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Design snapshot: Grounding exterior stairs

At first, I was a bit surprised to discover this image from my Houzz page finding its way into Houzzers ideabooks with great frequency. Then I began to see that perhaps the very feature we had considered a design liability was actually a design asset.

We originally designed this studio over a garage to have a single entrance via the French door in the shed dormer at the top of the rear stairs that climb from the deck. In an effort to make the stairs more integral to the building, we specified that the stair stringer walls be clad in cedar shingles to match the building's exterior walls. 

Then, the local building inspector required a second egress stair. At the time, we felt this was redundant since both egress doors would be opening into the same studio space about fourteen feet from each other.

Nonetheless, we complied and designed the second stair that climbs from the deck and travels up across the end gable to a second French door. We took a similar design approach with the second stair and specified that its stair stringer walls be clad primarily with cedar shingles and, near the base, vertical cedar skirt boards like the sides of the deck. We designed both stair guard rails to have narrow wooden balusters to prevent the stairs from feeling too enclosing and appearing too overwhelming for such a small building.

Interestingly, the two exterior stairs which had struck me as somewhat cumbersome, seem to actually help ground the building. They bring the building down to an easily relatable scale and soften or mitigate what might otherwise have been a fairly harsh transition from a tall sidewall to a sloping grade. They also help visually tie this building to this specific place, as if the building and its stairs grew directly out of this incline. Sometimes a building regulation really can be a design asset.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Posted on Monday, February 24, 2014 at 3:44PM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off

Q: What does the architect say? A: Program

For a home design to be successful, it must first satisfy a homeowner's program, which is the design's spatial criteria. The program often takes the form of a list, describing each desired room/use, the approximate amount of square footage assigned to each, and the relationship of each to other rooms/uses, environmental forces (like sun and breezes), and/or the site.

Think of the program as the building blocks of your home design -- whether your home will be new construction or a renovation/addition. Your program will be unique to you. It should reflect how you would like to experience your home. Edit it, and edit it again to be sure the spaces and relationships it includes are true to your lifestyle, not your parents' lifestyle, not your neighbors' lifestyle, not the imagined lifestyle of some unknown potential future buyer.

If you're drafting a program for your home project, you might want to visit the homework section of the KHS website. There, you'll find a number of questions that will challenge you to hone your program. Visit the KHS design process page to to get a sense of how your program fits into the overall design process.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 8:06PM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off

Design snapshot: Winter Wyeth-like 

I generally scout for Design snapshots in New England's more temperate months than in bone-chilling January or February. Every once in a while, though, I snap something despite the cold because it simply begs to be captured.

This stoic New England gambrel at the crest of a brown hill, with a thick stroke of bordering hedge and a bare tree at its corner, called to me. Its first-floor shades drawn and its porch framing a quiet block of blue held my gaze. Its cloak of weathered-grey shingled walls and roof dotted with 8/12 and 12/12 windows, edged with moss-green trim, and accented by a tall, brick chimney nose greeted me plainly. Yes, this house speaks my language.

I grew up with a print of Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World behind the family room couch, which -- along with 19th century farmhouse it occupied and my mother's taste for sturdy local antiques -- must have trained me early in the hardy, resilient language of vernacular New England dwellings and their surrounds. I feel in their company as if I have found a dear friend or relative, someone with whom I can be completely at home.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Posted on Friday, January 24, 2014 at 5:03PM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off

Primer: Breezeways as connectors and destinations 

Image excerpt from my Fine Homebuilding "Drawing Board" column about breezeways. Offset breezeway example.Pick up a copy of the February/March 2014 Fine Homebuilding magazine to catch my latest "Drawing Board" contribution. This one explores designing breezeways that not only connect but serve as outdoor-living destinations.

Click here for a PDF of the column. "Three ways for breezeways" by Katie Hutchison, Issue #241, February/March 2014. Reprinted with permission copyright 2014, The Taunton Press, Inc.

Visit the KHS publications page to see other magazine columns and articles I've written.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast


Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 2:44PM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in , , | Comments Off

Ask Katie: Rancher curb enhancement

photo courtesy of the homeownerQ: We recently purchased a home that is a 60’s style single-story front gable structure with a low pitched roofline. The interior has been completely remodeled, but I really feel like something needs to be done to the front of the home (entrance) to make it complete. I do realize the roofline will be the most limiting factor, and we may just have to work around it. We really like the Cape Cod/refined look, but don’t know where to start with the ideas to help its curb appeal. Obviously, in the most cost effective way (paint trim, add entrance way, exterior coverings), I was curious to see if you could help us out with a few ideas to bring out the potential in the home.

