Homework

Where do you work? The answer varies as much as the business models of the multiplicity of individuals who make up the remodeling and design industry. It could be from the cab of a truck at the jobsite, a highly visible showroom, a storefront, a home office or a variation on those themes. It might be ordinary, or it might make a bold visual design statement.

The owners of Savannah, Ga.,-based consulting and design firms opted for the work-at-home solution but still managed to keep the office at arm’s length — physically and conceptually — from the main residence while complementing the dwelling. Equally important, it is a practical solution to site restraints and functionality.

The home with which the free-standing office space is associated is a mid-century modern residence in Savannah’s Magnolia Park neighborhood. Previously owned by the same family for 55 years, the house had fallen into disrepair but was restored by the new owners and won an award from the Historic Savannah Foundation.

Additional Space Needed

The new occupants had recently returned to Savannah after living in a larger residence, and additional space was needed for their extensive design library and for office space. Unfortunately, the original main residence was only 1,800 sq. ft., and an addition was impractical for two reasons.

First, “the way the house was built does not really allow for an addition unless you start bastardizing the house,” says Celestino Piralla, principal of CSCP Design, designer of the new office space and half of the team that occupies the space. Cornelia Stumpf of CSCP Consult, which offers public relations, marketing and creative design services for the design and building industries, is the other half. The two complement one another: Piralla does design work for Stumpf’s consulting side of the business, and Stumpf, in turn, takes care of public relations for Piralla.

“You would have had to create hallways where there were none,” Piralla says, explaining why an addition would have been a poor choice. “There is no circulation that would go all the way through in the existing house.

“We wanted to maintain a little separation between the living area and the work space, even though you cross only 20 ft. of yard and you’re in the office. When clients come in, they don’t have to come through the house,” he adds.

Second, joining the two structures was out of the question. Piralla discovered, because the property occupied a flood plain, the new structure would have to be elevated 6 ft., making a connection impractical and awkward.

Design Strategy

The design strategy for the free standing structure, to paraphrase National Historic Trust Guidelines, was not to replicate the original design of the existing structure but to “sustain a sense of continuity in architectural language” and achieve “a balance between differentiation and compatibility, but weighted in the favor of the latter.”

“There are strong horizontal lines that complement the look of the existing house, but mainly it’s more of a philosophical relationship than a visual one,” says Piralla.

“The office space is based on a modular construction system,” he continues. “There was a lot of experimentation with this idea in the ’50s and ’60s, a leftover from the International Style idea that you can put a building in any context and it still serves a purpose. With the birth of postmodern architecture and great wealth of the ’80s, when people went in for bigger and bigger ideas, this kind of disappeared.”

The idea has regained some interest as a result of economic setbacks and people who are looking for more efficient and livable spaces for residential or work-related uses, Piralla says.

Modular, Not Prefab

While CSCP’s office is modular, it is not prefab — built someplace else and brought to the site — or modular prefab — where a company sells modules and ships them to the site for assembly. Rather, the modules were constructed on-site, Piralla explains. “It worked out really well because we didn’t have to ship anything. All the steel was bought locally, and all the labor was subcontracted from local companies,” he says. “It’s pouring a little money back into the local economy.”

The design and layout of the structure were developed by Phoenix-based ASUL working with Piralla and based on the available modules developed by ASUL. The project was a “both build” option in which ASUL erected the steel frame, walls and roof, and the clients finalized the interior and exterior, including cladding and mechanicals using a local contractor.

ASUL’s business model, according to its website, is to “create a design and construction methodology allowing for the mass customization of homes. The result of these efforts is an adaptable system capable of producing custom modern homes priced at 25 to 50 percent less than the current market.”

In addition to FEMA requirements for raising the structure to comply with flood-plain restrictions, the residential zoning of the property did not allow for in-law suites, “so we couldn’t have a bathroom,” Piralla recounts. “We work with some interns and assistants, but they can just come to the house. That was just a minor inconvenience. Anyway, we didn’t want to spend extra money on plumbing [and a bathroom], which would take space away from the work space. It wasn’t a problem either way.”

One minor consideration, which as it turns out did not affect the addition, was a restriction of percentage of roof space allowed relative to the square footage of the lot. “That dictates the maximum size of any addition or separate building, but the size [of our office] is perfect; we didn’t want anything larger,” Piralla says. This was not a permeability issue as it might have been in a drier climate but “just so people don’t put up huge McMansions. These are neighborhoods from the 1950s, so you have a few mid-century moderns and mostly ranch houses; it’s suburbia with large yards,” he says by way of explaining the restrictions put in place to maintain that ambiance.

Steel Construction

The office space “is a pretty straightforward building,” Piralla says. “It’s constructed of tubular or I-beam steel. The benefit of that is there is no shear, so technically all four walls could have been glass,” an option that was not pursued, however.

The steel-based construction is similar to the 1950 method implemented in architect Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House No. 22 (the Stahl House) in Los Angeles and allows for an easy elevation above the ground required by FEMA for the area. (The case study houses were commissioned by Arts & Architecture magazine after World War II in response to a quest for inexpensive and efficient homes for returning veterans.)

“It being a warmer climate, we wanted to use natural light without overheating the space in the summer. We had a neighbor behind us, preventing us from having a window on the north side, which would have been the best light to have. The larger windows face east, so it’s still the cooler light of the day. On the west, we have a very small band of windows just to get some light in and keep some of the heat out. There are no windows on the south faade of the building to eliminate the heat coming from that side,” Piralla says. Solar shades with 5 percent light penetration provide protection during the hotter months. Windows are argon-filled double-pane.

Four concrete footings support the entire 16- by 20-ft. structure and its 8-ft. deck. “We wanted to have a deck; that way you don’t just have a staircase butting against the building, and it also gives you a little space so whenever you start getting frustrated, you can just walk outside, relax and enjoy the day and then go back inside and work. Our dogs love it because they can see the whole neighborhood; they have their watchtower.”

The exterior cladding is Galvalume, a 55 percent aluminum-zinc alloy coated sheet steel. “It’s low maintenance,” Piralla notes. “Basically you hose it down once a season to get some of the pollen and dust off, and it’s really easy to install. You can get sheets the length of the entire building so there are no horizontal seams.” The corrugated steel “maintains the horizontal language between the two buildings,” he adds.

The building is energy-efficient, as well. R-38-batt insulation is used in wall, floor and ceiling cavities. “We far exceeded the code requirements for insulation because we wanted to save money on cooling and heating,” Piralla says. Lighting is LED to help reduce costs and to avoid mercury-containing CFLs.

In the winter, Piralla says, solar heat gain from the windows reduces the need to run the office’s heating unit. “There are simple techniques to reduce energy costs,” he says. The windows aren’t operable, he adds, because Savannah “has a lot of pollen, dust and mosquitoes.” The single door, being above most of the roofs in the neighborhood, provides circulation and catches any breezes that may be present.

The end result, a blend of the practical and inventive, is a convenient and comfortable work space that encourages creativity and productivity.

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