Local Art

First Thursday Art Walk is happening this week.  We encourage you all to go out and support the local artists in our neighborhoods around Seattle.  While wandering through the many studios in Georgetown, the International District, Pioneer Square, Belltown, Ballard, etc. you might just get inspired to create some artwork yourself.  Here are some wonderful local resources that you should know about to help you along the way:

1)      Pratt Fine Arts Center – Interested in glassblowing, metalsmithing, printmaking, stonecarving, or wordworking? Pratt is your one-stop-shop for classes in all of these mediums and many more. I confess that I am biased towards Pratt as I have taken well over a dozen classes there since 2011. Classes are open to beginners and seasoned professionals alike so don’t be shy, jump right on in! I had no prior experience in any of the beginning classes I have taken there. Pratt is located in Seattle’s Central District. Be sure to attend their spring open house on March 28 for demonstrations in all of their class studios!

Pratt collage

Clockwise starting from left:  Bronze pour during the Pratt biannual open house, guests attending the annual fine art auction, glass artist in the hot shop

2)      Gage Academy of Art – I’ve been following this school on Facebook for a while and wish I could muster the courage to take a class here… the examples of student work are outstanding and, honestly, a bit intimidating!  Gage is geared towards training in drawing, painting, and sculpture.  While classes are available for all levels of ability, I get the impression that many of the students at Gage are BFA and MFA grads pursuing continuing education throughout their professional careers.  Gage Academy is located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Gage collage

Clockwise starting from left:  Exterior of Gage Academy, painting student work, sculptor in action

3)       Pottery Northwest – This is the place to go to learn about ceramics!  I haven’t taken any classes here yet, but I hope to do so eventually.  Like the previous two schools, Pottery Northwest also offers classes for all skill levels.  And once you’ve started practicing on your own, check out the amazing Seattle Pottery Supply for all of your project needs.  You don’t need to be an experienced ceramicist to shop this store; I’ve purchased a variety of raw materials and tools for use in my glass projects there.  Pottery Northwest is located at Seattle Center north of Belltown and Seattle Pottery Supply is located in the SODO district.

Pottery NW collage

Clockwise starting from left:  Exterior of Pottery Northwest, student work, vessels being fired in a clamshell raku kiln

Now that you know about these amazing, local, non-profit art schools, it’s time to enroll in some classes.  Perhaps I’ll see you in one!

2015 Seattle Home Show

Have you ever been to the Seattle Home Show? The “Nation’s largest consumer home show?” Me neither. But this year our firm partnered with the AIA Seattle to populate their booth, which gave me the opportunity to check it out. Here’s what I learned:

Anyone who’s thinking about remodeling their existing home – or building from the ground up – should take advantage of this event. Wouldn’t it be helpful to get the perspective of an Architect before you hire an Architect? I’m here to tell you that twice a year for 9 days at a time, a variety of Licensed Architects man the AIA booth for 6 hours a day (8 hours on weekends) just waiting for your questions. We’re talking local, successful, creative and award winning architects – like those from my firm – answering your questions for free! Well, for the price of admission, which is $12.


Of course there’s also the A to Z Exhibitor List of product reps who will tell you everything you need to know about installation of your new closet system or how much it could cost you for a new roof – it’s a wealth of information. Follow the Home Show on Facebook to be in the know for the announcement of the fall event.

Board & Vellum, your advocate for great architecture, big or small.

Todd’s Top 5 Eye Catching Items



(Editor’s Note: Welcome to our new continuing series, B&V’s Top Five! Each Month you’ll learn about a few awesome things B&V’ers are excited about.)

  1. ART:  While recently in Honolulu, HI I attended “POW! WOW!: Exploring The New Contemporary Art Movement” open house and discovered Brian Mashburn and his incredible art.  I was fully engaged with the level of detail and the utilization of foreground/background imagery and couldn’t look away.
  2. TRANSPORTATION:  No matter what mode of transportation you utilize there are numerous innovations occurring within the transportation field.  As an avid cyclist and car enthusiast I’ve selected the Denny bicycle and the BMW i8 car just for a few of the outstanding innovations currently going on.  Both of these products are trying to reinvent, reuse, and refrain from excess material/resources in order to make it easier, lighter, adaptable and more fun to use.
  3. FURNITURE:  While traveling to work one morning I stumbled across the Copper Real Good Chair.  Not only do I love copper but I love the modern look of this chair while allowing the chair to patina and age with time.  It is also is a great example of flat-pack furniture.
  4. 3D PRINTING:  3D printing is going wild right now and people are exploring all types of things they can print.  Anything from clothing to buildings.  Innovation within this field seems endless and exciting.
  5. KENETIC SCULPTURE:  This is also another area with a lot of exploration currently; just one artist exploring this is Ned Kahn.  I love how his particular installations capture the dynamic qualities of the environments in which it exists.  He is able to visually showcase the movement of elements in a way that can be understood easily and artfully.



