Côte d'Azul, France
"Make it look like a summer beach house on the Mediterranean; add a bar with an awning and let in the sun."  -John Ban

Ban Residence

It's all about the weather

Cleveland, Ohio is a great city built on the shores of Lake Erie -the world's 13th largest natural lake, also known as one of the Great Lakes situated between Ontario, Canada and the United States. If you were to ask any "Clevelander" about the wonders and highlights of their local town, the weather will most likely not be on the list. This is so because Cleveland weather is unpredictable and downright nasty at times. Winters are cold and snowy, summers are nice but short, the fall is chilly and windy, and Spring has an identity problem - it just can't make up it's mind about which of the other three seasons it wants to be. Then there's the lake.

The sweet water expanse of Lake Erie becomes frozen in the winter and this natural occurrence helps create a weather condition known as the "lake effect." In fact, all weather casters in the Cleveland area have an altar in their broadcast stations dedicated to the god -'Lakyfect'. Every time one of the forecasts by the weather prophets is flat out wrong -like when, for example, a sunny day was announced for the weekend baseball game and instead we get hit by a raging snowstorm, these sneaky individuals inform their viewers in the most nonchalant way that: -"The sudden change of weather was caused by (you guessed it!) the Lakyfect." And that's that.

It is only natural that most Clevelanders -let me rephrase that: most people in America!- dream of retiring to some sunny and weather-pleasant destination in the Caribbean or the South of France to enjoy "the good life." The beautiful Caribbean island of Martinique or the lovely radiant Mediterranean beaches of the French Côte d'Azur are always high on the list -not withstanding the fact that they have topless beaches for those of you who, unlike me, are interested in this sort of thing. Unfortunately for most of us the good life is very difficult to come by so we must make the best of it where we are at, wherever "at" may be.

Colourful boats on the island of Martinique
Picturesque fishing village in the south of France.

The name is Ban, John Ban

My good friend John Ban wanted the dream. He wanted to sit with his lovely wife Lea in the relaxed company of friends to wine and dine while watching the sunset. He wanted it now! But leaving Cleveland, family and career was not an option. So he opted for 'the illusion' of the good life. If he could not retire to the south of France, than the south of France should come to him. He purchased a once 'summer house' on the shores of Lake Erie. The neighbours were as cool as can be and the view of the lake was second to none. In fact, if you were to walk thirty yards directly ahead from John's porch you would end up, literary (after a long drop), 'in' Lake Erie.

Lake Erie, John Ban, and the
good life

Not only did the Ban's new residence have a spectacular view of the lake, it also has the added advantage of being located a mere ten-minute drive from John's place of employment -Cleveland State University. "Professor Ban, John Ban" is the guru of many Cleveland professionals in the technical field of communications and studio production. Furthermore, when not involved in local commercial projects this versatile individual was also a high priest to one of Cleveland's chief deities: the god of baseball.

John and I had been talking on and off about my feature film project, Bad Blood. I managed to convince him to come aboard as co-producer and production manager. I needed someone I could trust taking care of things behind the camera and John is simply the best. Period. He is also a fantastic human being and a wonderful person to work with. Over the years we have kept in touch about each other's projects and from time to time we exchange professional favours. So when John moved into his new residence he invited me in for a look.

John had some ideas about what he wanted to do with the place and I volunteered some of my own. In the end, I promised to put all the ideas on paper and come up with some visual designs. John's only requirement was this: -"Make it look like a summer beach house on the Mediterranean; add a bar with an awning and let in the sun."

Letting in the Sun

The general idea for this project was to create conceptual designs to formalize our ideas into visible form. This did not require me to produce 'finished' designs, which are the ones used in actual construction. Conceptual designs can be edited and reworked until a final look is achieved. One does not have to be specific about certain details. For example, if I need to illustrate the location of a dinning table, I do not have to render the exact table that will end up in the space; a 'generic' table will do. However, conceptual drawings may also end up without almost any changes on a finished design if the artist gets it right from the start. So as a designer, I always try to make my conceptual renderings as close to the ideal finished look as I possibly can.

When the client is satisfied with a specific concept, then finished designs are created for decorators and construction contractors to follow up. But conceptual designs are more than just visual renderings. They are also an excellent tool to help estimate the amount of time, budget and resources needed to complete a job. This is what we were after with the Ban project. So after making a digital photographic reference file of the house, and making detailed scale-drawings of each room, I proceeded to work out ideas on the computer.

