Karen Lantz and Her (Almost) All-American Home

When people around the world think of Houston, Texas, they probably think about ‘big oil’, cowboys on horseback and tumbleweeds rolling across a desert landscape. But if you’ve ever landed at the Houston airport, you don’t even have to get off the plane to know it’s not a desert. Once the door to the fuselage opens up — whoosh! — in comes the pervasive humidity of the Gulf Coast — causing you to momentarily lose your bearings and think you may have landed in Calcutta instead.

Yet Houston does have a cowboy-swagger, a frontier Boomtown feel. (In fact, one of the trendy coffee shops in the Houston Heights is called Boomtown just for that reason.) Part of the Boomtown sensibility derives from the fact that that Houston has resoundingly rejected traditional residential and commercial zoning. For many, the idea that the nation’s fourth-largest city doesn’t have zoning makes no sense. How could that possibly work? Wouldn’t you have gun shops and beauty parlors and car repair places next to nice neighborhoods?




Let’s Talk A Little Bit About Houston

 The answer is yes, that’s not an uncommon sight in Houston. And there have been massive protests when, for example, the Ashby High-Rise project, a 20+ story mixed use residential tower wanted to move into a well-established residential neighborhood. But on the other hand, lack of zoning in Houston allows rapid redevelopment of residential and commercial property as the area’s demographic needs and lifestyle desires change. Today, there’s incredible demand for walkable urban neighborhoods close to amenities like parks, cafés and public transportation to work. The Millennial generation in particular is avoiding suburban living like the plague. Unlike their parents, this generation’s dream home is an urban loft and their ideal workspace is a convivial coffee shop where they can work on their freelancing gigs.


And it’s not just Millennials that want to say goodbye to the suburbs.


Living “Inside the Loop” has become a top goal for many Houstonians frustrated by increasingly long car rides to work. Consequently, over the past 15 years, the mighty development machine that built Houston’s suburban landscape has turned inward for new construction opportunities, specifically inside the 610 Loop that rings the core of Houston’s older neighborhoods.

The transformation of these neighborhoods has been dramatic. Cottages from the 1920s sitting on quarter acre lots are razed to the ground in an afternoon by a gang of front-end loader operators. Construction often begins the very next day on six new town homes on the site — all oriented around a central driveway. This configuration is known locally as a “sixpack”. The transformation inside the Loop has been dramatic.


Karen Lantz of Lantz Full Circle Architects Had a Dream of an All-American Made Home

Many older neighborhoods have increased their housing density by factor of six or more thanks to the influx of new town homes and apartment complexes. Certain areas feel more like downtown areas of Toronto than the Houston of twenty years ago. One Houston-area native, Karen Lantz, grew up south of the Loop in Pasadena, Texas. It’s a working-class city — known for its oil refineries and heavy industry — and as the home of the long closed but much remembered Gilly’s, the bar John Travolta made famous in the film Urban Cowboy.

Lantz got her education at the University of Houston, graduating with a degree in architecture, a field that the school is particularly well-regarded for, thanks in part to the legacy of famed architect Philip Johnson, who helped put their College of Architecture on the map. (He also designed many of Houston’s landmark buildings, including skyscrapers downtown and in the Galleria as well as landmark facilities at the University of Houston itself.

Now stepping out into her own career as an architect (as Lantz Full Circle Architects), Lantz wanted to create a signature residential home for herself and her dentist husband on a property they purchased in Houston’s Museum District. The property in question, a small non-descript ranch house on Bank Street was just like dozens of other homes in the neighborhood that had already been demolished and replaced with larger, modern McMansion residences.


The original ranch home as it appeared in 2007 before being taken apart, piece-by-piece and recycled.
The original ranch home as it appeared in 2007 before being taken apart, piece-by-piece and recycled.


But, in the face of this rapid redevelopment in Houston, Lantz wanted to make a statement about sustainability. Her ultimate goal was to take on the project with an eye toward achieving Platinum LEED certification, the highest standard for sustainable, green construction. So back in 2009, Lantz commenced with what was probably at the time Houston’s slowest demolition. Rather than bring in a crew to pull the building down in one day, she had every piece of timber, brick, window structure doors removed, piece-by-piece. They were either sold or, in many cases, donated to organizations like Habitat for Humanity, where they could be reused in future construction projects.

The cost for this slow style of demolition was more expensive by far, but ultimately the charitable donations helped her and her husband recoup the costs through their income tax statement. Meanwhile, planning for the new structure was underway. Lantz sought unique, expressive, and yet sustainable materials for her new home, which she intended to build last many generations. (Again, this is not a typical thought in Houston’s “build-it, use-it, raze-it, build-something-new-again” mentality.)

