Salmela and Mockbee, Sittin In a Tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G

Raise the roof (© Thomas J. Story)
design by Mark Egerstrom

My brother sent this nice article and slideshow my way.  I like the verticality of the Egerstrom design though it’s a little more urban and angular-looking than what I’m going for in Black Mountain.  I am so happy with the place my parents chose as their last home and the last thing I want to do is to disturb their enjoyment of their land: hopefully taking 144 square feet out of nearly an acre will not feel like I’m plopping a McMansion in their backyard.

design by david salmela, photos by peter bastianelli kerze via

In terms of highly stylized buildings, my favorite so far is the Emerson Sauna by architect David Salmela. I like the wit of having the space look from the front like a child’s (or my) drawing of a house, but to actually be decomposed into two distinct spaces.

It also solves the problem of wanting both the cozy, earthbound feeling of a low-ceilinged sauna room with the desire for a lofty treehousey sleeping area.

I am a big fan of Salmela’s other work as well: look how this patio rises out of the ground (reminding me of what is best about the High Line in NYC):

design by david samela, photo by peter bastianelli kerze
design by david salmela, photo by peter bastianelli kerz

I read an interview with Salmela in which he talked about his path, how he grew up on a farm, was interested in architecture but didn’t complete a degree in it, how he was enchanted with modernism but found himself investigating why modernist principles are often rejected by “ordinary people.”  His work seems to be such a successful synthesis of the opposing forces of the practical Finnish-American mid-western vernacular he grew up in and the idealistic, abstract modernist notions that caught his fancy.


I am having trouble finding that specific interview again at the moment but in the search I did come across this goosebump-giving nugget from the AIA Colorado blog: “A neighbor, who happened to be an English professor, sent David a poem that talked about men who were of their place. This project was of its place. ‘This was one of the greatest compliments of my career.’”I wonder what poem that was.  Maybe Wallace Stevens’ “The Man With the Blue Guitar”:

…Ourselves in the tune as if in space,
Yet nothing changed, except the place

Of things as they are

Or is Stevens too high-modernist for Salmela (as he can be for me)?  Maybe Robert Lowell’s “The Death of the Hired Man”:


He said he couldn’t make the boy believe
He could find water with a hazel prong—
Which showed how much good school had ever done him.
He wanted to go over that. But most of all
He thinks if he could have another chance
To teach him how to build a load of hay—’
‘I know, that’s Silas’ one accomplishment.
He bundles every forkful in its place,
And tags and numbers it for future reference,
So he can find and easily dislodge it
In the unloading. Silas does that well.
He takes it out in bunches like big birds’ nests.
You never see him standing on the hay
He’s trying to lift, straining to lift himself.’
‘He thinks if he could teach him that, he’d be
Some good perhaps to someone in the world.
He hates to see a boy the fool of books.


I have ordered one of Salmela’s books and am eagerly awaiting its arrival.  I wonder whether David Salmela and Samuel Mockbee ever met and if so how they got on together.  Come to think of it, the imaginary love child of Salmela and Mockbee may be just what I am dreaming of: a space that is anchored in its place and rises up from it (not to sound like Casey Kasem), that is super-smart but not show-offish about it, that uses inexpensive and salvaged material as much as possible but doesn’t look junky, that seems spiritual without being preachy….yes, I think I’m looking for what would happen if Salmela and Mockbee were sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.*

* Purely symbolically speaking, of course, not that there’s anything wrong with that.


P.S. Still haven’t found the interview I’m looking for, but there’s another one at