Category: Historic Homes & More


The Resurrection of a Gloriously Derelict Castle in France

An Australian couple has begun the long journey toward restoring Chateau de Gudanes, a centuries-old house, long-neglected in the south of France.

Chateau de Gudanes

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

Five years ago, Karina and Craig Waters—a tax accountant and a urologist, respectively, in Perth, Australia—began looking for a vacation home in the south of France. Karina says she envisioned “a small farmhouse,” the sort of simple, “shabby-chic” cottage so often invoked in fantasies of French countryside living. On their real estate hunt, however, the Waters couple visited a long string of homes whose rural charm had been replaced by modern luxuries. Whereas they had set out seeking worn, weathered floorboards and casually planted, wonderfully scented gardens, they found sleek, blemishless finishes and infinity pools.

Related: House Tour—A French Castle Rises from Its Ruins

That was when their son, 15 years old at the time, stumbled onto an Internet listing for what appeared to be, from the aerial views provided, a grand, albeit ramshackle, estate. Intrigued, Karina and Craig decided to check out the chateau on their next trip to France—and they did, driving 500 miles in a single day to arrive at its iron gates. What they discovered there in Chateau-Verdun, a tiny town perched high in the Pyrenees, utterly captivated the couple. ”We fell in love with this chateau and the region,” she says. After two long years of negotiations, the Waters family finally purchased the 96-room Chateau de Gudanes.

Chateau de Gudanes - Interior

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

Move-in condition? Not quite. During a prolonged period of neglect, several portions of the roof had collapsed into the 43,000-square-foot building. Many floors in the five-level structure had caved in too. On their first survey of the property, the couple wore hard hats, and for safety reasons could walk only into a handful of rooms. Trees were growing inside, and everywhere there was dirt, rotten wood, rust, mold and mushrooms. Still, amid the rubble, Karina and Craig saw ample evidence of the chateau’s former glory—centuries-old stained glass, painted frescoes, gilt-framed mirrors, ornamental plaster, and artisan-carved woodwork.

Chateau de Gudanes - Stained Glass

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

Chateau de Gudanes dates back to the mid-1700s. Its architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel, was the most prominent of his time. His high-profile commissions included the Place de la Concorde, a major public square in the French capital city, as well as the Petit Trianon, built for Louix XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, on the grounds of Versailles. In its heyday, the Chateau de Gudanes hosted lavish parties frequented by the cultural elite, including Voltaire.

Chateau de Gudanes - Upper Floor

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

Once the Waters family took ownership and work got under way, more of the chateau’s history began to emerge. For instance, Karina and Craig had assumed that nothing remained of the medieval fort that originally stood on the site. It was believed to have been destroyed in the late 16th century, during the French Wars of Religion. As workers began digging, however, they soon uncovered two of the fort’s towers. They later discovered a 10-foot-deep hole in the floor, which lead to a previously unknown, largely inaccessible portion of the basement. Karina thinks it may have been an escape for the owners during World War II.

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

Chateau de Gudanes - Restorationists

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

So far, much of the effort has gone into removing—by hand, pulley, and cart—the mixed debris that had accumulated during the building’s abandonment. In addition, steel I-beams have been installed to replace rotted the wood joists that once ran under floors of layered lime and flagstone. It’s deliberate, slow-going work, primarily because the couple intends to restore the chateau, not completely redesign it.

On the blog that she began to chronicle the project’s progress, Karina writes, “Our aim is to tread lightly and gently, to preserve the atmosphere and authenticity of the Chateau and region as much as possible. [The Chateau] will be renovated but her rawness, wear and history will not be erased…”

Related: House Tour—A French Castle Rises from Its Ruins

With the help of an architect and the cooperation of the French architectural preservation authority, Monuments Historiques, Karina says, “We’re developing a plan to give the Chateau a sustainable future.” Opening the house to the public is definitely part of that plan, but the details are, for the moment, fuzzy.

Would there be a café, guest rooms, outdoor concerts, community events? None or all of those? The Waters family hasn’t decided. One thing is certain: “The Chateau won’t be a pretentious museum piece.”

For a bird’s-eye perspective on the Chateau de Gudanes, its grounds, and the surrounding area, don’t miss this high-definition video, captured by a camera-equipped aerial drone!

 

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. He also edits and publishes an online design magazine at architectsandartisans.com


In Lake Tahoe, a 1969 A-Frame Gets a Thoughtful Update

In renovating his own vacation home, architect Curtis Popp used many of his professional skills but relied most of all on his gift for restraint.

