This New Modern House Ditch on a large isolated suburban landscape is free to be whatever it wants to be – no neighborhood design review committees or zoning variance review – just meet the established zoning criteria and go for it. Owner expressed an interest in privacy, natural light, and Mid-Century Modernism, referencing a few Midcentury images they liked along with a few examples of courtyard-style homes that suited their taste. Most importantly they made it clear that, “this is the last home we are doing, and we want to do it right”.
Design Concept – New Modern House Ditch
The campus-style, courtyard-driven design solution for this home balances passive design opportunities with a multi-tiered program working to balance aesthetics and budget. Each major program element is defined with its own building mass placed with respect to beneficial adjacencies, solar orientation, views, access, and privacy. Front approach is intended to be low-key and private, achieved with a sheltering front porch, offset front door, and smaller front windows. Upon entry, views open to the back courtyard and vaulted living space, with visual access to the bedroom and recreation wings framing the pool terrace and covered outdoor eating area. Main living core, recreation, bedrooms, art studio and garage are each expressed with unique massing, all connected by a central axis. Overall architectural aesthetic is a blend of Modernism and rural agrarian form and material.
This rear-view diagram above illustrates the linear axis connecting all portions of the plan, including the grain-bin studio to the far-right (to be used for gardening, painting, and metalworking), which will be part of Phase Two after move-in. The project is currently under construction and scheduled for a winter 2016 completion date. Please check back for updates as we will be adding to the story as construction progresses.
Foundations – New Modern House Ditch
After many months of planning, we are excited to finally be breaking ground in late fall 2015. The vantage-point in the photo below is taken standing on the excavation mound in the rear. Lower right of photo is the pool-deck, and the front left-side space is the Recreation Wing (pool house). Far upper left is the 3-car Garage. Pool Deck originally faced south southeast, but in a last-moment decision, the decision was to turn the footprint about 55 degrees counter-clockwise so pool deck would face the back woods – almost directly east. As the house was designed to take advantage of the south passive solar light while maintaining enough privacy from the property to the south, we are watching closely how this adjustment may affect the interior quality of light.
Framing Progress – New Modern House Ditch
This framing-progress photo below was taken in mid-November 2015. It’s always fun to see the bones taking shape in built form. Things seem to be just as we had hoped from a scale, proportion, and interior volume standpoint. Computer modeling has made things so much more accurate in communicating the design (for us, our clients, and the construction teams); less surprises and design-misunderstandings. This house is being constructed all stick-frame (2×4 walls) on 8″ thickness concrete foundation walls – based on builder/crew familiarity; and therefore, cost.
Architectural Stair + Drywall – New Modern House Ditch
The unique window/wall design in the architectural stair is partially a result of HVAC system integration. Vertical chase feeding from lowest-level is to the left of these stair windows, and horizontal runs feeding the three floors of the bedroom wing run horizontally between the windows just below respective floor structure for each floor. Sloped window sills bring more light into the stair space, with an aesthetic nod to LeCorbusier’s, Notre Dame du Haut.
Infinity Pool – New Modern House Ditch
This photo from the back in early summer 2016 shows infinity pool and exterior siding/roofing progress. Courtyard-Style Homes like this with a mix of exterior cladding and roofing materials take more design, detail, coordination, and precision when compared to generic homes – the clean lines make imperfections more noticeable, so in many ways, “simple” can be more difficult to achieve. Brick-cladding on the bedroom wing to the right is nearing completion. Notice the subtle accent/texture in some areas of the brick – achieved with raked mortar joints in these areas adjacent to concave mortal joints – an effort to find the right balance of detail and simplicity. The siding areas to the left are to be primarily pre-finished cement board rainscreen walls, which are not as common, and require very precise craftsmanship, and will be installed later in the process. Outdoor Covered Lounge/Grill Area (to far left inside corner) is to have a wood ceiling and back wall.
Trim Carpentry – New Modern House Ditch
This photo below shows status of the main living space viewed from the Kitchen area as trim carpenters have taken-over. The big sliding-glass doors and transoms to the right are long lead-time items and will arrive in a few more weeks. Initial concept for the interiors included light to medium-gray large-format tiles to reflect light and absorb warmth from passive solar in winter. Trusses were to be pieced-wood painted white, with wood ceiling to add warmth to the space. Kitchen cabinets were to be rift-cut white oak door fronts, with exposed white cabinet boxes.
During the design process, some of the original decisions evolved on-the-fly. Owner preferred wood flooring over tile, and a semi-dark stained species was selected. Since floors were wood, we changed living space ceilings to white-painted drywall, and large trusses changed from white to stained wood to match floors. We are not sure if the darker floor and dark trusses when coupled with the new footprint orientation and less natural light will adversely affect the lightness of the space, but the new modified interior renderings and lighting scheme look nice. Overall, the original interior architecture concepts are true-to-form. The details are on-track and the cabinetry is true-to-concept, except the rift-cut white oak cabinet doors have been supplanted with light bamboo (Owner deals in office furniture where white oak is very common, so wanted to explore another option). We are hopeful that the bamboo will achieve the desired, timeless vibe.
