Simplicity Reigns

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Trends Ideas, Volume 2703

For many people, a retreat is all about paring back the frills and complications of everyday life and taking time out to relax with family and friends. The carefree simplicity of such family vacations helped determine the design of this second home in the Michigan countryside.
Architects Dan Wheeler and Jeremy Olsen of Wheeler Kearns Architects say the owners wanted to be able to host friends as well as family, so the house not only needed to have a laid-back attitude, but also plenty of space.
“At the same time, however, the owners didn’t want the house to look overly large,” Wheeler says. “The lakeside neighbourhood reflects a medley of architectural styles, with a large number of cottage-style homes. But we wanted to create something a little more contemporary and agrarian – a design that would reference the local architectural vernacular of farm buildings that have evolved over time.”
Wheeler says the solution was to provide three simple gabled volumes – a stand-alone garage with a self-contained apartment above, and two linked volumes for the family and guest accommodation.
“The separate buildings help to break down the mass of the house. By orienting the volumes to sit squarely on the site, and providing a long ‘hotel’ wing for guests, we could also screen the outdoor living areas from the street.”
The architect says the farm building reference extends to the rhythmic placing of the windows, the barn-style garage doors and the 45° pitch of the roofs. Because the gabled roofs have such a prominent form, Galvalume standing seam metal roofing was specified. This accentuates the surface and adds visual interest. The same metal clads a firebox on the outside of the main living pavilion.
“We wanted to limit the number of building materials, so the house could be presented as a series of pure, simple forms,” says Wheeler.
For this reason also, the whitewashed cedar siding has a very architectural look, with flat, rather than bevelled edges. And the corners are mitred – unlike typical buildings, there are no end boards over the edge of the siding. This emphasizes the idea of a house in its simplest form, much like a child’s drawing, or a simple model carved from wood.
“Essentially, in taking a vernacular approach we have reinterpreted past practices,” says the architect. “The design is all about proportion and the need to provide a comfortable living environment with a sense of airiness.”
High ceilings with whitewashed wood boards contribute to the light, airy look of the interior. On the upper levels, the ceilings follow the slope of the roof.
“Visually, the wood helps to break down the scale of the roofs, both sloping and flat,” says Wheeler.
Wood also features in the glazed dining room, which has whitewashed cedar siding on one wall, so it appears as a closed-in porch or addition.
“Again, this room makes it seem as though the house could have been added onto over time, just as traditional farm buildings grow,” says the architect.
The family living room incorporates a modern Poliform kitchen with an extra-long island that can be used for food preparation, serving and casual dining. Bright terracotta-coloured glass overhead cabinets are teamed with gray cabinetry and a maple butcher’s block.
On the upper level, the master suite provides another escape for the owners. A freestanding wall behind the bed separates a dressing room, with the bathroom beyond. The bathroom has a central shower unit, with glass walls protecting his-and-hers vanities from water spray.
The guest accommodation wing, or hotel, as the family calls it, provides three bedrooms, a bathroom and guest living room, all accessed by a circulation axis that runs the length of the building.
Away from the street, the house opens up to a series of outdoor rooms and a pool. Wheeler says the owners were able to buy a neighbouring site, which they have landscaped with long stone walls like fingers, interspersed with broad expanses of lawn.

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