Approximately 10 miles outside Madison, Wis., the design of one residence is challenging assumptions with spaces that are not only welcoming and functional but also easily adjustable. “We are building a house of the future—one that will remain suitable as needs shift and technology evolves,” explains Robin Pharo, president of Healthy Homes, a green-building-consulting firm in Madison. Pharo is collaborating on the design and will occupy the home once it is complete. “The house is really cutting-edge, but it comes down to simple decisions that many don’t consider. In reality, these are things that everybody should be doing.”
For example, the flooring system will be engineered lumber open web trusses because the spaces in the flooring joists will better accommodate changes in wiring for equipment and lighting upgrades. Rather than default to drywall, the project team is considering installing cork flooring as a wall covering because it clicks together and comes apart quickly.
The 3,867-square-foot home’s overall shape is a simple rectangle, and its roof loads can be carried by the trusses alone or by a single ridge beam. Because there are fewer structural supports and a clearer building footprint than homes with more complex geometry, interior walls can be moved as needed allowing for easier space reconfigurations in the future. Radiant-floor heating eliminates the majority of ductwork to facilitate changing walls, and flexible ventilation ductwork can be easily moved if rooms are rearranged. In the kitchen, sparse use of custom cabinets and creative wall placement open possibilities for future modifications.
Residential architect Jim Gempeler, partner at Madison-based GMK Architecture, designed the house with an angled wall that runs through the center to demarcate the home’s public and private spaces. The wall is punctuated with passageways where spaces and functions overlap and connect, such as kitchen/dining and connecting hallways. “By separating private and social functions, the two can coexist without infringing on others in the home,” Gempeler says. “When you combine this with the ability for adaptation as a family’s needs change, you create better spaces.”
Perhaps it’s an ingrained notion of gathering around the hearth, a desire to chat with the chef, or the enticing smell of cooking food, but the kitchen is the unmistakable center of a home. Recognizing this popular draw, more finesse has gone into kitchen design in recent decades with custom cabinets, built-in appliances and open plans that include gathering areas. While kitchens have become the biggest expense in most homes, they also are the least flexible.
The kitchen’s plan offers three distinct spaces that divide food storage, preparation and service. Shaped loosely like a “Z,” the working side of the kitchen runs down the center length. The top leg is a gathering/entertaining area with spaces for dining, and the bottom leg is a pantry that opens to the main kitchen.
The team added some custom cabinetry in the social-gathering section to give the space an elegant, finished look. Seated at the dining table or at the breakfast island that includes a small sink, family and guests can converse with the cook while meals are being prepared. But unlike the standard open kitchen, the angled wall keeps the main cooking area around a corner and out of view. A doorway in the angled wall will allow anyone to access the refrigerator from the dining or living room without disturbing the cook.
In the cooking area, open shelving replaces custom cabinets. If smart-grid technology is implemented and new appliances are purchased or the owner wants to remodel, no cabinetry will need to be cut or torn down to make way. The team decided against inserting a beam into the kitchen’s privacy wall to prevent it from being a load-bearing feature, so it can be removed, as well.