A Visit to the NUCOR Steel Plant

You might ask why an architecture firm working predominately in single-family residential is interested in steel. Looking around your house you might say, “I don’t even see any steel here.” But the reality of home construction can be deceiving. The wood framing members are joined by steel nails and nailer plates. You may have steel windows depending on the age and budget of your house. Some of your homes may even have steel structural members at particularly large openings, heavily-loaded columns in your basement, or if you have a large cantilever hanging out past the line of your foundation. These elements are all covered and concealed. Additionally, there is one major steel component unseen by most unless you kick around the job site while your foundation is being poured, rebar.


Steel rebar allows us to rely on our concrete foundations, slabs, and walls. Concrete is a wonderfully strong material in compression (think crushing) but fails quickly and easily in tension (think pulling apart). Since building are subjected to constantly fluctuating conditions—whether moisture, temperature, or loading—things move. We like to use concrete in compression but because of fluctuating conditions and some principles of structures concrete elements are sometimes stretched, pulled, or bent, and then we need steel!

tension compression

Steel rebar can be found in almost all modern applications of concrete. Round bars are bound to one another with wire and assembled into cages that are floated within the concrete while it hardens. After the concrete has cured, the steel is permanently set. Ribbing or texture on the outside of the bars acts like teeth to bite into the hardened concrete and keep it from cracking apart while subjected to pulling and bending.

An invaluable resource for architects and other professionals in the construction industry is to physically handle materials and see how they are made. Luckily for us, we have a top-notch steel plant in West Seattle producing over 800,000 tons of steel products annually, of which 85% is rebar. Knowing this, a crew from Board & Vellum took a trip to tour Seattle’s NUCOR Steel plant recently to understand what goes into this critical building material that keeps our buildings standing up while almost never being seen.

1940 plant aerialthree amigos

Just over the West Seattle Bridge in an area affectionately called Little Pittsburgh, NUCOR has been rolling out steel products since 1904. Since then, this NUCOR location has grown and evolved to produce steel with the most current processes and technologies. Another thing we like about what they do is almost everything from the plant is 100% recycled!

In certain industries, like automotive, requirements are such that only newly produced steel can be used. This is not the case in the building industry. The grade of steel is very high in building products but not so high that it requires virgin steel. In addition, there is so much steel being produced and used in cars, buildings, cans, and other applications that there is a constant supply of scrap steel. Train cars and truckloads drop off heaps of scrap metal all day long every day of the week at NUCOR, and this is where it begins.

Loads of scrap coming from all over the region, including across the border in British Columbia, are delivered to the plant and scanned for radioactive materials or other such contaminants that would make handling dangerous. The safety requirements at NUCOR are so stringent that if there is any radioactive material detected within a train car or truck load, that whole shipment is sent back to where it originated. The safety manager giving us the tour tells us this can happen sometimes multiple times in a day, but it’s all part of keeping workers, end users, neighbors, and the environment safe.

scrap yard

After passing contamination inspection, the scrap metal is hauled to the on-site scrap yard. The scrap yard is an open-air covered region of the plant (one of three covered steel plants in the world) spanning multiple acres. Here large spools of spent cable, car chassis, maritime sprockets, and enormous steel plates are sorted into piles based on metallurgical properties. The yard is managed by a giant gantry crane equipped with two round, pickup-truck-sized electromagnets. From here the material is gathered to start making new rebar and other rolled steel products.

For any given order, a recipe is devised dictated by the requirements of the end product. Each product requires a specific grade of steel and a maximum allowable amount of added alloys. These standards are critical so that we know how structures will perform and can design for those conditions. In the end, this makes our buildings more efficient in terms of material and also in the final price to our clients. The gantry crane operator gathers whatever is needed from the scrap yard and drops the recycled material into a large bucket on its way to the furnace. The furnace is where the real fun begins.

