on a clear day, because if you are lucky you can see awesome views of Rainier.  This hike really has it all, views, wild flowers, lakes, berries…  At the top of the hike you get to a big lake and there are lots of little trails that shoot off all around.  Because this hike is so fully loaded it does attract quite a few people but if you get here early you should be all by yourself out there. Here are some pictures from the hike. If you look closely at the first image you can see Rainier.

Ira Springs (1) Ira Springs (2)

Iron Peak

This was the worst hike out of the bunch.  I don’t think that I could ever say that a hike was not worth it but man was it close with this guy.  This is more of a horse trail. You have to dodge horse shi..poop the whole way.  When I say dodge it I mean you have to actively search for the one dirt spot where there isn’t any poop to put your foot down. Other than that there were no crowds and the view at the top was cool.  Here is a picture.

Iron Peak

A Modern Marvel Rises Above Puget Sound


Here at Board & Vellum we are very excited to share some construction progress photos of our Modern Cantilevered Residence project.  The house rises above Puget Sound on a steeply sloping hillside looking out at Bainbridge Island and Port Madison beyond.  Possessing some of the most breathtaking views in Seattle this project’s site represents one of the most beautiful and challenging that we’ve ever had the chance to work on.


The City of Seattle identifies the risks involved with developing a property like this through their Environmentally Critical Areas policy, so permitting and construction on sites like this are highly regulated.  This residence specifically, required a coordinated effort between the Architect, Geotechnical Engineer and Structural Engineer to design a sound structure that would satisfy the city’s requirements.


Fortunately we are working with the fine folks at GeoEngineers, Inc. and Swenson Say Faget structural engineers.  The resulting design is a symphony of concrete and steel that clings to the hillside through a system of auger-cast cast piles drilled to a depth of 40’ below the basement slab.  As an architect this is one of the most fascinating phases of construction when all of the muscular structural elements are being installed and remain exposed.  The elegant resolution of gravity and lateral forces is legible through the tangles of steel reinforcing bar and cast-in steel connector plates.


Stay tuned for more photos as the construction continues.  Steel beams are up next…



She promises to Bring Marrakesh to Visit

What started out as an internship last summer to develop my interests in design has led to an incredibly fulfilling experience working with some of the hardest working, driven, fun(ny), and quirky group of people I have ever had the pleasure of calling my team mates.


Surrounded by such a creative and passionate bunch for a year, it was inevitable that I catch the ‘Architecture’ bug. Now, I have the fortuitous opportunity to pursue a Masters of Architecture at the University of Washington.


I will be leaving Board and Vellum–the first since our expansion to eleven, with several tools that I’m convinced will help me survive a three-year program, thanks to my co- B&V’ers.


1)      It is COMPLETELY appropriate to have lunch at 10am. If you are anything like Anne, Ryan, or Robert,  you’ve been in the office since 7am– therefore, there is too much time between ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’.

2)      Standards are EVERYTHING! Ninety percent of what I know about proper filing and naming conventions have come from being taught (mildly harassed) by Matt (who’s last vacation almost caused Jeff’s hard drive to crash).  Even one as “technologically-impaired”  as I am, can appreciate office standards that prevent throwing one’s computer out the window.

3)      Have FUN whenever possible. There’s no such thing as clocking a “9-5″ at an architecture firm. While the general population thinks that architecture is all about designing aesthetic qualities,  as an observer from the ‘inside’ I can soundly say that more than half the work is technical and mentally strenuous. This is also why I think Architects and Architectural Designers are the best at having fun and celebrating tiny achievements and major milestones alike. Getting a project permitted is almost always followed by a celebration best exhibited in Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” video.

4)      Don’t underestimate the power of treating people kindly and in effect, how you would like to be treated. Jeff Pelletier, recently made the Puget Sound Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list for being one of our region’s “top business leaders under the age of 40 who excel in their industry and show dynamic leadership”. While I know very little about leading and being accountable to ten employees, I have witnessed Jeff grow a firm that is inclusive of all our ideas and opinions. This should NOT be a novel practice, but it is and I can tell you, it is awesome. Feeling like your boss cares about your quality of life is amazing and has set the standard for what I expect in any work environment. Respect yourself and others-it makes a huge difference.

5)      There is no ‘I’ in Team. As cliché and cheesy as this sounds, I would be lying if I said I got into grad school all by myself.  A year ago, I was running a retail and Interior Design business with my boyfriend and scared to death that I wasn’t smart enough for architecture. Now, I’m fully launched into a trajectory towards architecture and design because I’ve met so many incredible individuals that help me realize that it’s not necessary to know EVERYTHING as long as you know how to ask for help.