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Crabill Modern

Tonic Design + Tonic Construction

Project Name

Crabill Modern

Project Status


Year Completed



John Crabill

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Project Description


This is a house for a creative and passionate family to live and work, a family that values design and wanted something special. The client presented an opportunity and a challenge: to design a progressive, thoroughly contemporary house that was efficient and supported their live/work lifestyle. This house reinterprets the standard two-story house by maximizing the volume of space with a minimal footprint, and working to achieve increased openess, spatial overlaps and connections to the surrounding landscape.

The clients came to us with the intention of building a simple, modern, affordable home in a clearing amidst a lush forest on their 6-acre property. Our clients wanted a unique house that would provide them with spaces where they could be creative. We sited the house carefully to maximize natural lighting and to frame views of forest, including a favorite three-trunked tree, to disturb the natural environment as little as possible and accommodate the surrounding wildlife.

We began with the most efficient and economical plan form: a rectangle with plan functions divided into quadrants. We then challenged and reenvisioned the box (or the typical spec. plan) based on the patterns of use and lifestyle of the family. These transformations created a plan where the more important spaces grew larger. These moves began to push and pull the building’s protective skin, creating dynamic elevations. The resulting form was a simple box, protected and augmented by an inexpensive but highly articulated shell.

This box, wrapped in a skin of solid and perforated cor-ten steel acts as a visual screen, rain screen, canopy, and sunshade. Spray foam insulation, tightly sealed ducts, low-e glazed windows, and Energy Star appliances contribute to the home’s energy conservation. Despite the fact that their new house is 800 feet larger than their previous house, the clients report that their energy bills are, on average, 30 percent lower.

Using a palette of simple materials, and through the creation a series of interlocking living spaces, we worked to achieve rich, playful qualities throughout the house. Careful placement of windows and interior openings allows each space to receive natural light, further reinforcing the spatial flows of the open plan.

This house re-presents affordable materials and vernacular agricultural stereotypes rendered in a unique composition. As time passes, the cor-ten will develop a rich patina that will liken the home to the weathered and rusted farm buildings in the area. “As time goes forward, we’re catching up to the past in a way,” says owner John Crabill.

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