Inner visions: architecture and interior design, living together in harmony

Inner visions: architecture and interior design, living together in harmony – design firm Brayton + Hughes Design Studio’s solution

Meghan Drueding

disappearing act

No one ever said designing a live/work project was easy. Balancing the dual nature of the space gets tricky: Tip it too much in either direction and you disappoint your client in a fundamental way.

Brayton + Hughes Design Studio, an interior architecture and design firm in San Francisco, devised an ingenious solution for a live/work loft at the foot of the city’s Bay Bridge. The client, who lives full-time in Palo Alto, Calif., asked for a space where he could concentrate on paperwork and hold informal meetings. He also wanted the loft to serve as a weekend pied-a-terre for himself and his wife. Rather than compromise either mandate, principal Richard Brayton, FAIA, created a working environment the owner can transform into a living zone at a moment’s notice. “We planned it so that all the working features can disappear,” he explains.

For example, the maple cabinetry lining the length of the living room stores two built-in desks. The desks slide out to provide extra work surfaces; when put away, they blend chameleonlike into the rest of the woodwork. Other innocuous-looking cabinets along the wall are actually hardworking file drawers.

But this still wasn’t enough storage for the client. So Brayton added eggcrate bookshelves, supported by a structural steel frame, along the upper portion of the wall. Each crate holds a numbered aluminum file box, designed by Brayton + Hughes. “The owner had a lot of files,” Brayton says. “We had to either make a closed-off storage space, which would take up a lot of room, or else figure out an alternative.” To reach the boxes, the owner uses a sliding, steel-and-maple library ladder, also a creation of the architects.

In fact, nearly every piece of hardware in this ultra-custom loft is a Brayton + Hughes original. “The builder, Ryan Construction, has highly skilled craftsmen who could pull off all the custom metalwork,” Brayton says. That metalwork includes the mechanisms behind the project’s most dramatic feature, a convertible kitchen. Hidden behind an undulating maple wall, the kitchen is revealed when the 7-by-15-foot wall swings open along a metal floor track. The room’s sink, dishwasher, cooktop, and refrigerator mean the clients don’t have to subsist on takeout meals. And the owners’ ability to close it up quickly facilitates the transformation from residence to office.

The loft’s building was once a warehouse, and the apartment has a view of the Bay Bridge’s underside. Brayton chose finishes that respond to this industrial setting. Galvanized steel fronts the kitchen cabinets and appliances, and the kitchen counters are poured concrete. White-painted wood frames and working shutters surround the windows, complementing the existing exposed brick walls far better than curtains would have. Task lighting under the bookshelves brightens the client’s paperwork, while track lighting along the original wooden ceiling beams illuminates the main living space. Brayton + Hughes added two new beams to hold additional track lights.

Since the bridge blocks much of the sunlight shining in the loft’s direction, Brayton had to devise ways to warm the space from the inside. The yellow pine floor and maple woodwork help, as do the yellow sofa, the cream-colored rug, and the maple desks and chairs. All of the furniture moves easily to accommodate different social or professional setups. “The client had to be able to reconfigure the furniture for meetings, so it’s all either on wheels or doesn’t weigh much,” Brayton says. And the enormous French advertising poster on the north wall–appropriate art for both a workplace and a residence–tames the scale of the 20-foot-high ceilings.

project: Live/work loft, San Francisco

architect/interior designer: Brayton + Hughes Design Studio, San Francisco

general contractor: Ryan Construction, San Francisco

project size: 1,500 square feet

construction cost: Withheld

ordering in

In the five years since Mark Hutker, AIA, added an interior design division to his firm, he’s noticed a difference in the way he and his staff work. “We’re much better architects for understanding the implications of interiors,” he says. “We’ve learned a lot about how furniture looks in a room.” Whether or not the client has engaged his firm as the interior designer, Hutker still follows one basic precept: Include interiors as part of the project from the very beginning, rather than thinking about them midway through construction.

A Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., addition/remodel his firm designed inside and out illustrates his principle. Staff interior designer Susan Bielski says the owner asked for a peaceful, calming atmosphere. So she embarked on the ambitious task of finding materials and products that could be used throughout the house to establish a sense of continuity. Every light fixture in the house, for example, from the bedside lamps to the living room sconces, is an Artemide Tolomeo model. Bielski specified the same eggshell shade of paint for all the walls and trim. And the upholstered aluminum guest-bedroom headboards are woven in the same pattern as the master bedroom’s cedar-and-ash headboard.

