Best Overall Custom Home of the Year
The traditional New England concept of a main house with outbuildings gradually added on over time, known as “continuous architecture,” holds an evocative power. It calls up images of harsh winters, short but glorious summers, and homeowners with an abiding respect for their land.
Architect Chris Ladds felt the allure of this housing type when talking with a client who wanted a home and art studio in Jamestown, R.I. Yet he didn't want to create a historic reproduction. “I prefer to have the design reflect the time period in which it's built,” Ladds says. So he designed a three-part complex reminiscent of continuous architecture but pulled the buildings' time-honored shapes taut using a Modern vocabulary. He kept the materials, like painted board-and-batten and cedar shingles, consistent with the New England agricultural building vernacular. “Because of the familiar materials, it's one of those rare houses that's Modern but has a really comfortable feel,” said a judge.
Ladds' client is a glass artist who works at home, so the house had to function as both a residence and a workplace. The idea of separate buildings lent itself naturally to this dual purpose. For the garage and artist's studio, he fashioned a 2,000-square-foot building with a curved shed roof. It sits at an angle to the 2,900-square-foot main house so that the east ends of both structures almost touch. The resulting V-shaped plan allows water views and sunlight to enter a courtyard between the buildings. A sheltered entry pavilion completes the V, linking the home and studio and providing a mud room that serves both. “The separation of different areas works really well,” said one judge.
In addition to neatly dividing the live and work functions and optimizing the amount of sunlight that penetrates the building, the two-pronged plan also protects the courtyard from wind. This outdoor room is a key element of the plan; it gives the artist and his family a neutral zone that belongs to both the studio and the house.
Though the building's cheerful collection of forms appears to be simple, Ladds in fact carefully calculated each design move. “There was a method to everything,” he says. The curved south wall of the main house, for example, exactly follows the sun's path throughout the day. This element helps relate the building to its site and makes for an ever-changing shadow pattern inside. The lichen-green cedar planks cladding that wall are applied in a reverse board-and-batten pattern, with the battens behind the boards instead of over them. Each window along the curve measures precisely the same width as two boards. And the screened porch at the end of the wall owes its simplicity to more behind-the-scenes ingenuity. “We wanted the porch to be as light as possible, so it contains no structural members,” says Ladds. “The master bedroom above it is held up by cantilevered beams.”
The home's interior proves a worthy match to its exterior, as Ladds employed cost-effective products and materials to create a dynamic atmosphere. A built-in maple bench runs the length of the curved first-floor wall. Glass plates cast by the owner form the main stairway's central baluster. Beams of engineered lumber support the living room ceiling, instead of the steel Ladds originally planned. “There's a cartoonlike quality to engineered lumber,” he explains. “It looks the way somebody might paint or draw lumber. Also, it's a warmer material than steel.”
Ladds included an extra room lofted in a tower above the home's second floor. The room has no specific purpose, which is just what he intended. “It's a getaway,” he says. The room has a view of the Narragansett Bay and makes a great spot to read, contemplate, or think about nothing at all. The judges felt the same way about it that they did about the rest of the project. Said one, “I can look at this house and find almost nothing I don't like.”