I learned something on my ride tonight. You know when the snow melts on a well-used trail? Yep. The dog poop on top of the snow melts, too. You might think that brown stuff on me and my bike is mud. You would be wrong. Got most of it out of my teeth, though. Guess I need a shower. Maybe tomorrow.
Floating on early morning powder, cutting the first tracks through the trees, my lungs scream for more of that damn, thin air. I stop to suck in a few cubic yards. Motionless, except for my pounding heart (which is attempting to break through my chest on its way to a nice, comfy sofa), I revel in the moment. All is still and quiet – not the quiet of an absence of sound, but of sound dampened by a thick blanket of snow. You can sense its muffled struggling, but it can’t quite escape.
It occurs to me that this is the antithesis of my daily life. I am alone in an alien world. Not physically, of course (pretty sure I’m still on Earth – plus, there are no slimy creatures trying to claw their way out of my chest… unless … that’s not my heart pounding after all?).
What’s different is the mindset. As an architect, I spend my life meticulously planning, and then meticulously planning what I previously meticulously planned. Here, there is no planning – every move is a reaction to what’s happening this very instant, and the instants pass quickly.
Here, you literally cannot see the forest for the trees, and those trees come at you awfully fast. You can see the trees immediately ahead, but what’s beyond them cannot be anticipated (except, maybe, by ESP – but I haven’t developed that particular skill beyond knowing who’s likely to steal my piece of cake from the fridge. I’ve got that down pat).
Here, each slight shifting of your skis commits you to an entirely new path with a different set of obstacles, all of them hard and immovable (except the occasional fluffy bunny, but you can’t feel them under your skis anyway). Often you fly around a pine tree, all the while praying there will be a gap large enough to fit through on the other side. Sometimes obstacles lurk beneath the snow [cue ominous music, like the theme from Jaws]. Once, my skis buried themselves under a hidden, snow-covered log. Unwillingly leaving them behind, I gracefully tumbled forward through the air, exactly unlike Baryshnikov. Think Tomahawk Missile. By the time I stopped rolling you could have stuck a top hat and carrot on me and no one would have looked twice.
The Secret Exposed
The powder doesn’t last long enough for us powder hounds. Over time, it morphs into moguls, with trees sprouting up between them. Here’s a little secret, even for non-skiers, because this post isn’t actually about skiing, it’s really about life. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone: Most people try to ski around the moguls and sometimes even attempt to follow a predetermined path between them. This rarely works out well. Moguls need to be tackled head on. Skied around, sometimes, but more often over and through, with the flexibility of a human shock absorber. To ski moguls, just like trees, you can’t plan ahead, you take what comes at you, roll with it and use it to your advantage.
Obstacles vs. Obstacles, What’s the Difference?
We come to a place like this, Steamboat, Colorado, specifically for the challenges, to conquer the obstacles. Sometimes that merely involves tipping a glass at the end of the day without spilling in the hot tub. Some challenges are more worthy than others.
In daily life, our natural tendency is to avoid obstacles. We avoid trees (for very good reason), and we also avoid moguls, without differentiating between the two. But they are very different. One will hurt or even kill you (that’d be the trees, for those of you not paying attention), but the other will add spice and even joy to your life, make you stronger and, hopefully, a better person. Yep, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Never thought much about that saying until now.
Obviously we want to steer clear of trees, but that doesn’t mean staying out of the woods. Embracing life’s challenges makes life worth living. Without challenge there is no failure. Without failure, there is no success. Without success (and the hip bone’s connected to the…). Well, you get the point.
You can’t really know the joy of success unless you personally know failure. Hence my loathing of participation trophies (read about that here).
Embracing obstacles is only half the battle. The other half is how we tackle them. I was once asked why I ski so fast through the trees yet am a veritable turtle on the groomed runs. Isn’t it dangerous? Shouldn’t you go slower? There are two reasons:
First, contrary to common sense, it’s safer. In order to maneuver effectively on skis, you need speed. Think about how hard it is to turn the steering wheel when your car is stopped or moving slowly. The same concept applies to both skiing and life. You either snowplow your way around every tree (what’s the point, really) or you push it to your limit. As long as you keep your wits and don’t panic, you’ll be fine (of course, you might want to master a few skills outside of the trees first. Just sayin’). Be loose and flexible. Tense up, and things go downhill quickly 😉 . If you hang in limbo, neither slow enough nor fast enough, you will likely become one with a tree, young grasshopper.
