Completed: December, 2017
Owner: Dr. Cathy Thomas
Architect: BuildSense Architecture, Durham, NC (buildsense.com)
General Contractor: BuildSense Inc., Durham, NC
Structural Engineer: Lysaght & Associates, Raleigh, NC
Steel Fabrication: Tactile Workshop, Raleigh, NC
Photographer: Catherine Wilborne, Raleigh, NC
The 3205-square-foot (conditioned) Thomas Residence is a modern oasis tucked into an old, established neighborhood near historic downtown Carrboro, NC. Dr. Thomas had been dreaming of retiring in a new home on that property since she bought it over 10 years ago. She envisioned all the pleasures of a house designed specifically for her needs and lifestyle within walking distance of the markets, art galleries, dining options, and other amenities in downtown Carrboro.
Her aspirations for this house were “freedom, peace, and independence” -- freedom from unnecessary maintenance, the peace that comes from literal and figurative decluttering; and long-term independence through age-in-place design. She also wanted a complete departure from the traditional style of her previous home. And she wanted her new house to be as environmentally sustainable as possible.
Most of the houses along Dr. Thomas’s street are one- or one-and-a-half-story structures, traditional in style, and positioned deeply within their lots. She wanted the house to be a quiet addition to the neighborhood, but a single-level house with the same set-back simply wouldn’t accommodate her programmatic requirements, which were: a spacious kitchen/dining/living area, four bedrooms (two of which would become a study and exercise room) with separate baths for each, a multi-purpose room, screened porches, a patio and outdoor kitchen, and a two-car garage. She would also take up a sizable portion of her property with a swimming pool.
The Solution: The Site and Simple Geometry
Assuring that this contemporary house sits comfortably within its context, it is oriented on the lot with the same set-back as its neighboring houses and a one-story form addresses the street. Behind this form, where the small site slopes dramatically down, a two-story form rises -- inconspicuously from the street -- above a basement level. Inside, a simple, open, black steel and wood staircase provides vertical circulation between the levels, along with an elevator as an age-in-place consideration.
Between those forms is the heart of the house: a central volume that’s flooded with natural light through extensive glazing in the long front and back walls. Beneath a ceiling that rises up to 14 feet, this lofty core contains the completely open living, dining, and kitchen area.
By responding to the site’s natural topography with uncomplicated forms and a logical floor plan, the project satisfies Dr. Thomas’s request for a visually and aesthetically clutter-free home.
On the exterior, natural cedar siding, large black aluminum-framed windows and garage doors, and the dramatic introduction of custom-fabricated steel underscore the project’s architectural narrative: With just a few low-maintenance materials and simple geometry, a modern house is a friendly new face in an old neighborhood. And the homeowner has everything she wants.
From the driveway and garage, a scored concrete walkway leads directly to the main entrance, which is deeply recessed into the façade, creating a sheltering “front porch." The steel wall at the entrance continues into the foyer where lighted niches within it display objets d’art from the doctor’s collection.
The foyer’s dark tonality gives way to the crisp white walls, clean lines, and clear volumes of the central kitchen/dining/living space, anchored on one side by a tall steel wall in the living area and on the other by a continuous line of built-in walnut cabinets topped with white quartz.
From outside, on the adjacent patio, the sound of water bubbling in a fabricated-steel water fountain slips into the lofty space.
The Thomas Residence has received a Gold certification from the National Green Building Standard. Features of its super-tight thermal envelope include:
• back-ventilated/rain-screen siding installation of cedar and steel
• high-performance exterior doors and windows
• a spray-on weather-resistant barrier
• a TPO membrane and metal roofing with a high solar-reflectivity index
• open-cell spray foam insulation
Hot water comfort, efficiency, and savings are achieved through a high-efficiency, tank-less, gas water heater, manifold plumbing system, and remote electric supercharger. Energy Recovery Ventilators provide comfortably balanced fresh air inside the house independent of the high-efficiency heating and cooling system.
A one-story form faces the public street.
The main entrance.
Natural cedar is a warm counterpoint to the dramatic steel wall at the entrance.
The patio along one side of the house, concluding at the stacked screened porches.
The patio includes an outdoor kitchen (background) and a custom-fabricated steel water fountain.
The patio's back wall is clad in steel. The screened porches can be seen beyond the patio.
The rear elevation facing the pool area. Cedar fencing traces the property lines on both sides.
An outdoor staircase leads from the main living level down to the pool, past the daylight basement.
The steel wall outside the main entrance continues into the foyer.
The living/dining/kitchen space at the center of the house.
The kitchen features Kendall gray upper cabinets above a continuous row of natural walnut lower cabinets topped with white quartz. The island features Sedna granite on the top and two sides. The other two sides are white quartz.
Beyond the dining space, an open staircase provides vertical circulation.
The black steel and white oak on the staircase echo the white oak flooring and steel wall nearby.
The master bath features Shadow Onyx for the vanity countertop, the shower bench, and the shower back panel. The floor tile, vanity wall and shower are Resing Berlin Grey tile. The twin sinks are custom copper.
The screened porch at the main living level.
The Thomas Residence floor plan.
- BuildSense Architecture
- BuildSense Architecture
- Southern Landscape
- BuildSense, Inc.
- Catherine Wilborne Photography