Design Parti! Smith Mountain Lake Living

“No fish and no gum today?”

I was sorry to disappoint Pete for our design discussion, but I was indeed empty handed except for my notebook and pen. I reluctantly shook my head. With his usual cheer and chuckle, Pete continued, “That’s okay, Megan. Next time…both.”

I had sequestered Pete on the porch this sunny afternoon to learn more about a large lake home project the team had designed. It was raised late last year on Smith Mountain Lake and, rumor has it, is steadily nearing completion.

An early rendering of the Smith Mountain Lake project.

“I can’t say I’m feeling very linguistic today,” Pete admitted. It turned out he had been doing sheer wall calculations, which meant crunching numbers, all morning. Regardless of a head full of figures and formulas, we managed a good conversation diving into details of the design/build for this family vacation home. I even learned a new term:

“It all starts with a parti,” Pete began. I wasn’t aware of project parties, but that sounded good to me. This elicited a big smile and shake of the head from Pete. “No, not a party, a parti or parti pris—the central design idea we develop with the homeowners and then use to define, build, and detail a home. We constantly test our designs against this theme to be sure we’re creating in the right direction. In this case, the parti narrowed down to creating a home that sits nicely into the landscape, accepts and welcomes upon arrival, has great views and lake access while providing space where all of the family could be together comfortably under one roof.”

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Interview with an Architect: Richard Brown, AIA

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Richard Brown AIA, founder of RBA, about a newly completed project in Portland, Oregon. The modern, yet traditionally inspired design has a reclaimed timber frame core combined with stick built spaces. Nestled along the hillside with views of Mt. Hood, Richard explained that this will be the main home for a creative couple—a modern house with traditional queues. We conversed about this project and the broader driving forces behind his architectural creativity:  

What can you tell us about this project’s build site?
It’s a really beautiful site in Portland, which are getting to be rare in major cities as our population grows. This site had a home removed a few years back in anticipation of a development which never happened. There are great views to Mt. Hood and good access to sunlight. The homeowner is an avid gardener, so we intentionally sat the home into the shade away from where sun falls to leave space for gardens and a meadow area.

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West Coast High

Has it really been a decade since we opened in Oregon? No. Actually, it’s been 9 years. Summer, 2008 I landed out here after a few years of research and prep just in time for the roughest economic face plant many of us have known (and I’ve known 4 others in our 30 years).

I liken that whole beginning to parachuting out of an airplane amidst blue skies into a thick but fluffy-enough bunch of clouds. Once inside, there was some suggestive bumping about, some troublesome turbulence, but not a clear sign yet of what lay ahead. Then suddenly I break through those clouds and the scene below me opens like a battlefield movie: burning buildings, scorched earth, hungry villagers with widening eyes and the air full of acrid smoke. (Yes, yes I’m exaggerating for effect. There were no burning buildings.)

That was the starting of our west coast effort at the beginning of that darned big recession. In looking back, it might have been better to hang out on the beach for 4 or 5 years rather than make the effort we did to build our business in such a setting. But I am neither prescient nor idle, and so work we did.

…and we’ve made great progress, and well, we’re pretty glad we didn’t just hang out on the beach. I would have gone insane.

Sean seems to be our resident selfie expert. Here he captured himself along with a few of the rest of us west coasters: Darren, Richard La Trobe (artist and bridge maker), me, David, and Quinn.

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Growing Up: Creating Volume in a Small Footprint

While site constraints are common with any project, this particular building site on Otsego Lake demanded that any new structure fit within the previous camp’s footprint – no larger, no change in orientation, no closer to the shore. However, there was opportunity to play with the height of a new project and always room for thoughtful use of space.

building sectionThe Southeast side of Ostego Lake is forever wild. The Northeast is home to a state park, the Western side is a large, privately owned estate. Thanks to good timing several years back, the client purchased this site with an existing three-season camp, on the Northwestern end of the lake. Removal of the old three-season camp revealed a tight 24′ x 31′ footprint.

sat view site otsego lake

Our design team began the journey to ‘grow up’ on the site by understanding the desires and needs of the client—a father looking to create a four-season, multi-generational family get-away. A sleek mountain-lake aesthetic provided the starting point for a taller, multi-level cottage design. With the lake as a major focal point, contemporary, horizontally mulled rectangular windows were combined with non-mulled square windows for ample views and abundant natural light. A split shed roof will allow the project to stay within height restrictions while creating a clerestory to bring southern light into the upper-level bedroom spaces. “I really like the simplicity and functionality of the split shed roof and I’m excited to see it come to life,” said Pete, lead Architect on this project.

clerestory timber frame small lake home

“We knew making the most of the site would likely result in a very “flat” exterior aesthetic. To add dimension we’re incorporating a combination of vertical and horizontal siding in a mixture of materials along with varying the depth of the roof overhangs,” continued Pete.