Second, and most important, once you have tasted the powder, trees and moguls (figuratively, I hope – or literally if that’s your thing. Hey, I’m not here to judge), groomed runs no longer excite. They have no obstacles.
Far better it is to dare many things to win glorious triumphs, even checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt 1899
This modern bathroom is comprised of a cylindrical shower set within a planter, within a bathroom, within a closet (within a bedroom, within a house – it just keeps going!). The two sides of the his/hers bathroom share the cylindrical, glass-tile clad shower. Arcing over the sinks, freestanding mirrors stand like tombstones on top of the vanities (except no one is buried under them, that I know of). They are framed in stainless steel and contain integral, flush mirrored lights flanking a central medicine cabinet.
Because the home is located in a cold climate, I attempted to bring summer into the bathroom year-round by placing the shower within a large planter that separates the shower from the exterior wall. The idea was to create the essence of showering outdoors in the tropics. Windows bath the lush plantings with light, yet are far enough away to avoid making the shower space cold.
This bathroom highlights my design philosophy of creating layered elements which allow ‘space’ to flow around them. Walls don’t always have to extend to ceilings! Layering fools your mind into thinking the space is much larger than it really is by effectively borrowing space from other areas. The added complexity provides visual interest, as well.
Austria: a more picturesque setting is tough to find, yet easy to sketch. It almost sketches itself. Just give it a pencil. And some paper. And guide its hand a bit. And voila! Adding color to the sketch, on the other hand, that I have to do myself. Someday. Until then, here are the monochrome sketches.
Mining shacks, Hallstatt
Peter Abbey, Salzburg
Context is everything when it comes to designing a home. While a Victorian style home fits beautifully in San Francisco, a rustic log style home in the mountains of Montana, or an adobe style home in Arizona, none of them are appropriate in Hawaii. This is partly because of their aesthetic, but also because of their functional design. Each is a response to a particular climate, with features adapted to it. The function drives the aesthetic. The home below is a response to the climate of a tropical paradise, Hawaii, where capturing cooling breezes is the order of the day.
Before you know it, this will be a modern, new house in Calabasas, California. It’s a big job for these *little* machines: remove ten feet of poor soils from the entire building site to prevent the new house from sliding down the hillside like a giant toboggan during the next earthquake. While that may sound like fun (once), I don’t think my insurance covers it. So, we’re playing it safe.
Let’s face it, you hold a pen more often than you hold your spouse. For those of you still using cheap, disposable pens, I ask you, would you prefer a cheap, disposable spouse, too? …Sorry, I can’t see with all those hands in the air. Put them down. You are all missing the point.
A good pen is one of the simple joys in life. It can be a friend (although not a very good one – unless you don’t like to talk much), a security blanket, or something to fidget with. It can even make marks on paper that can form words and stuff. The point is, it is something that most of us interact with on a daily basis so it ought to feel good in your hand and make you feel good, too. Design matters.
When I design a house, I sculpt the spaces so they evoke emotions. For example, a space intended to cuddle and make you feel warm and safe is not going to have lofty ceilings. It will be small with comfortable furniture, oriented to capture the warm rays of the sun. It will have cute nooks, soft materials and alluring details. It will not echo like a barn.
A well-designed pen evokes emotions, as well. Cheap plastic pens, not so much. Their shape, weight, texture and materials just never seem to coalesce into something that transcends cheap and plastic. The pens below are my favorites. None are fountain pens, as that is an entire topic in itself. If you don’t see one that flips your switch, no worries. There are countless others out there. Just dump the cheap, disposables, already – but keep the spouse!
A few places to look for quality pens
For the zen master (or young grasshopper)
These pens belong to a simpler time, with a humble nod to nature.
4-7/8″ – 1.6 oz.
It may be fat, but the unusual dart-like shape fits an average-sized hand surprisingly well. This helps place it at the top of the list for style and function. As they say, once you go fat, you never go back
5″ – 1.1 oz.
This company has only one pen design, but it’s a great one, with endless material and color variations that just keep coming (even glow in the dark).
Refill: Parker and Schmidt
5-5/8″ – 1.4 oz.
Gorgeous, tubby pen perfect for a large hand. Simple, elegant design, but not for the small handed. You have been warned.