A-Frame Remodel - Homewood Exterior

Photo: plarch.com

Curtis Popp believes in the power of editing. As partner in Sacramento-based Popp Littrell Architects & Interiors, he knows that some projects require gut renovation and that, in some situations, new construction makes good sense. But for his own vacation house, a charming 1969 A-frame situated on Lake Tahoe, he opted for a light, thoughtful approach. He explains it this way: “We wanted to eliminate the things that weren’t working and exploit the things that were.”

Related: House Tour—An Architect Edits His Own Vintage A-Frame

When he bought it in 2011, there were many things to love about the cedar-hewn retreat, dubbed Homewood. Still, there was work to be done before his wife and two children would be comfortable in the two-story two-bedroom. The goal was to usher the place into the 21st century without sacrificing the funky modernism that’d initially attracted him. ”If it ended up feeling too slick, it would be out of place,” Popp says, acknowledging the casual rusticity of the California countryside.

Previous owners had added superfluous touches, including a decorative foam anchor on the roof. That was among the first things to go, followed soon after by the doilies that had been on the windows. The windows themselves were aluminum, and Popp swapped those out with wood-framed replacements that not only perform better in terms of efficiency, but also complement the wood paneling that covers all of the walls—and even the ceilings—of the A-frame interior.

A-Frame Remodel - Homewood Interior

Photo: plarch.com

While the floor plan remains true to the original program, Popp re-did the bathrooms and kitchen. In the latter space, he chose small, European-made appliances, because in such a compact home, he feared that full-size appliances would leave the kitchen out of scale with the other rooms. The “micro” refrigerator, dishwasher, and range fully integrate with the cabinetry, allowing more real estate for countertops while minimizing the visual weight of the kitchen overall.

Related: House Tour—An Architect Edits His Own Vintage A-Frame

Another of Popp’s successful editorial gestures is the color scheme, what he likes to call “chocolate and peanut butter.” It’s a combination of matte black trim and the “pecky” cedar that so defines the home, past and present. In discussing Homewood, Popp reserves a sense of humor, for as much as A-frames are practical in design, they also possess an uncommon degree of personality. As Popp quips, “They keep the snow off the roof, but they make people smile, too.”

Somehow, given all the work that’s gone on, Homewood looks like it’s barely been touched. “It’s a respectful update of a period A-frame,” according to Popp. And if that’s true, then it’s only because the home’s editor respected the original building enough to make only the most thoughtful changes.


Resurrecting Tara, the Starring House in Gone with the Wind

After several failed attempts through the decades to put Tara, the famous house from Gone with the Wind, into a museum, one man works to rescue the set from its ruin—and invites tourists to view the process.

Tara Gone with the Wine

Photo courtesy of Peter Bonner, commissioned from the collection of the late Herb Bridges

Nearly every Saturday morning, Peter Bonner walks out to the dairy barn behind the Crawford-Talmadge House in Georgia. There, he leads a rotating team of as many as 16 volunteers, all of whom are engaged in putting together the heavy, dusty pieces of a structure that was dismantled long ago. Columns and beams, shutters and wall panels—these are just some of the components that once stood together to form Tara, the mansion seen in Gone with the Wind.

Film buffs may already know that Tara was only ever a facade, never a bona fide home in the sense of having rooms and a roof (or a sweeping front-hall staircase). “The only thing that was real was the brick front porch and four brick columns,” says Bonner. “The rest is all 2-by-4s and plywood veneer.”

Over the decades that’ve elapsed since the 1939 film, many set materials have deteriorated—and not only with age. It turns out that Tara has moved around quite a bit. She sat on a Hollywood lot until the late ’50s, when the facade was purchased and shipped to Georgia. Then there were plans to turn Tara into a tourist attraction. But when those plans fell by the wayside, Betty Talmadge—the former wife of former Georgia governor Herman Talmadge—took possession. What next? Ideas came and went, but nothing stuck. Talmadge finally placed Tara into storage, and she remained in storage until Talmadge died in 2005.

Tara Set Today

Photo courtesy of Peter Bonner

Bonner met Talmdage when, for his book Lost in Yesterday, he spent time researching the truth behind the novel that inspired the movie. Today, he works with the permission of Ms. Talmadge’s descendants to carefully sift through what remains. While the family retains ownership, Bonner has poured hours and hours into Tara. He is, by his own admission, a man whose love of history and storytelling—he owns and operates Peter Bonner’s Historical and Hysterical Tours—both led to and help explain his ongoing commitment to the project.

