On a nine-acre property in Durham, N.C., a custom home currently under construction defies what is typical of the rolling countryside. Rather than a farmhouse or other traditional style, the home is decidedly modern, with rectilinear forms and, most notably, vast expanses of glass on both the upper and lower floors.
It’s a design that will allow the homeowners to take full advantage of the property both visually and physically. The ground level emerges from a slope, positioning the main living spaces on the second floor. Multiple 8- to 10-foot-tall windows are mulled together to wrap the exterior in glass, providing the master bedroom, kitchen, and great room with expansive views.
“One of the goals early on was to experience the breadth and width of their land, so it made sense to site the house in the center of the property,” says architect Jason Smith, AIA, who co-owns Dallas-based smitharc architects with his wife, Signe Smith, AIA. “They have a pond to the south and woods and rolling terrain to the north. We thought the house could be positioned between the two, with large walls of glass that would allow you to see essentially through the house and, when they are in it, allow them to survey their kingdom and take it in from all angles.”
The master bedroom cantilevers out, providing an overhang for the ground level patio reached through a 16-foot-wide slider. Two slightly smaller sliders lead to an equipment room and a bathroom, further accommodating the family’s outdoor lifestyle.
Jason Smith notes that the availability of stock size windows was a key factor to pulling off the design and keeping it on budget. “JELD-WEN was able to provide the sizes that we needed and also come within the price point,” he says. “We let their stock sizing drive the design.”
“It reads like one large wall of glass, but it’s standard stock sizes,” adds Signe Smith. “It’s a mistake to think that the only way to get a large, dramatic wall of glass is with a large budget and doing heroic sizes. With design and thoughtful placement … you don’t need to throw money at that problem to get that same feeling,”
It’s important to note that larger expanses require precise engineering to determine what additional framing may be required to accommodate the increased weight and lateral loads. For the Blue Dog house, the architects were able to keep the spans to a dimension that didn’t require steel beams, allowing for wood framing exclusively except for a few steel columns for some of the openings.
Along with the wood framing, the home remains true to its roots through subtle design elements on the façade. “The risk of using lots of glass is that it loses its residential character,” Jason Smith notes. “So the liberal use of wood cladding and a faceted design are idiosyncratic moves that keep it squarely in the residential mood.”