To construct my designs I used an architectural rendering program called Punch! I use this program for set designs and also as my starting point for other more ambitious projects, such as the 'Victorian Mansion' project (click this icon on the Design Page). For this new project, Punch! would be ideal. Most of the renderings were limited to the ground level of the house; bedrooms and private rooms were on the upper level. John wanted as much open space as possible. An existing enclosed staircase to the upper level was eliminated in favour of a circular stairway, which would take less space and not obstruct the view to the lake.

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The front of the house would be fitted with large glass windows facing the setting sun over the lake. Fabric awnings on the exterior of the house would regulate the amount of sunlight coming in. The windows would open up during the summer so that guests could interact with other guests on the outside patio while sitting on a comfortable cushioned rise below the windows. This sitting area was at a higher floor level than the rest of the floor. The cushioned seats were designed to be removable and act as covers for storage compartments within the rise.

The main front entrance would lead to a small enclosed foyer that would act as a weather barrier. A side door would lead into the house. This second door would be made up of many panes of glass to allow sunlight to filter into the foyer area and to provide entering guests with a nice view of the window area. The far wall opposite the entrance would be beautifully decorated with a decorative mural, a ceramic tile design or a nicely framed mirror. I am a strong advocate of good first impressions. What a person sees when first entering a space creates a telling impression of the homeowner.

After entering the house a guest would turn his attention to left and take in the view of the rest of the house. The living room, dining room and kitchen areas all share specific areas within the same space. A wood burner is situated between the living room area and the dining space. A spacious and comfortable sofa covered in colourful striped fabrics faces an entertainment center with large screen television set (ideal for watching sports). Area rugs and matching folding chairs with fabric backing would bring colour to specific patches of the hardwood floors.

A wood railing marks the area where the new circular stairway will be situated. The dining area consists of a six-chair capacity dining table, overhead lamps, a wall mural, and a granfather clock -its outline accented by the deep blue background wall. Guests sitting by the front windows should be able to read the time. The ceiling is also covered in hardwood and accented by white coloured-beams. The horizontal positioning of the beams to the viewer creates an illusion of larger dimension and a more elegant orderly arrangement of space.

The far end of the space contains the kitchen, a small guest rest room, and a laundry area. Architectural constrains and preexisting fixtures required an ingenious design to conveniently use the existing space. The kitchen area, however, is spacious and comfortable to work in. There is plenty of cabinet space, two wall ovens (John likes to cook pizzas), all the expected modern appliances and even space for a computer (great for storing or viewing cooking recipes). There is also a skylight above this area to provide natural light.

Separating the kitchen from the rest of the area is a counter with bar stools. Above the counter is a cloth awning giving the whole setup the look of a cozy beach bar. A round 'porthole' window is located on the near wall complementing the nautical theme. In tropical and warm weather areas, the bright sun brings out the colour in everything. So bright warm colours are used to create a feeling of happy, carefree and relaxing surroundings. White accents on furnishings and architectural elements, such as the ceiling beams, provide a visual balance by creating harmony between the strong colours.

I took advantage of the afternoon sunlight entering the space to add more natural colour. Removable stain glass screens would radiate the sun rays into a kaleidoscope of glorious hues. As the sun moves on the horizon, the light projecting through the stain glass would radiate a beautiful colour pattern throughout the floor and across the room. Since I considered this element to be the highlight of my design, I proceeded to create the finished renderings shown below using Adobe Photoshop 7. The rendering on the right shows the circular stairway.

I designated an area for a mural on the dining area. The mural is designed to 'open-up' the space by creating the illusion that the area opens to the outside -maybe into the beach, or an outside patio. These are simply suggestions, not the actual mural. But the rendering gives a clear idea of the effect the mural would have on the space.

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The final element to complete the designs would be to bring nature into the space by a limited selection and careful placements of plants, such are ferns, banana plants or maybe a coffee tree. They need not be real, but with all the sunlight entering the space, real plans are a doable possibility. A small collection of art pieces will also bring a welcome accent to some of the walls. One decorative element that I completely avoided was the use of ceiling fans because the ceilings are simply too low for them to be effective.

We were quite proud of the way the designs turned out. Naturally, this was the easy part. Doing the actual construction is going to be a major undertaking. But now that we have a completed vision of the project, John is focused on getting all the needed resources and getting it done. And we'll let you know how it turns out. Cheers!