Category: Article:

Building onto a Small Home
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Virginia creeper and wisteria overgrow the privet and probably will kill the shrub someday. In another corner of the grassy, wooded plot surrounding the home of Lisa and Mark Domiteaux, A.I.A. with Domiteaux + Howard Associates, Inc., a soapberry tree holds up the weight of encroaching vinery inching towards the rosemary, and Bird of Paradise tree. Taming this two-third acre (35,000 square feet) with indoor/outdoor living space has occupied much of the family?s 12-year residency and represents an achievement shown recently in a home tour.

The residence has evolved, architecturally, as if modeling the growth of the surrounding vegetation. Originally, the home was only a 700-square-foot cabin?a California-modern, post and beam construction built by Frank Laprelle in 1954 after he had worked two years for modernists designers, Charles and Ray Eames, and taken classes at Harvard graduate school. Laprelle built the structure on dairy farm land for his mother. Then, after she passed away in the 1970?s, Lapelle lived in the home until the Lisa and Mark purchased it in 1989.

?He?d actually asked, ?what are you going to do with this??he didn?t want it torn down,? Mark said. But in order to make the cottage habitable for a family of three, the Domiteauxes built up a 1400-square-foot rambling series of indoor and outdoor rooms?each branch of architecture?budding naturally?almost like a botanical extension.

?The strength of this home was the original gestures he (Laprelle) made with one big room with light coming in from both sides,? Mark said. ?That was the backbones of this whole house. It drives or generates all the other?we might put stories on the bedrooms. Someday, we might build over here. But this thing has been flexible enough we can come and change things around all the time. We can add on to it, and it never feels out of place.?

Originally, the front door opened on a very small galley kitchen (with a hotplate instead of a stove and only an under counter refrigerator). The kitchen led directly into a living/dining space, which contained ceiling to floor windows on two walls and a solid wall with two doors. One door led to a full bath, and the second door (now gone) went to the only bedroom. A third door between the bedroom and bath served, after remodeling, as the entrance to son Matthew?s bedroom off the new hallway, which extended through the original bathroom and into the new addition?a master bedroom/bath suite with walk-in closet, and laundry room with sink.

?Guests don?t like to use a bathroom that feels like it?s somebody?s personal space,? Mark said. So, he partitioned the original bath into a tub room for long soaking baths and a separate half bath for guests, but also where Matt can brush his teeth.

?Small houses, you try to get rid of as many doors as you can because they just eat up space,? Mark said. So, he removed the folding closet doors in the original bedroom and constructed a wall along the length of the closet. Not quite four feet wide, the open-framed walk-in closet holds one long row of clothes that can be accessed near the bedroom entrance. Another walk-in closet modeled on the same idea is located at the entrance to the master bedroom, where the closet wall provides space to place the headboard of the master bed.

Off the master bedroom is a door to the outside deck overlooking a hammock on a lawn carved out of woods and underbrush that originally surrounded the house. A patch of tall bamboo now shades Matt?s bedroom windows. And in the back of the house are built a swimming pool in 1995, a garage a few years earlier, and a trellis-covered patio remodeled out of a three-sided outdoor room. Mark installed a water fountain in the patio wall as a Valentine?s gift to Lisa. Several Labradors necessitated outdoor enclosures. So, Mark designed wing walls punctuated with rod iron to give the space a sense of planes rather than a fence enclosure.

?The nice thing is you?ve got bright sunny areas out here and deep woods, where it?s really shady?where you can play in the hammock. So, on really hot days when you can?t take the heat any more go lay in the hammock.?

Behind the gate is the new front door, relocated to the back of the house, where it opens onto a vestibule that Mark created by enclosing the covered patio outside the original front door. The vestibule is necessary space for the interior of this house, but it?s not confining. The split-view open partition allows a peek at the kitchen, fully equipped and now extended by four feet. But the primary focus is to the large living/dining room, which suddenly pops out from under the low vestibule. Almost in the center of the area is an old concrete sewer-pipe fireplace with a brick box inside. Laprelle used the C-shaped open designed fireplace for storage because he couldn?t get the chimney to draw up a fire. So, Mark added the brick box, and now the system works well. With the dining room table near the back window overlooking the patio/swimming pool, the living room seating along the front window looking on the pond, and the kitchen and hall addition in sight, the room provides a perspective of the family?s love of cooking and embracing style of home entertaining. For people often drop by, only to stay for the entire evening, perhaps for dinner under the carport off the main dwelling.

Across the carport is a separate one-room/full bath studio (200 square feet), rented to college students by the original owner. Mark used the studio as a home office for a time. Now, the space serves as a study/library and guest room, and the roof accommodates a tree house of sorts?a small chapel with a bell tower on top built when 15 year-old-Matt was younger.

?The outside is the inside,? Lisa says referring to all the time they spend outdoors. So naturally, the latest addition to the property is in the front yard?a pond, begun a year ago by excavating and cementing. Water was added two months ago, and now gold fish have spawned, lily pods are in bloom, and tadpoles are losing their tails.

?I think this yard makes living in a small house so much easier because of these outdoor rooms?that?s the connected place that you spend more time,? Mark said. ?You?re not around the air conditioner as much. You feel you?re part of all this outside space. Instead of looking at the landscape all the time, you?re sort of in it. That?s a big deal.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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