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Spacious living in a quartet home complex
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Behind a bustling Travis Street along the east side of the Katy Trail, a gate opens on a courtyard lined with young magnolia trees. A footpath of concrete rectangular slabs courses ahead over smooth stones scattered around a water fountain constructed from two sheets of rusted steel (COR-TEN) and a simple stainless steel lined spout pouring water over the stones. One of the four homes that surround this courtyard was recently showcased in ?Off the Beaten Path,? a Tour of Homes along the Katy Trail presented by the Dallas Architectural Foundation.

Like the Katy Trail, itself, this house is a place of tranquility, only here peace and serenity are found in a lean and refined architecture typified by the fountain in the courtyard, where the sounds of running water cover up street noise. The homes also have their own private gardens and water features, which can be viewed from inside at different vantage points that tend to emphasize spaciousness and natural light coming in. For one thing, the homes have three levels and 4000 square feet of living space, and all four homes occupy a lot (100 ft by 150 ft) that is basically the size of two residential lots.

?Let?s start with the challenge and an opportunity to put four houses on a relatively small site and create private outdoor space so that you still add a great sense of natural light and space in each home,? said architect, Lionel Morrison of Morrison Seifert Murphy, who along with builder/developer Diane Cheatham created the quartet of homes.

?When you get into very dense projects like this, there tends to be circuitous entry routes, where you?re going down a little side yard and back in some other direction to get to, especially, the rear units,? Morrison said. ?I don?t like that very much. So, what we did was to have all the houses open onto a private little courtyard. It enables the residences to secure the project because everybody is coming in the same way. And the gate leads to a common walkway, which also might foster a sense of community within the four houses. Hopefully, you see your neighbor coming and going because that is typically missing (in the urban setting). It?s still difficult because the homeowners usually come in through their garages from their cars. So, they really don?t come through the front door. But at least they have to go to the front door to check the mail.?

?In the way that you enter the house, which is important to me whether in housing like this or single-family house or office building, there is that sense of discovery? Morrison said. ?You come into the entry, and you haven?t been aware of the private gardens until you enter the house itself. And then you see flanking gardens?one with a koi pond and then the other garden with another fountain. That?s something you discover.? And then you ascend the stairs, and you can view these gardens from different angles as the house unfolds.

?One of the things that we did also that turned out to be right was?the house was designed on a 20 foot by 20 foot module so that the big space on the second floor (i.e., the living, dining, kitchen, study) is really a great universal space, ? Morrison said. ?It?s 20 feet by 60 feet and could be divided up in any number of ways, depending on how the homeowner actually wanted to do it.? The home on tour featured an entertainment furniture wall with fireplace and storage space for audio/visual equipment. This wall separated the study from the living/dining area, and a second large partition defined the interior of the kitchen.

The kitchen seemed huge with a large rectangular island that also served for dining. In fact, kitchen dining is a joy in this sleek and streamlined kitchen, which retains its sleekness by having oversized countertops that allow space to store kitchen appliances behind frosted glass panels that close over the clutter and electrical outlets. And of course, the kitchen window looks over the fountain in the private yard below. To watch the goldfish swimming in the koi pond, one only has to go to the living room window.

The third floor, like the second level, offers opportunities for change. The home on tour featured a guest bedroom, bath, and exercise room. But another homeowner chose to make a rooftop greenhouse with access from the third level and also a rooftop terrace.

?The reason that the main living space is on the second floor and not the first is two fold,? Morrison goes on. (1)?Simply there wasn?t as much area to be developed on the ground floor because the garage takes up such a large part of the house. So, there was more space available on the second level. That was a very practical concern. Also, (2) by getting up to the second level, you afford yourself more light and air, so to speak, and the opportunities for more distant views.?

The first floor works well for the master bedroom suite where the homeowners can take advantage of the inflow of gardens. In fact, the sitting area in the entry provides a place to enjoy both gardens from inside. And the wet bar in the entry serves more as a coffee bar than an alcohol bar.

?That way, when the homeowners get up in the morning, they don?t have to go upstairs to get coffee,? Morrison said. ?They just make it right there, sit down there in the garden area, read the newspaper and drink coffee.?

?One of the things that I really like is the master bath,? Morrison said. A full height window allows natural light inside and, also, a view of a garden?a narrow and long brick lined garden. One shower door opens towards the garden, and the second shower door opens on the opposite side of this his/her bath.

?It?s pretty luxurious to be in a bathroom and have all that light on both sides,? Morrison said. ?I always bring natural light into bathrooms. That?s pretty critical, pretty elementary really. But to be able to do it to that extent, to be able to do it in a configuration that is so tight, that?s kind of special.?

Even without windows, a powder room on the second floor seemingly fills up with light, in part, because of design?a tall black backdrop and mirror behind a white marble slab sink in an otherwise white room?all resembling the lines in the fountain in the courtyard.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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