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Arboretum House

Our clients purchased this lot, on which formerly stood a George Brigham mid-century modern home. The previous owners had the home deconstructed, and were selling the impeccable old-growth lumber from the deconstruction along with the empty lot. With a 40 foot drop in elevation, this challenging and beautiful site overlooking the Nichols Arboretum has stunning views, perfect for our client's vision of a modern home.

The Vision

As active empty-nesters, our clients were looking for a home that would be a Michigan Mid-Century Modern, or as they put it “a cross between Frank Lloyd Wright and Neutra with overtones of Usonian and a pinch of arts and crafts.” The home should offer a views in three directions to take advantage of its perch over the Arb, and it should embrace nature, bringing the outdoors in. Sustainability, the use of natural materials inside and out, along with aging in place (AIP) strategies were all important features.


The Team

Design & Architecture:  Hopkins Burns Design Studio

Project Managers: Meadowlark Team

Photography: John Carlson

Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinetry:  Cucina Moda



Schematic Design

The house took on a wing-like shape of three sections that would maximize the views from the site. Composed of distinct layers, the house would feature a blend of cedar exterior, green living roofs and metal fascia wraps to delineate the façade. The indoors and outdoors should blend seamlessly, allowing the occupants more living space in nice weather.

  • The house's three sections are at 30 degree angles to each other for optimal views
  • A three-season screen porch features a four-panel exterior pocket door to expand the home outdoors in nice weather
  • Every window should have a good view, even if it were overlooking a section of the roof below, the genesis of the plan for a living roof

Design Development

This challenging site was on a steep hillside with many conifers and their delicate root structures above the home. The hillside needed to be shored to hold it back. The interior and exterior materials were chosen to create a transparency between indoors and out; enabling architecture and landscape to blend together.

  • A 30-year-old cherry tree that grew within the footprint of the home was used to create finished cabinets and furniture for the home
  • The interior stairwell and ceilings featured similar wood and stone as the exterior for a seamless transition
  • A well-insulated and thermally-broken design was combined with geothermal heating and cooling for high efficiency and indoor comfort
  • The open staircase, made from steel and recycled elm, folds gently with the house's angles. A three-tiered pendant light was chosen to bathe the area in a warm glow

The Results

This home features impeccable craftsmanship and a timeless combination of materials and design. Perfect for parties, as well as a cozy night in, the home is a perfect blend of architecture and landscape.

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