Room with a View? Yes, Please.

In architecture, as in life, context is everything. Especially so when it comes to the relationship between a home and its views of the surrounding environment.

Whether a home is along a coastal byway, on a mountain ridge, or nestled into the countryside, the power of “the view” seen from within looking out creates an emotional connection between us and the environment we are surrounded by. Experiencing a stunning view enhances our appreciation of a place. That is why we as architects treat the placement of the windows with the same level of attention as the placement of a piece of art.

We focus intently on this unique characteristic of “view” because it is just that – an element that makes one property distinct from another, one that makes it inherently personal. Writing about the design of a home in these terms sounds like an architect’s dream: esoteric and abstract. In reality, designing with view in mind comes down to a few simple, functional considerations.

Orientation. How does a home position itself in relation to important views, landmarks, features, and sunlight patterns? No matter the scenario, arriving at the decision to highlight certain views always starts by asking, “Where are the best views, and what is the most important view to you?” Sometimes it’s a key focal point such as a mountain gap or a bay inlet. Sometimes it’s an expansive vista. Sometimes it’s obvious to everyone. Other times it’s very personal and needs to be discovered.

Once those baseline determinations are made, questions about the preferences follow. Does the great room want to be bookended by other spaces, creating a focused view to the outside, or should it be open on multiple sides to create a wide view? Should the primary bedroom look out to a favorite sculpture?  The answers come from the client and are responded to by the architect, and from there we all negotiate hopes and dreams within the site’s opportunities and constraints.

Alignment. How do certain parts of a home relate to one another in order to highlight view? Fusing portions of a home together in specific ways can help elicit certain feelings and shape the way we experience a space. While the combination of design elements and sequences are virtually endless, there are a few examples that are ubiquitous. A front door and foyer with a direct line of sight to the backyard view and beyond creates surprise and delight and promotes a sense of welcome. A long hallway feels less unending with a view of the destination – literally the end is in sight. Even the mundane task of dishwashing feels less tedious when the sink looks out to a garden.

Individuality. What about the property is special? Understanding the distinct quality of a place and its surroundings is typically one of the most active and personal conversations we have when we first discuss views. Are there long views to distant horizons, medium views to valley lowlands, or short views to important structures? Are there eyesores to be avoided (almost always yes, even if not admitted)?  Are there high points that will help see over tree lines? Are there family memories rippling in an old pond in a clearing? Internalizing and prioritizing those responses provides a rallying point for everyone to align to as the project develops.

We believe that good architecture is always connected to its surroundings. It should also never get in the way of a good view; in fact, it should only enhance the nature that surrounds it. Discussing early and often how a home is designed to best take in its unique and important surroundings helps transform a house on a lot into a home that offers memorable and emotional experiences. Both for its residents and for those just passing by.

Written by Carmine Cafiero, AIA, NCARB, WELLap

Carmine believes that good design and successful projects are the result of effective listening and solid collaboration. He combines lessons learned from the University of Virginia School of Architecture and Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design with expertise in and passion for sketching, virtual reality, and BIM. Carmine’s multifaceted approach skillfully translates a client’s vision into clear, inclusive designs that are supported by comprehensive construction documents.

Spa Living at Home

With the pace of modern life seemingly increasing all the time and the boundaries of the nine-to-five work day expanding with unceasing electronic communication, who doesn’t sometimes feel the need to escape to a peaceful oasis of serenity for a relaxing interlude? Fortunately, that escape can be just around the corner with a well-designed, spa-like bath in your home. Far from the cramped, utilitarian spaces many of us remember from childhood bathrooms, a luxurious custom bathroom can be spacious and bright, and as soothing or dramatic as your imagination can make it.

The finish materials have an outsized impact on the character and mood of any space, and luxury baths are no exception. The need for water resistance around tubs and showers naturally leads to using tile floors, although wood floors are suitable for, and often used in, powder rooms. Within the world of tile, though, the options are practically limitless. Natural stone can run the gamut from glossy marble to rustic travertine. Water-cut stone mosaics provide intricate patterns and colors. Porcelain and other ceramic tiles are available in every color and shape imaginable. Large-format tiles give a sharp, modern feel to a space, while porcelain planks can mimic the appearance of weathered wood. Stone slabs and tile can be used as wall finishes as well, as backsplashes, wainscoting, or full-height finishes. The use of an unexpected material, such as irregular, natural stone or pebble-like tiles, can add a dramatic touch to a composition.

Our moods respond dramatically to color, so the material and color palette should combine to set a comforting tone. Many clients are attracted to soothing blues, grays, and earth tones, which have a calming effect and can be combined with a variety of accent colors.

Bringing natural light into any space makes it more inviting, and if you’re fortunate enough to have a beautiful view from your bath, you’ll want to be sure to take advantage. Nothing could be better than lounging in a comfortable soaking tub with a view of the water.

The bathtub is naturally one of the centerpieces of a spa-like bath. Although platform tubs can be a beautiful solution, the current trend is very much toward free-standing tubs. The classic claw-foot bath is still around, but now it can be had with fun design features like chrome feet, which add interest.

Other free-standing tubs look more like modern sculptures than bath fixtures, with shapes ranging from classical to organic to geometric. More and more synthetic materials are being used in the manufacture of tubs, which help to reduce the weight from the cast iron of yesterday, and also help retain the warmth of the bath water. If simply soaking isn’t your cup of tea, tubs are available with whirlpool jets, bubble massagers, and chromatherapy.

The shower is the other major amenity in a luxe bath, and like the tub, you might be surprised at the variety of fixtures and features to choose from. Multiple shower heads, waterfall heads, rain heads, hand sprays, and body sprays can be combined to give the user anything from a gentle spring rain to a full-blown monsoon. Steam showers provide the ultimate relaxing spa experience. Finally, curbless showers are becoming more popular in high-end homes, and are easier and safer to enter, allowing people to stay in their home even if they lose mobility.

Finally, don’t forget the delightful little details than can add so much to the bathing experience. Heated floors can easily be installed under tile floors to provide a comfortable warmth underfoot on a chilly morning. Towel warmers, either installed in a drawer or wall-mounted as a towel rack, offer that just-out-of-the-dryer feeling every day. And if you want soothing music while you soak, or to catch the morning traffic report as you start your day, you can integrate audio and video components into the space. Just be careful – you may never want to leave!

Written by Alan Cook, studio manager at PCA

Architecture & Interiors