So what does he plan to do? Bonner says, “My plan is to preserve and restore the original pieces to learn from them while displaying them like the works of art they are. We should maintain them with the original colors and stabilize them for all time.” Support for the project—much of it coming through Facebook—goes a long way toward stoking the fire of his zeal. So too do the weekly volunteers, who share his fascination with the story of the Tara structure.

For now, Bonner funds the project right out of his own pocket, partly by administering tours of the barn to GWTW fans. To purchase the book he’s written about the journey so far, and to see many photos of Tara now and in her heyday, visit his website.


Find Out Which Renowned Homes Were Practically Uninhabitable

They're dream homes for fans of architecture, but for the people who actually live in them, groundbreaking designs can be a real nightmare.

Pushing the envelope always entails risk. But much more often than you might have expected, works of architecture that succeed aesthetically ultimately end up failing to keep out the weather. The use of cutting-edge materials in new forms: While on the one hand it leads to progress, it also invites trouble.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright was famous for his leaky roofs.

Famous Houses' Leaky Roofs - Richard Lloyd Jones

Richard Lloyd Jones House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and built in 1929. Photo: flickr.com

When client Herbert “Hib” Johnson was deciding whether or not to hire Frank Lloyd Wright, he visited the Lloyd-Jones House, a home Wright had designed in Tulsa. Arriving in a downpour, Johnson found that it was raining indoors, too. The floor was dotted with containers strategically positioned so as to catch the drops. Mrs. Lloyd-Jones dryly observed, “This is what happens when you leave a work of art out in the rain.” The prospective client nonetheless commissioned a house.

 

“If the roof doesn’t leak, the architect hasn’t been creative enough.”

Famous Houses' Leaky Roofs - Glass House

The Glass House, designed by Philip Johnson, and built in 1949. Photo: wikimedia.org

So said another Johnson, the irreverent Philip. He once told an audience at Yale that he regarded Wright’s iconic Fallingwater as a “pioneer work.” In a typically witty aside, Johnson observed that it was “a seventeen-bucket house.” He then had the good grace to admit that his own Glass House was “a six-bucket house.” A rather unusual rating system?

 

Madame Savoye declared her Le Corbusier masterwork “uninhabitable.”

Famous Houses' Leaky Roofs - Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye, designed by Le Corbusier, and built in 1931. Photo: flickr.com

Within a week of moving into the home Le Corbusier had designed for her family, Madame Savoye found that its roof leaked everywhere. “It’s raining in the hall,” she wrote Corbu. “It’s still raining in my bathroom….” The “rain” actually gave her only child an illness from which it took him a year to recover. In the end, Madame Savoye demanded that Le Corbusier pay for the repairs. Otherwise, she threatened, she would contact her lawyers and take him to court.

 

The problem is forever.

Famous Houses' Leaky Roofs - Attingham House Picture Gallery

Picture Gallery of Attingham House, designed by John Nash, and built in 1805. Photo: attinghamparkmansion.wordpress.com

Such problems show no sign of going away. Witness the fact that MIT recently sued Frank Gehry when the Stata Center, built in 2004, sprouted leaks and an epidemic of mold. Likewise, leaky roofs at the leading edge of architecture are by no means a contemporary phenomenon. At the Attingham House, a grand country estate in Shropshire, England, Regency architect John Nash used skylights and cast-iron roof ribs in the picture gallery. Revolutionary for 1805, the room inspired a new breed of building, but it stopped leaking only decades later once a completely new roof had been added over the old one.

Buildings are supposed to keep us out of the rain. But when designers explore bold new ideas? Keep a mop at hand.


This House in Navajo Nation Wears a Sombrero

A team of students from the University of Colorado Building Workshop use their heads to shade a desert home and open it up to monumental views.

Skow Residence

The Skow Residence stands on a parcel of land located within the Navajo Nation. Photo: Jesse Kuroiwa

Out in the blazing hot, red-tinted desert 15 miles southwest of Bluff, Utah, stands a house inspired by a wide sombrero.

Three years ago, Harold Skow, a member of the Navajo Nation, leased a parcel of land from his tribe. He planned to live there with his family, in a kit home like the others many Navajos occupy nearby. The Skows built the foundation, before deciding they didn’t like the type of house the kit was intended to build.