melt house

Somewhere between a post-apocalyptic Matrix nightmare and an enormous welding booth, the furnace is almost always running. Our guide puts in perspective the energy required to run this process saying that the monthly electrical bill at NUCOR Seattle is close to $2 million. From behind blast-proof glass we hang out with Phil, the most senior employee at the plant who has been working his way up from the floor for 45 years. Phil is now the senior furnace operator. He sits perched above the melt-house floor in the control station with blue and green plastic shields placed strategically to keep his retinas from burning out the back of his eyes. Here, he uses what looks like a modified fighter plane control to deliver 40,000 lbs. of scrap at a time to the furnace pot. After three payloads are added to the vat, Phil maneuvers a three-headed electrode into the pile to start the melt. The furnace works on the same principle as an arc welder. An electrical current travels to the electrode head and is held off of a conducting material just enough to create an electrical arc which superheats and melts the metal, but in this case there are three electrodes and each is larger than a Seahawks linebacker. Delivering a high dose of electricity and heat to the vat, Phil keeps the furnace around 3200°F. At this temperature, the scrap metal melts completely and can be fully mixed to produce a consistent mixture. During the process Phil pulls levers and hits touch screens that also add various metals and oxygen to purify the mixture. Slag, a byproduct made of impurities is then dumped off the top before the steel mixture is poured into billets in the next step.

hot billets

The molten steel is formed into billets, large, square-shaped bars cut to different lengths depending on weight needed for a specific order. In order to keep the process continually moving, the cutting mechanism actually travels with the steel as it is being pushed out of the furnace. This way it can take its time cutting accurately while the product is moved out of the furnace, making room for the next superhot batch of steel. Once the billets are formed and cut they have to cool, but not because they are too hot, but because they are not magnetic at high temperatures. Billets are about eight inches square and 32’ long, meaning they weigh roughly 9000 lbs. EACH. To handle these pieces of steel the plant once again needs to use electromagnets, but until the billets cool to a modest 1100°F they cannot be attracted to the magnets, so they sit on a steel track that has cold water lines running through it to keep the entire setup from deforming and dropping all the newly formed billets off the rails. At this point, the billets are also marked with an order number that codes them for what product will be rolled from them in the final stages of the process.


When the billets have cooled to temperatures that allow them to be handled by another set of magnets, they are brought to the finishing building. Here, another furnace reheats the steel to temperatures that make it pliable for forming into end products. Once the billets are glowing a bright orange they are sent through a series of rollers that gradually take the square forms down to round rebar, all the way from 8” squares to rebar that is 3/8” in some cases. We watch this process from another control room that sits overlooking the roller assembly. Behind the controls on this side of the plant is Charlie, Phil’s brother and the second most tenured employee at NUCOR Seattle. Charlie pulls a different set of switches and touchscreens to control the shape change, feed speed, and cutting of the rebar that comes off the line. He tells us the glowing steel is traveling fast and that when this process was worked manually it would sometimes catch a worker and send him clear across the warehouse. This is another point where our guide reiterates the safety measures taken at the plant which include getting workers as far away from hot, moving parts as possible.

In the final steps, the rebar is bundled with coils of wire and tagged for shipping and end use. At this point, the rebar is finally at a temperature that you can touch with bare hands or even stand near without fear for losing your eyebrows as it leaves the plant.

The Board & Vellum trip to NUCOR Steel was fun and valuable. So often in this profession we discuss building materials, lifecycles, and holistic understanding of what we do but are not often able to see the cycle in action or watch the processes that go into what we receive on site. One take-away from our NUCOR visit is that we can all be more committed to understanding the entire lifecycle of our materials and buildings. The supply chain for building steel is almost entirely recycled from the waste stream. In addition, the byproducts from processing the steel are either recovered and disposed of safely (particulates are collected in large dust-hoppers) or collected and used in other industries (slag is solidified and crushed to be used as a higher-performing road pavement alternative to asphalt). These big-picture ideas are ones to consider in making better performing buildings.

We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at NUCOR and suggest that if you are at all interested in seeing the process for yourself that you schedule a free tour as well!

(photo credit: Mike Siegel/Seattle Times)

Dreaming Big for Your New Dream House

Frank Lloyd Wright's Shining Brow

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Shining Brow, Taliesin

In Southwest Wisconsin in the mid 1870′s, a young boy shirked his chores one afternoon at his uncle’s farm, and escaped to the shade of a mature burr oak on the crown of a hill overlooking a meandering tributary of the nearby Wisconsin River. It was there on that day that a future architect was born, and one of the most unique homes America had yet to see, was conceived. The boy was little Frank Lloyd Wright, and the house he dreamed of wrapping around the “Shining Brow*” of the hilltop would one day become his famed Taliesin.

It isn’t often that we architects realize the buildings of our childhood dreams, and what I relate to about this story is that I used to do the same thing. I grew up outside of Miami, FL on a lake, so my dream house was always on a little island.  It’s what I would do to pass the time on the school bus starting in second grade. Later on in middle school, I would sketch floor plans in an entire development of island homes – whoever was lucky enough to sit next to me that day got to be my client. The next day that friend would have their very own villa by the sea. Well, the stick figure equivalent, at least.