Exterior Details – New Modern House Ditch
After exploring a number of exterior cladding options, we ended-up with a bit more brick and a bit less cement-board rainscreen than planned. The brown brick in the left-side bedroom wing was as per original concept, but the darker-grey brick to the right was used to substitute for dark grey large-format cement-board cladding. Early-on in the process, we had actually explored ultra-high performance concrete panels, but they were extremely expensive when compared to other more traditional materials like brick and even lesser-grade cement board rainscreen cladding systems. Later, we defaulted to CBF, parts of which were replace with brick per photo below. From a conceptual standpoint, it was important to us that we do everything we could to maintain the integrity of the original cladding parti. Dark brick replaced original grey concrete panels to save cost, but we were able to mostly maintain the design integrity. In the rare cases we are not the builder for our projects, it is important that we, the architect, be involved and consulted during the construction process if design-integrity is important.
Sloped roof above is standing seam metal in a preweathered galvalume finish. This color is affordable, and is as close as you can get to a zinc-look for the cost. The black wall finish is Reveal-Shield, used for open-joint rainscreen systems as the WRB (weather-resistive-barrier) behind the final exterior wall cladding. The vertical black strips are composite battens with rubber strip gaskets used as adjustable mounts for the cement board rainscreen system. There was a flashing detail discussed with builder that had not been incorporated when this photo was taken (vertical to horizontal panel transition). This photo was taken after initial cement-board mock-up for Owner and Architect review/discussion.
In late summer 2016, it was finally time to install the cement-board cladding as we did successfully at Copperwood. But with this project, builder expressed concerns about the tolerances and difficulty of some of the details. This photo above shows the initial mock-up that was completed. White panels are the CBF cladding, the black weather-resistive barrier keeps water out, and the vertical channels provide a mountable surface for the panels. We had discussed flashing at the vertical-to-soffit panel transition that had not be installed in this photo. Joints between panels are 5/16″, and since the reveals are black, the contrast between black and white require a high level of precision. The details for this project were a bit more complex than those at Copperwood, and were going to drive the labor costs higher. In discussing complexities and alternatives, the team reviewed cement board vs the idea of using stucco. We believed the expected tolerances in the material and installation would be minimal and recommended to proceed as planned with the cement board; to achieve the intended technically-refined, low-maintenance, water-managed cladding solution.
Although it is not an industry expectation, Owner desired absolute perfection, and builder was not confident that they could achieve a high-enough level of precision to meet Owner desires – concern that minor joint alignment imperfections, even if within accepted tolerances, were going to be a long-term disappointment. Earlier in the design process we had explored stucco as an option, but at that time, Owner had ruled it out due to water-intrusion issues that the EIFS product had in their previous neighborhood (water managed stucco/EIFS is a topic for another day). Stucco/EIFS was the final choice per the installation photos below, so all of the cement board WRB and battens were removed in-favor of a stucco system.
We pushed for the smoothest sand-finish possible with the new direction. We always recommend water-managed wall-cladding systems no matter the material, but are not sure a water-managed wall system was used here. We were able to advise on all the joint locations, which were achieved with the standard v-groove EIFS method. Aluminum reveal joints would have been a nice touch, but were not included. Some of the EIFS details were modified in the field from design intent, but overall, the look has been achieved, and more reflection and time will tell if stucco/EIFS was the right choice.
More architect involvement during construction is never a bad idea, but as with all projects, the team dynamic may dictate a different approach. We always push to function as architect, interior designer, and builder so that we can be intimately involved for the entire process beginning-to-end, including all details and important decision. The number one benefit is to help see that the design-intent is achieved.
In the photo below, something is missing – the future studio to the far left is still planned for Phase Two. It will be a great feature for the owner, and will also complete the architectural composition by helping achieve visual balance and also softening an otherwise angular design (see renderings, especially the aerial view).
The front facade and front entry porch (photos above and below) are highlighted by an understated, horizontal, low-slung form with repetitive columns framing the porch, entry, and study. Opulence and grandiosity were sidestepped in-favor of restraint and privacy. This front living core is the central space from which all other wings radiate. The main gutter is to extend beyond the facade on each side and have a chain downspout to landscape.
These photos of rear exterior cladding progress were taken in late fall 2016, when rough grading was underway and exterior stucco was in-process. Overall, things are coming along well, and it is exciting to see the final touches coming together.