Likely to be seen speeding toward an enemy ship
Minimalist aesthetic, deadly precision.
5-1/4″ – 1.5 oz.
High-density concrete and stainless steel with contoured, stepped barrel. It will develop character (patina) over time due to the oils on your hands.
5-5/8″ – 0.8 oz.
Lightweight aluminum with a twist mechanism to extend the tip. Compatible with many refills.
Refill: Parker Zebra JF, Pilot Hi-Tec-C, Uniball, G2, Schmidt and many others
5-3/8″ – 1.31 oz.
Stainless steel version of an iconic, classic design.
Refill: Lamy or Monteverde
5-3/8″ – 1.76 oz.
Precision machined from aluminum, stainless steel, brass or silver with a twist mechanism to extend the tip.
Your ticket to hobnob in high society
Sophisticated, classical elegance. Much like an architectural column, these pens are designed with a base, a shaft, and a capital.
Perfection of classical design. From its subtle curves to its gracious proportions. It doesn’t get any better than this. Available in numerous materials.
Refill: Zebra JF, Pilot G2 or Faber Castell
The capless, daintier version of the Graf Von Faber Castell Classic Anello.
Porsche knows design. Check out all of their pens. They have the most innovative mechanisms out there.
Classic Deco styling. Who doesn’t dig Deco? Am I right?
Refill: Lamy or Monteverde
Is that a pen in your pocket, or are you just happy to...?
Compact and portable. Always have a pen when you need one: in a pocket, bag or on a keychain. Did I mention these pens are small?
3-7/8″ – 0.3 oz
Small size, absence of clip, and light weight make this a solid contender for minimal travel. You will probably lose it. Buy two.
4-1/4″ – 1.5 oz.
Small in the pocket, but large in the hand. Cap posts on back to lengthen the pen to normal size.
Refill: Parker and Schmidt
3-3/8” – 0.36 oz.
Bolt action keychain pen. Hang it from a bag or clip it to your clothes.
Refill: LAMY M22
Worried about getting that first scratch on your pen? This one comes pre-scratched so you don’t need to pamper it. Go ahead. Throw it in your bag!
For the well-equipped Ninja
Equally at home at a fancy cocktail party or stealthily navigating rooftops in the dead of night (or soon to be dead, anyway).
4-3/4″ – 0.85 oz.
Dramatic, tactical (yet refined) shape in matt gunmetal.
A modern classic in dark woven stainless steel.
To Hex and Back
Modern iterations of the timeless hexagonal barrel.
5″ – 1.13 oz.
Cheery. It’s not just for halloween. Available in subtler colors, too. Resin shaft with chrome. Twist action mechanism.
5 1/4″ – 0.95 oz.
Rotring is an icon in the architectural drafting community. Previously limited to mechanical pencils, they now make pens, as well.
5 1/2″ – 1.2 oz.
Comes with sandpaper so you can lightly sand the painted body for a worn look usually achieved only through years of use.
Pens that measure up - literally
When you have a job to do, these won’t let you down. For architects, contractors and makers of all kinds.
5-1/8″ – 4 oz.
Minimalist stainless steel rod within a ruled ‘cap.’ Option for standard ruler or architect’s scale.
Refill: Zebra JF, Pilot Hi-Tec-C, Uniball, G2, Schmidt and many others
6-1/2″ – 1.3 oz.
A small, metal architect’s drafting scale combined with a pen. The scale rotates mid-way to retract the pen tip.
3-1/2″ – .63 oz.
A ballpoint, screwdriver, ruler, stylus and a keyring, in a tiny package!
Refill: Troika Micro
5-1/2″ – 1.3 oz.
A pen with an integrated ruler (magnetically attached) that detaches when needed.
5-7/16″ – 2.12 oz.
A pen / stylus integrated within a ruler / straight edge drawing tool.
5-3/8″ – 1.22 oz.
Another pen within a ruler, but shorter.
Refill: Zebra JF, Pilot G2 and others
6″ – 1.34 oz.
A spirit level, a ruler, a screwdriver, a capacitive stylus and a ballpoint pen all in one.
May I have some color, please?
A pen for every outfit and every mood.
5″ – 0.8 oz.
The ultimate in comfort. This pen feels so good in your hand, you may forget it’s there. Minimalist, balanced design for long term writing. The stainless steel version is a joy.
Refill: Parker and Schmidt
5-7/16″ – 1.4 oz.
