One of the great things about designing residential projects for specific clients is that you can really get in and explore the opportunities to deliver a superior product that exceeds expectations. I have a project that is currently under construction and it is as good an example as any to help demonstrate what I am talking about. In speculative residential development, there is a certain amount of thinking that involves working towards the lowest common denominator. Since there isn’t a specific client that the contractor (or architect) is answering to, the product is designed and built to have the greatest appeal to the greatest spectrum of potential home buyers. As a result, almost everything is predictable and formulaic – any “WOW” features are carefully calculated risks because they generally represent un-programmed construction costs; sort of give the people what they want.
That’s incredibly boring.
I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the covered porch on of one of my projects. (I shouldn’t have to tell you that you shouldn’t build from these details – I have specifically left some information off) This is a fairly straightforward design situation – the covered porch at the entry. Most people have this scenario in one form or another at their own home – but we are trying to look at some of little things to make this entry sequence just a little bit more special. In modern design, there is typically a lot going on that you aren’t instantly supposed to know about or be clubbed over the head with. Things like:
- Thin roof profiles
- Gutter treatments (including scuppers, overflows, and downspouts)
- Alignment – how things line up in relationship with other architectural features
Take the exterior elevation above, if you can read drawings you can see that there is a lot going on that is going to impact the entry procession. There is a box gutter that is basically the same depth as the structure of the roof, the gutter is formed from the same metal fascia material, and there is a scupper to discharge the water instead of a downspout. All of these things were done so that we can minimize the visual impact of how rainwater falls off this section of roof.
Taking a look at a section through the entry porch, the gutter profile is easier to see. Something else that you can find is a skylight that is placed along the edge of the house. This was done so that light can penetrate through the roof and rake the entry wall. There is also a strip light cove in this skylight so that the entry will be evenly illuminated during the evening hours. It would have been simple to place some shallow profile can lights into the porch ceiling but we would have received scalloped light patterns on the wall and the brightest spot would be the porch floor – and I am not a fan of illuminating floors. It’s a better design to light and feature the wall and have the light reflect onto the floor than the other way around.
Another design feature is that the interior and exterior ceiling height are the same, and that the glazing goes all the way up. This is a really graceful way to extend the view from one side of the window through to the other side without interruption. I think it is an important consideration that in modern design, the boundary between interior and exterior spaces be blurred. As a result, I try to create opportunities to capture the space that tends to be wasted and unused in the front and side yards of most projects.
Drilling all the way in, this is a detail of the light cove and porch skylight at the entry. Other than some extra 2x material, caulk, and some glass – this is not a terribly difficult detail to execute. The benefit it provides is really the result of someone thinking about the opportunity to look at the little things and develop the detail that supports the story. The client loves this feature despite it not being in the programming – this is the sort of detail that happens when creativity and opportunity come together. It’s also the reason I tell people who working with an architect like me should be a fun and rewarding experience.
It’s all in the details.