Category: Historic Homes & More


Cabin of the Week: Outpost in the Idaho Desert

Architect Tom Kundig designed the Outpost not only to withstand the brutal conditions of the desert, but also to witness its beauty.

Outpost - Exterior 1

Photo: olsonkundigarchitects.com

In the Idaho desert, the Outpost sits at the end of a half-mile-long driveway. Designed by architect Tom Kundig, the house belongs to an artist who lives and works inside its boxy concrete form, and who collaborated with Kundig over the course of what became a quite lengthy process. For nearly a decade, a series of unanticipated constraints forced Kundig and his client to scale back and refine the original plan, over and over, until nothing beyond the essentials remained.

Outpost - Main Floor

Photo: olsonkundigarchitects.com

Making up much of the interior is a large, open space that includes the kitchen, living, and dining areas. A staircase leads to a mezzanine bedroom, which looks over the undivided volume below. On the very bottom level is a utility room and the homeowner’s office and studio space. Windows—some as large as eight-by-eleven feet—interrupt the concrete exterior walls on all sides of the structure. Through these panes are sweeping views of the desert and its undulating hills.

Outpost - Inside Out

Photo: olsonkundigarchitects.com

Kundig has described the Outpost as a Tootsie Roll, “hard on the outside and soft on the inside.” In response to the climate and its extremes, he chose durable, low-maintenance materials, beautiful in their utilitarian simplicity. No surfaces have been unnecessarily modified. Even indoors, one sees mainly raw, unfinished wood and natural, unpainted plaster. Several elements—the exposed steel beams, for instance—recall the farm and mining buildings seen nearby. This is the region where Kundig grew up; reportedly, he took the job in part to reconnect with the land and architectural vernacular that had fascinated him as a youth.

Outpost - Exterior 2

Photo: olsonkundigarchitects.com

However artful, the interior excels in one respect most of all: It focuses attention out towards nature, the seasons, and the ever-stunning desert landscape.


A Suburban House Like You’ve Never Seen

Designing, not for a client, but for his own family, an architect follows his vision, and in the process transforms a prototypical suburban house into something entirely new.

Casa Westway - Facade View

Photo: lopezresendez.com

You wouldn’t necessarily expect to find experimental architecture in McAllen, a small city on the southern tip of Texas. But if his own house provides any indication, architect Luis López Reséndez may be out to change how outsiders perceive McAllen. After purchasing a three-bedroom house here—a rectangular, pitched-roof ranch like so many others built in the postwar period—Reséndez went to work putting an exciting, utterly unique twist on its familiar design.

Related—House Tour: A Prototypical Suburban House, Reinvented

Since he was building his own house, for his own family, Reséndez got something that’s rare for a professional architect: total design freedom. Seizing the opportunity, he explored widely in terms of both materials and construction methods. “It’s not that easy to do with a client,” he says. But left to his own devices, Reséndez was able to develop creative responses to any challenges that arose. Some challenges were specific to the project—the site, the budget—while others were fairly universal. For instance, how do you bring together interior and outdoor spaces, and what makes for an ideal family living environment in today’s world?

Casa Westway - Before Shot

Photo: lopezresendez.com

Though it’s no larger than it had been, the Reséndez house, dubbed Casa Westway, stands out in the neighborhood now, largely thanks to its innovative roof. Breaking from convention, Reséndez stretched the roofline out and down so that it actually curtains one full side of the house before terminating at the ground. “The roof keeps on going and going, floating out farther as it becomes a skin,” Reséndez says of the choice. In this way, the distinction blurs between roof and facade, facade and roof. The outward appearance of the home takes on a seamless quality, while the interior spaces enjoy greater articulation and better light.

Casa Westway - Interior View

Photo: lopezresendez.com

Much as the Casa Westway exterior erodes the distinction between roofing and siding, the interior virtually eliminates the division between rooms. Gone are the walls that once partitioned the ranch into a series of small, separate spaces. In the remodel, only the bedrooms remain private. The central living areas, in contrast, flow into one another in a fluid relationship that even carries onto the backyard patio, which is accessed through sliding glass doors. The openness, Reséndez says, is “a reflection of how a family interacts.” He sums up the project by saying, “We wanted a space where we could be together on a daily basis—a universal space.”

Westway House - Rear View

Photo: lopezresendez.com

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. He also edits and publishes a digital design magazine at architectsandartisans.com. His new book, Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand, is due out from Routledge in the spring.


Cabin of the Week: The Shack at Hinkle Farm

Built by an architect as a family retreat, a West Virginia cabin harkens back to a time when houses offered little more than shelter from the storm.

Shack at Hinkle Farm

Photo: broadhurstarchitects.com

Perched on South Fork Mountain in West Virginia, deep within a 27-acre site you can only reach on foot or with an off-road vehicle, there’s an uncomplicated cabin. Architect Jeffery Broadhurst built the place for his family and by his own description, it’s only a modest step up from tent camping. Here, there’s no electricity, and besides oil lamps and a wood stove, there are few creature comforts. There’s shelter from the elements, and a platform from which to admire the spectacular view.

Shack at Hinkle Farm - View

Photo: broadhurstarchitects.com

As noteworthy as the design may be, in all its refreshing simplicity, the cabin also impresses with its clever execution. Most obvious is the overheard garage door that completely opens up one side of the cabin to the outdoors. But there are smaller triumphs as well. For instance, a metal mesh rodent barrier—the kind used to protect local corn cribs—lines the underside of the floor. So even though a person can see the ground through gaps between floorboards, furry pests can’t get in.

Similarly ingenious is the makeshift plumbing system. Beneath the cabin and accessible by a trap door, there’s a large storage tank that feeds (by means of a marine bilge pump) a smaller distribution tank mounted to the ceiling. From there, gravity delivers water to the sink faucet in a tiny, tucked-away kitchen area.

