“You get into the hallway and it’s a nice bright open space. You see the ocean, you walk towards it, and as soon as you get around the corner, the space opens up into a double height that you probably weren’t expecting.”
That’s Chris Woodford, of Woodford Sheppard Architecture, describing the experience of walking into a house he and Taryn Sheppard designed for a couple in Eastport.
“It’s a series of reveals,” adds Taryn. The two business partners tend to have a collaborative process, working together on many of their projects.
For this project, they came up with a design that has a modest footprint but feels much larger on the inside, due in part to the openness of the double height space in the kitchen area.
The St. John’s-based architects worked closely with the homeowners, resulting in a house customized to their needs and wants, and designed to accommodate their art and furniture.
There were a few constraints on the project, explains Chris – the couple wanted to downsize, they wanted to adhere to a certain budget, and they wanted a sustainable, low-energy use house. Those requests largely determined the look and placement of the house.
To take advantage of passive solar energy – heating the house through the sun shining in the windows – they placed the house on a north-south axis, with the majority of the windows facing the sun. An overhang, which appears almost as a shelf on the exterior, blocks the high summer sun from directly shining in the house but allows the low winter sun to reach the triple glazed windows.
Triple glaze, says Chris, provides the same thermal insulation properties as an insulated 2×4 stud wall, without costing significantly more. The walls of this house are a now-standard 2×6 construction. The standard pink insulation between the studs is bolstered by rigid insulation on the exterior, providing excellent heat retention. The roof is a lighter colour, which helps to reflect heat instead of absorbing it.
Shortly after moving in, the homeowners tested the home’s heat retention by completely turning off the heat before going to bed, taking note of the 18 degree reading. When they awoke the next morning, it was 15 degrees, having lost only a few degrees over the course of the night.
But this house is about much more than just energy efficiency. It’s about creating a comfortable space designed for the way this couple lives.
“That’s really one of the fun things about designing houses, is imagining using the space,” says Taryn. “There’s that little desk area above the catwalk where you can look down to the kitchen so you have a visual kind of connection to what’s going on in the house and the other activity but you’re up and away from it a little bit.”
How the residents use the space was something the architects, including intern architect Jessica Stanford, thought a lot about when designing various rooms in the house. “Getting to know them,..what they do in their everyday lives, is really important,” says Jessica. “You start thinking of how they move.”
That thoughtfulness is shown in the kitchen, where the counter has a lowered section to accommodate the height differences between the couple.
Upstairs, an area with a desk was created to provide a space for crafting, and the entire house was designed to feel comfortable when there whether there were 20 or two people in the house. That was accomplished, says Chris, by keeping lower, 8-foot ceilings in the living room area. The result is a cozy, comfortable space, a feeling urged on by the fireplace.
The furniture fits incredibly well in this house, and it should – the house was designed around much of the furniture. The architects measured every bit of furniture that would be brought to the new home, then based their plans on the sizes of the pieces.
“The normal way would be to design the house then find furniture to fit it,” says Chris, “but we had to fit the house around it.”
The result is a home with a very efficient layout. There is no wasted space, and each room has a reason for existing.
“There’s no excess in the floor plan, which is something we like,” says Chris. “There’s no multipurpose space, there’s no space that you don’t know what it’s for.”
Keeping with the contemporary feel of the space, the house has no mouldings, and the trim was chosen to maintain the feel of a contemporary house. “Those things are really important to us because they convey a lot of the experience of the inside of a house,” says Taryn.
They made an effort to keep the budget down, and that, combined with the desire for a low energy use house, helped dictate the final look of the exterior. The house is long and narrow in part because of the site, but also because it’s a lower cost way of building a house.
Before the design, before much of anything, the architects visited the site with measuring tapes in hand, spending hours figuring out where the house would go, which direction it would face, and how it would sit within the existing landscape.
Every effort was made to disturb as little as possible, with the house being placed in an existing clearing and very few trees begin removed from the site. The result is a new house surrounded by mature trees, giving it a feeling of being within nature.
The windows at the end of the house are there to provide ocean views, but the rest of the windows don’t really look at anything other than trees. It was intentional, so that you feel like you’re in a natural environment, says Chris, adding that the trees help protect the house from wind.
The placement of the windows, says Jessica, provide a unique experience. “It feels like you’re just standing amongst the trees outside but you’re within a box inside nature,” she says.
The clours of the house, however, have more in common with the night sky than the forest. The shades of grey and the black window trim provide a nice contrast to the surrounding forest, says Taryn. The two-tone colour was the homeowner’s suggestion, and it ended up working quite nicely. They also wanted a red door. The main entrance is easy to see from the driveway, and is quite obviously the way into the house.
“The first time I saw it after the finishes had been done,” says Taryn, “I thought ‘this is Mondrian, almost.’ I actually like how it had this surprising modern art look to it.”