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Houzz Tour: A Couple Meet in the Middle of Their Forever Home

Photos by Fredrik Brauer

House at a Glance
Who lives here:
An engineer and an architect
Location: Hart County, Georgia
Size: 3,597 square feet (334 square meters); two bedrooms, 3½ bathrooms
Architects:Robert Cain and Carmen P. Stan of Robert M. Cain, Architect

The couple had owned the property for years, using the cabin there as a weekend getaway from the city. When they were ready to retire to the spot, they searched for an architect to build them a new full-time home. On a home tour, they had admired Cain’s RainShine House, one of the earliest residential projects in the Southeastern United States to meet LEED Platinum standards, and they decided to hire his firm.

We’ll start the tour of the couple’s home with the same first peek that guests have on their way down the property’s long wooded driveway. Cain carefully framed a few glimpses of the house through the garden wall, placed at exactly the right height to be seen from a car while approaching via the driveway. They show enough to be intriguing without revealing the full story.

This is the second glimpse visitors get through the garden walls along the approach. The engineer’s wing is on the left, the architect’s is on the right, and the shared spaces are in the center. Breaking up the home into three separate structures maximized the potential for natural light and ventilation in each one.

“The engineer is really into restoring classic cars and building race cars. The architect is really into gardening,” Cain says. He planned the house to accommodate their favorite pastimes.

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A glance at the master plan shows how the pieces of the home relate to one another and the surroundings. The land slopes from the street down to the lakefront. Cain walked the property with his clients and ordered a full topographic survey to find the best site for the house. Thoughtful planning maximized the views of the lake while minimizing the impact on the land.

The driveway winds down from the street through the trees. The building at the top of the plan is a separate garage, which hasn’t been built yet. The wing at the top is the engineer’s, and the driveway leads to an automotive shop that’s part of his wing. The central space contains the main entry, the living room and the kitchen, as well as front and back porches. The wing on the bottom is the architect’s, and it overlooks the gardens he’s currently designing.

“The engineer also races cars, and the one seen in the shop here is one he’ll be racing soon,” Cain says. The engineer’s wing, including the automotive shop, is 813 square feet. The mulched area will become a spectacular entry garden. “The architect is an incredible gardener and is planning an entry path surrounded by gardens right now. It will be inspired by Piet Oudolf — very native and natural,” Cain says.

The couple have been very involved in constructing the house, which, like the gardens, remains a work in progress. “Once the housewas dried in, the homeowners finished the house themselves, acting as general contractors on some aspects and as their own subs on others,” Cain says. “For example, all the work on the geothermal system, exclusive of drilling the wells, was performed by the engineer, including installing much of the heat pump, energy-recovery ventilation systems, low-voltage wiring, ductwork, grilles and returns. The architect completed much of the finish work. The scope of the components they installed and finished is amazing, and the quality of the results, due to their direct and hands-on involvement, is superior.”

The front entry has a large cantilevered roof that’s supported in part by elegantly light V braces. The floating aspect of the roof nods to the way the house sits lightly on the land.

This covered porch overlooks what will soon be the garden. The approach of walking through the garden and onto the porch creates a transitional journey from outdoors to in. The bridge on the left creates an almost uninterrupted view between the structures to the trees.

Cain designed the red chairs on the porch and crafted a pair of unique low floor lamps placed in the foyer. He gave them to his clients as housewarming gifts.

The is the view from one of the bridges. This photo also provides a good look at the patina of the Cor-Ten steel siding and the plywood on the underside of the roof. White Azek trim boards provide strong contrast to the siding.

This photo of the side of the house shows how it works with the slope of the land. Cain used butterfly roofs on each wing to create soaring views through the clerestory windows.

The central common space is 1,185 square feet. The kitchen sits in the center of the open plan. “They love to gather lots of people together and have their guests participate in cooking as part of the entertainment,” Cain says. The living room area takes advantage of the lake views; a dining banquette is at the other end of the space.

The butterfly roof creates dramatic angles for the clerestories. “The clerestories are delightful,” Cain says. “The sun traces a path across the sky and the light in the house continuously changes throughout the day. And it’s really spectacular to watch the moonlight too. They really extend the house into the environment.”