The feel of a fountain pen with the convenience of a rollerball. Mix and match the body and grip colors.
Refill: Pilot G2, Parker and others
5″ – 1.1 oz.
More colors, patterns and graphics than any other pen out there, and a beautiful, comfortable shape, too.
Refill: Parker and Schmidt
Pens that MacGyver could turn into laser-guided smart bombs
(with only a paper clip and bubble gum)
5-7/8” – 1.2 oz.
Solid, milled aluminum with ink or 2mm pencil lead refill. Highly adaptable to fit your favorite refill which is visibly held inside with a vise-like mechanism.
Refill: Parker, D1, 2mm pencil lead and many, many others
5-5/8” – 1.1 oz.
Has a fantastic clip for thick materials like leather journals or jeans. Continuous twist cap deployment of tip – a fidgeter’s dream. My choice for an EDC (every day carry) pen.
Refill: Zebra JF, Pilot Hi-Tec-C, Uniball, G2, Schmidt and many others
5-3/8″ – 1.5 oz.
Minimalist rod with lightly domed ends crafted from stainless steel , copper, brass or aluminum. The metal’s patina is its only ornamentation.
Refill: Varies depending on model of pen
For Extreme Conditions
Need to write upside down while scuba diving? Play Sudoku on Mount Everest? Fend off zombies? Are you clumsy and break things or just overly prepared? Look no further. These pens excel in extreme conditions, are compact, durable and travel well. Note: they may melt if used within the sun’s fiery plasma core – I have not tested this.
3-7/8″ – 2.6 oz.
Heavy-duty stainless steel pen with lever action deployment. Unique mechanism provides hours of fidgety fun.
Refill: Parker or Fischer pressurized Space Pen
4-3/8″ – 1.3 oz.
Solid Stainless steel or brass body with bolt-action deployment. Precision machining.
Refill: Schmidt Megaline or Fischer pressurized Space Pen
4″ – 1.9 oz.
Heavy pocket pen with a simple, rugged design. Heavy to write with when posted, but will appeal to those who appreciate a rough, industrial aesthetic.
Refill: Fischer pressurized Space Pen or D1 (with adapter)
5-1/2″ – 1.0 oz.
Bolt action, light weight but rugged aluminum machined pen. Plunger is fidgety fun.
Refill: Parker or Pilot G2
4″ – 1.1 oz.
Rugged, lightweight aluminum. Pull to deploy. Attachment loop for keychain, backpack, etc.
Refill: Tombow pressurized or D1
4-1/8″ to 4-5/8″ – 0.6 oz.
Lightweight, titanium strength with a clever shaft that expands to fit almost any ink refill.
Refill: 80+ Various types
5-1/4″ – 4 oz.
Solid bar of brass (or stainless steel) machined into a heavy-duty, yet refined pen.
Refill: Space Pen
5″ – 1.6 oz.
Tumbled aluminum, brass or copper with a virtually unbreakable stainless steel clip.
Refill: Parker or Fischer pressurized Space Pen (with adapter)
It's a Pen... It's a Pencil... It's a Multi-pen!
Need black ink for doodling, blue for signatures, colored pencils for highlighting, mechanical pencils for drafting? You can have it all in one writing instrument.
5-1/4″ – .81 oz.
So skinny you’d never know it held 2 pens and a mechanical pencil. You select the lead size and pen colors/sizes.
5-5/8″ – 0.9 oz.
Iconic in the design world. 4 pens concealed within the shaft.
5-5/8″ – 0.9 oz.
A pen, mechanical pencil and eraser within a futuristic design.
5-1/2″ – 0.3 oz.
4 pens or mechanical pencils in one. You select the lead sizes and pen colors/sizes. It is, sadly, cheap plastic – but it makes up for form with function. The Hi-Tec-C pen inserts are second to none.
Refill: Pilot Coleto
5-7/8″ – 0.3 oz.
5 pens or mechanical pencils in one. You select the lead sizes and pen colors/sizes. Another cheap plastic multi-pen – but on the list for its functionality. The selection and quality of the refills is outstanding.
Refill: Zebra Sarasa
8 kinds of refills: 2mm colored pencil lead or ballpoint pens, yet surprisingly small barrel. Fantastic for color pencil sketching. See my complete review here.
