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Contemporary home with the panorama of a London Townhome
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Like a London townhouse with a beautiful view of the park?that?s how Rosemary Heard describes the new contemporary home that she and her husband Dennis just moved into overlooking Flippen Park.

?It all started with the site,? said Lionel Morrison, AIA, the architect who designed the home along with construction by Steve Hild Custom Builder. ?The primary reason the Heards purchased the site was because of the park across the street.?

?When they bought the lot, they had no idea how the house was going to be designed,? Morrison said. ?But the major influence on the design and the impetus for the design was the park.?

?So, we didn?t do the more traditional and expected approach of the primary functions on the lower level, secondary bedroom functions on the upper. We really flipped that so that the entertainment areas and the real living areas can enjoy the park.? In fact, the entire front wall on the second story is constructed out of glass and steel on a limestone base that is designed, not on a straight line, but on a curve.

?If it were a straight line, it might be, let?s say, 70 feet long,? Morrison said. ?But if you bow it, then that same line becomes maybe 80 feet long. And so you have more viewing area. It broadened the view to more of a panorama.?

?The living room, dining room, and family room are all sort of subspaces within the very larger space at the front of the house on the second floor,? Morrison said. ?Those spaces are the ones that they?ll spend most of the time in and from all those (rooms) you can enjoy the park and the views down the street.? Although wood frames the back half of the house, the wide span of space required to house three sub-rooms in the front part of the house necessitated steel frame construction to support the roof, according to Hild.

?The idea of the roof in the ceiling started as a panoramic curved wall,? Morrison said. ?The idea was to allow light to come into that space from 360 degrees. In order to do that, we raised the roof and created that north facing clearstory. So, the roof and ceiling are supported on steel columns that hold it free from the body of the house and allow light in on all sides and over the top on the north side. It really enhances the sense of space because it (sightline) just kind of seems to go on and on. Your eye sort of follows the ceiling plane out to the north.

For privacy from the street, but without covering up the solar regions of the windows, are coverings that pull out from a roller shade coming up from the floor. So, when the Heards raise the shade, they retain a view over the top into the park and can still see the sky above.

Another thing organizationally about the house that?s important, and again inspired by the park, is the straight line axial relationship between the dining room, which is in the center space of the three front rooms that face the park, and the kitchen. For beyond the kitchen on the same axis is the outdoor terrace, which has barbeque/cooking and also serves as part of the second level entertainment/living area.

?If one is standing in the kitchen, and if you look to the south you look into the public park,? Morrison said. ?And if you look into the north, you look out into the second floor terrace and on into the rear yard. So, you have this connection with the outdoors from the central spot of the house, which is the kitchen.? And yet, the kitchen can be shut off with barriers in such a way as to create new flow patterns for special occasions.

?If they were having a formal party, catered, there are high panels that will close off the kitchen,? Morrison said. In this case, people gain access to the dining by using the east hallway, which goes past the stairway and elevator and then into the front living room. A similar panel in the west hallway off the kitchen blocks access to the master bedroom suite. When closed, these panels look like walls camouflaging the very existence of the rooms behind them.

The hallway to the right of the kitchen leads to a study and to the powder bath, where light filters through translucent windows that are, in fact, interior panes over the stairwell. The primary source of light in the stairway comes from natural light through the translucent (sandblasted) windows that make up the east wall of the house.

?Originally, we were going to combine sandblasted and clear glass,? Morrison said. ?When we got into construction, we came to the conclusion to sandblast all the glass. You don?t know if there?s another house on the other side of that wall or what?s on the other side of that wall. I think it kind of creates a little bit of mystery to the space. And the quality of light?there?s so much of it, yet it is so diffused?it?s really an unusual kind of combination.? In fact, Morrison uses the glass translucency theme throughout the house.

Every room receives some source of natural light, said Hild. Yet, many rooms also add translucent panels for diffuse interior illumination or to camouflage, for example, the lavatories and cabinetry in the master bath.

?The idea is when you walk into the bath, all that you really see are these bands of light at the top,? Morrison said. ?You can?t see the skylight because of this translucent glass below it. You just see the light diffused through these full width slots and then the stone on the floor and back wall and the maple cabinets with these translucent glass doors. You really can?t see any plumbing. You see the bathtub; but that is the only plumbing fixture that you see. So, the room becomes just diffuse light, stone and wood. It?s very un-bathroom like?a very Zen like kind of environment.

?One thing I did do consciously in trying to scale this house to the neighborhood is divide the windows in all those horizontal lines,? Morrison said. ?Functionally, there was no reason to do that particular scale. They could have been much bigger pieces of glass. But that scale would be much larger, and wouldn?t be right for the neighborhood. So, the attempt in fitting into the neighborhood was addressed by use of scale and not to try to mimic some stylistic theme on the street.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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