But nothing was as magnificent as my own dream home, and like Wright, I redesigned it all the time. I recently found a gnarled sheet of notebook paper tucked away in an old book my parents bought me (they were good at cultivating my obsessions) of spec home plans. The notebook paper had a jaw-dropping, lengthy list of things any incarnation of my dream house must surely feature.


It’s HILARIOUS to read now, all these years later. It starts out simple enough, all the rooms required. Living Room, Kitchen, Master Bedroom. But then it gets a tad over-the-top: Two to eight (8!) other bedrooms. There was a Ballroom, a Lounge, a Library, and a Conservatory (as though I was ripping off the Clue Mansion board game), complete with Secret Passage. I also needed a different room to suit all of my hobbies: art studio, music studio, recording studio, Game Room, and an actual Hobby Room? Additionally, there needed to be a wet bar, butler’s pantry, bay window seat, fire place (growing up in Florida this was a luxury no one needed), and of course – spiral stairs.

But wait! There’s the whole list on the back with all the other site features and out-buildings where it really gets good. All the bedrooms in the main house weren’t enough, so the guests would each have his or her own cabana right next to the servant’s quarters. There was a Greenhouse – not to be confused with the Solarium – a pool (obviously), the swimming supply room (kudos to me for thinking of all the back-of-house and service areas at that age), a barn, stable, rope swing, trampoline, a cave grotto, a butterfly garden, and most importantly – a Dolphin Canal, complete with a Dolphin Supply Room/Lab. You know, for all the dolphin research I planned to do in my free time. As you do.


As ridiculous as all this sounds, I absolutely love this list! It’s a snap shot of who I was and what was important to me when I made the crucial decision at an early age to become an architect. It’s also a helpful reminder, which is why I keep it at my desk at the office. As architects, we design mostly for other people, on real projects. Real people – our clients – are coming to us to see their dream houses realized. It’s an incredibly powerful and intimate journey to take with others. Of course, as an adult human with limited resources, you can’t just sketch a few squiggly lines onto a page and enlarge the Deep Space Observatory-addition to your Seattle craftsman bungalow. It’s much more complicated, I’ve learned.

My point is, every project – every dream house – has a list. Designers call this a program. Assuming you’re not a billionaire with a private island, here are some helpful tips for compiling yours:

Don’t be afraid to dream: This is the most exciting moment for any of our clients. Have fun with it. Remember that your design dreams can never be realized if you don’t share them with your architect. Even if they aren’t feasible, the exploration can be worthwhile. we recommend making a Houzz Ideabook, or a Pinterest Page to share with us. Consider adding notes about what captures your imagination about any image. (We really appreciate your notes!)

Brace yourself for reality: After the dreaming is done, be realistic about issues like budget, feasibility, the fact that zoning or life-safety codes occasionally get in the way, and the limitations of basic physics. It happens in so many projects – everything is just not possible. Even if you can get say, a certain material on the cheap, it may take longer than you can wait to get it.

That time the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge collapsed. Thanks, physics!

That time the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge collapsed. Thanks, physics!

Prioritize your needs: Take your time to analyze what’s really important to you. Sure, everyone wants a rooftop jacuzzi, but do you really need one? More than a dishwasher and kitchen island? Or a nursery for that baby on the way? Rank your list so when it may become necessary to edit, you’re prepared to make some cuts.

A rooftop whirlpool could be really nice, but would you use it more than a kitchen with better appliances?

A rooftop whirlpool could be really nice, but would you use it more than a kitchen with better appliances?

Think outside of the box: You can get more bang for the buck if you can consolidate multiple functions into one space. Maybe you don’t need both a Ballroom and a Library, when a multi-purpose entertainment space lined with bookshelves can suffice. Consolidate various functions into one space. No one needs a Hobby Room, Art Studio, and Craft Den all in the same house. But a suitable workspace that can facilitate multiple projects or simultaneous activities works just as well.

This Hobby Room has lots of layout and work surface for simultaneous project time.

This Hobby Room has lots of layout and work surface for simultaneous project time.

Less is more: One of the things I find striking about my childhood dream list is how far off it is from my actual adult perspective. I’ve been making fun of my fantasies of yesteryear this entire post and it’s insightful to note that instead of secluded island-life in my 9 bedroom mansion, I reside in a 425 square-foot city apartment. Flexibility and versatility are key. I live rather loft-style where rooms blend into one another which allows for furniture to serve multiple functions. I don’t have a murphy bed, but they are an excellent example of this as well.

Murphy beds are excellent in small spaces.

Murphy beds are excellent in small spaces.