This level of consistency extends to the finish materials. Deer Isle granite forms all of the home’s countertops, and a honed purple slate surrounds the two fireplaces. Except for slate bathroom floors, the flooring throughout the house is ash. “Setting up these strict guidelines was painstaking at first,” Bielski says. “But eventually everything fell into the hierarchy we established.”

A certain formal geometry, too, recurs in every part of the 2,700-square-foot house. The warp and weft of the headboards, the gridlike pattern of the buttons on the master bedroom’s Barcelona lounge chair and ottoman, and the webbing on the Risom lounge chairs in the guest bedrooms all suggest a subtle order. Though all the alignment and repetition is inconspicuous, the resulting cohesion conjures the serene environment the clients wanted.

Hutker and his staff deliberate on the way furniture will affect the flow of light, foot traffic, and conversation in a room before they move on to specifics such as fabric selection. “Thinking about furniture spatially is the main factor that distinguishes interior design from decoration,” he says. In the Vineyard house, two custom ottomans float at the center of the living room to give the owners flexibility for various social situations. “It could suit many people having one conversation, or lots of smaller conversations,” says Bielski. “It’s a versatile arrangement.”

project: Lobsterville Beach House, Aquinnah, Mass.

architect/interior designer: Mark Hutker & Associates Architects, Vineyard Haven, Mass.

general contractor: John Early, Vineyard Haven

landscape architect: Horiuchi & Solien, Falmouth, Mass.

project size: 2,700 square foot

site size: 3.1 acres

construction cost: Withheld

shell game

Standing inside its dark, chopped-up rooms pre-renovation, you never would have guessed this 1960s tract house just outside Los Angeles was technically a beach house. But that was before Rockefeller/Hricak Architects of Venice, Calif., took matters in hand. The Hermosa Beach, Calif., house happens to sit across the street from the home of Darrell Rockefeller, AIA, managing partner at the firm. When the owners came knocking on his door for a full-service makeover, he and design partner Michael Hricak, FAIA, were ready for action.

Thinking specifically about the interior qualities of a house comes easily to them–Hricak has taught interior design at UCLA for more than 20 years. “On a house, the line between the two disciplines is blurry, much more so than in commercial architecture,” he says. The firm hops nimbly from pure architecture work to interiors jobs to projects like this one that combine both skills.

The clients asked the firm to change their home’s character as much as possible without tearing down the original structure. So Rockefeller/Hricak gutted the 1,836-square-foot building and expanded the second floor to take advantage of ocean views. They also opened up and enlarged the first floor, adding a total of 953 square feet to the house.

Because the original home lacked light and views, those items took top priority in the remodel. The architects created more “views” within the house by arranging furniture and accessories in pleasing compositions and drawing attention to them using the floor plan or structural elements. The maple-and-glass shelves separating the living and dining rooms, for example, act as frames for the vases inside them. The Japanese calligraphy painting in the master bedroom is placed precisely in line with the top of the main staircase, so it’s the first thing you see as you reach the second floor. And the stair itself, a painted-steel, open-riser affair, lets observers see through it to other parts of the house.

Skylights and butt-jointed glass invite more natural light inside, and strategic artificial lighting complements it. “The vertical spaces in this house are relatively modest,” says Hricak. “Our idea was to get a lot of light onto the ceiling and push it up visually.” Low-voltage halogen lights cast soft halos onto the ceilings. A long, slot-shaped fixture built into the fireplace surround washes the living room wall with a warm glow, while recessed lighting illuminates the glass bookshelves. Freestanding paper lamps provide yet another source of ambient light. The dark ’60s tract house is gone forever.

project: Waters residence, Hermosa Beach, Calif.

architect/interior designer: Rockfeller/Hricak Architects, Venice, Calif.

general contractor: Richardson Construction, San Pedro, Calif.

landscape architect: Pamela Burton & Co., Santa Monica, Calif.

project size: 2,789 square feet

site size: 0.13 acre

construction cost: $150 per square foot

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