One look at the August Residence and you might assume it’s a custom home built into rolling hills in the countryside. In reality, it’s a home built in a very urban location designed to look like it is in the country. Or as J.R. Ruthig, associate AIA, managing designer for Dominick Tringali Architects in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., will tell you, it’s a contemporary farmhouse design.
“[The homeowners] wanted something very serene and simple,” Ruthig says. “They wanted to feel like they were living in a not-so-densely populated area even though they were in the city.”
The lot is located at the end of a street in an older neighborhood and includes many challenging features, which makes the lot itself the biggest challenge in this project. “The challenge was building a home on a tight lot that went down to a river — 40 ft. from first floor and about 50 ft. from the house. It was like a cliff,” says Louis Beaudet, vice president, BRG Custom Homes, Southfield, Mich.
The homeowners wanted the rear of the house to provide views of the ravine and foliage within it. In addition, they didn’t want people to see the house as they drove into the neighborhood. To accomplish this, the house was turned. “The property is an irregular shape — like a rectangle with an L,” Ruthig says.
The hill required an engineered retaining wall, Beaudet says. “It was a very challenging site but beautiful — all wooded, dropping off to a river, nature and wildlife in the middle of suburbia,” he adds.
The design of the home was a secondary challenge. Successfully creating a contemporary design with traditional features that fit in with neighboring homes was one of Ruthig’s goals.
“It has a farmhouse look with traditional board and batten siding, and country stone,” Ruthig says. “We integrated standing seam metal roofing that you see on a farmhouse. And the transitional part is the black-framed clear-glass windows, and sharp detailing. That gave it the modern edge.”
The home also has a handful of commercial features in it. “We blended commercial storefront windows and doors with conventional residential windows,” Beaudet says. “The front entrance — the entry by the exterior fireplace — has all commercial doors. And the white windows around the house are traditional windows. That was done on purpose.”
One of the coolest aspects of the home is the front outdoor courtyard, according to Ruthig. “Because the rear of the home was built into the hill, the wife wanted a place for the kids to play so she could watch them from the kitchen window. So there is a play area and entertaining area in front,” he says.
The team at Dominick Tringali Architects is no stranger to BRG Custom Homes. These two companies have worked together on many projects. Both attribute working with the other to the success of this project.
When asked why Beaudet continues to work on projects with Dominick Tringali Architects, his response was short but spoke volumes about their working relationship: “Because they listen,” he says.
“When you build a custom home, it’s a very collaborative effort between the homeowner, architect and builder,” he adds. “A custom home done in a vacuum is a recipe for disaster.”
All three parties — homeowner, architect and builder — were involved in every meeting. In this case, the homeowner chose BRG Custom Homes as their builder who in turn introduced the homeowner to Dominick Tringali Architects. “We started the design process — sketches and concepts — and the builder was present with the client in the meetings. The builder put together the budget,” Ruthig says. “You don’t always have that. In this case it was nice because there was a builder and he was in the meetings from day one. Whenever a builder can be involved, it greatly helps [the project].”
Happy client, happy life
One common goal in the custom home market is to make a product that fits clients’ lifestyles and makes them happy. A happy client can be the best marketing tool someone can have; this definitely was an end result of this house.
“The clients send us cards telling us how much they enjoy the house. It’s a rewarding experience to know the vision actually worked out and the client is really happy,” Ruthig says. “They are the type of client that if I called them to stop by, they would be happy to have us.”
Client relationship management is an important part of Dominick Tringali Architects’ business operations. Before the start of design, the company conducts about three interviews with the client. A questionnaire helps them determine the lifestyles of new clients. “They start to understand the value. We aren’t just trying to give them a design; we are truly designing how they live, and they appreciate that,” Ruthig says.
Dominick Tringali Architects hosts a fun event when a project moves from design to construction. “We have a reception — a christening. We toast the house and put a copy of the house plans in the concrete mix when the basement is going to be poured,” Ruthig says. “We like to enhance the experience for them.”
Ultimately, the success of the project falls on the collaboration of the architect, builder and homeowner. Having great clients who were open to new ideas really made it a success, Ruthig says. “Happy clients mean a good project.”
“I wouldn’t change a thing. I think it worked out really well,” Beaudet says. “It’s one of my favorite homes I’ve ever built.”