Consider function over convention: Try thinking about design elements in terms of what function they serve, instead of the conventional names of spaces we’re used to. You need a space for a family of five to eat instead of a Dining Room. You desire a warm space, to be comfortable and curl up and read instead of a Library. You want an intimate area all your own for putting on make-up instead of a separate Her Bath Suite. This strategy allows more flexibility to designers in terms of utilizing square footage, sequencing spaces, or grouping functions together, rather than relying on the conventional formats and adjacencies.

We don’t adhere to any one particular strategy at Board & Vellum, and don’t usually provide questionnaires as do many firms. These tend to be rigid and limiting. In fact, the way we boil it down is to simply listen to our clients. You are the portal to all project knowledge – no one knows better than you. It’s the designer who synthesizes these ideas to translate them into your dream-house reality.

*Wright never designed his homes on the tops of hills, “because then you lose the hill”, he would say.

How Much does an Architect Cost to Design a Remodel?

Absolutely everything is wrong with this Indiana Megamansion, but at Board & Vellum we're here to help.

Absolutely everything is wrong with this Indiana Megamansion, but at Board & Vellum we’re here to make sure this doesn’t happen to you by designing a home that suits you and your family, the neighborhood, and offers a reasonable value for years to come.

I take a lot of project inquiry calls and one of the most popular questions is always what our fees are.  To say there is a lot of confusion about this topic would be a wild understatement.  Architects keep this a mystery to the general public and I think it does a lot of harm to the perception of our profession.  While we are certainly a bit of a “luxury” item, our fees tend to be small percentage of overall project costs and help retain the value of what you built as it will actually look good! We hear from lenders all the time how our projects appraise at higher values. 

So, what do we cost?

Well, it depends (yeah, yeah, groan…) on a bunch of factors and project types.  Our commercial work is calculated differently than our residential work as is our multi-family work.  Basically, our goal is to cover our costs and make a decent profit. This is typically handled with an hourly rate based on employees or the role of that employee on a project.  Sometimes a staff member acts as a project lead and bills out at a higher rate.  Other times they’re pulling drafting duty and billed out at a lower rate.  This applies to all of us and allows us greater flexibility.

Great, huh?  So what the heck do you pay for a residential remodel or new house?

The typical fee range for a residential project at B&V varies between 8% and 18% of construction costs and are billed hourly.  Our fees are not directly tied to a construction cost (some Architects do that for a variety of reasons with the associated pros and cons) but tend to hover around that range.

Why the big spread?  Not only do we tailor our services to each client (some clients want full interior design services and very detailed renderings while other clients are happy to pick all the finishes themselves and go for less custom detailing), but smaller and larger projects require different levels of work as well.  Your project’s fee range will trend to be slightly higher on smaller projects as the same complicated calculation on a large project is still required for a small project but eats up a higher percentage of the fee.

Given the range, our goal is to work with you on carefully tailoring our scope of services so you get what you need and go into it with eyes wide open.  Our proposals typically include a fee range based on the initial budget up through the first pricing set – usually produced during the Schematic Design Phase.  After we’ve had the initial round of pricing based on these pricing documents, we adjust the fee range based on the new construction cost and the agreed upon scope of work in our court.  Often times, the scope is adjusted after Schematic pricing based on your budget. Regardless, we walk you through where the initial costs were from the proposal and where they are trending based on current costs.  Every monthly invoice gets a summary like this one, and it helps our clients keep track of where they are at, based on our fee, and estimated hours needed to complete the scope of work.


When you’re taking on a large and complicated project, we have found that having an Architect on board really helps you maintain the quality and acts as insurance on your investment.  Many of us have seen the remodels that have seemed lackluster or were missing that wow factor.  That is what we strive to bring to our projects and it helps us design projects that appraise higher, have designs that look timeless and don’t warrant another remodel in ten years, and help your home stand apart from the crowd.  This is your house and we love making it awesome!

Gray Skies and Blue Lagoons

As the dark clouds of winter settled upon our Emerald City, and the mountains still have no snow to offer, I find myself dreaming about warm sunshine. My mind quickly travels to the Aegean Sea, where the sun blesses the Turkish Coast with its abundant glow, the waters are turquoise blue, and each little cove along the shore is a little piece of heaven.

So, I imagine myself sailing in a Turkish Gulet. We anchor near the shore.  The water is so clear I can see the small fish swimming around the boat. A warm breeze lingers on the deck. 1-2-3, We jump into the Aegean!

The beauty of this dream is that it will finally happen this summer, on this boat!


After a long time planning, we have confirmed our dates, our boat (which will be fully staffed, meals cooked, and everything – yay!), and most importantly our “comrades”, to take a week-long sailing trip. No phones, no internet, no TV – lots of seafood, swimming, star gazing, board games, drinking Raki, and I’m hoping Ben (from our office) will be playing his ukulele starting each sunset. (Editor’s Note: Ben here gazing out the window at the cold, dark, wet blanketing Seattle. I’m sold!)

