Any architect or residential designer worth his or her salt will tell you that a great house consists of more than clever details and well-chosen materials. How it responds to its surroundings and what lessons it gleans from long-standing structures built in that region are equally important. Once our judging panel laid eyes on this new home we knew right away it covered all the bases.
Perfect Marriage of House And Land
When general contractor Wallie Hiers approached architect Bob Cain about designing his house, the two realized that they had more ground to cover than a typical in-town lot requires. Broadening their scopes, both men examined nearly 30 acres of Wallie’s farm in Varnville, South Carolina, to capitalize upon its best features. “From the beginning, we regarded this project as a master plan for the whole property, with the intent of building things in phases over several years,” says Bob. “Wallie preferred this pace over fast-tracking the construction because it gave him time to round up materials and workers, keeping costs down.”
Wanting a warm, comfortable, and highly functional house, Wallie and his wife, Renee, stressed to Bob their affinity for natural materials that require minimal maintenance, such as Western red cedar siding, metal roofs, and bare concrete block. “As a commercial builder, I’m accustomed to dealing with these building supplies,” Wallie explains. “It was only natural for me to incorporate them into my own house.”
Sustainable and energy-efficient features were high on the homeowners’ list as well. “The couple wanted to rely on cross-ventilation as much as possible, rather than constantly running the air-conditioning,” says Bob.
Banking on Tried-and-true Principles
Armed with Wallie and Renee’s requirements, Bob chose the best building types proven to handle the hot Lowcountry climate: the dogtrot and the shotgun house. “Structures such as these were typically straightforward,” says Bob. “They often allowed the site, climate, and sun angles to dictate their forms.” Long a fixture of the South, the dogtrot form is about as simple as it gets, with an open, central hallway flanked by a room or couple of rooms. Bob continues, “The shotgun is, of course, the well-known Southern linear plan, typically consisting of a series of rooms, one directly behind the other, allowing easy cross-ventilation.”
Bob designed three modified shotguns that are connected by dogtrot-like transparent bridges, as he likes to call them. With Wallie and Renee’s master suite, foyer, and study in the first wing; the central living and kitchen area in the middle wing; and the kids’ and utility rooms in the third, each section runs from east to west. All wings begin and end with a porch. Extended overhangs on the main roofs, along with awnings supported with metal braces at the porches, shade the house, cutting down on indoor heat gain. Bob and Wallie agreed to save as many trees as possible, which further keep the wings cool.
One thing visitors notice straightaway is that there’s no landscaping. Instead, a continuous gravel bed encircles the three wings and hallways. “Most houses pay no attention to their sites or how they impact the natural topography. That’s why shrubs are often used to hide this unfortunate juncture,” Bob says. At the Hierses’ place, such plantings would have taken away from the clean, horizontal orientation of the house and the land.
No Need To Embellish
The Western red cedar siding and trim pieces that cover this home also echo the natural topography. A combination of multiple-width 1x boards, the siding is purposely spaced to create a random look. Another nod to the region, the V-crimp, aluminum-zinc-alloy-coated sheet steel roofing not only reflects the sun, but it also visually ties this winner back to its Southern vernacular roots.
Great Energy-Efficient, Material-Savvy Features
- The three wings’ east-to-west orientations, with their longest sides facing north and south, minimize the heat of the summer sun. Broad roof overhangs and porches at the ends of each shotgun structure work in concert with these principles.
- Existing trees help shade the house and, again, minimize exposure from the summer sun.
- The house sits on an insulated, nonvented crawlspace, which contains all the air ducts as well.
- A high-efficiency, open-loop water source heat pump, connected to shallow wells on the property, provides economical heating and cooling. After use, water from the open-loop system continuously fills the lake.
- Salvaged materials such as reclaimed, old-growth heart pine took on new roles as trim, cabinetry, flooring, ceilings, and furniture. Salvaged steel beams and other metal components were employed as well.
- Sustainable products include locally produced wood and masonry products, low-VOC paints and coatings, decking from recycled materials, and steel manufactured locally from 100% recycled materials.