On a rural hillside property encircled by fern-carpeted woods with breathtaking Green Mountain views, owners of the Elemental House envisioned a home enveloped by nature where they could relax with family and friends– a place uncomplicated, elegant, and beautiful, but rugged enough to withstand kids’ play and exploration. The owners married in Vermont and returned each summer, lengthening their stay as their family grew. After renting homes for years, they decided to build a house of their own so they could spend more time in the landscape they love.

An ambition to implement an architecture thoughtfully rooted in its place and incorporating energy efficiency and low-maintenance construction led to a reimagining of the vanishing Vermont farmhouse as a vernacular building for the modern world.

The house design and landscaping would be low-maintenance and unfussy. Our approach was to employ elemental architectural forms amid a lightly edited landscape. Two gabled volumes clad in charred and stained–almost black siding wedge into the slope while a third volume nestles uphill to form an L-shaped plan linked by a glassy entry node. We located the house at woods’ edge where the varied terrain, long views and dense woods could all be appreciated, and fully integrated into the design.

The house is both introverted and extraverted. It blends with the landscape to create a subdued, low-profiled entry and bedroom suite near the woods, but then boldly opens up on the downhill side to let in views and light at three levels.

Inspired by the variability of the land and forest, we used shifting geometry to give the house a dynamic, natural feel. There is also a bit of mystery: by composing spaces with offset geometries to give hints of what’s beyond, the house doesn’t present itself all at once but is discovered through a series of vignettes and glimpses which open up to framed views. Spaces are practical and functional while also composed to create rich visual interest and unique, dramatic perspectives from each room.

Taking cues from “random patterns” and movement in the landscape, the palette throughout is textural and tonal highlighting the natural beauty and irregular imperfections of wood, handmade tile, blackened steel, concrete, and stone. Offset steel stairs connecting three levels are the interior centerpiece whose rod balusters similarly play on the beauty of imperfection—the irregular rail spacing evokes serene, gentle movement.

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