One thing that Lantz noticed as she began procuring unique hardware, materials, appliances and more for the new house: nearly everything she was interested in came from manufacturers overseas. As the Great Recession began to grip the US at the tail end of the the 2000s, it slowly dawned on Lantz there might be a connection between overseas manufacturing and the recession here at home. She also thought about the financial impacts her own family had faced when her father was laid off at a local steel plant years earlier. Lance became convinced that she had to take a stand. Her goal became not only to build a sustainable home but to build one entirely out of American-made products. The kicker? These American-made products also had to be well designed and attractive, which, as she found out, was not always the case, particularly for high-end lighting and hardware products.


American Made products help achieve Platinum LEED Certification

There were other considerations as well, given her goal of achieving Platinum LEED certification for the project. As you may recall from some the articles we’ve written about the ways that Formaspace furniture can help you achieve LEED certification, sourcing materials that are manufactured within 500 miles of the building site is an important LEED consideration. Lantz was able to find many of the masonry products in Texas, including marble chips, chocolate-brown limestone, tiles and grout.


Take a video tour inside and out of Karen Lantz's masterpiece sustainable residence in the Museum District of Houston, Texas.
Take a video tour inside and out of Karen Lantz’s masterpiece sustainable residence in the Museum District of Houston, Texas.


She also uncovered many imposters: companies that would claim their products were “Made in the USA” but in fact they were assembled from foreign parts, or they simply just had a US sales office. In a few cases, she had to compromise. The thin film solar panels she wanted from a company in Denver? It turns out they were designed in Denver, but manufactured in China. She also ran into the problem of finding American sourced hardware.

We’ve written about this issue before, when we wrote about the Assembly Show in Chicago and Tim Hutzel and David Lippert’s book, “Bringing Jobs Back to the USA.” Lantz found that the hardware pulls made in the USA cost about 10 times what the Italian version did, and given that she needed over 150 pieces for her construction project, she compromised and went with the Italian version.

Last August, the completed project, which Lantz has dubbed The (Almost) All-American Home, received its official LEED Platinum Certification, verified by the Green Building Certification Institute. Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair, U.S. Green Building Council said, “The work of innovative building projects such as The (Almost) All-American Home is a fundamental driving force in the green building movement. This project efficiently uses our natural resources and makes an immediate, positive impact on our planet, which will tremendously benefit future generations to come. While climate change is a global problem, innovative companies like Lantz Full Circle are addressing it through local solutions.”


The house as it appears today. The sustainable features include the lawn. Architect Karen Lantz is now consulting in sustainable landscape architecture as well.
The house as it appears today. The sustainable features include the lawn. Architect Karen Lantz is now consulting in sustainable landscape architecture as well.


Among the many features commended by the Council: the home uses 67% less energy than required by code; there is no conventional lawn instead, there are native, drought tolerant plants; 99% of the demolition waste was reused or recycled; the 1000 ft.² basement provides natural cooling; LED lighting uses less energy; a 1400 gallon water tank collects rainwater for the food garden; thin film photovoltaic power generation (over 5,500 kW potential energy). Once again, congratulations to Karen Lantz for a job well done!  


Formaspace can help build your own LEED Certified Home, Office, Laboratory, or Manufacturing Facility

Customized Benchmarx for Industrial Packing Station
Customized Benchmarx for Industrial Packing Station

We invite you to join the roster of satisfied Formaspace technical, manufacturing and laboratory furniture clients — including Apple Computer, Boeing, Dell, Eli Lilly, Exxon Mobile, Ford, General Electric, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Medtronic, NASA, Novartis, Stanford University, Toyota and more.

Give us a call today at 800.251.1505 to find out more about the Formaspace line of built-to-order computer workstations, industrial workbenches, laboratory furniture, lab benches and dry lab/wet labs — as well as our design / furniture consulting services. Like all Formaspace furniture, it’s backed by our famous 12 year, three shift guarantee.

5 Design Constraints That Influence Furniture & Interior Design in 2014

Now that the heat of July has finally arrived, summer is truly here. Yet, at the same time, it’s hard to believe we’ve already passed the halfway mark on the 2014 Formaspace Exhibition Calendar.  So now seems like a good time to assess and distill what we’ve learned from 2014’s major architecture, contract furniture design and interior furnishing shows around the world. These include the Neocon contract furniture show and American Institute of Architects (AIA) convention, both held last month in Chicago; the series of NYCxDESIGN events, including the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) held in New York City in May; Dwell on Design in Los Angeles, also held in May; and Italy’s Milan Design Week, which took place in March.

