Page H1 . 29 October 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Patterns of Home
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    Patterns of Home
    Pattern Ten Composing with Materials : The Joy of Building

    ArchWeek Photo

    Materials were used in new ways in a house in northern California by Richard Fernau and Laura Hartman.
    Photo: David Duncan Livingston


    Materials can be used expressively, for emphasis, for sensual pleasure, or playfully, with a sense of humor. This house by Richard Fernau and Laura Hartman for a dramatist, a writer, and their small child is an example of materials being composed in a lighter spirit, full of surprises.

    This house awakens a new appreciation of materials, showing that they can speak not only quietly and subtly but also boldly, dramatically, and freshly.

    The northern California site is magnificent, with an extraordinary view over the hills to a reservoir beyond and below.

    In this spectacular open land, it's best if the exterior of this house doesn't try to upstage the site. The exterior of this house is energetic and playful in its informal assembly of rectangular shapes, strung out along and across the contour, each sporting its own roof.

    In another sense, the exterior is understated, the wall and roof colors a muted green and gray, the forms broken down into smaller and less domineering pieces.

    In this, it's reminiscent of a rural agricultural complex, with central barn, attached accessory sheds, and smaller detached buildings, all working together somehow purposefully, but a little mysteriously too.

    ArchWeek Photo

    The house is understated, fitting into the site modestly and informally.
    Photo: David Duncan Livingston

    ArchWeek Photo

    Site plan.
    Image: The Taunton Press

    ArchWeek Photo

    The first glimpse of the living room from the entry reveals a mysterious protrusion of elements into an otherwise pristine arched ceiling.
    Photo: David Duncan Livingston

    ArchWeek Photo

    The warm wood stair treads contrast elegantly with the cool perforated metal risers, enhancing both.
    Photo: David Duncan Livingston

    Click on thumbnail images to view full-size pictures.

    The plan shows the informal placement of the parts, with the entry road parallel to the contours, past a future pool complex on the right, with guest parking and office on the left, to the garage straight ahead. It also hints that this house is going to have some surprises inside, with rooms that seemingly embed themselves into the body of the main space at unusual angles.

    Inside, the major wall material is a refined type of dense and smooth prestained plywood called Fin-Ply. The panels are screwed onto the walls with narrow open joints between panels and the ceiling. This plywood is so dense that, unlike conventional plywood, the cut edge retains its integrity and can be exposed, as in its use as window trim.

    As you leave the entry and move toward the kitchen and living space, a surprise reveals itself. Ahead and above lie the great curved glulam beams of the main space that support a wood-planked ceiling. But this bold and direct design element appears to be only the container of other more complex forms jutting into the main space a jaunty little porch roof on one side and some mysterious ceiling framing entering the space from the other.

    But turning the corner and looking into the open kitchen, it's revealed that the roof form of the exterior part of the kitchen wing is simply carried on into and under the main volume. This redundant continuation of roof framing forms a kind of overhead trellis for the part of the kitchen that lies inside the main space. This dramatizes the kitchen space and creates the feeling that it is a kind of stage set for a cooking performance.

    The kitchen glows with the intensity of the red linoleum floor, sparkling stainless-steel appliances, and red-stained Fin-Ply cabinet door panels. The marble-dust finish of the stucco fireplace and concrete hearth provides further impact. All of these strong colors, textures, and details of the kitchen combine to bring life to the larger, simpler commons space.

    Patterns of Home

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    Part of the ArchitectureWeek Patterns series. Text and images excerpted with permission from Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design by Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein, and Barbara Winslow, copyright © 2002 The Taunton Press, Inc. The book is available from The Taunton Press and at

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