Sunday, January 15, 2012

15: Cor-Ten House

By 2005 my life was much different than it was in 1990. I had the desire, and maybe more importantly the means, to change the house again.

This time, I said to myself, it's going to be different. And it was.

To refresh your memory:

Taken in 1990.

Taken in 1992.
(Click on any image for a larger view.)

A trip I took to Big Sur, CA made a big impression on me.  I wanted to live in a house that had some of the qualities of the buildings I had seen.  Not being able to relocate to California, I did what I could to make California come to me.

For a moment I'll let the pictures pictures speak for themselves.

In 2005, after two years of construction.  ©Kujawa Architecture

©Kujawa Architecture

© Kujawa Architecture
Fireplace.  © Kujawa Architecture
Stair railing. © Kujawa Architecture

Plot plans, 2nd floor, before and after.  © Kujawa Architecture

I tried to take a hands off approach, doing very little of the construction work this time around.  Looking back, I wish I'd taken on more of the work myself.

Here's how the architect, Caz Kujawa, described the project:
"The house, as I found it, looked like a typical wood-frame Chicago row house. It had been completely rebuilt, literally, by the owner, who had spent several years constructing the house with his own hands. What he had originally purchased was the burnt-out shell of an early balloon frame house that he added to and built into a two-flat, including a three bedroom owner unit and a two bedroom garden apartment. What was unique was the lot. It was shallow but extra wide, providing an unusually large side yard for a city property.

When we first met, Bruce, the owner, explained how changes in the neighborhood had transformed his vision for the house. Fifteen years ago, security had been his primary concern, and the house reflected that. His purpose in hiring an architect was to create a space he enjoyed living in, rather than retreating into as a haven from the outside. Not that refuge was a quality to eliminate, rather, his desire was to create a welcoming refuge that more accurately reflected his lifestyle.

The budget, though ample in some areas of the country, represented a real challenge for building in Chicago. Regardless, the constraints posed by cost considerations actually had a valuable impact on the outcome. It required us to set priorities and eliminate all that was non-essential.

Our first decision was to limit the "gut" rehab to the main living floor. We began reconfiguring the plan by moving the powder room and laundry closet to the West wall and effectively creating a service core. Bruce, an avid cook, wanted a kitchen that was open to the living/dining area, as well as commanding a view of the yard and the entry. By relocating the service uses, we effectively created one volume that houses the kitchen, living and dining areas, with the kitchen anchoring the North, while the relocated fireplace, clad in weathered steel, is a focal point to the South.

We chose to relocate the entry as well, bringing it from the South end of the house, to the middle East wall. This enabled us to gain interior space that had previously been used by the entry stair, and also to minimize area required for circulation. Additionally, this allowed for the creation of an entry transition that engages the yard, which was previously accessible only from the South and North ends. The entry door opens onto a cedar deck, which doubles as the roof of the patio that we built for the garden apartment.

In the transformation of the interior, the stairwell was a primary focus. We eliminated the stepping sidewall and replaced it with an aluminum guardrail. This had the effect of visually widening the space and creating the feeling that the volume is larger that it really is. Because the stairway was about a foot shallower than the service core, we created a frosted glass panel separating the two walls. The glass opens to the powder room and provides a visual cue of its occupancy as well as bringing in borrowed light. Finally we chose a natural cleft grey slate for the flooring. It was laid in a running bond and is heated by radiant tubing in the floor.

The windows are all Douglas-fir and in varied configurations, constructed so that each individual window is specific to its orientation. To the north, a picture window and back door open to the deck spanning the house and garage. To the East, a horizontal strip window splits the kitchen counter and the cabinets above, providing a view of the yard. This wall has an additional strip window located high to the South, providing a view of the sky and bringing light deep into the space. In designing, our first impulse was to really open the East wall to the yard, but due to the difficulty of shading that orientation and the additional heating load required in the winter, we realized that less glazing, thoughtfully located, would provide the necessary views, day-lighting and shelter we sought. To the South, directly above the hearth, is a picture window, providing a welcome relief to the wall plane and additionally creating a visual separation between the hearth, the fireplace, the South wall, and the East wall—which all come together at this location. Finally, the floor-to-ceiling openings at the North, where the kitchen door is located, and the South, where the window separates the fireplace/hearth and the built-in cabinets, become devices on the exterior for separating materials. These two floor-to-ceiling glass elements are like book-ends for the cedar cladding. The remainder of the structure is clad entirely in corrugated corten steel. We replaced the windows and exterior doors elsewhere without altering the openings and eliminated one window on the top floor to balance the South elevation. The windows on the top floor were then trimmed out with cedar planter boxes that provide some shading, while also creating an illusion of depth that makes the openings appear larger than they actually are. A new Galvalume standing seam roof was installed, and the skylights above the stairwell were replaced and are now remote controlled, creating an excellent device for stack ventilation which has been extremely effective in the warmer months."

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