Don’t forget: In our two most recent articles, we provided a comprehensive roundup of highlights from the Neocon contract furnishing show in Chicago: Privacy in the Office and Environment and Health and Well-Being in the Office.

Design elements directly influenced by Mid-Century Modern works like the Hollywood Hills Stahl House (built 1960, design by Pierre Koenig) were on display at international furniture and interior design shows during the first half of 2014.
Design elements directly influenced by Mid-Century Modern works like the Hollywood Hills Stahl House (built 1960, design by Pierre Koenig) were on display at international furniture and interior design shows during the first half of 2014.

So What Have We Learned from these Key Industry Events During the First Half of 2014?

Let’s begin with the business trends first.


Construction Business Confidence is Up in 2014 AIA Report

The AIA issued their annual 2014 AIA Foresight Report during last month’s Chicago convention; it’s subtitled The Changing Context, Business, and Practice of Architecture 2014. In contrast to the 2013 report, there’s a more optimistic view towards the economic prospects of the building industry; more than half of the executives from design firms in North America foresee growth throughout 2014 and into 2015. They also expect mergers and acquisitions to continue on the upswing. Respondents also feel that there is a renewed need for a better work / life balance in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) community. (Sound familiar to anyone?)

Achieving a higher level of well-being among employees offers employers a potential competitive advantage for attracting and retaining key talent according to the report. So we might see more offerings along the lines of flexible work locations and hours, healthier work environments, profit sharing plans as well as benefits like support for ongoing education. Interestingly, the AIA states it’s aligned itself with the goals of the acting Surgeon General of the United States to promote the role architecture has as a positive influence on public health. The AIA report also notes the rise of public-private partnerships (P3s) as the Federal Government and many states have moved toward ‘blended’ ownership of what used to be the sole realm of government funded project initiatives. Another key trend in the 2014 report is the new role that crowd-sourcing tools are beginning to play.

These social media mechanisms, such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, can not only serve as unconventional sources of funding for new construction projects; these crowd-sourcing tools can also influence design choices in new ways. For example, crowd-sourcing can bring users, clients and designers together in functional teams which exists outside the boundaries of traditional architecture firms and their clients.


Now Let’s Move to Design Trends in Furniture and Interior Design in 2014 & Beyond

After experiencing all that was on display in the first half of 2014, there’s no question we are experiencing a full-scale Mid-Century Modern revival. Dwell on Design in Los Angeles organized a well-attended (and well-sponsored— by the Cadillac ELR Coupe in this case) field trip where attendees could visit luxury homes inspired by the works of late Mid-Century Rock Star designer icons Neutra and Schindler. Further evidence of the Mid-Century Modern revival is in nearby Palm Springs. This resort town is experiencing a huge reversal in its fortunes after hitting rock bottom during the Great Recession’s housing crisis. Its new-found success as a top tourist destination is fueled by Palm Spring’s burgeoning reputation as the spiritual home (a desert mecca if your will) of great Mid-Century Modern home design.


Why is Mid-Century Modern the Dominant Design Influence at Present?

A lot of it could just be the natural timing of design revivals which seem to occur on a regular basis as new generations rediscover the recent past. After all there’s a new generation of consumers and designers, the Millennials, that are just beginning to make their tastes known in the marketplace.


Key Trends: 5 Design Constraints that Influence Furniture and Interior Design in 2014

We think there may be other reasons for the Mid-Century Modern revival, which are based on design constraint trends. We’ve identified five constraints.

Constraints, it is often said by experienced designers, actually, serve the purpose of good design. They inspire solutions to solve problems.


Constraint 1: Eco/Sustainable Design for LEED Credits and More

Recycle, re-purpose, reuse is the mantra that’s drilled into our brain, and for good reason, because it’s good for the environment. Successfully reusing reclaimed materials in the design process can be tricky, however. Not every design direction works when recycling materials is a primary constraint. However, many of the flat, smooth-sided surfaces of Mid-Century Modern designs lend themselves naturally to incorporating and featuring recycled materials. For curved shapes, the pioneering work of Charles and Ray Eames — particularly their innovative designs made of both bent/curved and flat panel plywood furniture — are clearly influencing today’s designers. Here are two examples:





Their sensational softblock wall partitions and softcloud lighting ‘mobiles’ and seating systems were a big hit at ICFF and Neocon. The surfaces are made of light cardboard and paper materials. Wood bases are made from sustainably harvested hemlock from the US Pacific Northwest. You can read more about their ICFF Exhibition stand on their MOLO Belgian blog (in English).


If recycled materials are of interest to you, you should read how Formaspace uses recycled materials in its production process and how Formaspace can help you earn LEED credits.


