Contemporary renovations and beautiful, modern residential architecture

Contemporary renovations and beautiful, modern residential architecture

Detail and Effect

I once thought that a great name for an Architecture firm would be "Details and Effects."

"Why?" you ask.

Because details are part of what makes separate really great design from the mundane. Consider the apartment buildings and homes in the historic districts in Evanston, Lakewood-Balmoral, River Forest or Oak Park. They are not much different in terms of their overall massing from others in adjacent neighborhoods but the details and the overall effects they create raise the buildings to another level. This example of a 100 year old brick half-tudor, gabled apartment building with a cut-limestone, gothic entrance and a slate roof illustrates this. The entrance is set off by its arch and by its material against the wire-cut, dark brown brick. It is a color and material scheme that stands the test of time.

 Here's a stucco house on Sheridan Road in Evanston. Note how each part or detail works to create a harmonious whole.

Here's a stucco house on Sheridan Road in Evanston. Note how each part or detail works to create a harmonious whole.

 The entry features hand crafted materials that bring it to life. Each piece or detail works to create a harmonious whole.

The entry features hand crafted materials that bring it to life. Each piece or detail works to create a harmonious whole.

The entry has cut glass. It features fall colors and fallen leaves. The tile floor is a mixtures of bone, dark bone, honey and a chestnut brown. They outlines are imperfect and this creates a rhythm and visual interest.

 (We personally think the earth-tone color scheme is gorgeous.) The textures make a difference as well. The bricks and tile are hand made and have enough imperfections to ensure variety. This attention to detail is crucial and one that we follow in our projects. Hand made and natural materials generally have a level of detail that bring a project to life. We think that is important. Do you?

Details are a bit misunderstood today. Rem Koolhaas said that "There are no details anymore." I have had students repeat this to me in design studio. Many fresh-minted faculty also have stated this. The one thing they have in common is they have never designed and built an actual building. Yes, details matter and, yes, there will always be details, even if there are hidden, no matter the latest fashion. A hidden detail is many times more difficult to engineer, design and fabricate than an obvious one. We will talk more about this in a future post.

We like IKEA and Sweden, its source, has wonderful residential design

We like IKEA, and Sweden, its source, has wonderful residential design. This house and its interior by the wise and talented architects In Praise of Shadows illustrates where good design is part of everyday life.

 

Do you think that good design is part of everyday life? For instance, do you have an iPhone? Jonny Ives and Steve Jobs toiled tirelessly to make it this invisible but pleasure to use. It is one example. Do you drive an Audi, BMW or a Tesla? (We have a Prius.) These automobiles are designed with the idea that driving should be a pleasure with the Tesla combining this with a desire to live a carbon-free lifestyle. 

Let's start with the kitchen. It's where a lot of us cook, talk, make pour overs, share and spend a great of time alone and with the ones we love.

The grey floors are concrete as the house is an insulated slab on grade. The kitchen is MDF in both plain and painted white. The island drawers have no pulls allowing you to work and talk closely. Instead they are elegant and simple cut circles. The countertops are laminated wood. The color is simple and, thus. timeless. That's key!

And the clean interior itself. Storage is the key to having a clean. (Our LightBox project illustrates our passion for storage and its talent for being a design element. Much of the storage here is located outside of the living spaces.) Also, a digital lifestyle where downloads have replaced DVDs–I think vinyl still has a role to play and we are designing a space around a hi-fi system right now–and magazines and newspapers are being read online.

 The bedroom is simple and embraces the daylight.

The bedroom is simple and embraces the daylight.

Daylighting is important at this latitude as the sunshines very briefly in winter. Skylights make the most of the available natural light.

The outside reveals the classic "coconut" scheme: dark on the outside; light and light filled on the inside. The exterior is clad in dark oiled wood. The driveway is permeable and the garden makes for eating and entering outdoors. 

The framing underneath is what's called "Swedish" Framing by many of us in the United States. It eliminates thermal bridges and, as the energy codes in the USA are made more strict, soon will be the the norm here in Chicago.

Imagine this:

Great design for everyday living and saves energy! We like that and we hope you do too!

A little advice on turning a 2 Flat into a Single Family Residence

Our good friend and esteemed colleague Jerry, aka the Man of Steel, poses with the 1000 pound steel beam we specified for this 2 Flat to Single Family conversion. Here, we cut a cavity between the floor joists and Jerry is about to lift the beam into place. This detail creates a flush ceiling and, thus, a single space where they were four small rooms. Real sized furniture, anyone?

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Less, but BETTER (Updated)

We recently had two interviews with families about their houses. We really like both families: great people, savvy professionals, strong parents and good neighbors.

When it came to their existing buildings, one in the suburbs and the other in the city, the approach could not have been more different. The suburban family had lived in Japan and were in awe of Japanese land use and design. In that context, they thought their four bedroom house was actually too big. They had certain goals and dreams for their home. They were still open to making it bigger to achieve what they wanted but sticking with the same size or even making it smaller, they thought, was a reasonable approach.

The city family bought a row house and automatically wanted to make it bigger. "We know what we want and it's bigger."

"Why?" I asked.

"It's not big enough." They replied.

Compared to what? I thought. From their description, they wanted to make a loft space out an historic row house. Why not buy a loft instead? It would be cheaper, for starters, I thought.

We were challenged by both responses.

We found one to be more thoughtful and more in line with what we do than the other. (Look at our projects the House for the Dinner Party or the LightBox for confirmation.) This approach borrowed from Japan may fly in the face of what our culture values but the Japanese are today's sustainable leaders. The Japanese live beautifully in spaces that many Americans would initially reject but I think could learn and borrow a great deal from. It's foremost about quality over quantity. There is no Japanese expression for "Supersize me!" There's only the Americanism.

Please have a look at Columbia University's Vishaan Chakrabarti's talk (above) on land use and real estate in the United States. He compares Japan's tightly knit farm communities with the spread out, Jeffersonian ideal of the isolated farm houses surrounded by open fields. Which has a smaller carbon footprint? Which fosters more effective communities?

makeArchitecture believes that, sometimes, less, but BETTER can be a more productive strategy in answering the question:

"How do you want to live?"

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Idea for Transforming a Lincoln Park Rowhouse Kitchen from the mundane into Something Spectacular

 Lincoln Park Rowhouse. Note the rather underwhelming frame addition with skylights that was added in the 1980s. Our idea for maximizing the inside/outside spaces can catalyze today's modern lifestyles. The light shelf reflect natural daylight deep into the space. The high clerestory window enables the stack effect for natural ventilation. The courtyard can harvest reflect light, heat a fluid on the roof that is transported to the deck base and used as radiant heat to make it a three season space. 

Lincoln Park Rowhouse. Note the rather underwhelming frame addition with skylights that was added in the 1980s. Our idea for maximizing the inside/outside spaces can catalyze today's modern lifestyles. The light shelf reflect natural daylight deep into the space. The high clerestory window enables the stack effect for natural ventilation. The courtyard can harvest reflect light, heat a fluid on the roof that is transported to the deck base and used as radiant heat to make it a three season space. 

I am sharing this idea for transforming a Lincoln Park rowhouse kitchen from the mundane into something spectacular. Please have a look and we welcome questions and comments.