Related—House Tour: Skow Residence

They “were kind of stuck,” says Eric Sommerfield, director of the University of Colorado Building Workshop. At the Skows’ invitation, Sommerfield and a group of students visited the property, intent on coming up with a new design that would use only the materials meant for an entirely different house style.

On their first visit to the site, Skow showed everyone around. “He was wearing a big sombrero, trying to create as much shade as possible,” Sommerfield remembers. “He looked at a student and said, ‘You could use a sombrero.’ The student looked back at him and said that his house could use a sombrero, too.” And that conversation is how the home came to have the distinctive, sun hat-style roof that so defines, not only its look, but its climate performance.

Skow Residence - Kit Home

Kit homes of traditional style dot the desert landscape. Photo: Jesse Kuroiwa

Of course, the house would sit on a site with splendid views of the famed Monument Valley. To enjoy the panorama, the Skow family wanted a front porch where they could sit in comfort and gaze out. They also hoped the house would respond to, and not always be in contention with, the challenging weather.

Sifting through the kit and its materials, the students found a set of roof trusses and hit upon the idea of inverting them. Turned upside down, the roof structure would, like a sombrero, cool down the indoor spaces, while helping to create outdoor living areas shielded from the full force of the brutal sun.

Meanwhile, in a way that signals the extent to which the house harmonizes with nature, the students slightly tilted the trusses so that the roof would collect rainwater, directing it toward a storage barrel. As the rain barrel refills with each storm, the Skows now have a supply of fresh water always at the ready.

Related—House Tour: Skow Residence

Below the roof, there are no superfluous features; climate considerations informed every design decision. For instance, glass comprises most of the southern exterior wall. And while the glazing affords views, it simultaneously performs the arguably more important role of maximizing heat from the winter sun.

Cooling was equally important and here, too, the windows play a critical role by working to leverage the prolific desert winds. On the windward side, the windows appear low on the wall to catch as much of the moving air as possible. On the leeward side, they are close to the ceiling, allowing hot air to escape.

“We just wanted the house to open up to the landscape, and be extremely efficient in its environment,” Sommerfield says.

Fortunately, his students were brimming with ideas.

Skow Residence - Office

Windows not only frame views, but also help the house remain comfortable in its climate. Photo: Jesse Kuroiwa

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. He also edits and publishes Architects and Artisans.


In Texas, A Million-Dollar Home with a Trailer at Its Heart

See how architect Andrew Hinman embedded a mid-century trailer at the middle of a new structure in Texas Hill Country.

Ranch Trailer Home

Photo: andrewhinman.com

Flash floods are a reality in Texas, at least near the Nueces River, which runs through the 10,000-acre ranch owned by a global beauty products company founder. In 2012, he reached out to architect Andrew Hinman with a specific idea in mind: permanently situating a prized possession—his 1954 aluminum-clad house trailer—as close as possible to the family’s favorite spot on the river. The shelter would make the trailer more comfortable and functional as a launch pad for hunting, fishing, and swimming adventures. And of course, it needed to ensure that the trailer would not be swept away by the flood waters that return on a seasonal basis.

Hinman says the trailer was the “the raison d’être for the entire project.” One part of the job was to restore the trailer itself, and Hinman did so by paneling the interior in bamboo, while updating many of its outdated fixtures and fittings. The other part of the job was more dramatic and involved surrounding the trailer in decking, a section of which would be screened, a section of which would be open. From here, the client would be able to enjoy panoramic views of Texas Hill Country.

Hinman remembers that he initially “sketched up a big screen porch with a cradle to hold the trailer.” From there, the project took on complexity, particularly once the client’s wife had seen “the tiny little bathroom in the trailer.” It wouldn’t do. So Hinman designed a separate bath. Air conditioned, with a footprint of 150 square feet, the bathroom includes a stone tub that was handmade in Italy and cost $18,000. All told, Hinman estimates the entire project came out around $1 million.

