Minimal North Carolina Home Built for a Tech-Forward West Coast Couple
The minimalist cube, nestled into a ridge in a 1960s subdivision outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, is surrounded by clusters of golden beeches, scads of scarlet dogwoods, and a sienna-tinted chestnut tree. Out front lies a four-acre pond.
It’s a far cry from the San Francisco tech hub where Adobe employees Jeremy and Amy Clark met, married, and decided to start a family together. "We wanted to be close to the city but not in the heart of it," says Jeremy. "The Bay Area’s not necessarily good for that, especially if you want to build a house."
So the Clarks decided to move back east, ending up in North Carolina, where Amy was raised. "We looked at housing in San Francisco, but even a one-bedroom was priced astronomically," she says. When they began their search, centered in the Raleigh area, they discovered one of the nation’s largest inventories of architect-designed, midcentury modern homes. They also stumbled upon a corner lot nearly three acres in size, with a pond view and adjoining a forest bounded by a ridge. They bought it, subdivided it, sold off an acre, and called in Matthew Griffith and Erin Sterling Lewis of In Situ Studio, a newly established local firm. "It was our biggest commission at that point," Griffith says.
The clients knew what they wanted: a house they could grow into, with office space separated from the living areas, and a clean design with plenty of privacy. Jeremy, who grew up in Japan, brought a minimalist but tactile design aesthetic to the table. The architects responded with a number of options: "What we considered were the orientation, the massing, the program, and the precise location."
Once they had settled on a courtyard scheme, the architects brought in contractor John C. Sanders and fine-tuned the design. "We tweaked the site by as little as three degrees, to keep the view," says Lewis. "We slid it a little downhill from the top to preserve it." The result is a cinematic approach to the home—one that suppresses its view from the street, reveals it slowly on the way up the driveway, and celebrates its vistas from every room. Griffith explains, "The house becomes a device for viewing the pond."
Collaboration between the clients, the architects, and the contractor was paramount to meeting a six-month building schedule after the home’s yearlong design process. Griffith and Lewis churned out construction documents, Sanders worked through the building sequences, and the Clarks hunted for fixtures and finishes. "We were surprised at the process—nobody seemed to have all the answers," Jeremy says. "We did a lot of research on our own, especially for the cladding and the windows."
Jeremy discovered that almost all large window systems in North Carolina are used for storefront applications, without a lot of color, style, or hardware options. He looked into distribution for Western Window Systems—an Arizona-based company used frequently on the West Coast whose engineering allows for large-scale panes—and found that no local supplier carried the line. Jeremy ended up playing matchmaker between the manufacturer and Carolina Glass & Mirror, and the couple’s home now sports one of the rare Western Window Systems in the region.
Clad in black, white, and gray stucco, with stained cypress sheathing, the 4,200-square-foot home is heated and cooled by three geothermal wells. All functional lighting is LED, and a combination of spray foam and sustainable insulation forms a tight envelope. Careful with its orientation to the sun, the architects also utilized passive ventilation and overhangs.
Jeremy’s Japanese influence shows in the genkan entrance, a welcoming space at the entry to the house where shoes are removed; the tansu storage area under the stairs, which makes efficient use of otherwise dead structural space; and the shou-sugi-ban charred-pine fence, which blocks the line of sight into the home.
Walnut built-ins and flooring line the interior and contrast the polished concrete floor chosen for the glass-enclosed living-dining room. There, the inside merges with the outdoors during the day, while Lutron shades descend at the push of a button for privacy at night. Another minimalist, tech-forward touch is evident in the master bedroom, where a television rises out of a thin bookshelf, and is otherwise tucked away to open up views of the pond.
Similarly, a cold-rolled steel panel rises to reveal a flat-screen television in the living room, which is encased in floor-to-ceiling glass windows and elevated above the landscape as a kind of pavilion. The room and its pastoral view are proof-positive of successful architecture at work. The Clarks’ one-year-old son, Edison, isn’t captivated by what’s on the television screen, but what’s beyond the transparent curtain wall. "He loves to look outside," Amy says. "He goes from fussy baby to fine in front of that window."
J. Michael Welton
Mike Welton writes about architecture, art and design. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Interior Design, Inform, Modern and Artworks. He also publishes an online design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com.