Forget Fire Pits: Ultimate Outdoor Kitchen Island Design

Nature is great, but outdoor fire pits and stone fireplaces can only take you so far if you want to really cook a summer meal out on the porch or patio. Â This truly integrated kitchen island design goes beyond the stand-alone gas BBQ grill – perhaps in part because it was created by a landscape architect.

Jamie Durie worked with Electrolux on the construction of this custom outdoor kitchen concept. Plans and ideas in the mix were inspired in part by class indoor needs: it has everything a normal kitchens require – Â islands, cabinets and stainless steel appliances – but plans on how to build it were also informed by garden aesthetics and the advantages of an open layout.

An integrated sink, faucet, barbecue and burner sit on the surface of the main island while other functions rest below – not unlike a normal kitchen plan. However, sizable planted elements add a level of greenery that separates other built-in pieces (including a nice wooden bench) while creating relationships to the other garden-variety plant life surrounding the deck. Conveniently-curved surface edges help rainwater drain from the counter into adjacent flower beds as well.

It might not be the ultimate kitchen design, but it goes much further in terms of equipment, storage, supplies and environmental sensitivity than most designs along the same lines. Generally, professional or DIY designers err either on the side of replicating the same strategies used in an indoor kitchen or accidentally marginalize the role of outdoor cooking, eating and gathering, thus relegating their projects to second-class status in terms of both style and function.

Private Island: Ultra-Modern Kitchen ‘Floats’ in White Space

Nothing says ‘this room is special’ like setting it apart both in terms of material choice and physical space. For residents of this ultra-modern loft, it is clear that the kitchen is the top priority; it is the core area around which the rest of the layout (also be the designers of GraftLab) revolves.

In plan, the angles of the kitchen define the adjacent spaces. In perspective, the ‘island kitchen’ is both a unique built-in space in the center of the condo and a semi-freestanding partition that helps divide the adjacent living and dining areas that wrap around it.

Clad in high-grade wood veneer – in turn cut by thin and criss-crossing lines of black – the kitchen encourages movement through and around it, each perspective different from the last. Shelves and counters are also sliced out of the main volume, making it seem almost as if the space was hewn from a solid block of wood.

A small bathroom toilet space is also carved into the core kitchen box, accessed from the opposite site of the main cooking and food preparation spaces and hidden nicely in a cove that is almost invisible when closed (its door being made of the same sheets of plywood veneer that cover the rest of the zone). Across the way, and not for the shy, sits a bathtub which is surrounded by stone which also connects back into the flooring of the kitchen area – a strange but interesting design choice.

Live, Work, Remodel: Bold Brick Home + Office Townhouse

One bold move follows another in this captivating (if experimental) interior and exterior redesign of a classic Dutch brick townhouse. Painting over not only the existing brick walls but windows too … well, it only makes sense in context. Take a look, and consider the client: an architect looking to make a livable space as well as a studio.

After laying a layer of paint, almost ‘resetting the canvass’ if you will, Studio Rolf (images by Frank Hanswijk) inserted a set of extremely contemporary box-shaped windows that do not align in the least with the original plan, but suit the needs of current users instead.

Unlike many modern refabs, the decisions were not based on black-and-white ground rules about preserving the existing structure. What starts on the outside moves inside, with select brick and stone surfaces being painted (surprise!) black or white as it suits the room in question.

That is not to suggest that there is no rhyme nor reason to the changes and choices made, but they are more subjective than one might expect to find – artistic moves rather than rigorous, function-driven design decisions.

One could argue that the design is taken too far – that it does not reflect its residential neighborhood and sticks out like a sore thumb. That argument, however, works both ways: after all, an architecture-and-design studio should, perhaps, stand out from the crowd … not just to advertise its services, but also to make a clear visual distinction between itself and the non-similar functions of surrounding buildings.

Healing Mining Pits with Self-Sustaining Underground Skyscrapers

The earth is pocked with giant pits like scars, left behind by mining operations that take what they seek from the land and then leave the site in ruin. But what if we could use those gaping holes as the basis of new underground cities? ‘Above Below’, a proposal for the 2011 eVolo Skyscraper Competition, gives one such mining pit a new life with a bustling underground skyscraper where a self-sufficient community can live, farm, work and play.

This unusual inverted skyscraper design, by Matthew Fromboluti of Washington University in St. Louis, was created specifically for the massive Lavender Pit Mine outside of Bisbee, Arizona, which measures an astonishing 900 feet deep and 300 acres wide. Built around a ‘solar chimney’ that provides light and ventilation to the deepest reaches of the structure, ‘Above Below’ would be virtually undetectable on the surface, with a dome roof covered in native vegetation.

The underground tower is entirely self-sustaining, with its own source of electricity and a water recycling system. Below, in the steppes of the mining crater, tiered platforms planted with crops benefit from sunlight that streams in through skylights in the roof. A light rail system would even provide an easy means for residents to reach the nearby town of Bisbee.