We will arrive at Dalaman Airport the day before the trip, and meet in a small city called Fethiye for a group dinner, stroll along the marina, and shop in some local craft stores. Next morning, we’ll gather at the marina where our beautiful Gulet will be waiting for us. First we will sail into “Oludeniz” and “Butterfly Valley”.


Oludeniz (Blue Lagoon in English), is a national nature preserve, and is surrounded by mountainous terrain. Many like to travel here, not only for the calm turquoise waters but also because it’s a beautiful spot for paragliding.

Butterfly Valley, not too far from Oludeniz, is a safe haven for many butterfly species, including endangered tiger butterflies. The hike through the valley terminates at a 50-meter waterfall, which is much welcome in the summer months.


Then, we will continue our trip swimming in secluded coves, exploring a few ruins, visiting ancient villages, anchoring near small islands, and slowly find our way into the Marina in Gocek, where we will spend a final evening among friends.


I’m really looking forward to this vacation! Being from Turkey this is really more than just a sailing trip for me; it’s a way to connect back with my heritage… and, I’m especially excited to show my country to one of my colleagues.

(Editor’s Note: Recently we stumbled upon this article called 12 Signs Your Company has an Enviable Work Culture. I’d say we hit 12/12, but this post especially highlights #7 on the list. -BL)



“Off The Hook” – The Etymology of Your Phone Number


First, a preface:

At Board & Vellum, we strive to connect with our clients. We love them. (They do pay us.) They’re real people with real problems. As a potential client, sometimes you might not know what you’re asking for, but that’s why we’re here to help. We’re not concerned about how many famous architects we can quote, or whether or not some “design metrics” apply to our current projects, or what the “in” color is for 2015. Name-dropping high-brow one-upmanship is not our style. Instead, we want to get to the root of the problem, which means ultimately we want to understand your problem. We endeavor to reach that “ah-ha!” moment. I get it.

We also share what we learn. When one of us discovers something cool, or exciting, or mesmerizing, or just plain dorky, we tend to talk about it. (To each other, not just to ourselves.) We’re not all about architecture, obviously. We’re made up of real people, with our own passions, dreams, and hokey interests.

Before I was ten years old, someone asked me what superpower I’d like to have. “I like to find out things about stuff,” I said. [Future Me’s note: there’s actually a word for that. It’s called “psychometry” and I have my friend Derek Reeves to thank for finding it out.]

Okay… most people would say something like “flying” or “being invisible” or any number of current Marvel character traits. But you’re talking about some kid who noticed that pennies before 1959 had a different design on the back, and that not all movies were in color. In short, you’re talking about someone who discovered that everything changes. There was a difference in time. And to get to the point of this blog post, your telephone number wasn’t always what it is, either. Every object (even an idea) has a history, and is a part of something bigger. If you’re old enough (and I’m not, but I know people that are) you might remember when your telephone number had letters in it. Or words.

Crazy, you say. Unfathomable. Really? You think texting on your cell phone is the first time numbers and letters correlated with each other? Ha! You’re gonna love this.

An original telephone. No dial.

An original telephone. No dial.

Back in “the day”, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. I’ll spare you the details, but in 1877 a system was put in place to reach each other over a series of electrical lines, and it had rules. The first telephone numbers weren’t numbers at all – they were names, either your personal name or the name of your company. Obviously, that was way too confusing since many people share the same name, so in 1879 they began assigning numbers to each customer, with a four digit code being most common. And you didn’t dial it. (The term “dial it” hadn’t even been invented yet, but that’s coming.) You picked up your receiver and, if the network was working, heard an Operator on the other end to which you’d say something like “I want to reach Board & Vellum Architects in Seattle”. “Yes ma’am, I’ll connect you right away,” the voice might have said.

What was going on was that there was an actual person sitting in a room with a bunch of plugs and holes, and they would take the plug that represented you and put it into the hole that represented Board & Vellum (assuming they were in the same city). You could then talk to whoever picked up the line on the other end (probably Jeff).

1909 telephone exchange

1909 Telephone Operator

The American Bell Telephone Company, named after its creator, eventually became the American Telephone & Telegraph Company in 1899. (Yes that’s right, AT&T.) Then came the “prefix”. What’s that? It’s what is now the first two digits of your seven digit phone number today, say, “32” or something. That’s why it has a hyphen after it (-) because it’s a prefix. Basically the old four digit numbers were fine for rural areas with less than 9999 people or businesses, but hey buddy, cities are bigger than that and need more numbers. The prefix originally identified what part of the city you lived in, according to the local telephone exchange.

