Friday, April 27, 2007

Uncle Bruce, 1939 - 2007

My Uncle Bruce was my father's little brother, and as kids they were thick as thieves. If there was mischief to get into, they found a way to get into it. They grew up in a different era, where toughness and friendship were king. Bruce was the smaller of the two, but the way my dad tells it, the one you didn't want to mess with. The two of them always stuck together and when Bruce did manage to get in over his head, he pulled my dad in. Those two were very close growing up. It's for this reason that I know it has been really hard on my father to watch his little brother struggle with cancer the last four years.

He was a tough guy who sometimes had a short fuse. But I never saw that side of him. You didn't want to cross him, but he had patience of a sort for me and my brother, even when we were little kids.

Not everyone fared so well and he'd be quick to let you know when you stepped over the line. Bruce was married once or twice, and had a lot of female companions over the years. About a year ago, while he was still feeling pretty good, one of them had been staying over at his house on a regular basis. Now my Uncle Bruce never slept much, and he would wake up and start work very early; he was often out the door by 4am. One day he came home to discover that his new friend had moved some of her clothes into one of his closets. Bruce did not take to this. When she came home from work, all of her clothes had been dumped in the yard. The message was clear - you can be a part of my life, but not all of my life.

And Bruce had a lot of friends and spent a lot of time with them, whether it was ice fishing in the winter in the Adirondacks, or hanging out in his favorite bars. My father and he saw things differently that way. My dad has always put family first, but Bruce never had time for a family. He did, however, have quite a lot of friends.

Bruce talked fast. He didn't tell long stories, and didn't much want to reminisce, even at the end. He liked to get to the point, and move on. He wanted to know how you were doing and what you were up to. After that, it was time for another beer. He kept his struggles to himself mostly; even my dad didn't know that he had cancer until several years after Bruce was diagnosed, and the exact type of cancer and the fact that it was incurable and terminal was not known until about a year ago.

Uncle Bruce passed away last night in his sleep. He was 67.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Affordable Modern Housing

Modern home design is unfortunately, usually a high-end affair for the rich and posh amongst us. Take a magazine like Dwell, for example. They feature some really great design and innovative techniques and technology. Unfortunately, it's really more of a Architecture Digest for the modern crowd than anything useful for designing or building your own home. The ads, typically one of the most useful parts of a design mag, feature high-end designer Italian kitchens, and $4000 sofas. No thanks. Dwell will occasionally stoop to writing an article about "affordable" home design, but it's pretty clear their hearts aren't in it. The affordable modern home is typically extremely small and built/designed by the owner. Or they might just suggest that $200/sq ft is affordable in someplace that isn't L.A. In another one of their stories, the happy homeowners had spent thousands on stainless steel appliances from Viking or Wolf or similar. But they professed the need to watch their budget, and they were so proud of themselves for saving money by buying $20 bar stools.

Affordable modern furnishings can be had from a few places, and as I've mentioned before, two of my favorite haunts are IKEA and Target. But what to do about the actual home?

It was with great interest that I read recently about IKEA's partnership to build affordable modern homes, called BoKlok (pronounced BOO klook). They've been doing it in Scandinavia for some years, and have recently expanded to the English language world by partnering with LiveSmart@Home in the UK. The homes have a Scandinavian style, and are of course loaded up with IKEA furnishing and fixtures, but more importantly, they are AFFORDABLE. In the UK, they are targeting familes in the $35K to $70K income range. That's middle income America, if the homes were ever to make it here. There are several different styles, like the single family home pictured above, but also apartment buildings and townhouses.

They all feature many of the hallmarks of modern design: clean lines, natural materials, energy efficiency, and multi-use spaces.

One aspect of Boklok that makes it affordable doing some of the construction in a factory, that is pre-fab. Pre-fab is not the same as a manufactured home, such as a mobile home. The pieces of a pre-fab home are built in a factory, then shipped to the home site where they are assembled. A pre-fab home minimizes waste, takes advantage of assembly line techniques, and eliminates exposure to the weather. But the construction materials and specs can be the same as with a site built home.

All I want to know now is, when can I get one?