Boxes and Barn Doors
I am always struck by how important frames are, visually and virtually, in helping us see. Take this very simple vignette by artist Spy Emerson that caught my eye recently at Flora Grubb, an exceptional garden design nursery in San Francisco.
The wood box — no bottom, just sides — focuses the eye on the blue bottles and the small plants, creating a vivid still life. The rough wood and the way the plants extend beyond the frame reinforce the naturalness of the arrangement. So sometimes thinking inside the box is more important. Flora Grubb is a talented designer/entrepreneur whose sense of composition is especially strong. She is most famous for her dramatic vertical succulent gardens — framed in sturdy boxes like this one
on the patio of her plant gallery. Each of those tiny plants comprising the mosaic grows out of a small soil niche that’s set on a slight diagonal. The frame literally holds everything together while the strong outline contrasting with the busy field of green is visually compelling in its own right. The surprising vertical placement is the clincher, making us look again — and again.
All of this rumination is by way of considering how we design or reinvent the boxes we inhabit and call home. The shape and character of the frame — walls and windows, their depth, height, materiality, proportion, and placement — are the keys to good design. One frame that has always appealed to me is the barn door. I like it because it’s a space saver (no extra feet required for the door swing — I like pocket doors too for the same reason), and it makes the opening simple and dramatic
as in this marvelous house by Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects (photo courtesy the architects) where one outside wall opens through a series of elegant contemporary glass barn doors. Here the door becomes a feature in its own right and also disappears as one slides across the other.
It’s a form of architectural magic. Barn doors always seem to harbor an element of surprise when they’re used indoors, as in this more rustic example by Johnston Architects of Seattle.
Here they open to reveal the bedroom, as if it’s on stage (photo courtesy Sunset Magazine). In many cases there are latent or obvious references
to real barns with elements like exposed diagonal bracing and expressive hardware. The example above is by Hutker Architects of Falmouth and Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts (photo by Brian Vanden Brink). The rustic aspect can become a signature feature and is used to dramatic effect by Faulkner Architects of Truckee, California
and seems especially appropriate for a rugged ski country home (photo courtesy Sunset Magazine). There are almost as many examples of sliding barn doors as conventional swing types because almost any solid door can be hung on barn door hardware.
Hardware choices include spoked flat track
(shown above), heftier barn-evocative type
as in this U-shape example, and elaborate stainless steel systems
as shown here. All three tracks are from Barndoor Hardware.com.
Though a very simple architectural element, the barn door — like the box frame — can become a defining feature.