What’s a telephone exchange? It’s the room that all those paid operators sit in and connect calls all day, all night. (Maybe today’s equivalent is the “call center” in China or India. See, we outsource this stuff now. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.)


A common telephone exchange office.

There were local telephone exchanges all over the country, and they would “exchange” numbers with other operators which inevitably led to long-distance calling. Prefixes starting with 0 and 1 weren’t used, because they were reserved for special actions (1 for dialing long-distance, and 0 for dialing the Operator). And those prefixes weren’t actually designated by number, they had names corresponding to the area in which they resided.

Still with me? Let’s say you are Mr. Client and you just bought your first house with a dedicated phone line installed. Your house was assigned a four digit code (say, “1234”) to identify its owner (you) plus a prefix identifying the neighborhood you lived in. But, the original prefixes weren’t numbers, they were words. If you lived in, say, Capitol Hill, your prefix was the first two letters (CA) of “Capitol Hill”. Your phone number would be CA-1234, but you would call it “CApitol 1234” if you were at a bar and gave your number to a cute lady. That’s not a typo – when you see two letters capitalized in a telephone number, it’s because those were the two letters you dialed as your prefix. At the time, it was thought that words were easier to remember than numbers. Maybe that’s still true? Can you quote your boyfriend’s seven digit number? Or do you just remember the last four digits? Anyway, words-plus-numbers was supposed to help you identify yourself and remember where you come from. Bizarre, but true.

Woo-hoo a whole 9 cents refund! Note the account number = telephone number.

Woo-hoo a whole 9 cents refund! Note the account number = telephone number.


Note the telephone exchange number on this billboard!


You should all be familiar with this (still exisitng!) sign.

By this time (say, the 1920s), your telephone had a round dial with numbers (and letters!) on it.

please wait

This was so you could easily see the relationship between words and numbers, but also so that you could connect to your destination on your own, without the Operator. But, just in case you had problems, dialing “0” was still used to reach the Operator. (Does that even still work today? Try it.) So, as our cities became larger and neighborhoods filled up with residents, telephone exchanges started assigning not just neighborhoods as a prefix but also natural landmarks (RAinier), U.S. presidents (LIncoln and GArfield), famous people that first owned the land you were on, et cetera (etc.) until they finally gave in and added another digit after the prefix, giving us our modern seven-digit phone number. Mr. Client living in Capitol Hill with a phone number of CA-1234 became CA1-1234, for instance.

Pueblo CO Polk City Directory

City Directory for Pueblo, CO circa 1947. Advertisements were even printed on the side bindings.

For this era of nomenclature, watch the movie “BUtterfield 8” starring Elizabeth Taylor. Yep, you guessed it – not only does the number identify her location, but also her social status and the biases that go along with it. Great movie – I like it, anyway. Or for a more musical bent, how about the song “PEnnsylvania 6-5000” by Glenn Miller?  Now you know it’s about a phone number!

However, once the seven-digit number manifested itself, Ma Bell (the short name of the Bell monopoly of all phone networks before being dismembered in 1984) it was only a matter of time before the letters were discarded in favor of all numerical phone “numbers”.

My own telephone from about 1960.

My own telephone from about 1960. I think it’s from a police station in Pennsylvania.

In Seattle, the change came in 1958. I have a phone book somewhere in storage that shows the last “telephone exchange” numbers of our beloved city in 1957. Check out this link for all of the vintage Seattle mnemonics.

The natural evolution of the phone number comes from our own English language. In the distant past, when a gentleman came “calling” at a lady’s residence (e.g. the show “Downton Abbey”), it was about personal interaction and physical presence. Hello, I am here to talk to you. “Calling” eventually became a remote designation for communication, vis-a-vis the telephone. We eventually accepted the reality that we’re all just individual numbers in the universe.


Just kidding! The exchange names went away because, with the advent of databases, it became easier for Ma Bell to keep track of things with all numbers instead of a cipher of words plus numbers. In today’s modern world, even the “area code” doesn’t mean you really are where it says you are, due to cellular phones… even I still have a cell number with a Denver area code, but its “303” meaning is now obsolete since I live 1,300 miles away.

If you’re curious as to what your phone number might have been, check this archive. It’s only comprehensive as far as the Ma Bell network reached before 1984.

We’re all a part of something greater, and all things come from something before. I like seeing the relationships, the connections… which brings me to the end of the topic, and the revelation of the phrase “off the hook”. According to the online Urban Dictionary, that phrase means “referring to something being so ‘fresh’ and ‘new’ that it’s literally right off the [clothes] rack” – literally the hangar being the hook. Secondarily it means “exceeding the minimal standard of satisfaction,” and before that, “to express such demand or activity that it is beyond normal conditions.” And you know where that symbology comes from? From a phone ringing so much that it is taken “off the hook” to shut it up. Boom.

