How do I make our “Great Room” – a GREAT Room?

25 Sep

Many of you already know that I’ve recently evacuated my home in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, due to the wildfires that are ravaging our forests.

As you can probably imagine, it’s been hectic around here and we’re still trying to get everything sorted out, while maintaining our workloads at the same time.

Yes, Ronin “juggles”. I prefer to refer to it as “multi-tasking”, but my wife simply refers to it as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” LOL!

So as my family “resettles” – I’m going to answer some questions posed recently by readers and building families.

Dear Ronin,

We’re in the process of planning our ISBU home. We’re basing a LOT of our design work on your books and your blog… You’ve already saved us thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of research. It’s SO hard to find “ISBU Specific” information when trying to plan your own home. Thank you very much for that.

For our project we’re putting four 40′ High Cube ISBUs side by side, with two additional ISBUs on top of them, off to one side to create an upstairs bedroom suite and terrace deck.

Our dilemma is in trying to keep the downstairs “common area” open and light.

We’re going to use lightweight concrete in the flooring (with PEX running through it to heat and cool it). Any suggestions on how to finish it to make it not only cost effective but attractive?

Additionally, we’re stumped as to HOW to “hide” the columns required to carry the upper ISBUs. The last thing we want to do is be forced to break up our “great room” lower floor by building boxes or walls to hide unsightly columns.

Our build is rather contemporary in appearance, with a more modern feel to it. Our goal is to build a home that is “Minimalistic”, one that uses our artwork, color and texture to provide atmosphere.

We’d appreciate any help you can offer. This is a labor of love… not brains… LOL!


ISBU Lovers in VA


Dear ISBU Lovers,

First, I’m glad that my books and the blog are helping you achieve your dreams. It’s WHY I do this. Thanks for sharing that.

Remember also that you can find inspiration in many places and much of what you see in Architectural Magazines and Design Sites can be incorporated into ISBU Home Construction. Once you get past using “metal boxes” as a base for your Home Construction, it’s easy to embrace most building practices and designs into your plans.

Your only limit is your own creativity.

Second, I’ve built several ISBU homes in a configuration much like you describe. It’s a great layout that provides both wonderful shared areas, as well as providing terrific spaces for privacy and contemplation. That walk-out terrace can be not only extremely private, but inspiring as well.

To answer your questions, I’d suggest you consider the following;

Stained concrete flooring topped with a resin based epoxy can be pretty terrific.

These coatings come in many colors and tints, making it easy to find one that blends in with your color schemes. And better still, not only is it possible to apply this material yourself in “DIY Mode”, it’s easily maintained and can be incredibly attractive.

(If you’ll contact me with your location, I’ll point you at some examples of coatings that will be available in your area.)

I’ve found the best way to maintain open spaces while incorporating columns to be challenging, but there’s a simple alternative;

Hide the columns in plain sight.

As you can see by the photos I’ve attached, incorporating the columns into a modern shelving or “room divider” system allows you to carry the loads “above” the Great Room, while providing a very attractive location for accent shelving and display areas.

Remember to keep the storage structures “light and open” to allow the eye to look through them and you resolve several issues while creating additional, very attractive storage!

(And, it’s also a way to build in additional seating if you think things through.)

*It should be noted that these photos are NOT from an ISBU home, but they address BOTH of your issues in ONE great room configuration, much like you’ve described to me. I will also share with you that one of my building families has found them so inspiring that their own ISBU Home build will incorporate these design elements, in several locations.)

Like I said, when building ISBU Homes, you can find solutions to difficult problems everywhere.

I hope that I’ve helped you solve some of yours.

   Image Sources;
Benedict Canyon Residence
Griffin Enright Architects


3 Responses to “How do I make our “Great Room” – a GREAT Room?”

  1. Alton Toth September 27, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    BookS? I didn’t realize you had out more than just the blue book! Now you have me all excited. Where can I find others? (other than the nuts and bolts, which I have on pre-order still). Hope everything is safe from the fire!

  2. Alina B. Klein (@AlinaBKlein) October 2, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Gorgeous pictures and ideas, there, Ronin. You guys have been evacuated? Life and it’s many vagaries, huh? You certainly need to see less of them.

    • Renaissance Ronin October 2, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

      Hey, that which does not kill you… leaves a cool scar… right? 🙂

      As I type this,, the fires still burn, but in a direction AWAY from us, thankfully.

      Life is full of tests. It’s how you prepare and then react to them that determines your “grade”. SO far, we’re getting about a “B-” I think… LOL!

      Congrats on the NEW book! You’re gonna be famous, girl! Were proud of ya! 🙂

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