Related—House Tour: Trailer Living, Reinvented

Ranch Trailer Home - Bathroom 1

Photo: andrewhinman.com

The state of Texas figures largely in the story of the Locomotive Ranch Trailer Home. Hinman himself works out of Austin, and he called in a team of Austin-based artisans to make his design a reality. Among them was Mike Thevenet of Boothe General Contracting, who coordinated the work of electricians, carpenters, and welders (Paul’s Portable Welding is a family-owned business run by three generations of men, all named Paul). Even the trailer itself boasts Southwestern heritage, having been manufactured by the Spartan Aircraft Company. Though it’s now defunct, Spartan was born and operated for decades out of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Construction began with sinking a dozen concrete piers, each 18 inches in diameter, deep into sedimentary river rock. “It’s firmly rooted,” Hinman sums up. On top of the piers is a steel carriage, securely welded and bolted to the poured concrete building that now anchors the architecture, both visually and structurally. “It’s like a blockhouse,” Hinman says. “It’s blast-proof. The walls are 12 inches thick.” In design, the tower echoes the profile of  rainwater-collection structures that were preexisting on the property. At the top of the tower is a screened-in sleeping porch; here, the occupants would be safe even from a flood of Biblical proportions.

Related—House Tour: Trailer Living, Reinvented

Ranch Trailer Home - Decking

Photo: andrewhinman.com

Thin and transparent, the new house appears to float above the river. That’s due in part to advances in technology. Instead of conventional screening material, Hinman chose innovative fiberglass mesh, which is impervious to the dings that would mar a metal screen, and which also lends the house a diaphanous look.

“People look at it and think it’s made of glass… but it’s not glass at all,” he says.

No. It’s more like a 1,200 square-foot screened porch, designed to shelter a 40-foot, mid-century modern trailer.

Related—House Tour: Trailer Living, Reinvented

Ranch Trailer Home - Side View

Photo: andrewhinman.com


An Army of Artisans Descends on a California Craftsman

See how skilled 21st-century artisans brought an early 20th-century home back to life.

Craftsman Restoration

Photo: Spectra Company

In La Verne, California, a small, sunny city roughly 30 miles east of Los Angeles, renovation expert Ray Adamyk recently deployed a half-dozen specialists from what he calls an “artisan army” to restore a down-on-its-heels Craftsman-style home to its former glory.

Occupying a prominent corner lot, the residence was built in 1911 for Henry L. Kuns, a mover and shaker in this town that dates back to the late 1800s and was initially known as Lordsburg. Kuns’s father, David, was a cofounder of the college that went on to become the University of La Verne, and Henry himself had a successful career in business, ran a local bank, and served as mayor.

Related—House Tour: Go Inside a 100-Year-Old Craftsman, Recently Restored

After Kuns died in 1930, his home slowly fell into disrepair. The university bought the place in 2012, and Adamyk entered the picture shortly thereafter. “We bought the house from the University of La Verne,” he says. “We looked at it and saw some potential to bring it back to its grandeur.”

That was no inexpensive proposition. The company Adamyk runs, Spectra, spent $400,000 on the purchase. It then dropped another $900,000 on the building’s rehab. For a full year, carpenters, stonemasons, tile workers and plasterers joined the project, laboring not with the breezy insensitivity that can at times characterize contractors, but in the deliberate, painstaking manner of truly expert restorationists.

Craftsman Restoration - Wood

Photo: Spectra Company

The Kuns House typifies the Craftsman style that remained popular from the late 1800s through the 1930s. In its simplicity, the architecture signaled a reaction against the highly decorative—some would say overwrought—Victorian aesthetic that had come before. In no small part influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and the value it placed on honesty of materials, Craftsman homes harbor such signature traits as exposed beams and generous wainscoting.

Inside, the artisans found plenty of wood in need of refinishing. There was the omnipresent wainscoting, of course, but also oak doors and stairs, and wooden windows that had become inoperable. Hardware throughout was made to shine anew. Where the hardware couldn’t be fixed, the artisans replicated exactly what had been there instead of opting for replacements that, while considerably less expensive, would not have shown the same level of respect for the original building.

The goal, however, was not to create a museum. Rather, Adamyk and his artisans crafted a home equally committed to the past and the present. In the course of work, all plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems were brought up to date. Although the kitchen was completely redone, its design is in keeping with the rest of the house. In the master bath, the original tub and subway tiles were retained. And in the basement, what was once a coin collector’s vault is now a wine cellar.

Craftsman Restoration - Hallway

Photo: Spectra Company

Perhaps the most intense restoration efforts went into the granite exterior, large portions of which had become loose or had fallen down. Where possible, stones in need of replacement were switched out for granite from the same quarry from which the original stone had come. Artisans gently pressure-washed the granite that had been there for over a hundred years, then scrubbed it all by hand with natural-bristle brushes before pressure-washing it once again. Finally, the artisans applied two coats of sealer to both the granite and the mortar binding it together, preparing the structure for its next hundred years.

