This 1,000-square-foot farmhouse in the countryside outside Iowa City was designed for a young couple having a shared passion for local agriculture and modern architecture. After falling in love with this bit of land that they knew they could farm, Joanna and Geoff needed to find a simpatico architect who could assist them wed the regional aesthetic they loved with a easy and efficient modern fashion.
“Joanna saw a job of ours at a book and called to see if I knew any architects within their area. We had such a fantastic time talking over the telephone that I simply knew that we’d find a way to work well together,” says Seattle architect John DeForest. Before he knew it, he had been making regular trips from the West Coast to the Midwest and getting to know the agrarian Iowa landscape.
“Having lived on the shore, I discovered the sweep of the Iowa picture to be just magnificent,” says DeForest. “We spent a great deal of time hammering out the house footprint and analyzing different orientations so that we could get it just right.” This included studying microclimates to maximize the home’s efficiency, in addition to choosing the perspectives they’d like from bed, the dining table and the outside living spaces. An enduring effect of this job is the fire that it gave DeForest for cooperating with clients far beyond his home.
at a Glance
Who resides: Joanna and Geoff
Location: close Iowa City
Size: 1,000 square feet; 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, work attic
The trio immersed themselves in the region, touring local quarries, farms and salvage yards. “My clients appreciate modern design, but they also deeply admire the local building forms and customs,” says DeForest. “Through our homework procedure we worked together to think of a blend that built on tradition rather than reproducing or rejecting it.”
The home’s form borrows heavily in the rural Iowa vernacular, right down to the exterior color and the window positioned like a hayloft door. “From the outside, the house looks as a classic form amid sweeping areas and surrounding forests,” describes DeForest.
However, forms on the interior break with tradition. DeForest worked over the small footprint to make an open and light-filled interior, and he made the most of every inch. “In a small house, it is key for spaces to be flexible and serve multiple functions,” he explains. “For example, slipping fabric panels allow the sunporch to be used for dining, sitting or overflow sleeping, and also a rolling section of kitchen counter tops could be circulated for entertaining and wheeled into the dining area for serving.”
Local design came into play through new and sterile materials freshened up and given new lives. These included remilled subflooring from a nearby Amish farmhouse slated for demolition, a salvaged lab sink (used in the toilet), galvanized steel (used as a shower stall), red-stained plywood commonly used for concrete formwork (used to produce cabinets) and twin-wall greenhouse cladding (used to wrap round the job attic; notice the way the light comes through it).
A conventional quilt hung from the job attic adds a traditional touch to the décor.
There was not any money in the budget for an elaborate custom ladder for the attic. “We decided to use materials available in the local hardware store and left over in the rest of building,” says DeForest. This connected the ladder visually with the rest of the home, as the glowing reddish plywood stringer was used in the cabinets, and also the the region outside, as the treads were brief parts of the flooring salvaged from a nearby Amish farmhouse.
The open area is heated up by wood accents, such as walnut plywood ceiling panels, which stream from the porch to the main room to the entry.
Wood accents continue down a slatted storage wall that divides the major living room in the master bedroom. “Geoff and Joanna wanted to avoid dividing the house up into cubicles of white wallboard; this wall creates an open, airy feeling without forfeiting privacy,” he states. The plywood boxes may be rearranged depending on storage and display needs.
To the right is an enclosed sunporch running the length of one side of the house. “The porch enjoys a sweeping perspective, so we wanted it to get as much use as you can,” says DeForest. It backs up to the bedroom, so he produced a panel wall made of cloth between the two. This allows the bedroom to be concealed from view during a dinner party, then opened up to the spectacular views of the sunporch following the guests are gone.
Here’s the other side of this slatted wall, that includes the master bedroom. “Since this is mostly often a house for two, we designed the master bedroom to be close to the heart of the house,” says DeForest. The wall retains the room separate from the home living room without cutting it off entirely.
In addition, the room was oriented to like sunset views and also opens to the sunporch through the earlier mentioned fabric panels. It extends far beyond the cantilevered work attic (found here), which makes it open to a high ceiling covered in maple plywood.
While galvanized steel is a frequent material in the area, it’s uncommon to see it inside, much less at a shower stall encircle. “It was a bit of an experiment but has held up well. In case it ever needs to be replaced, then the previous panels can only be unscrewed and new ones set up,” says DeForest. The window is from a classic lab.
Completing this job opened DeForest up to the experts of designing from afar, and he has taken on many long-distance projects since. He has even opened a satellite office in Northern California. “Tracking construction from a space was really easier in ways than a local job,” he states. “Instead of creating most site visits, the owners and contractor emailed photos frequently. I recall imagining an error on an email day and being able to call the next morning to fix it before any more work was done.”
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