A Midcentury Architect’s Resolutions for | 2017 Smart Small Design

Colin Flavin, a midcentury fan, plans to get out of his comfort zone in the new year

I’ve been focusing on midcentury architecture in my articles for Houzz — a fun topic for sure — and the more I write about it, the more fascinating it becomes. But it’s a brand-new year, and it’s time to move on. I’ll be putting an exclamation point on this topic when I write from Modernism Week in Palm Springs, California, in February. 

I’m ready for a fresh start in 2017, both in my writing and in my architectural practice. Here are three new topics to get me outside my comfort zone of home design. If I’m lucky, I’ll not only write about these things this year, but I’ll also get them built.

1. Sculptural small projects. We’ve had a flurry of requests for small buildings and outdoor spaces, ranging from building a backyard scooter-repair workshop to carving a modern screen porch into a 19th-century barn. Smaller projects are perfect opportunities to try out new ideas, and, much like a garden folly, they can be lighthearted and whimsical and make a playful contrast to the main house. 

I’d like to explore new materials and Japanese origami, or folding, in these smaller projects. In Australia, the South Durras house, shown here, has a striking pleated roof of corrugated metal that folds to extend to the ground in a dramatic point. Set on a wooded site and softened by foliage, this house has daring forms that make a dramatic counterpoint to the surrounding eucalyptus trees.

Also in Australia, this project combines both innovative materials and shapes. The walls and roof extend into the landscape to sculpturally define the outdoor space. The Cor-Ten steel panels are specially formulated to rust and then form a protective layer on the steel. The rusted metal makes a great way to anchor the house to its site.

2. Smaller and smarter design. A preference for urban living is leading us away from the far-flung suburbs of previous decades, and closer to the urban core. This greater density is driving higher construction costs and land values, making home ownership out of reach for many. I’d like to become part of the solution by designing smaller, smarter homes in 2017. To make smaller spaces work, we will need to be as innovative as the changes sweeping other industries — think Tesla’s electric cars and Google’s self-driving cars.

One of the secrets to designing smaller homes is to allow a single space to serve many functions. Rather than design the kitchen, living and dining areas as separate rooms, combine them together in a single space. In this project in New York City, for example, the kitchen and dining rooms are separated by a translucent curtain and an exposed steel rod track system. The living room can be even more fully closed off with sliding doors that give acoustic and visual privacy.

 

A variation on this partitioning is seen in this San Francisco residence by Nick Noyes Architecture. Here, lush felt curtains allow a guest bedroom to be separated from the rest of the living space. Heavy curtains can be even more effective than doors for acoustic privacy, as the material absorbs rather than bounces the sound.

This modern home in Montreal by Natalie Dionne Architecture maximizes the flexibility of the master bedroom with an en suite bathroom. When the sliding doors are open, the bedroom, hall and bathroom occupy a single flowing space. One large sliding wood panel closes off the bedroom, and a series of painted panels close off the bathroom.

This room by Rodríguez Studio Architecture works like a Swiss army knife. During the day, the small space accommodates a desk, bookcase and seating banquette. At night, a Murphy bed folds down out of a wall of storage over the top of the banquette seat. 

Clever details include recessed lighting in the soffit above the bed, and millwork painted bright orange to complement the clear-finished maple woodwork.

This contemporary living room in San Francisco gets it just right. A great sense of style and careful design creates a flexible space that serves many uses, including a media room with a large-screen TV and comfortable seating, and a work area with the desk incorporated into a wall of shelving. It can also transform into a guest room with a fold-down Murphy bed and card table. The white-painted backdrop of ceiling and walls is a great foil to bright color accents from the furniture and accessories.

3. Backyard building. Today, homeowners are facing rising property taxes and increased maintenance costs. Many cities are changing their zoning so that second dwellings can be added to the backyards of single-family homes. These can be rented to help homeowners defray the cost of home ownership or to provide housing for a relative or close friend. This saves on construction costs — because utilities (water, sewer and electricity) are already present for the existing house — and doesn’t have the environmental impact of building on undeveloped land.

In a Sydney suburb, this home features a backyard building with an apartment on the second floor and a garage-workshop below. The first floor of the building has sliding panels to open it up to the garden. The space between the main house and apartment is particularly clever, functioning as a private courtyard protected from wind and neighbors’ sight.

Working remotely is another trend. Why not build a backyard studio to supercharge your creativity? This writer’s studio sits in a suburban backyard outside Atlanta. Even though the “commute” to work is only a few steps, the path is through a beautiful garden, providing a separation between home and office and a great place to take a break.

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This article is by Houzz Editorial Staff writer Colin Flavin Principal at Flavin Architects, a New England-based design firm specializing in naturally modern residential projects. Colin’s vision combines sustainable design and respect for a building’s context to create a cutting edge aesthetic. Expertise in restoring Midcentury modern masterpieces.