Minor tweaks to materials create multiple uses

While “six degrees of separation” is the modern phrase for a 1929 social connectivity theory in our modern world, I like to promote something similar in my custom homes. Because familiarity in design concepts, materials and products is often where our clients find great satisfaction, it is often a challenge to be as creative as we architects and builders would like to be. I find that to be the case in nearly every project; almost every client.


Due to this, I have developed several systems for explaining simple design ideas that perhaps are very new to my clients. One such idea that I promote and have found success in promulgating, I term One Degree of Separation.


One Degree of Separation includes modifying one characteristic of a material to then be used somewhere else in or on a home. Materials have many characteristics such as texture, color, scale, material (stone, wood, steel) which are the four that I often consider. In custom homes we can see the variety of such characteristics in flooring, wall surfaces, countertops, exterior siding and trim, roofing, masonry. Each of these has a texture, a color, a scale and a “species.” By modifying one of these four characteristics, we can easily find and use a new but very familiar material to make an architectural statement or functional adjustment with a meaningful result.


One area I have found success in is exterior siding. For example, I had the opportunity to make a sizeable addition to a gambrel A-frame. The project included adding a garage with a bunkroom above to the existing A-frame. I included a new two-story entry/stair tower between these two structures. While the garage component was sided in cedar shake to match the existing house, I chose an exterior cladding for the entry tower that was a “one degree” separation from the cedar; copper shakes. The copper-shake tower separated two cedar-shake structures.


In this case, I modified the “species” leaving the texture, color and scale identical. Due to the lack of acids and moisture in the cool Lake Tahoe air, the color actually remains a rich bronze color that is similar to an aged cedar shake roof. My clients understood my approach – the explanation was quite simple. They could visualize the connection … and accept the difference easily. This unique and exciting siding option became reality only because of its cedar-shake context.


Had I proposed something that modified several of these known characteristics, I may have ended up with yellow board-and-batten siding or taupe-colored stucco instead. While these have their place with clients and designers who are a bit more design-savvy, I respect that perhaps my clients are more adventurous in other aspects of their lives. To modify only one characteristic can be a highly thoughtful task. Therefore, I sometimes find myself changing two. The approach is the same and the result should reflect a minimum departure from the original material.


Try this systematic approach the next time you find yourself working with a non-adventurous client whose home needs another degree of separation from the mundane, typical house next door.