How to Design and Fabricate Homestead Projects


I’m a horrible designer. My music degree (I have a master’s degree in un-listenable noise from UC San Diego), did not prepare me for the rigorous design and fabrication needs required for our two books and this blog. But, over the years, I’ve bugged our art, design and architecture friends for advice. Luckily, I’m also married to a talented artist (also with a UCSD degree–go Tritons!) who can provide 24 hour emergency art and art history advice.

I’ll use the process of putting together my Vegetable Prison as a way of showing what I’ve leaned from my brainy, art-damaged friends:

Go to lots of art shows, museums, take classes, go to furniture stores and watch strange movies
One of the things I love about living in a big city is the opportunity to experience lots of high and low culture. I drew on those experiences when it came time to come up with a cage for the veggies. Due to my fascination with out-of-favor 80’s postmodernism, I remembered Robert Venturi’s Franklin Court from an architectural history class I took as an undergrad:


Impressed that I remembered a small detail from a slide show in a class I took 30 years ago, I Googled Franklin Court and showed it to Kelly. She countered with Wonder Woman’s airplane:


I counter-riposted with the set from Lars Von Trier’s difficult Dogville, which takes place entirely on this bare-bones set:


A trip to a high end furniture store yielded a contemporary example of this “outline” or “ghost” strategy, in this case a fire log holder:

With these ideas in mind I proceeded to the next step: doodling. As tempting as it is to dive straight into Sketchup, it’s best to draw stuff out on paper first, otherwise you risk letting that 3d modeling program turn you into a “tool of the tool.” I’m not great at sketching things on paper but you don’t have to be a great artist to get some ideas down. And that’s the point. With paper and pencil you can draw lots of ideas out quickly.

For learning how to draw there is no better book than Drawing From on Right Side of the Brain. Once you go through that you’re ready for a fun book I’m currently making my way through called Sketching for Architecture + Interior Design.


Lastly it’s time to get those ideas in the free version of the 3d program Sketchup. You can learn Sketchup in an evening or two and it has really helped separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to my many bad ideas. With Sketchup you can rotate the object and really see if it works aesthetically. You can even place it in a photo and see it it works in context. It’s also cut down on waste as well as those “I forgot something” trips back to the hardware store. Once the object is rendered I can easily determine how much lumber and hardware I need.


Where do you get your ideas both good and bad?

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  1. I really like that you are crediting Venturi and Wonderwoman for your vegetable prison. My absolute favorite book on drawing and designing is Mike Lin’s Drawing and Designing with Confidence: A Step-by-Step Guide.I have purchased many books on the subject and this is the keeper. Lin also has a useful website and videos on youtube that are super helpful in showing how to think out a design through sketching. He would make an excellent guest for your podcast!

    • Thanks for the tip Anne–and you should teach a class–I really admire your drawings and sketchbook.

  2. 1. I look at things badly done, and I think I can do better.
    2. I don’t draw or use anything except pictures in my head and a pencil and paper for the pattern. I really don’t draw anything like a completed project. I just figure angles and lengths and give the pattern to someone to cut. With hand injuries, I figure I should quit using a table saw.
    3. I am not sure if sewing helps with the process I use. But, I can draft patterns and have many times.

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