Constraint 2: Flat-pack Design for Reduced Shipping Costs

The ubiquitous emergence of Flat-pack shipping boxes is — according to one wise old designer — the reason why “we can’t have nice things” anymore. Do you want a sturdy old-school-style torchiere floor lamp? They’re not built like they used to be. Plan on assembling your new lamp by screwing together three separate wobbly sections, all thanks to the economic pressure which dictates all the parts must fit into the smallest volume of flat-packs for lowest-cost shipping and warehousing. New designers seem to take these requirements for disassembling their designs into the smallest possible packaging containers in stride, however. Here too, we see many inspiring designs from the ICFF Show which can ship small but assemble large.


Dada cardboard cradle, by Ulrike Leitner, was presented at the Milan Design Week
Dada cardboard cradle, by Ulrike Leitner, was presented at the Milan Design Week


You can purchase the cardboard cradle online at FromAustria.com. As in the case with our first constraint, Mid-Century Modern design motifs (think Hermann Miller Noguchi tables with foldable legs) lend themselves to solutions that work well with the flat-pack design constraint.


Constraint 3: Exotic, Precious Materials are Too Precious to Use Today

The flip side of Eco/Sustainable Design is the diminished use of precious, rare materials and resources. Exotic rain forest woods or mahogany? Time to call US Customs. Exotic animal skins and furs like bearskin rugs? Time to call PETA! Designs that even hint at the appearance of real ivory? Time to call the FBI! Once again, these exotic material constraints seem to validate the relevancy of reviving Mid-Century Modern design principles, which place more value on the genuine, honest use of materials (form follows function) and less on the exuberant display (conspicuous consumption) of exotic materials for their own sake.


The Peter Glassford stand at ICFF included a full-scale installation of collage tiles. Image courtesy peterglassford.com
The Peter Glassford stand at ICFF included a full-scale installation of collage tiles. Image courtesy peterglassford.com


This doesn’t mean that this new generation of designers doesn’t do the design equivalent of a wink at the tension caused by the disappearance of exotic materials from the design landscape. At both the Milan Design Week and ICFF, there were numerous examples where designers made in effect a design joke about the constraints of precious or exotic materials.


Constraint 4: New Lighting Technology for Energy Conservation

We can’t understate the importance of lighting. Architectural lighting is critical for establishing mood, presence and the hierarchical importance of a space. And task lighting is critical for reducing worker fatigue and increasing productivity. Today’s new generation of designers have been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop new lighting designs which take advantage of energy-saving technologies like LED lighting.

Once again, Mid-Century Modern design language is inspiring many of the choices made by contemporary designers. LED lighting and other energy-saving lighting technologies, like compact fluorescent lamps, seem to lend themselves to repetitive geometric patterns — so at these recent design expositions, we saw a lot of Sputnik-inspired design motifs for chandeliers, hanging pendant lighting and wall sconces.


One of our favorite designs was by the Japanese design firm YoY. It's a discreet lighting projector which projects the image of a traditional lampshade onto the wall. Image courtesy http://yoy-idea.jp
One of our favorite designs was by the Japanese design firm YoY. It’s a discreet lighting projector which projects the image of a traditional lampshade onto the wall. Image courtesy http://yoy-idea.jp


Constraint 5: Need to Integrate Health, Well-Being, and Movement into Designs

Our fifth and final constraint was the main topic of last week’s article: Neocon 2014: Designers Offer Different Visions for Health and Well-Being at the Office. A short executive summary: Privacy is necessary for human interaction — without privacy in the workplace, employees become frustrated. When there’s no place to hold a private conversation with a colleague or customer, you can’t develop the level of trust needed to establish relationships. As shown in the report, many contract furniture designers who seek to solve this problem have turned to Mid-Century Modern design for inspiration.


Next Week in Part 2: Setting Design Trends in 2014 & Beyond

We will continue our survey of design trends making their appearance at the design exhibitions during the first half of 2014 in our article next week. We’ll take a closer look at how five constraints are influencing the choices that contemporary furniture and interior designers and architects are making as they establish new design trends. Are you getting a little design inspiration of your own? We hope so. We’d love to hear what you’re working on.

As you probably realize by now, Formaspace can build custom furniture designs — from workbench designs to bespoke conference tables to full research laboratories — based on your ideas, sketches or even detailed Autodesk Revit blueprints. Why not give us a call at 800.251.1505 to learn more about what we offer and how we can work together.

Why Should You Choose Custom Industrial Workbenches?