While such underground structures wouldn’t be a viable solution to reclaiming all of the mining pits that dot formerly pristine landscapes in such places as the Appalachian Mountains, especially because such sites tend to be isolated, ‘Above Below’ is an intriguing idea for Bisbee in particular. Not only does the design completely turn the concept of a skyscraper on its head, it could be an interesting solution for habitable communities in harsh desert environments like that of Arizona.

Space-Saving Staircase Shelves for Floor-to-Ceiling Storage

It is technically a bit untrue (most of the time) that one can ‘run out’ of space. Consider the overhead area between yourself and the ceiling, for example. Sure, you want to keep it so you feel comfortable and to allow natural and artificial light to percolate through spaces … but a lot of it is not even necessary for those secondary needs.

This simple modern design by Danny Kuo blends aspects of classic studies and libraries with present-day sensibilities about craft, materiality and saving space. Lower wooden boxes slide out to become steps from which one can reach upper shelves and cabinets.

Since the staircase functionality is built-in, there is no need for the traditional rolling ladder or staircase-on-wheels one associates with floor-to-ceiling bookcases. This, in turn, helps save even more space.

Beyond the big idea, the details are treated with exquisite precision, too, with woodwork that is appealing to the eye and solid to the touch for each of the many pieces involved. Finally, the fact that each wood box is an independent module makes it possible to swap out one type for another as needed, placing more emphasis on cabinet-style, swing-open spaces or sliding drawers depending on what kind of storage is desired. This product would lend itself exceedingly well to mass-customization.

New Black: Bold Night-Club-Themed Condo in an Old YMCA

When it comes to architectural and/or interior design, the client is always right. So when the resident requests that their home look like a Shanghai night club, who are the designers to object to this decision? Radical remodels are, after all, ‘the new black’ when it comes to adaptive reuse in architecture.

Designed by The Apartment, an NYC interiors-oriented agency, this space went from a derelict ex-YMCA filled with rusty old lockers and bland light-colored walls to a dark and intense space that does indeed look as if it might be open for some late-night business.

Intentionally gaudy gold-colored and framed faux-glamorous objects deck the walls, standing out brilliantly as bright decor against the black background. Disco-balled-shaped lights are suspended upon the likewise dark dining room table-and-chairs set that might as well be part of a VIP back-stage area.

Walls, meanwhile, are apparently for wimps – there are precious few dividers between different spaces, including a relatively wide-open bathroom with a raised (and black-tiled, of course) bathtub. Spotlights make sure nothing feels too private as well.

This design approach is definitely not for everyone. Then again, it was never intended to be. Clearly both the designer group and client were shooting for something strange, sensational, unique and inspired … if you find it less than livable, just be glad you do not have to live in it!

Wood & White Swirl: Winding Up a Unique Spiral Staircase

Anyone else reminded of a chocolate-and-vanilla swirl ice-cream cone? In isolation, this stairwell looks like a work of art – a winding multi-story sculpture composed of rhythmic wood steps and a sweeping white curve. More remarkable than the staircase and handrail, though, are the way they wind into the rest of this interior design.

Wood and white are, in fact, core themes throughout each space. David Clovers Studio used their contrast of tone, texture and detail to create a kind of faux horizon line that emphasizes the spacious upper half of each room while providing variegation along the bottom. This surgical material splice translates into the stairs almost seamlessly, as you can see from the photo directly above.

The two separate material planes begin to take on an infinite set of visual possibilities as one moves up the stairs, changing in relation to one another with each new step and corresponding perspective.

The solid-white side rail also serves as a light well, bouncing natural light from one floor to the next up this central winding space, but without detracting from the warm, rich, dark and heavy feel of the wooden risers and treads.

The Puzzling 3D Digital Art of Kazuhiko Nakamura

Amid the sea of digital art displayed online, many artists get lost, but there’s simply no way to overlook the bizarre robotic creatures and complex machinery of Kazuhiko Nakamura. Eschewing the photorealism trend, this Japanese artist draws an incredible cornucopia of futuristic cyberpunk imagery from his mind and puts it together like a puzzle, one piece at a time.

Nakamura says that each work continues to transform and reveal itself to him as he works in an unpredictable metamorphosis that results in “restructured fragmentary images [that] are reborn as the mechanical mirage” in a desert of pixels.

Though what we as viewers see is the final result, the assembled Frankenstein’s machine of Nakamura’s imagination, some images give us a peek at the many hidden components that make up the whole. In ‘Automaton’ (top image), Nakamura gives us two views of the same robotic creature, a torture machine disguised as an antique mannequin. The one on the left reveals the frightening drills, saws, bullet teeth and an insect-like brain that lay behind a facade that opens up like a gruesome mechanical flower.

“Now a lot of 3D artists pursue photorealism in 3D modeling,” Nakamura told Templates Blog. “Of course this trend is pretty interesting to me too. However, I like that special creativity and subjective expressions that the painter puts into the real object. I put my own vision of the image into the object and I think this is what makes my works so special. I search for my image tenaciously trying to create the best combination of the shapes, textures and lighting.”