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Contemporary Design from the Top
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

In addition to having eyes for his wife, James Manning A.I.A. at Good, Fulton, Farrell, keeps a keen eye on the house he designed and built in 1984?a contemporary glass and interior brick study in down sloping?the idea that you enter on the second floor and go down into it.

?It?s very unconventional for most houses,? Manning said. ?Usually when you come into a house, if it?s a two story house, you go up into the bedroom. Here, you enter on the bedroom floor and you go down. But, because of the way I wanted the house to work?from the outside and inside?I wanted all the outside spaces to be on the same level as the living spaces, that meant everything had to be on the lower level.?

?I wanted to be able to see the view,? Manning said. ?And I wanted the inside space to flow out and the outside space to flow in.? Despite its openness, the house offers just one street side glimpse of the interior and that is primarily a transparent scene of the backyard woods coming through the rear windows. And in between are only second story space and a walking bridge.

?We ran basically a circulation element,? Manning said. ?Other than that, the rest of the house is extremely private.? The bridge that connects the street to the front door also bridges over the central living/dining space to the two upstairs bedrooms, namely the master bedroom suite/study on the right and the daughter?s bedroom on the left. At the entrance, a stairway descends to the first floor where the formal dining table sits on the left and the kitchen door opens off the right, and directly ahead is a wall of glass blocks.

?The glass acts as a great insulator,? Manning said. ?You can?t see through it. But it gives nice light. Right next to it is this big expanse of (clear) glass where you?re sitting in the living room. In front of the living room, there?s this big tree that shades the window?plus the upstairs is set back in so that the overhang acts as a screen for the sun. In the wintertime when the sun?s lower, it penetrates in. In the summertime, the sun is higher, and so the whole upper portion doesn?t have sunlight because of the setback and because of the tree.?

?How light is treated and how architectural elements have been used to bring light into the home was a major design theme and consideration,? Manning said. A skylight over the bathtub in his daughter?s bathroom runs underneath the canopy of the largest tree outside of the house. A second custom skylight over the breakfast area also adds light to the master bath through an interior window opening above the kitchen.

?So, I get a two story space right above the breakfast area, and I get all the natural light that?s facing east?the mornings,? Manning said. ?Even though it?s not a panoramic view, you have a pleasant view out.? For outside the breakfast window is a garden patio with a water fountain on the retaining wall and fig ivy overgrowing the walls and the support to the bridge going to the front door.

The open interior window just above the master tub allows the sounds in the bathroom to filter down into the breakfast area and kitchen. This unusual design provides a multi-functional element?it brings light and sound into the bathroom, and adds to the water theme inside the house. On the outside, one fountain at the entry, another on the patio and a third in the swimming pool provide more soothing sounds.

Interestingly, Manning manipulated the design to capitalize on interior as well as exterior viewing. For instance, the second story bridge provides a panoramic view of the outside as well as central first floor living/dining. And the study is located on a balcony that also overlooks the living room and the forested outside creek. Incidentally, the study is connected to the master bedroom through a colorful glass doorway passage.

?The door pockets back and acts like a panel,? Manning said. ?But I never put the door in. So, couple years ago, when I got around to this project, I thought why not make the door more than just a pocket door that functionally closes off the space. I decided to rip out the wall and make a design element that is not only functional as a pocket door, but aesthetic pleasing when the door is in the pocket.? So, the sliding translucently painted glass pocket panels made by Joel Berman Glass Studio?s Ltd. to Manning?s specifications, change constantly in design as the glass panels move.

?The house was intentionally designed as a backdrop for everything else in the house?everything?the furniture, the art work,? Manning said. ?The rug (designed and sewn by Julienne Ballantyne (817-921-6457), is a good example. The idea of a rug not having to be recta-liner, to take on the shape of the design at places, that just made it that more dramatic. It tends to be a very strong element. It can be seen from above (even from the entrance) as well as seen as carpet in the room. But it?s also designed with the furniture in mind. The whole concept of the rug?how it added to the room, and how it worked with the rest of the house was part of the design.? One corner of intersecting circles overlapping circles resulting in very different colors and shapes that is very ?Wrightian.?

?I?m a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright,? Manning said. ?He?s very good at manipulating the space and the person as they walk through the space. And I try to do the same thing in the house.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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