(fer) studio is a contemporary design practice with a strong interest in producing work that contributes to the larger cultural arena. Founded in 2002 by Christopher Mercier, it has become a proficient and prolific architectural office comprised of a diverse team of design professionals that reflect the community they serve. The firm’s approach to sustainable architecture is grounded in Christopher’s understanding of the construction field, having spent years as a foreman, a landscape designer and metal fabricator. Christopher shares one of (fer) studio’s residential projects with The LuxPad below…
Project name: Kim Residence
Floor Area: 3,294.25 SF
Completion of Project: 2014
The Kim Residence project is an extensive interior and exterior remodel, and a 900 SF expansion of an existing 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom single-story ranch-style home from the 1950s. The scope includes contemporizing the interior and exterior, expanding the existing kitchen and living room, adding a bedroom, and developing the landscape. Through harmony and contrast, the Kim Residence accentuates the magnificence of its natural wooded surroundings.
Barely perceptible from the street above, the Kim Residence, by form environment research (fer) studio, is designed to blend into the shadows of the La Canada foothills. Set on a slope below the road and shrouded in native oaks and redwoods, the house appears to float under the folding planes of its dark roof, which glows from beneath, through lit clearstories and concealed windows. This gray standing seam metal roof, a defining feature of this enigmatic home, provides textural contrast to the black stained cedar exterior siding and the softness of the surrounding landscape.
Approaching the residence down the sloped drive, the black basalt columns of a water feature puncture the ground plane of the restrained front entry court. From there, a single path of interlocking pavers, inlaid at intervals with LED bricks, takes visitors straight through the front entrance. The spine of the home is organized along a primary north-south axis that is defined by a glazed open channel through the house that connects the basalt water feature and path at the south entrance and, in perfect alignment, the existing pool and a sprawling oak tree on it north end. Shared materials, angles and sight lines through the house, make the transition, from outside in, fluid.
Opposite the dining area and partitioned by a steel indoor planter, the sunken living area spreads out. Custom furniture, designed by (fer) studio, in marble, wood and steel, subtly integrates with the structural materials of the home. The origami folds in the ceiling, enhanced by recessed linear lighting, create lofty common areas and intimate tucked-away spaces within the context of the larger family room. A tiled gas fireplace integrates a steel bench that wraps around the room and ends underneath the picture window that frames the property’s defining oak tree, at the north end of the primary axis. Bi-fold glass doors open up to an expansive cedar patio enclosed in sequoias and overlooking the sunken rear garden and pool. A central unit that houses the living room television on one side and kitchen cabinetry on the other, implies a separation between the living room and eat-in kitchen.
By comparison, the custom kitchen, by luxury brand Bulthaup, is one of the more enclosed areas of the residence but, like the rest of the interiors, it is strictly edited to wood, stone and steel. All appliances and accessories are concealed within the natural walnut veneer cabinetry to create a seamless contemporary space. A stainless steel wall unit and matching center island countertop gleam underneath an overhead skylight, from which globed copper colored pendant lamps descend and reflect natural light. Attached to the kitchen, a more casual eating area is encased in glass walls and doors, lending a sense of dining al fresco.
The private areas of the home are organized along the secondary east-west axis, increasing in intimacy to the east wing. The office, guest room, powder room and laundry, which connect to the garage, are grouped on the west end. The more private east wing includes a bedroom, bathroom and the master en suite. The master bedroom is anchored by a large dual-sided gas fireplace mounted into a striated marble wall that is shared by the master bathroom. An oversized stone tub sits on the opposite side of the fireplace under a wraparound window that offers views of the woods outside.
In the rear garden, [place]-pakshong landscape and architecture collaborative designed the landscape to follow the organic contours of the descending hillside, in contrast to the rectilinear design of the home.
A common charcoal color palette and shade-loving woodland plant palette unify the house to its surrounding natural context. A simple flagstone path descends from the cedar deck behind the home, first to the hot tub, and finally down to the navy pool and adjoining stone patio, lit by three linear pendant lights that appear to float in the evening.
As with all (fer) studio projects, environmental sensitivity is part of the core design. From the outset, (fer) studio reoriented the home to take best advantage of the sun-shade patterns of the site, to provide natural heating, cooling and lighting of both interior and exteriors spaces. This includes siting the front entry court and back patio under a canopy of deciduous trees, to provide light and warmth in the winter months and cool shade in the warm La Canada summers; and the North-South axis of the glass clearstories and glazed walls maximize natural daylighting throughout the interior spaces, eliminating the need for artificial lighting during the day.
The energy star rated standing seam metal roof and cool roof reflective paint keep the home at a lower temperature, reducing energy consumption for cooling by as much as 30%. The exterior of the home and the garage door are clad in Western Red Cedar siding, a renewable resource that is harvested from sustainably managed forests. The back deck is also Western Red Cedar. All of the windows are low-E insulating argon-filled glass, which also reduces energy consumption by keeping the home cooler during the warm months and warmer in the cool seasons. A tankless water heater provides hot water on demand, countering the energy losses associated with storage water heaters. All interior paint is low-VOC, and recessed interior lighting is low-voltage.
The landscape includes low-water plant material and natives, integrates low gallon per minute (GPM) irrigation, a smart irrigation controller that reacts to real-time weather conditions, and all exterior lighting is LED, which consumes significantly less wattage than tradition lighting.
What was the creation / planning process?
The design process for this project was similar to many other projects in the office. It involves the development of both a physical as well as a computer model that we use as design tools. In this process design options are explored 3-dimensionally, in this specific case we did something like eight different roof options for the house all utilizing the existing roof form at either end of the house with w new raised roof over the center portion of the house (living room/entry/rear patio access). Each of the options explored different ways to capture natural light in the interior spaces, formally celebrate the front entry door of the house, provide a raised higher ceiling in the living room area and develop an internal ceiling form shape that engaged to the exterior deck area.
How did the project go?
Project went great, but like all projects there are some ups and downs which is really a natural process, overall it was great experience! One of the unique challenges on the project was we working with a general contractor that spoke very little English. At the beginning I thought this was going to be a giant stumbling block but it really wasn’t. The on- site superintendent spoke English so that was the first from of relief and in the end we found that the General Contractor was a real pleasure to work with. In general he was very receptive to the design and took a huge amount of pride in making sure the construction of the house was executed in the field to a very high standard of quality and care.
What was your favorite part of the project and why?
By far our favorite part of the project was working with our client. Since completing the house we have become very good friends, this is always the sign of a good working relationship. She was very open and receptive to the design and came to us at the beginning wanting a contemporary home but at the same time used to living in a more traditional environment. This brought on some challenges as there were times where we all struggled to try to find a happy medium with designing something with more traditional roots yet with a contemporary direction. So the contemporary nature of the house evolved just as I would say our clients acceptance and desire unfolding in a more contemporary spirit over the duration of the project.
Were there any issues or problems you encountered during the project?
There was some concern with the project when we all learned that that project had to go through the design review planning approval process with the city. This is always a concerning time for clients as well as architects as this can be a very subjective approval process even when there are clearly defined guidelines from the city. To prepare we chose to attend a random design review meeting at the city weeks prior to our submittal being due to try to get a feel for how the city reacted and responded to some else’s submittal. This was a good learning process as we saw a project that got derailed and was required to make various changes to the design to better meet the city guidelines.This helped us enormously with our submittal and presentation and when it was our turn we got through with flying colors, one of the architects on the approval board even praised the project for both the choice contextual materials set in the wooded site mixed with the contemporary roof line, that was really nice to hear for us and our client!