main level floorplan timber frame otsego lake

The design suggests setting the project further down into the site to provide parking access at the roadside, rather than lakeside as the camp had previously been oriented. This will provide more “green space” on the lake side of the site, however, it creates an interesting entry point that is situated ‘between’ the main and upper levels. The entrance includes a larger landing with a bench and connections to two staircases: one that leads down to the main level commons and another that proceeds upwards to the bedrooms.

timber frame entry lake otsego home

Timber runs from the ground level up, enabling the creation of visual breaks throughout the project’s open spaces with strategically placed structural timber frame posts and beams. Overall the design plays out to 2,000 sq ft with bedrooms, including a master with private balcony, on the upper level, main living on the mid-level, and a guest suite plus lake access from the lower level. Pete and team are continuing to finalize this design, adjusting to meet both client and additional zoning requirements. We can’t wait to see the home as it comes to fruition. Tell us about your dream timber frame.

Nestled in Vermont

vermont timber frame rendering apr 2017

In our experience, homes are most successful when they adapt, age, and grow with their inhabitants. It’s always pleasing when we can plan ahead for changes, such as transitioning a weekend vacation space to full-time home. Hank and Julie have given us such an opportunity. The couple has a delightful build site in Fayston, VT and enlisted our team to design their vacation home, which will eventually become their full-time retirement retreat.

Sublime views of Slidebrook Basin between north and south ski areas of Sugarbush Resort guided the overall home orientation, and specifically the great room layout, for Hank and Julie’s project.

view of sugarbush

Careful consideration was also given to the traditional Vermont farmhouse vernacular. The design acknowledges this aesthetic with a main gable roofline that intersects with an asymmetrical salt box gable roofline. It incorporates the couple’s desire for mountain-rustic style with mixed exterior materials and subtle timber elements. The corner of the home’s “L” shaped layout is defined with a stair tower that has evenly stacked windows and will feature shou sugi ban siding.

The stair tower anchors the corner of the home's "L" shaped layout.

The stair tower anchors the corner of the home’s “L” shaped layout.

With a combination of woodlands and open agricultural space, the site will allow the home to be set partially within the trees at the end of a curving drive through open land. A banked garage is angled into the hillside, giving the front of the home a modest street-side facade.

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Meeting individual needs is always a design driver which, for this project, lead our team to incorporate a craft room on the lower level walk-out. This space was a must-have to support Julie’s non-profit and grassroots organization, Sewpportive Friends. The group creates kits vital to feminine hygiene for young girls and women in Zimbabwe; a necessity for both health and education. We can’t tell the story as well as the Sewpportive website and blog. Julie will be headed back to Zimbabwe with a team this July to distribute to more schools and villages. We’re excited for their continued success.

sewpportive web

Hank and Julie are avid outdoor enthusiasts leading to another need: storage. Large storage on the lower level will be used for housing/maintenance of skis, hiking gear, canoes, snowshoes, and other equipment. Walk-out access eases the transition to/from nature with or without gear.

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“We are having a very enjoyable time working with Ty, Pete, and the rest of the NEW crew. Their focus on creating a relationship with us, rather than making a transaction, is evident in their overall approach to the design/build work: from their site visit to our VT property, our trip to the NEW facility in Farmington, NY, and all additional communications. They are inspired, honest and professional. They understand that attention to what WE want in our house is of utmost importance, and are happy to share their knowledge and experience by providing creative ideas that we could explore or not.” – Hank and Julie.

An overall open floorplan ensures a relaxed, easy, flow when family and friends visit to sample local Vermont brews and views. It also allows for commanding views of the surrounding landscape from all common spaces.

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We sat down with Pete, lead designer for Hank and Julie’s home, who explained that a key to open floor plans is accentuating areas with details, often flooring or in this case, with timber. Overall the timber frame directs views and differentiates spaces. In Hank and Julie’s home, two keyed beams flank the dining room and kitchen island (image below). This change in ‘ceiling’ visually separates the spaces from the great room which features canted queen post trusses with curved bottom chords (image above). Pete continued to verbally draw the home, describing flitch beams, a combination of steel and timber, used in the lower level to create a larger clearspan while defining the circulation of space from the family room. Moving up two levels, he noted that guest rooms have bunk loft beds over the closets, a fun feature that will likely be a fascinating novelty for kids and adults alike.

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Other build details include roof SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) and our Matrix Wall enclosure. We’ll be raising the frame this summer and working with Brothers Building of Waitsfield, VT to complete the project.

The home will include a master suite, craft room, great room, game room, and ample storage. 5 bedrooms and 3.5 baths.

The home will include a master suite, craft room, great room, game room, and ample storage. 5 bedrooms and 3.5 baths.

Many thanks to Hank and Julie for the kind words and for allowing us to be part of your project!