Cathedral in Pine

Removing a small boxy sunroom and creating a new space with vaulted ceilings, an array of skylights and a gable thrusting forward at a 45-degree angle to capture lake views, Architectural Resource of Ann Arbor, Mich., not only seamlessly matched the home’s existing mass, but also added a unique living space suitable for entertaining, relaxing and generally raising spirits.

The client was also the builder on the project — Mark Dennis Remodeling. Excluding their customary labor and markup, the budget for this 390-sq.-ft. addition was approximately $100,000. Their goal in approaching Architectural Resource was to add a new space with a strong relation to their existing structure and yet to create something more artistic, even modern.

“We wanted to turn this into a special space,” says Michael Klement, AIA, AIBD, CAPS, principal of Architectural Resource, Ann Arbor, Mich. “They wanted a hearth room, so to speak, with additional functions. It was going to be a retreat with a spot for viewing television and a social center with a wine cooler chest. But the most important part of this space was that it was to have a unique and special fireplace.”

The budget for the design, when the team started, was merit based. The client would evaluate a variety of solutions and then make a selection based on the value they felt it would bring their lives and the residence. As a result, Architectural Resource presented several solutions.

“This was one of three solutions that made the final cut for presentation to the client,” explains Klement. “We looked at several ideas and brainstormed many different concepts. We honed those down into three cohesive designs. The final design was actually the most modest one that we presented.”

The exterior of the addition took its cues from the existing home’s 45-degree thrusting cross gables. On the interior, the fireplace itself echoed the projecting cross-gable theme with a unique, custom, 45-degree metal “hood” mantel and flanking sides. On the knotty pine rustic cathedral ceiling, a staggered and offset skylight array mimicked the design theme of the existing home’s fenestration pattern.

“The fireplace design definitely had some unusual aspects,” adds Klement. “Its overall form and angular theme took its cue from the geometry of the existing house. The fireplace had a projecting mantel hood, which was angled forward from the back wall and mimicked the angled projecting forms of the existing residence. It was fashioned of steel and the surround was a custom fabrication.”

The hearth extension and the floor hearth were both made of cast concrete. Plastic sheathing was first placed in the form and when the concrete was set, the plastic sheathing gave it a unique textured surface material look.

“Ninety percent of the time, a fireplace is not a fireplace, at least in current culture,” explains Klement. “It’s just sitting there, waiting to be a fire. The idea developed of ornamenting the fireplace so that it could become a piece of artwork even without a fire in it. We added three bud vases, which were set in cradles that also mimic the angle theme and can be removed when the fireplace is being used. This way, when not in use, the fireplace can function as a sculpture.”

The fireplace was also accented with light in a very special way. Flanking the fireplace hearth extension were recessed, in-floor uplights. At the top of the fireplace at the back wall, the Architectural Resource team developed a trough where they introduced a strip of LED lighting. The team went to LED lighting because of the opportunities to provide a lot of light in a small space.

One of the more compelling aspects of the original structure was an array of staggered 2- by 2-ft. windows on the gable end, above the existing hip-roofed structure. Because the old gable would be lost behind the new addition, Architectural Resource developed a skylight array which mirrored the set of original gable windows. These skylights add drama to the cathedral ceiling with its knotty pine planks.

The only other real opportunity for the addition was to tie in the overall form and shape of the projecting gables of the existing house. This addition was really a significant improvement over what had been there previously. The clients have even commented that not only does it not look like an addition, but it looks like it was organically developed from the very fabric and character of the house.

This addition provided a complementary yet dramatic building form that closely related to the existing home’s sculptural massing and geometry. On the inside, a fireplace creates the focal point that beyond purely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes of generating heat is a stunning piece of art.

“The clients were terrific to work with,” says Klement. “They are collectors of art and because of that they challenged us and asked for something very special, which in turn motivated and inspired us. It was a good symbiosis.”