Refill: Pentel Multi-8
A very wealthy man once told me that you’re not really wealthy until you have something money can’t buy – but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy cool stuff, too! So go ahead and buy a cool pen or two. It probably won’t help you attain enlightenment and ultimate happiness, but it may help you track your progress.
Tim Bjella is the architect behind the curtains at Bjella Architects - Specializing in fine home design throughout the United States.
Sitting at the breakfast table one morning, I pointed an emaciated finger at the bowl of gruel in front of me (some healthy stuff that’s supposed to make me live longer, as if this is worth living for). I Looked Robyn squarely in the eyes and proclaimed, “I want Lucky Charms.” Sometimes she doesn’t hear me accurately, or chooses to accidently misunderstand, because the next morning she tells me we should really go check out our farm.
“What?” I said, “I told you I wanted ‘Lucky Charms’, not to ‘buy a farm’!”
“Well, you own one now, and we should go see it.”
“When did I buy a farm?” I ask.
“You didn’t,” she said, as I expel a sigh of relief, along with the sweet scent of gruel.
“That’s a relief. I don’t have space to fit crop harvesting into my schedule this morning.”
“Nevertheless, you might have to give up that whole architecting thing you do. You are a farmer now. We inherited one from my family in North Dakota, and we should go see it.”
“I am? What?!!! … and where the hell’s Dakota? Is that in Iowa?”
Just kidding, I know where Dakota is. Vacationing there has always been a dream of mine, particularly West Dakota, with its amber fields of grain and its… well, I’m sure it has other things, too (at this point the architect in me meandered to thoughts of a quaint, little farmhouse with a red barn and silo that I could renovate and maybe while away my later years, rocking on the front porch, chewing on a stalk of amber grain).
“The farmhouse was demolished,” Robyn said. “It’s gone.”
My heart sank.
“What happened?” I cried, already fully invested in my new life as a farmer. “One of those Sharknados blew through town or something? I’ve heard bad things about them.” She gives me a look like that’s not even a thing. Seriously.
“No, of course not,” she said, “It was torn down to make room to plant more crops… but we are getting a windmill!”
My heart rose very, very slightly. That was something, anyway. I pictured one of those creaky, little windmills on a rickety metal stand topped with a cute rooster weathervane (not to be confused with the type you putt into at the mini golf course. Those are Dutch windmills, for the benefit of you city folk). So at least I’d have something to climb up and shoot critters from (or is it varmints? Whatever).
What Robyn meant to say is that we’re getting an enormous, industrial wind turbine to provide power for the entire county! Oh, yeah. That was the other thing Dakota has, wind. Lots of wind. Apparently I’m not just a farmer* anymore; I’m an alternative energy provider. To think, I was merely an architect a few minutes ago. Looks like we’re taking a trip to see my farm.
To make the experience more palatable, Robyn suggested we call it a road trip (because that sounds more fun, apparently) and see all of Dakota. Every… Last… Mile… of it. Picture, if you will, lying on warm sand under a thatched umbrella, sipping margaritas as Pedro asks, “Would you like more nachos, Senor?” Then remove the nachos, umbrella, warm sand, Pedro and God forbid, the margaritas. This was the vacation Robyn was trying to sell me. Except she forgot to include the words ‘cold,’ ‘flat,’ and ‘windswept’.
“You know,” she said, “Everybody else takes family vacations to see Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, the nuclear missile silos, and the buffalo roaming through the State parks. Why can’t we?”
“Because,” I said, “I hate road trips, and driving on road trips, and fast food while driving on road trips. Not to mention driving on road trips… Wait a minute. What was it you said between the words Badlands and buffalo?”
“uh… nuclear missile silos?”
She had me. Gotta see those!
*It occurs to me that some of you might be thinking, “He’s not actually a farmer just because he owns a farm. He doesn’t wear overalls or carry a pitchfork. I’ve never even heard him sing a song about that old MacDonald guy.” I’m sorry, you are wrong. When I visited my farm, I picked a stalk of wheat and, throwing caution to the wind, along with the husk, ate it (It wasn’t packaged so I’m not sure it was gluten free). By the way, another word for ‘picked’ is ‘harvested’. I believe that makes me a farmer.
Dakota Photo Album
In case you are concerned, farmer though I may be, somebody else does the actual farming of the land, and I am still practicing architecture in the big city, designing amazing houses across the country with my company Bjella Architects. Please call if you would like me to design one for you (on or off a farm).