Two new compact houses introduce a modern, sustainable, infill-housing model to an old, urban neighborhood, while providing two young families with open, efficient homes perfectly suited to their individual lifestyles. Each home blends in with the neighborhood, but features a bevy of sustainable features, like locally-sourced recycled exterior materials, plenty of natural light and clever design that merges the interior of the homes with the world outside.
The homes were built to carefully blend into the neighborhood. For example, front porches have cantilevered second floors that cover the front porches are typical of every home in the old neighborhood, so these homes have the same feature. And because the houses were designed in tandem, the homeowners can share limited outdoor space between the two slim lots. The Raleigh Architecture Company (RACo), a design-build firm in Raleigh, NC, acted as developer, architect, contractor, and, for one house, owner.
Locally available exterior materials are both sustainable and familiar. For one home, slate shingles from an old house in a historic district nearby provides a unique textural siding. At the other home, the exterior is clad in Corten steel, which will weather to a warm, rusty patina that never needs painting. Both houses also feature reclaimed North Carolina cypress to add warmth to the modern forms, and white oak floors warm the minimalist interiors.
The houses were situated on a challenging lot: narrow, previously empty downtown lots along a busy corridor and close to the city sidewalk. To accommodate the lots, both houses’ public spaces – living, dining, kitchen – occupy the lower level, where abundant glazing opens the house to the neighborhood. Bedrooms are located on the upper levels where clerestory windows bring natural light into every space without compromising privacy.
According to the architects, “RACo partner Robby Johnston shares one home with his family, the two-story-clear kitchen is the literal and figurative heart of the house. Large skylights above it bring an abundance of natural light into the center of the house, where the family enjoys preparing meals together. A 10-foot by nine-foot custom fabricated steel-frame glass door at the rear of house opens the entire kitchen/dining area to the back porch, creating continuous public space for entertaining and physically extending the interior into the exterior. The roof’s extra-deep overhang shades the back porch.”
A concrete wall anchors the rear elevation and serves as a modern guardrail for the second story porch. The concrete form’s ties were kept in place so that vines could grow on the wall, connecting the house to the urban landscape. In the second home, construction was completed to make sure that the building was connected to the outside in some way: Both showers have skylights; the guest room has a view of the Raleigh skyline, the kitchen overlooks the shared green space and three porches encourage the family to spend plenty of time outdoors.
“Like its neighbor, the kitchen is the literal and figurative heart of this house, too. A huge skylight above this central, two-story-clear space floods the core of the house with natural light. A dramatic, custom-fabricated steel staircase rises from the central space to provide vertical circulation. It is the single ordering element that connects all spaces and all levels. Painted black, it is also a sculptural element within the house’s white interior.”