Related—House Tour: Go Inside a 100-Year-Old Craftsman, Recently Restored

Completed two months ago, the Kuns House is now on the market for $1.6 million—and it’s turning heads. Sotheby’s reports that potential buyers are inquiring about the residence on a weekly basis. Much of the credit for that interest belongs to the skilled craftspeople who carefully and lovingly brought the place back to life.

Craftsman Restoration - Entryway

Photo: Spectra Company

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. He also edits and publishes a digital design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com, where portions of this feature first appeared.


The Great ESCAPE—A Prairie-Style Cabin on Wheels

See how a 400-square-foot cabin—designed on a human scale and with style to spare—can be spacious, inexpensive, and even movable.

Canoe Bay Escape

Photo: Canoe Bay Escape

Meticulous is the word that comes immediately to mind when you first see ESCAPE, the cabin-on-wheels designed by SALA Architects in conjunction with Dan Dobrowolski, owner of the luxurious Canoe Bay resort in Chetek, Wisconsin.

The tiny 400-square-foot structure, informed and inspired by the Prairie style, is the culmination of more than two thoughtful decades during which Dobrowolski oversaw the building or renovation of 17 structures at the resort, including a lodge, a restaurant, and a collection of gem-like cottages. Canoe Bay was at first an ambitious, learn-by-doing enterprise for the network meteorologist turned hotelier. Over time, the resort’s architecture matured into a sophisticated, cohesive aesthetic that is reflected in the design of ESCAPE.

TAKE THE HOUSE TOUR HERE

“Twenty years ago, I bought an abandoned church camp and developed it into a world-class hotel and restaurant,” he says. “We’re in Wisconsin, home of Frank Lloyd Wright, so we adopted our native son’s architectural style for our property.”

Canoe Bay Escape

Photo: Canoe Bay

Showing savvy design instinct in his vision for Canoe Bay, Dobrowolski recruited Wright protégé John Rattenbury, a cofounder of Taliesin Architects in Arizona. He then brought in Kelly Davis from SALA Architects in Stillwater, Wisconsin.

Their designs paid off in spades, as the evolving architectural language they’ve articulated is immensely popular today. Five thousand people pass through Canoe Bay every year, pausing to stay in Dobrowolski’s carefully crafted cottages, to enjoy the outdoor life on three lakes tucked into 300 acres, and to commune with eagles, otters, and bears out in the middle of nowhere.

And now they also come to admire the ESCAPE.

Although the little home takes its cues from the standard park model recreational vehicle (RV), it doesn’t suffer from the standard claustrophobic interiors, usually the result of attempting to cram in every possible luxury, appliance, and gadget known to mankind.

No, this cozy structure has been deliberately built to feel spacious, an effect achieved in part by its cathedral ceiling, but also by its simplicity; the interior is stripped down to the basics without sacrificing style or scale. “It’s a different kind of animal,” Dobrowolski says. “We came at it from a different angle—from the building side.”

A park model RV—taxed as personal property rather than real estate—is restricted by law to a size of just 400 square feet of enclosed space, excluding a porch or deck. So the designers and builders had to adapt. “We decided to see if we could make our architecture fit that size,” he says.

First, they designed ESCAPE on a human scale, despite the limitations of its 14-foot-by-28½-foot dimensions (14 by 40 with the optional screened porch). Second, they did not scrimp on either materials or features. ESCAPE is clad in cedar outside and yellow pine inside, with oak floors. There’s built-in cabinetry everywhere, and a fireplace crafted from weathered aluminum sits in a corner of the main living area. In the bedroom, a huge armoire provides both drawers and hanging space. The full-size kitchen accommodates a standard 30-inch range, and the expansive bath includes such amenities as a walk-in tile shower, a double vanity, and a separate toilet room. “Everything is normal-sized, with high-quality elements,” he says. “It’s built for real people—I’m a big person, and Wisconsin has a lot of full-sized people, so that’s the way it’s built.”

Canoe Bay Escape

Photo: Canoe Bay

To say that ESCAPE is energy efficient is like saying that Frank Lloyd Wright was somewhat gifted. The prototype now on-site at Canoe Bay requires very little electricity. In fact, with every LED on, the lighting uses perhaps 120 watts total, and the entire home could be solar-powered. “The refrigerator and television would eat up most of the energy,” Dobrowolski says. “The energy bills for this prototype have never met the minimum bill of 30 bucks—it’s never gotten close.”

