|Topic of the Month: An English Village House Transformed |
|Photo by Jeffrey Totaro
The English Village, a one block development constructed in 1928 in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Historic District, is a charming group of English cottage-style buildings where architect Timothy Kerner of Terra Studio artfully transformed one home by opening up the space, harmoniously tying the rooms together, and bringing the outdoors in by creating a light-filled Garden Room from a parking space.
One material Kerner used to help link the Garden Room to the outdoors, and also to help transition from one room to another, was Glacier Blue? Devonian Sandstone. Kerner explains, "The English Village has a common courtyard paved with gray flagstone. The courtyard gives the English Village its unique identity in the city, so it makes sense to tie the new Garden Room with the stone in the courtyard. The Devonian Sandstone has natural, subtle modulations of color, which are really nice, and we used several finishes to bring out different characteristics of the stone."
"On the Garden Room floor we used a riverwashed texture, on the kitchen floor we used a honed finish and on the countertops we used a polished finish. So the stone transitions from the roughest texture in the Garden Room, to the finer finishes in the kitchen, with the countertop being the most polished. The calm color and appearance of the countertops goes very well with the kitchen cabinets and the different stone finishes emphasize the transition from one room to the next."
The transformation of a concrete niche into a Garden Room was perhaps the most significant part of the project. Kerner explains, "The Garden Room was not originally an interior space. It was a very narrow concrete area that was only used to slide a car in very tightly. It was an unsightly leftover space at the rear of the house and it was a security concern for the owners. We added a floor, a rear wall and glass roof to create new interior/exterior space within the house. Before, the kitchen had a very enclosed feeling, but we opened the wall to create a breakfast counter with a garden view. Also, the dining room window had looked out onto concrete but now it has French doors that open onto the Garden Room, again, increasing the connection from the interior to the exterior and creating a place for the natural world where it had not existed at all."
At the back of the addition, there is a door to the rear street which is mysteriously deceptive, as it has a two-fold purpose. "The back door is an unusual Dutch door. It's divided in two, but the split is aligned with the floor level. The upper half goes to the raised Garden Room and the lower half opens into a storage area, where gardening equipment and a hose are kept." The fact that the door looks like a main entrance is no coincidence. "We wanted to give the house a new presence on the cobblestone street that runs along the rear by creating a new fa?ade at the back of the house."
As with any project, there were a few challenges, one of them having to do with the lengthy approval process. "Because the building is in the Historic District and we were adding something different from the way the house was conceived in the 1920's, we worked with the Historic Commission to develop the architectural details in a manner appropriate to the historic setting. The addition also required a zoning variance because it was located in 'open space' required by the zoning code."
Other challenges included working in a small space, as well as construction details that are not readily seen on the surface, but that required a great deal of technical skill to achieve. "The construction process required much attention to detail and there were many aspects of the existing masonry structure that required modification. In some ways a small project can be more challenging than a large project where you have plenty of room for all of the trades. The primary contractor worked on the main structure and a separate green house contractor assembled the glass wall and roof. Needless to say, careful coordination between the two was essential. The tight spaces added to the challenge of the project but related directly to our intention, which was to open up the tightness and create a feeling of expansiveness."
There are many aspects of the project hidden beneath the surface, such as the radiant heating in the floor, glass louvers in the ceiling that open when the temperature rises, and mechanical lines that run beneath the Garden Room. "Our goal was for the complexity not to be apparent. Rather than tight, it was meant to feel open and expansive, and instead of complex it was meant to feel simple and right for the space."
When asked about balancing the owner's needs with his own sense of design, inspiration and expertise, Kerner explains, "The design evolved from a process of dialogue with the owners. We began with the owner's desire to have a Garden Room, but how it could all fit together - where the walls would be, how the glass would be configured, and how the new space would relate to the existing rooms - that was where my knowledge and experience were essential. We discussed their objectives and I provided different solutions for consideration to meet those objectives. I think the result is a very comfortable series of rooms; the way the materials come together and the sense of natural light are all very pleasing. And in the end, the owners said the result was all that they had been hoping for. It was a great project to be involved in."
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