Entry Porch – New Modern House Ditch
The thermally-treated wood cladding at Front Entry Porch was originally-intended to be dark grey cement board cladding in 6″ wide horizontally-oriented rainscreen. This was part of the “grey siding ribbon” that was wrapping the Living Wing. Most of the grey siding was changed to the grey brick, but this area under the porch and running toward the Garage was changed to wood based on the Owner’s appreciation for the thermally-treated Ash at Copperwood. Architect-intent was to give the wood siding a grey-tint so as to maintain the design concept integrity and not have the appearance of too many materials being used. The wood cladding (in this case, thermally-treated Poplar) is a nice-looking product, but we are keeping an eye on how it will work with the overall composition. We hope this additional exterior material won’t be visually complex. Overall, this porch looks fantastic in this photo, including the simple white beams and plank ceiling. Owner chose to coat the wood in a clear/satin finish to protect it from weathering grey.
Little things like the HVAC return-air grille visible through the entry door transom window could be improved upon at a later date if deemed important. We have creative ideas for how to minimize the visual impact of mechanicals in circumstances like this, but implementation of these micro-details takes the extra time and effort above-and-beyond a normal builder-lead approach. In the creation of architecture, how far to take the design and detail is always a balance of priorities, timelines, and budgets.
Interior Details – New Modern House Ditch
Here below is another shot of the architectural stair in the bedroom wing. This is the only stair in the house and it connects the lower level Workout Gym/Locker area with the main level Master Suite/Laundry Room and upstairs Bedrooms. We attempted to make it an interesting, light-filled space, and for the most-part, things came out as planned based on the 3D diagrams. We didn’t over-detail things here, and some things were left to the trades/builder to work-out basing decisions on similar decisions/budgets to New Modern House Treesdale, which had the same design and build team in-place. The final window, trim, and drywall details here came-out just right.
We detailed this cable-rail condition so the cables would anchor into a minimal wood trim, but here they have been anchored into drywall – a difficult detail to achieve and a bit unresolved. Floor trims and stair treads were to match the factory floor finish, but not quite a match. Getting every micro-detail perfect requires a certain level of precision and team oversight (which usually translates to a higher budget), so it comes down to Owner priorities to determine how far we take the details and definition of quality. Overall, this is a great project and team achievement and we are happy for the opportunity to have been involved.
Master Spa – New Modern House Ditch
The integrity of the Master Bathroom design came though well – same as the related Kitchen area. Cabinet door-fronts were originally to be rift-cut white-oak, and replaced with light bamboo; overall a nice look. The cabinet run continues from this double vanity to the left into a make-up area, and then Master Bedroom storage drawers at same counter-height. We are really happy how the original interior architecture design concepts have come to fruition.
Living Space Interior Details – New Modern House Ditch
The large 10′ wide by 8′ tall sliding glass doors by EFCO arrived and they look great. The team and owner debated the idea of reducing the size of these doors down to 8′-width mainly to save cost, and we encouraged keeping the bigger doors. To the far right just past the kitchen island, one can see how 8′-wide doors would have looked (too small!). There were no local installations to inspect the EFCO commercial-grade sliding door product prior to ordering. There was some concern that the doors would be too heavy and difficult to operate due to their size and weight of the double-glazing. Builder visited an installation in St. Louis, and reported back that they should be manageable. As it turns-out, they are not ultra-light, but serviceable. Their lower price-point for that size door when compared to some of the smoother-operating more expensive products led to EFCO. Only time living-in and using the space will determine if this product was the right choice for the owner.
Steel Fireplace Details – New Modern House Ditch
We had fun with the fireplace and kitchen island/cooktop/hood areas in the interior. The goal was to create an alignment, detail, and material relationship between these three interior features. We utilized steel cladding to unify and camouflage the TV/Fireplace units, and then borrowed the same steel material to wrap the kitchen hood. Grey tile makes-up the difference, used on fireplace, kitchen island, and cooktop wall. This is the type of tile we had originally intended to use on the floor throughout. Sides of the fireplace incorporate storage cubbies for wood, books, and other items and will be painted a dark grey to more closely resemble the steel coloration. These are minimal/modern details that are tedious to achieve, but a difference-maker when accomplished. In the photo below, the steel cladding was to extend all the way down to the fireplace opening, so we may see an adjustment there.
New Modern House Ditch – Fireplace Detail Progress
Kitchen Progress – New Modern House Ditch
Even with changes to the floor, beam, and cabinet finishes, the integrity of the living/dining/kitchen design came through well. The bamboo cabinets should be a good alternative to white oak. This open-concept layout includes a back kitchen that continues beyond the cooking wall to left of window sink. These back pantry areas are ideal to enable some dirtier behind-the-scenes work … a work area to have the wall ovens, food storage, clean-up sink, and prep area. If some things don’t want to be totally on display with the open kitchen concept, then a connected back kitchen/pantry area serves that purpose.
Please stay-tuned for ongoing updates to the progress and story. Owner moved-in to the home in late 2016, and furnishings are nearing completion. Most of the exterior landscaping will be completed in spring 2017. We do not have a firm timetable for the Phase Two Studio addition.
New Modern House Ditch
Architecture/Interior Design/Photography/Renderings: HAUS | Architecture
Interior Design Collaboration: Design Studio Vriesman
Landscape Architect: A2 Design
Contractor: JBG Construction