Techno Meets Mid-Century Modern

This original David Osler mid-century modern home, built in 1963, got a lot of things right. With glass box forms that project along the rear of the home and frame a spectacular view of hill and woods – it somehow fits perfectly into the landscape.

The original outdoor deck, however, suffered from a lack of appeal as an exterior living space and did not create an interior connection to the outdoors. In addition, the area underneath the deck had a brick wall in front, which created a dark cave underneath that was prone to moisture & mildew. The entire area was tired and uninviting.

The Vision

The vision for this project was to create and expand a comfortable and useful exterior space with a light and transparent structure, while keeping the natural debris and elements at bay so the space would be more inviting year-round, inside and out. There was also a strong desire to balance the unique exterior forms of the home.

The structure was designed to be minimalist, in the spirit of the home itself, with materials that were exposed in their useful form – glass, steel, and light wood decking. Sustainability and beauty of materials were an important goal of the client.

The Team

Design & Architecture: PLY+

Project Manager: Doug Selby

Photography:  Sean Carter

Awards:

2018 Master Design Award – Outdoor Living Category
2018 Chrysalis Regional Award – Best Residential Exterior Category

Design & Architecture

Schematic Design

Balancing the weight of the major architectural forms on the exterior and making this area of the home feel inviting required some design finesse to fit with this classic mid-century modern home. Key design goals:

  • Maximize views and connection to the surrounding lot
  • Create a larger outdoor space for entertaining
  • Minimize the transition between indoors and out
  • Stay true to the original mid-century modern aesthetic
  • Provide cover from elements and leaves, but still allow for sunlight
  • Balance existing exterior forms on the back elevation of the home
  • Utilize Passive Solar design
  • Create a protected space that was still open to the elements

Design Development

Extending the structure into the yard worked with the original design of the home and extended the outdoor space into the beautiful forested lot. Using a cantilevered design and minimal structural elements provided a well-ventilated structure that seems to float into the backyard and has just enough visual weight to create a balance between the two major exterior forms. The steel beams were left exposed for both on-going maintenance, and to heighten contrast and create a counterweight to the glass walls and ceiling. A glass door system creates a visual connection to the outside and floods the interior with natural light.

Providing a cover over the upper deck achieved two major goals. The first was keeping natural debris from accumulating in the alcove, a problem for this forested lot where breezes would often sweep up the hill. The second was to create a feeling of protection and enclosure – less like a deck and more like an exterior room. A solid cover was not desirable because the lack of natural light would make the area dark and uninviting.

A normal glass covering would not be structurally sufficient and would create a heat island in the summertime. A product invented and manufactured at the University of Michigan’s Taubman Center for Architectural and Urban Design, Situmbra, was a perfect solution. A composite glass material, it is lightweight, strong, insulating, and allows dappled light through. Likewise, a glass railing was used to surround the deck, completing the transparent effect. The unique Situmbra roof structure utilizes passive solar technology to maximize sunlight onto the deck while at the same time minimizing the associated solar heat gain. It also allows for protection from the rain allowing the occupants to enjoy the deck even on rainy days.

The folding NanaWall door system opens up the living area inside the home, providing much-needed natural light in what was formerly a darkened corner of the home. Because the Situmbra roof allows most light to penetrate while creating almost a prismatic effect, the light has a quality that enhances the mood of a transitional seating area. There is a strong sense that the area beyond is more like a room than a deck, sheltered and yet open and natural.

  • Situmbra Passive Solar Facade was used for deck covering
  • A black steel frame supports the deck and allows it to “float” off the back of the home
  • A NanaWall folding door system used to connect living room to the new deck
  • Accoya decking provides longevity with low maintenance
  • Steel stair with a stainless steel cable rail system minimizes the “weight” of the stairs and keeps the exterior aesthetic light and airy
  • Tempered glass used for the deck railing provides unobstructed views of the beautiful forested yard

The Results

The new outdoor structure works perfectly to update and balance the rear exterior of the home while creating a comfortable outdoor living space that seamlessly transitions from inside to out. The stairs are the only physical connection between the living space and the yard below. The sense of floating in the trees that this affords cannot be captured entirely in photographs. The black of the steel frame provides a much-needed connection between the two exterior forms of the home and is a welcomed facelift to the homes rear façade. Extending past the plane of the home helps visually anchor the two wings of the home while the glass nature of the structure does not overwhelm those forms.

Modernizing a mid-century modern architectural gem is a risky business. Form and function must be balanced perfectly, and challenges imposed by a Michigan climate must be factored into the design equation. This stunning redesign of an outdoor space sought to update a tired and uninviting portion of this David Osler designed home. Overlooking a magnificent natural view, this new cantilevered steel and glass structure has created a comfortable and compelling outdoor space that balances the existing exterior forms of the home. Cutting edge materials and an elegant design complete this one-of-a-kind transformation of this architecturally significant home.