Shack at Hinkle Farm - Wood Stove

Photo: broadhurstarchitects.com

Broadhurst built the cabin himself, with help from family, friends, and neighbors. The materials used are no different from what the average person would find on the shelves at his nearby home improvement retail store. Sitting atop a quartet of pressure-treated lumber posts, just as a backyard deck would, the cabin features board-and-batten wood siding and terne-coated metal roofing. Though plainly utilitarian, both elements lend a timeless look of elegant, enviable simplicity.

Shack at Hinkle Farm - Site

Photo: broadhurstarchitects.com


Meet the World’s First Luxury Tiny House

Tiny Heirloom manufacturers very stylish, jaw-droppingly small homes that can accompany you virtually anywhere you'd like to go.

Photo: tinyheirloom.com

Over the past several years, the tiny house movement has only gained momentum, with increasing numbers of homeowners saying goodbye to extra square footage—and burdensome mortgages—in favor of very small, quite affordable, and often portable dwellings that have come to be not-so-creatively called tiny homes.

Some choose to build their own, designing every inch to meet their individual needs. Others hire a builder to realize their custom design in three dimensions. And still others purchase kits or preassembled tiny homes from the growing cadre of manufacturers who are servicing this rapidly expanding “cottage” industry.

Enter Portland, Oregon-based Tiny Heirloom, the first luxury-oriented company to enter the market. Steered by a close-knit group of six family members and friends, the brand-new outfit combines thoughtful design with fine craftsmanship to create what they call “the best and most quality tiny home in the world.”

Though custom options are readily available and Tiny Heirloom works closely with each of its clients, the company’s 128-square-foot standard model includes a lounge area, kitchen, and bathroom, with bedroom and storage lofts above. It costs $65,000, including delivery to anywhere in the continental United States.

Photo: tinyheirloom.com

What separates Tiny Heirloom from its competitors is the attention paid to interior finishes. Top-of-the-line materials are incorporated throughout. Highlights include hardwood flooring, aged-bronze sconces, and hand-hewn pine ceiling beams. In the kitchen, European-style compact appliances succeed in saving floor space, while their stainless steel housings sacrifice nothing in style. In the main living area, a washer-dryer combination fits snugly within a two-foot-wide closet.

Photo: tinyheirloom.com

Customers choose between wind, solar, or battery power, although each home also comes equipped with 12-volt and 110-volt hookups, allowing it to connect to an external power source, if one is available. Heat comes from a small wall-mounted propane-fueled heater originally designed to be used inside the cabins of boats.

Photo: tinyheirloom.com

Perhaps the best part is that, because Tiny Heirloom builds on wheeled chassis, its little homes are classified as travel trailers. That means an owner can take his home almost anywhere, leaving it parked permanently on a lonely piece of land with a beautiful view, or pulling it behind his vehicle on a cross-country road trip.

Photo: tinyheirloom.com

For more information, visit Tiny Heirloom.


Cabin of the Week: The Floating Farmhouse

A four-year labor of love transforms a derelict Catskill Mountains farmhouse into an effortlessly stylish amalgam of cutting-edge and country.

Floating Farmhouse - Exterior 1

Photo: givonehome.com

In 2002, Tom Givone went out on a limb. The former advertising copywriter decided to purchase and resuscitate a 19th-century farmhouse in Upstate New York. Thus began a four-year-long odyssey, filled with both physical and design challenges. The stop-and-start process was hampered not only by the delays and frustrations that typically accompany large-scale renovations, but also by the Great Recession. Today, however, the reborn structure carries no scars from the struggles that bedeviled its completion. Rather, the Floating Farmhouse, as Givone Home calls it, blends old and new with seemingly effortless style.

Floating Farmhouse - Addition

Photo: givonehome.com

Probably the most stunning aspect of the Floating Farmohouse is the spacious, open kitchen, situated within a new wing, the gable end of which is composed entirely of glass and steel. Here, there are overtly modern touches—polished concrete floors, wraparound bluestone counters, and high-gloss cabinetry. But there are also testaments to the history of the farmhouse. For instance, antique hand-hewn beams salvaged from a dairy barn in neighboring Pennsylvania span the contemporary space.

Floating Farmhouse - Bathroom

Photo: givonehome.com

The luxuriously minimalist master bathroom features a nine-foot-long wall-to-wall shower, as well as a tub housed within a white-painted wood surround. Girding the vessel sinks is a countertop made from one of the 11 pine trees on the property that were felled and milled to provide most of the lumber used in the project.

Floating Farmhouse - Bedroom

Photo: givonehome.com

Cor-Ten steel frames the fireplace and serves as a bold focal point in the master bedroom. The airiness of the room owes partly to its all-white palette, but more so to the soaring vaulted ceiling. A pared-down version of traditional wainscoting travels the room’s perimeter, recalling the building’s origin. But a more overt reminder of the past comes from the original cedar shake roof shingles, exposed during the renovation and deployed here, along with roughly aligned planks, as decoration for the doorway.

Floating Farmhouse - Guest Bathroom

Photo: givonehome.com

It’s hard to pick a favorite feature in the guest bathroom, but perhaps most noteworthy is the sumptuously imperfect Italian marble sink, which cantilevers into the room with no visible means of support (in fact, it’s hung by means of angle irons concealed within the wall). Also eye-catching is the wood-and-zinc tub, a 19th-century artifact rescued from a New York tenement building. Givone chose to wrap the vintage tub in stainless steel, again finding a way for different centuries to complement one another.

Floating Farmhouse - Before

Photo: givonehome.com

You can rent the Floating Farmhouse—located two hours north of New York City, in the Catskill Mountains—from $600 per night. Click here for details.


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.