Cain also used solar tubes to bring sunlight into the house. All the artificial lighting is energy-efficient LED. “It was also important to the homeowners that the home could be naturally heated and cooled as much as possible,” Cain says. “So we placed operable clerestory windows to create cross-ventilation.

Strong connections between indoors and out let the homeowners feel immersed in nature even when they’re inside. The living room opens to a screened-in porch. The flooring came from the site. “When we were walking the site, there were two large white oaks on the ground that had fallen during a storm,” Cain says. The homeowners told him a neighbor had offered to cut the trees up into firewood for them, but the architect had a better idea. The boards were milled locally and turned into floorboards. The Cor-Ten steel fireplace surround and hogwire stair railings tie into the exterior materials.

The panel-front fridge and pullout pantries blend seamlessly into the kitchen cabinetry wall. Placing this wall here provides privacy for the architect’s wing, which is located beyond it.

Cain created a special display area for the bulk of the couple’s extensive Georgia folk pottery collection. The architect is a descendant of one of the most influential families in the history of Southern Appalachian folk pottery. Most of the collection is his family’s wares.

For those unfamiliar with the face jugs in the collection, they are well known in the mountains of Georgia and there is quite a bit of folklore surrounding them. Some say they were designed to ward off evil spirits in the kiln when a batch of pottery was being fired. Others say they were meant to keep children from imbibing the product of another well-known Georgia mountain craft, moonshining. The vessels often contained moonshine or other adult beverages. As the folklore goes, some parents warned children that their faces would become like the ones on the jugs if they dared to drink the contents.

Both large kitchen islands will have counter stools for guests. The banquette and dining table at the back of the room are flanked by built-in shelves for more display. “They don’t have a formal dining space, they prefer to have everyone spread out when they entertain,” Cain says.

In between the banquette and the foyer behind it is a pantry-laundry area. The opening to the left is the bridge to the architect’s wing. Just off the bridge is a powder room for guests. The stairs on the right lead to a lower-level flex space and full bathroom. The home is set up for one-floor living so the couple can age in place here.

Dramatic cantilevered decks and porches provide lake views. Connections to the outdoors were a priority throughout the home — there’s 420 square feet of screened-in porch space, 597 square feet of covered porch space and 744 square feet of deck space, for a total of 1,761 square feet of deck and porch space.

This bridge connects the engineer’s wing and the common area. A system of rain chains carries water from the roofs in lieu of downspouts. They empty into collection boxes full of stones. Under the boxes, piping leads the water to an area away from the house. If needed, rain chain systems can collect water for irrigation, but it wasn’t necessary on this site.

Each wing is one room wide, allowing for light to come in from at least three sides. This photo of the engineer’s bedroom shows how dividing the home into three separate structures allows more light and air into each wing.

Each wing has an open porch facing the lake. This is the engineer’s porch, looking toward the common space, which has the large screened-in porch. The decking is hardy garapa wood. The white pieces over each wing’s deck are cantilevered awning frames. Louvers will be installed within them to provide shade.

The bow-tie-shaped window in the architect’s office marks where the two wings of the butterfly roof meet. To the right is a private screened-in porch on the street-facing side of the house. It overlooks the entry garden.

Because of the private nature of the property and the layout, Cain designed the bathrooms with an open feel. This strategy allows the bathrooms to enjoy light and views from the other spaces. He installed well-placed pocket doors for those times when the owners want to close the bathrooms off.

The central common wing juts out closer to the lake than the private wings do. The large overhangs help control solar heat gain indoors during the summer.

The lower level of the common wing contains the 426-square-foot flexible space and full bath. Originally intended to be a billiards-TV room, right now it’s mostly serving as the staging and planning area for the garden. The planned covered porch beneath it is another work in progress.

The house was built to meet LEED Gold standards, though it hasn’t been certified yet. Sustainable and healthy features include:

  • Ground-source geothermal heat pumps
  • Tight thermal envelope, including low-E glass
  • Energy-recovery ventilation systems
  • Low-maintenance Cor-Ten steel siding and concrete foundation walls
  • LED light fixtures
  • Natural cross-ventilation
  • Overhangs, porches and roofs that minimize solar heat gain
  • One-floor living
  • No VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
  • Radon-elimination systems
  • Strong and direct physical and visual connections to nature

This content was originally published here.

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