Thank you for listening.

Best of Houzz 2015

BOH Design 2015-Design

Not a bad way to start the year!

For the 2nd year in a row, Board & Vellum has been awarded “Best Of Houzz” for Design & Customer Satisfaction by Houzz, the leading platform for home remodeling and design. What’s even more satisfying is that we managed to maintain this level of excellence, all while growing the firm about 200%. We held a mini-retreat last Friday to get organized for the year to come, and although there is always room for improvement, we’re pretty proud of what we accomplished in 2014.


The Best Of Houzz award is given in two categories: Design and Customer Satisfaction. Design award winners’ work was the most popular among the more than 25 million monthly users on Houzz, known as “Houzzers.” Customer Satisfaction honors are determined by a variety of factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2014.

If you’re thinking of a remodel any time soon, you should definitely click on Houzz and set up your profile. The ideabooks are the easiest and most inspirational way to organize your thoughts on design.

What does it take to become an architect?

Just like everything else, there is no clear answer to that question. “It depends.”  To keep this from becoming a fifteen thousand page document, I will attempt to describe what it takes to become an architect.   I should clarify that this post will focus on what it will take to become an architect in Washington State, on this exact day, at this exact minute. The higher-ups that run the licensing board like to make “updates” every five minutes.  If you can successfully navigate the tsunami of paperwork and gain an understanding of all the necessary steps, the board should give you an architecture license. For all the regulations and fine print, click here.

There are three basic “standard” routes that most people take. The “grad school route,” “pre-professional route,” and the “experience route.” All of these paths have some overlap such as NCARB and testing.map to architecture final

There are four ways you can go about becoming an architect in Washington State:

1) You can become licensed with only a high school diploma, but this requires 12 years of practice (and so many hoops to jump through that you should just completely forget that I even said that).

2) High school diploma plus an undergrad college degree. This will lead you on the “experience route.” You also have to do some additional steps that I have laid out below.

3) High school diploma plus pre-professional degree from an NAAB accredited school. This is the most streamlined option. This will lead you to the “pre-professional route.”

4) Finally there is high school plus undergrad plus grad school.  This is the most standard route. This will lead you to the “grad school route.”

National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is an organization that keeps track of everything you do prior to becoming an architect.  The biggest thing that they track is your Intern Development Program (IDP) hours. As an “intern” you are required to log 5,600 hours of supervised time under a licensed architect.  Not all the hours need to be logged under a licensed architect, but most of the hours do.  The hours are broken down into different categories such as construction documents, design, construction observation, structure and design development.  The idea of this is to make sure the intern gets experience in all categories which helps prevent them from being pigeonholed into one task.

The IDP program really helps interns develop skills that are needed to become an architect in a controlled environment. This is roughly three years of full-time working.  There is about 1,000 rules about logging hours. All the routes that are laid out above need to complete this at some point before getting licensed.

If you go the “experience route” (see #2 above), then you are required to have two years of additional mentorship under a licensed architect.

There are currently 7 tests that you have to pass in order to become an architect.

Programming, Planning, and Practice
Site Planning and Design
Building Design and Construction Systems
Schematic Design
Structural Systems
Building Systems
Constructions Documents and Services

These tests range from 4 to 6 hours each. The word on the street is that in 2016 the number of tests will be reduced from 7 tests to 6. If you go the “grad school route” or the “pre-professional route,” you can immediately start testing after graduation.  If you go the “experience route,” you have to complete both NCARB and the mentorship before you can start testing.

Summary (Here’s the math)
“Experience Route”
(Undergrad School, 4 years) + (NCARB / IDP, 3-4 years) + (Mentorship, 2 years) + (7 Tests, 1-5 years) = Licensed Architect (10-15 years)

“Pre-professional Route”
(NAAB Accredited School, 5 years) + (NCARB / IDP, 3-4 years) + (7 Tests, 1-5 years) = Licensed Architect (9-14 years)

“Grad School Route”
(Undergrad School, 4 years) + (Grad School, 2-3 years) + (NCARB / IDP, 3-4 years) + (7 Tests, 1-5 years) = Licensed Architect (10-16 years)

As for me, I went the “experience route” and I still have a ways to go.  I have finished all my IDP hours and I am now working on the mentorship portion of this magical process.  In about a year and a half I will be ready to start testing and I can’t wait until the day I become a licensed architect! 

P.S. After you become a licensed architect you still have a requirement that needs to be fulfilled to maintain your license. Basically you are required to earn 24 credits / hours of continuing education every two years.