ESCAPE is constructed in the same manner as a traditional stick-built home, with a balloon frame and standard windows, trusses, roofing, siding, and floors. It just happens to lie on top of a steel frame on wheels. “It complies with the federal code, just like an RV,” he says. “It can be pulled anywhere—and the wheels can stay on, with a plywood skirt that covers them.”

Canoe Bay Escape

Photo: Canoe Bay

At 22,000 pounds, however, it’s not something that can be towed around on the rear of a pickup. Like a mobile home, ESCAPE requires the power of an over-the-road tractor to get it where it’s going. But once on-site, setup is essentially a “plug and play” process for plumbing, wiring, and the like. “It takes four to five hours, and we’re done,” he says. “You can take the wheels off if you want, and the hitch too.”

A stripped-down model, sans screened porch, starts out at $79,000. Add the porch, a heated floor for the bath, and all the furnishings, and ESCAPE can top out at $124,000, window coverings included. “You have to bring your own clothes,” he says. “But then you’re ready to have fun.”

ESCAPE can be financed as you would a car or RV, rather than with a mortgage. The monthly payments, he says, are less than the rent for a one-bedroom apartment. Better yet—and unlike an apartment—the ESCAPE can be moved if need be.

Dobrowolski says he’s been surprised by the “tsunami” of demand for the little building since its debut late last year, but he believes he’s hit a nerve. So far, he’s received commitments for more than 100 units, a number of them destined for large campgrounds and resorts out West.

“I’ve immediately solved their problems,” he says. “If I deliver 20 of these to them, then they’ve got an instant resort.”

If only, he says with perfect hindsight, he’d thought of it 20 years ago.

 

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. He also edits and publishes a digital design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com.


Green and Gorgeous: Presenting the 2014 New American Home

The 2014 New American Home showcases energy efficiency and sustainability while creating a luxurious, flexible, and comfortable environment perfect for today's families.

New American Home 2014

NAHB / Trent Bell Photography

The New American Home for 2014, nestled in the foothills of Henderson, Nevada, is an “idea house” showcasing new trends in home design and construction technologies that was recently on display during the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) International Builders’ Show. In their design for this 6,700-square-foot show house, architect Jeffrey Berkus and interior designer Marc Thee honored the natural elements of fire, water, metal, earth, and wood, while builder Josh Anderson, of Element Building Company, employed the latest trends in building science to bring their vision to life.

NAHB - New American Home 2014

marc-michaels.com

“The 2014 New American Home represents how people are going to live and what that might feel like,” explains Thee, who worked with Berkus to seamlessly integrate indoors and out and to take full advantage of the site’s jaw-dropping views of the Las Vegas valley. Mixing organic and modern aesthetics, they created a sumptuous setting for 21st-century family life.

 

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Although the New American Home is luxuriously appointed, one of the team’s foremost goals was practical: to achieve Emerald status under the National Green Building Standard. The first step toward reaching that goal was orienting the house to maximize natural light and solar energy while minimizing solar heat gain. During the building process, Anderson’s crew used sustainable materials as well as innovative building products. To harness the sun’s natural energy for powering the house, they installed photovoltaic panels on the roof.

Embracing the notion that today’s families need flexible spaces, the design team included an attached “casita,” a self-contained suite that can be used as an office or guest quarters without requiring entry into the main house. A larger carriage suite can be accessed by the adjacent staircase or elevator. Both of these accommodations contribute to the multigenerational nature of the New American Home’s design, which provides housing options for in-laws or grown children who want to be nearby yet independent.

NAHB 2014 New American Home

NAHB / Trent Bell Photography

Just inside the front door of the main house, a waterfall sets a calming tone as visitors proceed down the porcelain boardwalk that leads to the heart of the home. “The first floor was designed around an entry gallery where all the spaces are connected but have distinct qualities of their own,” says Berkus, in reference to the two-story space anchored by the boardwalk.

To the left of the boardwalk, the state-of-the-art kitchen hosts two islands—one for cooking and a second for eating and homework. “Today’s lifestyle dictates open-living floor plans,” says Thee. “So, kitchens have to feel like part of your living space.” To both define and integrate the kitchen, Thee and Berkus eschewed walls and instead used design elements, such as lighting, floor coverings, wall finishes, and furniture, to create a subtle transition from the kitchen to the adjacent living room.

