The house is in a traditional area with strict building restrictions. "With adjacent houses close to the property line on the east and west sides, the backyard to the north, and narrow side of the lot facing south, the sunny part of the lot was at its center so that is where we put the outdoor spaces," Balaban says. In lieu of a lawn, permeable pavers add a practical and green element to the landscaping.
Since the sunniest part of the lot is at its center, Balaban designed the residence around a courtyard. "The outdoor space became the heart of the house," Balaban says. "You have the usual array of mechanical 'bells and whistles'—low-consumption fixtures, heat exchanger on the ventilation, radiant concrete floors, etc.— but the courtyard is the main green feature. It brings natural light to the basement and the center of the structure. It also creates a microclimate, protected from the wind. In combination with the stacked stair, it helps provide passive natural ventilation using a chimney effect through the house. The stepped courtyard also gives every space in the house direct access to a patio."
The kitchen looks out onto the courtyard. Inside the house, the floors are heated polished concrete. "For the interior, we kept everything as uniform and unarticulated as possible in the living spaces and bedrooms: pale concrete floors to match the walls as close as possible, no baseboards, etc., allowing the focus to be on the objects the house would contain: Tuan’s paintings and photos, the furniture and millwork that they chose," Balaban says.
"The bathrooms were the only other 'events' we wanted in the structure of the house," Balaban says. "Their dark, more intimate materials and graphic touches balance the visual clutter of sinks, toilets, faucets, etc. and stand in contrast to the living spaces. The white profiles of the tub and sinks also stand out nicely against the dark background. Tuan and Jean-François selected the graphic wallpapers for each bathroom once the house took shape and they also chose the faucets."
Balaban designed the staircase to read like a piece of furniture. It features handsome wood steps and a metal railing. Balaban flipped the traditional hierarchy of the house and placed bedrooms on the ground floor and living spaces on the second story. "We ran through a lot of design iterations during the concept phase—some of them were a bit off the wall—before finally settling on the form and the concept of inversing the spaces and digging out the courtyard from the center of the house," Balaban says. "We all went through a few months of weekly meetings and iterations to fine tune the design and the spaces, choose the materials and settle on the details. We tried just about every combination and permutation of spatial organization and stair configuration possible. The shape of the courtyard also evolved to respond to the spaces moving around. Time was an important and indispensable ingredient in the process!" "The living space is located on the upper floor and it's quite pleasant," Vu says. "The space is flooded with natural light all year long and has a view of mature trees in the neighborhood—it's stunning. We almost feel like we're in the countryside!"