Sometimes the best answers are the simplest. A desire for simplicity and connection to nature were driving forces in the creation of this home. Located on Six Mile creek just outside of Erie PA, the fantastic site boasts impressive old growth trees and a stunning view of the stream. The owner approached us looking to create a small retirement home that was minimalist, efficient, ADA compliant, and most importantly receded into the background while the view of the stream, trees and wildlife became the central focus.
Following the theme of simplicity, the design sought to be as efficient with the floor plan as possible. At only 1,670 square feet this two bedroom, 1 ½ bathroom house looked for every opportunity to reduce the footprint of the building to only what was essential.
One of the largest space savings was found in the split jack & jill bathroom (separate vanities and toilets on either side of a shared shower and soaking tub). One side serves as the common/guest bathroom while the other, the master bath. Allowing the most space intensive / mechanically demanding (and also least used) elements of the bath (shower & tub) to be shared, provided savings and value.
Another way the design sought to create the feeling of simplicity was through the large, open and continuous main living space. The kitchen / livingroom and both bedrooms are in essence all part of the same open room. Privacy for the bedrooms is created by a central dividing wall, but the central wall stops short on the edges allowing for clean sight lines down either side and out through the windows. Cantilevered pocket doors extend into these open hallways to provide privacy between the bedrooms. Additionally the structure of this large open space repeats at a regular interval and is reflected and mirrored in both the windows and bookshelves. And even though the floor plan is quite compact, the high ceilings and extensive glass dissolve any sense of restriction.
Central to the design was the extensive use of glass and the desire to maximize views of the stream and trees. One of the most dominate features of the home, this was accomplished by making the private stream side a wall of windows. While the stream side of the home is completely open, it’s balanced by the private road side. Composed of a continuous built in bookshelf with high clearstory windows, this side sought to maximize storage and daylight while also providing privacy. These two sides also balance and reinforce each other. Not only do they maintain and reinforce the essential lines of the space, but the high clearstory awning windows on the road side are mirrored by low floor level awning windows on the stream side, providing both cross and stack ventilation.
Following the essential theme of simplicity, the living space of the home was designed to be entirely barrier free and ADA compliant.
Simple in effect doesn’t necessarily equate to simpler to build. Despite its modern aesthetic, the tight tolerances essential to the look demanded more precision than conventional construction. This was especially true of the extensive wall of windows. In order to accomplish the minimalist profile of the windows that perfectly aligned from one end to the other, very precise dimensions needed to be maintained. Extra effort was spent to insure that every window was right where it needed to be and perfectly aligned with the structure of the building.
The flat roof was another area that required more attention and higher precision. With ½” of slope per foot, the roof was built to drain all water to the exterior eaves avoiding the need for interior drains. Also, the structure was engineered and built with very low deflection to avoid any chance of ponding. A high quality membrane was installed and robustly flashed.
Since the design called for a very open floor plan with extensive glass relative to the square footage, the heating system provided a challenge. After some consideration it was decided that the best solution possible would be to make use of efficient spray foam insulation in addition to in floor radiant heat. The system was constructed by embedding Pex-Al-Pex tubing in a thin slab of 1 ½” of concrete. Besides protecting the tubing, the concrete provides ideal thermal mass and outstanding heat transfer. The improved heat transfer in turn allows for low water temperatures and maximizes the efficiency of condensing boilers. This system was an early decision and was integral to the engineering and construction. The added weight and thickness of the floors had to be accounted for in the layout and structural design.
Another challenging aspect of the build rested in the creation of the cantilevered pocket doors that separate the bedrooms. Central to the design was the single open room concept, while privacy between the bedrooms was also essential. In order to best accomplish both, an extra long track was embedded in the central dividing partition. This long track allowed the doors to be cantilevered when fully extended and avoided the need for the typical overhead track or taller wall that would further divide the spaces. When the doors are retracted back into the wall, they all but disappear.
The build also sought to make use of very simple and natural materials. A standing seam galvanized steel roof was installed over the main living space and a charred pine siding was installed on the exterior. Tongue and groove pine was used on the ceilings of the main house along with pine trim and a porcelain tile was installed on the floors.