Across the boardwalk, the dining area features glass walls that glide open into pockets, extending the interior space to the poolside terrace and outdoor kitchen. A floating staircase supported by a sawtooth stringer, an artful combination of wood and metal, leads to the second floor. One of the house’s two master suites is tucked beside these stairs and features a glass-and-stone bathing area integrated into the bedroom.

2014 New American Home

Photo: marc-michaels.com

Upstairs, glass railings surround the gallery overlook. A media room serves as a family gathering space and shares a private terrace with the expansive second-floor master suite. In this open-flow retreat, a two-sided fireplace partition separates the sleeping and bathing areas. Two additional family bedroom suites and a laundry room complete the second floor.

“From the beginning, we knew we wanted a modern design because of efficiency, but I didn’t want it to feel cold or industrial,” recalls Anderson of his early meetings with Berkus and Thee. “I am so pleased that it is the most energy-efficient New American Home ever built, and also—thanks to all the natural elements we brought inside—it is really warm and inviting.”


The Tudor-Style Home

Tudor-style homes are staples of residential developments throughout the United States. They're so popular, in fact, that we often lose sight of their historical roots. It's time for a refresher course.


Tudor Homes

Photo: Newdigs.com

If you grew up in an American suburb, you’re probably familiar with the Tudor architectural style, typified by homes with a stucco exterior accented with dark brown trim and topped with a steeply pitched gabled roof. What you may not know, however, is that, charming as they are, those 20th-century homes are simply “mock” Tudors, or Tudor Revivals, inspired by timber-framed cottages built 400 to 500 years earlier, during the reign of the Tudor dynasty in England.

Related: Living Like Shakespeare: A Tudor Tutorial

While the gentry of that post-medieval period built impressive brick or stone manor homes replete with hundreds of casement windows and ornate chimney stacks, the commoners developed a more modest architectural style. Back then, an ordinary village home or farmhouse was first framed entirely of timber. The builder would then insert woven sticks known as wattle between the timbers. Using daub (a mixture of clay, sand, and dung), he would infill the spaces around the wattle and seal the wall. Once the wall was dry, the daub was often painted white with limewash and the structural timbers were sealed with tar to protect them from rot. This building technique, known as half-timber, created the familiar brown-and-white exteriors we associate with Tudor-style homes today. In a variation on this construction method, the more well-to-do commoners often integrated sections of brick between timbers and added windows made up of small panes of glass held together by metal or wood.

By the 16th century, fireplaces with chimneys became commonplace in ordinary homes, and the interiors consequently became more complex. Rather than relying on one large room with a central fire pit for heat and cooking, Tudor homes could now have multiple rooms that served different purposes, each with its own fireplace as a heat source. Often, large fireplaces included inglenooks where people could sit to keep warm. And now that smoke could be channeled out through chimneys rather than up through a hole in the roof, these structures could include second stories, and with them staircases made of hand-hewn timbers. These upper-story rooms—usually bed chambers—generally had ceilings with exposed beams.

Tudor Revival

Photo: Gardenweb.com

Other architectural details that were integrated into Tudor homes included depressed arches—flattened arches with a slight central point—in doorways and on mantels; elaborate masonry chimneys on rooftops; steeply pitched roofs of thatch or tile; and jetties. A jetty is formed when the second floor extends beyond the dimensions of the first, creating an overhang. This feature enjoyed particular popularity in cities where the first-floor footprint was limited by the street outside.

At the turn of the 20th century, Americans embraced the Tudor style, building new homes that blended some of the old-world design elements with modern home-building techniques. Cousins of the Stick-style house, Tudor Revivals eschewed authentic half-timber construction and often featured brick or stone walls on the first story, and upper floors that were stud-framed and covered with a veneer of stucco and decorative faux timbers. Cross gables were commonly included in the plans, as were typically Tudor features like steep rooflines and gabled windows with leaded-glass mullions. The traditional thatched roof, however, was replaced by slate. Interiors incorporated such Tudor-style elements as decorative beamed ceilings, arched doorways, plaster walls, and detailed wooden staircases.

REMODELER’S NOTES: Tudor Revivals continue to be a popular architectural choice today, especially for homeowners seeking an historic aesthetic. They can, however, be expensive to maintain due to some of their most compelling elements, namely slate roofs, plaster walls, and highly inefficient leaded-glass windows. Advances in building techniques and materials have led some homeowners to turn to synthetic wood and stucco substitutes when updating a half-timber structure, and to replace the interior plaster walls with drywall.