In our previous article we talked about choosing between our Smart Ship industrial workbenches (where you can order 5 benches that will ship within 5 days) and standard configuration industrial workbenches, like our Benchmarx line of industrial workbenches (our most popular standard offering). We will review the wide range of custom options available from Formaspace and help you understand why choosing fully custom furniture configurations can be the best option!


makerspace prep school workbenches
Prep School Makerspace


Why Customize Your Industrial Workbenches?

When you order furniture from Formaspace, you are working directly with the manufacturer as we build all our technical furniture at our company facility located in Austin, Texas. Because we are a full-service manufacturer selling to customers around the world, we have extensive experience in building all types of custom industrial workbenches, cabinets and technical furniture. Our customers include over 80% of the Fortune 500 in industries ranging from life-sciences, energy production, scientific research, light and heavy manufacturing, imports/exports and shipping, Pharma and health care industries as well as educational, government, and military organizations. There are many reasons for custom industrial workbenches and technical furniture. Let’s review three reasons, some of which you might find a bit surprising.


1. Custom Industrial Workbenches are More Suitable for LEED-certified Buildings

Since its inception, Formaspace has been a leader in reuse and recycling: 100% of our waste steel, aluminum, sawdust, cardboard and paper is reused in production or recycled for secondary use. As a supporter of the U.S. Green Building Council, Formaspace has provided custom furniture solutions for numerous construction projects certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) buildings. Decisions made in the early stages (including furniture specification) can affect whether you will garner enough points to achieve your desired level of LEED certification. Our experts can help you identify the earth-friendly industrial workbenches, worktables, cabinet casework and other furnishings choices that will maximize the number of points awarded during the certification process.

USGBC LEED Certification
USGBC LEED Certification

Two LEED Certification Scenarios

  • Formaspace custom modular furniture can be fully disassembled and moved from one site to another (where it can be 100% recycled without any impact on landfill resources) which can bring you LEED certification points.
  • If you are in possession of materials which can be suitably recycled into new technical furniture, Formaspace has the capability to work with novel recyclable materials. This could also potentially be a basis for earning LEED certification points.


2. Custom Industrial Workbenches Can Satisfy the Unique Requirements of Your Vertical Industry

The second reason for ordering fully custom furniture from Formaspace is to satisfy the unique requirements of your industry. For example, if you are building or remodeling a research laboratory or a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, your specialized requirements could include:


Research Laboratory or Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Example

  • Housing sensitive specialized instrumentation, such as DNA analyzers, liquid handlers or robotics equipment, all of which need vibration isolation
  • Supporting heavy equipment, such as shakers and centrifuges, which require extra strength support and vibration suppression
  • Protecting high temperature equipment, such as incubators and ovens
  • Isolating cold temperature equipment, such as freezers and refrigerators


And don’t think we are limited to laboratory environmental restrictions. We’ve used phenolic resin for military marine environments (where salt water corrosion is a major concern) and HDPE in black-ops where vibration must be avoided. When you contact one of our Formaspace technical furniture experts, you will benefit from our extensive experience that comes from years of building custom technical furniture for the widest possible range of applications.


3. Custom Industrial Workbenches are Built for Today’s Innovative Architects and Historic, Period Architecture

Two different scenarios — which at first seem may strike you as completely incongruous — make up the third reason that clients come to Formaspace for their custom furniture needs.


What do these two different scenarios have in common?

  • Custom furniture installations specified by today’s innovative architects
  • Sensitive historic landmark renovation projects utilizing period-correct furniture


What characteristics do brand-new, modern furniture systems created by architects share with maintaining period-correct architectural furnishing when renovating historic real estate facilities? Well the answer of course is that — from our viewpoint as the manufacturer — we have to work diligently to capture the intent from the architect, whether it’s a fresh, up-to-the-minute look from 2017 or from a historical period in the past. So, if you are an architect or engineering construction firm searching for a facility to build your new custom furniture, you’ve found the right place.

At Formaspace, we manufacture custom configuration technical furniture built to your exact requirements — and we can detail out the specification using our in-house project staff or we can work directly from your Autodesk© REVIT©–compliant drawings. If you are renovating an existing facility, we also have extensive experience matching existing furniture installations. So, for example, if you are renovating and expanding a traditional mid-century research library, we can match your existing casework furniture, down to the paint color and materials and hardware selection.


Under Mounted Pull Out Shelves on Benchmarx™
View in Gallery


Formaspace Design Consultants Can Help You with Your Custom Industrial Furniture

If you are searching for custom industrial workbenches or other technical furniture, you should contact one of our consultants today. One of our Austin, Texas-based industrial furniture experts will be glad to advise you on how you can take advantage of Formaspace’s capabilities as custom technical furniture manufacturer.