Streamlined Modern Living in the North Carolina Forest

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By J. Michael Welton / Published by Dwell
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A couple builds a home that makes the most of its woodsy site.

Dappled sunlight on a site near Duke Forest in Durham, North Carolina determined the new home's orientation. A couple’s opposite sleep patterns drove its layout. And a long-gone pet cat inspired its name.

Raleigh-based In Situ Studio designed "Fred" to nestle up to a wooded site, using Sto Powerwall stucco on the main body, with Hardie Plank siding and MiraTEC trim on the pop-out. Read about another North Carolina home by the architects in the May issue of Dwell. Courtesy of Richard Leo Johnson / Atlantic Archives Inc.

The firm that designed it, Raleigh-based In Situ Studio, was just 18 months old when the clients reached out to partners Matthew Griffith and Erin Sterling Lewis in 2012.

Living and deck spaces open up to trees and the forest. The cable rail ware is by Wagner, windows and doors are from Jeld-Wen, can lights on the porch are Eco-Lite LED, and the red paneling is Hardie Panel. Courtesy of Richard Leo Johnson / Atlantic Archives Inc.

Their first order of business was a tour of the site. "It was a 10-acre property with an old roadbed that followed the topography," says Griffith. "As we moved east along the site, we had a kind of ‘Aha!’ moment."

Living spaces are tailored to each of the two clients' needs. Here, the composite bamboo decking is by Calibamboo. Courtesy of Richard Leo Johnson / Atlantic Archives Inc.

A stream wanders through its northern edge, woods alongside it. "We could see into the forest, and where the stream moves off to the east, there’s a clearing where we could see sunlight coming through the trees," he says.

The corner window overlooks the woods. Courtesy of Richard Leo Johnson / Atlantic Archives Inc.

The architects hadn't yet been hired at that point, but they developed a site plan, with drawings and a model. That helped win the commission for the 2,500-square-foot project. The firm worked with nBaxter Design on the interiors, and L. E. Meyers Builders helped with construction.

The skylight window framing views of trees is from the Velux FCM Series; the paint is Harmony from Sherwin Williams. Courtesy of Richard Leo Johnson / Atlantic Archives Inc.

They sited it for maximum privacy on the edge of the forest, with living and deck spaces opening up to the trees. "It’s carefully nestled into the woods to capture the views, both near and far, that are important to both the site and the clients," he says.

The kitchen features a sink from Kohler, a faucet by Brizo, and a cooktop from Wolf. The tiles are by Everstone. Courtesy of Richard Leo Johnson / Atlantic Archives Inc.

They’re a couple who retired to Carolina from the San Francisco Bay area, and they were articulate in communicating their daily routines to the architects. One’s a night owl who sleeps mostly during the day, while the other’s an early riser who likes to wake up to the site's sweeping vistas.

In the bathroom, the freestanding tub is a Lacava Sottile TUB07 model, the sink is Kohler's Vox, and the faucet is Delta's Vero SS. Courtesy of Richard Leo Johnson / Atlantic Archives Inc.

Griffith and Lewis tailored living spaces to the needs of each. "She can walk out of their bedroom to her window seat, her books and her coffee maker, first thing in morning," he says. "He prefers to stay up late. When he’s awake, he’s involved in graphic design, woodworking, and music, so the space is specific to him – there’s soundproofing and lighting control."

"Fred" is snugged into the woods to capture views. Courtesy of Richard Leo Johnson / Atlantic Archives Inc.

Fifteen years ago, the couple owned a much-loved cat named Fred. "It was a long journey to design the house, but before they even began, they knew it would be named Fred," he says. Nine lives or not, his spirit lives on.

The metal wall panels are designed to blend in with the home's surroundings. Courtesy of Richard Leo Johnson / Atlantic Archives Inc.

The home's kitchen windows face the forest. Courtesy of Richard Leo Johnson / Atlantic Archives Inc.