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Contemporary Prairie Style Home
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

The new contemporary prairie home at the corner of Mason Dells and St. Michaels not only pleases its homeowners, it also complements the neighborhood, an area of rolling hills and trees dominated by mid-century ranch-style homes with a smattering of other architectural styles.

?This is a home that everybody is happy with,? said Bruce Bernbaum, AIA, who with Patricia Magadini, AIA, designed and built the home with Steve Hild Custom Builders and David Caldwaller, decorator. ?We?ve had so much positive feedback, it?s really remarkable in terms of the people in the neighborhood. We?ve had several people drive by, who want to buy the house.?

Built on the slopes of a hill overlooking the intersection, the two-story structure seemingly occupies multiple levels. The garage is located on a lower grade of the property, and the low flat roof forms step back into the existing surrounding trees and, thus, visually recede into the trees before reaching their full two-story height. And then, a porch wraps around the first floor front corner.

?The porch is deep enough that they can put furniture out there and be under cover and so, it became an outdoor living space,? Bernbaum said. ?The low stone wall was put in to create a sense of privacy as well.?

?That was one of the things that almost got cut,? Magadini said. In the original design, the porch was taken off because of budget cuts but then brought back because the homeowners wanted it so much.

In fact, the new home exists today only because the homeowners wanted to remain on the property site after they found their home too small for their growing family. So, they went to Bernbaum and Magadini to design an addition on their eclectic Cape Cod detailed home built in late 50?s/early 60?s.

?The house was fairly small in terms of the rest of the neighborhood,? Bernbaum said. Specifically, they didn?t have enough bedrooms and spaces for the kids to play. Certainly the bathrooms were small; they needed to be redone. The circulation didn?t work well for an addition, and the kitchen was in the wrong place with the utility room. So, there were a lot of things the house really didn?t have for a well organized addition to make a major improvement.?

?The dollar value that they were going to have to spend to remodel they would not be able to recoup because they still wouldn?t be able to come out with a really nice house,? Magadini said. ?Finally, we said your best value would be to tear the house down and build back what you want and make it the size you want and make it just the most efficient use of space that we can do.?

Interestingly, after the house came down, the only structure remaining on the property site was the girl?s outdoor play gym at the back of the property.

?Those two little girls were pretty upset when the house come down,? Magadini said. ?So, that?s why they didn?t touch the play structure. It was like?they?re tearing down that house; but this is ours and you?re not tearing it down.?

?We actually improved their play area,? Bernbaum said. ?In their old home, a fence separated the play yard and the back yard to the driveway. Now they have a nice play yard plus the driveway with an electric gate to close it off. And that gives them a secure area to ride bikes and trikes and things like that.? Plus, they have a back porch.

?We had a wonderful contractor,? Bernbaum said. ?It makes the experience for the homeowner pleasant.?

?Not all the decisions are made at the beginning of the project?finishes and things like that,? Magadini said. ?It would be a problem, too much. So, he (Steve Hild) gives you fair warning. And he gives you enough time to get it done.?

At 4,000 square feet, the new house doubles the original living space, and it rests on a new pier and beam foundation?the advantage of knowing what you?re doing with the foundation is good because you know it can carry a second floor without having problems.

?They could have gone up (with an addition),? Magadini said. ?The problem with that?the first floor still wasn?t good square footage.?

?When you buy a house, you?re kind of stuck with certain things and you adapt?just make it work,? Magadini said. ?It?s not ideal; but it?s not that big a deal either.?

But building a totally new house opens up a world of possibilities.

?All of a sudden, all of your options are available,? Magadini said. ?The down side of that?you can get down to minutia that will just drag you down, if you let it. But in terms of room relationships, you start thinking?how do I like to live in my house. We just started laying out a site plan and located the trees and started working with the program requirements of what relationships they wanted, whether they wanted the master upstairs/downstairs, the girls? rooms upstairs/downstairs, whether they wanted the playroom?a lot of that stuff.?

?They didn?t necessarily want a big living room,? Magadini said. ?But they did want a dining room and a kitchen and big open family room. He wanted an office; she wanted a corner window to sit and read. So, we came up with a plan that satisfied all their requirements. And then we got some preliminary bids back; it was a little too big, too much money.?

They removed 500 square feet by designing a multi-purpose room with a fireplace and built-in desk to serve as office as well as quiet space?an Away Room. Located at the front of the house opposite the dining room, the Away Room would be comparable to the old fashioned parlor. And in the buffer zone between the Away Room and master bedroom on the back corner of the house is the stairs to the girls? bedrooms and guest bedroom. The elbow of the double stairs has a nice big landing with a corner window and a seat for sitting and reading. And at the top of the stairs is a recessed multipurpose area outside the girls? bedrooms. The girls? playroom is located behind the kitchen, and the kitchen opens on a large family room that overlooks the backyard.

Noteworthy are the corner windows found in every room of the house and the large upper-wall windows for treetop views rather than street views.

?One of the problems that you run into a lot with remodels is the scale of the rooms don?t match,? Magadini said. ?That?s one of the things I like about this house. The scale of the rooms all work together. You don?t have a giant master bedroom that?s out of scale with the rest of the house. The rooms all suit their purpose, and they all fit together nicely. So, the scale works.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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