Brian of Mountainbrook, AL

A: This rancher front elevation has great unrealized potential. It could really shine if we highlight and capitalize on its inherent ranchiness. That is not to say, however, that a subtle layer of non-ranch influence could not inform its unique countenance. But it would need to be a sympathetic influence, a compatible influence, not something too alien.

stengths and weaknesses

The simple, low-slung, gable roof of this home is probably its most identifying and strongest feature. The next most impactful feature may be the ganged horizontal windows, in what is presumably the living room, to the left of the entrance. The third strongest design element may be the horizontal sills, lintels and entrance canopy. The least successful portion of the front elevation may be the right side of the entrance where three disconcertingly vertical double-hung windows populate the horizontal swath defined by the brick window sill and wood lintel which becomes the entry canopy. Also, it's this side where the base of the home becomes uncomfortably muddled or non-existent. The planter off the far left of the home, in combination with the higher grade there, seem to better ground that side.

new entry porch

The introduction of a more substantial entry porch which extends out from the existing doorway and to the right could help remedy much of what ails the front of this house, while reinforcing the horizontality of the sills, lintels, and canopy, as well as balancing the horizontal bank of living room windows to the left.

I suggest removing the existing entry stoop and replacing it with a grey, rectilinear, stone stoop/terrace that extends to the left a couple of feet and all of the way across the right front and six to eight feet or so forward of that portion of the house. (Of course, this assumes that the local zoning would allow such a stoop/terrace footprint.) The top of the new stone stoop/terrace could run a few inches beneath what appears to be vents along the front. The lower height of the new stoop/terrace would likely mean including a separate landing (of the same material) that's a step or so up in front of the entry door. The new stoop/terrace could end in steps to grade on the far right facing the side yard. The new stoop/terrace would reinforce the home's horizontal design and introduce a base to better ground the home.

A new, deeper, horizontal, wooden canopy in the location of the existing canopy that's supported beneath by thin metal stays/brackets could extend to the left of the door over the new stoop/terrace and to the right across the swath of windows and stop where the existing canopy/lintel stops, while projecting about three and one-half to four feet in front of the right portion of the house. This would provide porch shelter and further reinforce the home's horizontality and the horizontality of the swath that contains the double-hung windows. 

new materials and color palette

The introduction of some natural-finish, warm-stained cedar (or fir) might lend the exterior more warmth to play off the painted white brick. In fact, I'd recommend painting the brick another color, something in the light green lichen color family might be pleasant. The existing vertical composite siding above the windows could be replaced with natural-finish, warm-stained vertical cedar v-groove tongue and groove boards. The existing vertical composite siding in between the double-hung windows (both on the right and left sides of the front) could be replaced with natural-finish, warm-stained horizontal clapboards -- again, to reinforce the horizontality of those areas. Window (and door) surrounds in all areas could be replaced with the same natural-finish, warm-stained cedar. Of course, this new palette of materials and colors would need to be applied on all sides of the home. A terrace/landing guard rail composed of new natural-finish, warm-stained intermediate posts, horizontal cable rails, and a natural-finish, warm-stained, shaped cedar cap might complement the new look nicely.

slatted wood screens

You might even consider adding fixed, slatted, natural-finish, warm-stained cedar screens -- the height of the lower double-hung sashes and in alignment with them -- running across the front of the horizontal openings (which contain the double-hung windows and infill to the far left and right of the front door). These would act as privacy screens (instead of the interior window shades) in the more private spaces, while reinforcing the horizontal swaths between the painted brick elements.

enhanced ranchiness infused with an Arts & Crafts touch

The addition of the new horizontal stoop and guard rails, a deeper bracketed horizontal canopy roof, a new materials and color palette, and new slatted wooden screens would enhance this home's ranchiness, while better grounding it and lending it a dash of Arts & Crafts influence (an influence not as far afield from a ranch as a Cape influence).

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Email architect Katie Hutchison (Katie@katiehutchison.com) your general-interest residential design question. Put "Ask Katie" in the subject line and summarize your question in a couple of paragraphs. Include your name, town, and state. Check back with the Ask Katie category to look for Katie's responses to select questions.

Posted on Friday, January 3, 2014 at 3:08PM by Registered CommenterKatie Hutchison in | Comments Off