Everyone has their own ideas about what makes a home truly stand apart from the rest, but sometimes, it takes a little inspiration from others to get those creative juices really flowing. Homeowners curate ideas from all kinds of sources — from magazines to favorite vacation memories — and experienced architects bring those visions to life. Here are several examples of cool home elements to get your motor running.
Lighting it up
Doug DeChant and his associates at Shepherd Resources Inc. believe that light is central to any good design, be it light of the sun, moon or fire.
Whether it’s an indoor fireplace or outdoor firepit, mesmerizing flames go a long way in adding ambiance. Adam Harrison, principal at Shepherd Resources, worked with a client who wanted a 1950s to 1960s lodge with a contemporary twist.
Since fireplaces were always a significant feature of lodges and cabins, Harrison placed a gas fireplace in the middle of the open floor plan. But this isn’t just any fireplace: its long, black steel hood hovers from the ceiling, supported by a truss system so no legs reach to the floor. Of course, such an intriguing element required a unique fire element, so rather than a regular metal log set, Harrison contracted Brooklyn artist Elena Columbo to fashion stainless steel rods to “fuel” the fire.
In DeChant’s new home in Edwards, he inserted a long glass wall in-between each side of his exterior deck’s stone retaining wall. By day, the glass reveals uninterrupted views of the valley floor. By night, town lights intermingle with a reflection of flames from his rectangular stainless steel firepit. Add a full moon, and the magic of light dancing in from varying distances delivers a poetically serene evening.
His master bedroom also opens to a U-shaped courtyard, accessible by sliding glass doors. When he and his wife open the glass, they also can electronically drop a motorized insect screen located within the courtyard and enjoy the feeling of sleeping outdoors.
Installing glass in floors can literally stop guests in their tracks. Such is the case with Jay and Susie Weinstein’s home; they say everyone goes out of their way to step around the 7-foot-diameter piece of glass embedded in the entryway floor.
It took the manufacturer five times to produce the piece, without it cracking upon lamination, but the “wow factor” is worth it. The glass floor looks down on the circular wine room 12 feet below. The wine room itself follows the rounded lines of its glass ceiling, with 4-by-8-by-4-inch glass blocks on one side and wine bottles artistically placed in recessed, 4-inch PVC pipes on the other.
DeChant created another unique wine room for a client who moved from Chicago to Vail. The client loved the effect of glass embedded in Chicago’s State Street and around the subway, so DeChant incorporated 18-inch long by 4-inch diameter glass cylinders into the wooden foyer floor, which also acts as the ceiling of the large, cylindrical wine room. Lights in the foyer’s ceiling illuminate the cylinders, causing them to glow in the wine room’s ceiling. Then, within the wine room’s walls, backlit Lalique glass blocks extend the concept of layers and transparency.
Greenhouses are also spectacular areas to take advantage of light. One small greenhouse DeChant designed off the kitchen included a glass ceiling and glass floor, so daylight penetrated the lower level living space.
And, of course, showers lend themselves to glass walls. One of DeChant’s latest utilizes glass at both ends, holding a stone slab bench that seems to be floating between the glass walls. The approximately 8-by-4 ½-foot-long steam shower acts like an island within the master bathroom, surrounded by white marble and glass.
Kyle Webb, principal of KH Webb Architects, also works with light, inside and out. He created a 2,400-square-foot art gallery for one of his art aficionado clients, with motorized lifts so they can easily change lightbulbs or adjust angles when they regularly rotate their art collection. One gallery rises 16 feet in height, while the other skyrockets to 20 feet. The first level showcases the bulk of the art, the second contains a kitchen, and the covered rooftop level includes a library and a piano.
Building it out
These days, outbuildings aren’t just limited to sheds and workshops. Adult “playhouses” are almost as popular as kids’ clubhouses when it comes to luxury living.
On a large ranch, Webb has built a couple of detached guest houses, along with a rock climbing wall, an indoor tennis court, lap pool, massage room, pistol shooting range, outdoor playground and soccer area — just about everything, including the kitchen sink.
He’s also designed a series of recreational buildings, aka “a giant boys’ club — the dream place to play,” on one ranch, complete with a large garage space to work on cars, weld and have a wood shop. He’s currently adding ponds with beaches and areas for kids to play there.
The playful structures are akin to the “fly barn” Harrison recently built. Located on 5 acres, the rustic-looking barn contrasts the modern main home, allowing homeowners to enjoy the best of both aesthetics. The 500-square-foot living space, plus a 700-square-foot garage, includes a porch, kitchenette, dining area and bedroom loft, built right next to a creek, since the homeowner’s son loves fly fishing. It’s the first thing people see when they arrive at the property, and “the fly barn gives the impression of a caretaker’s unit, so it gives (owners) a sense of security,” Harrison says.
One of Harrison’s clients talked to him about building a potato shed — a stone structure with a wooden roof and small windows — to hang out in. Though it may sound like an odd request, they based their desire on a true potato shed they stayed in during a camping trip in Italy.
“They wanted to recreate a memory they loved,” he says.
In a similar fashion, one couple turned to Harrison to conceptualize a “very small— yet very highly detailed — jewel box” to take a break from their two small kids and relish in “date night,” while never having to leave their property.
So what are some of your dream home features? Go ahead: Stretch your imagination.
“If there’s something you want or a way you want something to function, we’ll find a way to make it happen,” Webb says.