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Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

by RJ R last modified Nov 04, 2013 12:27 AM
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Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by RJ R at October 26. 2006
I'm about to apply for a building permit for this home. It's 5500 sq ft, on a small (0.12 acres), narrow (57'x107') lot on a downhill slope with very nice views out the back. I'm the homeowner and I'm using a draftsman/designer to draw up the plans. I think the floor plan is great (4 levels: main floor, 2 'basements', one loft), but the elevations need a little work, especially the front.

For the front door, I plan to do storefront windows around the sides and above the door. But it's the high section that I think needs some work (those 3 square windows). Any thoughts?
Here is the rear and side elevations:

Any advice on materials would be great too. I was planning on hardipanel in a grid pattern, painted off white, for most of the home. Then maybe corrugated steel or wood for the higher 'loft' section? Aluminum/glass garage doors.

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by Jeffrey Rous at October 26. 2006

To be honest, with most of the front elevation made up of garage doors, there is really not much you can do to help things. Other than that, the front door area is, IMHO, a bigger problem. There is just so much (window, door, window) crammed into a small space and the window above the front door really looks out of place.

I think I might eliminate the side-lights and put in a 4' wide door that is as tall as the garage doors. Then I would remove the upper window and put in a skylight over the foyer. Then I would connect the two garage roofs with a trellis to make that narrow entry court feel more like a room.

For the upper loft windows. Maybe a ribbon would work better than the three squares.

You might want to bring an architect in for this as it is clearly important to get it right.

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by Dustin Ehrlich at October 27. 2006

I'm with Rous, nix the sidelights and the window above. No offense, but if you're going to spend that kind of money to build a house that size, you should have hired a good architect from the start instead of a draftsman. This is the kind of thing the owner shouldn't have to worry about. An architect is the best investment you can make for a new house.

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by Bob at October 27. 2006

i admire your goal to end up with something more modern. the world needs more people like you. aside from that, i agree with the above posts and have a ton of ideas/comments but too little time right now. as an architect who worked on crappy projects all week it's ashame this didnt come into the office to make the week more enjoyable. some items of note:

1. what materials are u using? i'd suggest using one material for the two side masses and a different (perhaps vertical) material for the central mass. if using stucco/plaster/eifs anywhere design/locate the joints/reveals to strengthen the image u r looking for.

2. your draftsman is missing a couple lines on the rear elevation (extending the lines of the central mass to the ground) - or he drew the side elevation wrong. actually - it's drawn as if the entire bottom level sticks out as far as the central mass (one big rectangle on the lowest level) and the side balconies sit on top of the roof (with a slice of roof between the edge of the balcony the edge of the wall below)? if so i dont like the massing wish each element (viewed from the rear i would say there are 3 elements/masses - left, right and central tower/core) appeared as its own entity and not joined together at the bottom floor creating that wierd condition. the amount of detailing and time required to drain the roofs, avoid leakage thru the balcony into roof/room below etc doesnt look like fun. it would also negate the intent i had when i wrote #1 above.
also - the balconies dont match from one drawing to the other either. rear elev shows continuous balcony at 3rd level but side elev only shows at central mass. those are just things i caught at casual glance - who knows what else might be off.

3. with garage doors dominating the front elevation consider throwing the $ u saved on not hiring an architect at something like this

4. the windows on the upper floor are a dissapointment. i think the upper loft area should look as if it's gazing out not shyly peeking out - if ya know what i mean???

good luck keep us posted on how things turn out!

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by RJ R at October 27. 2006
Thanks for the comments.
First of all, I AGREE. I should have hired an architect. And in fact I tried. Long story. #1 problem is that time is/was of the essence. I guess I could have looked on these forums for one because you don't necessarily have to use someone local for a single family dwelling.
Here is one of the homes that I like and am I'm using as 'inspiration'. It was the 'cambridge project' from This Old House last fall.

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by Jeffrey Rous at October 27. 2006

Please don't tell me this was one of those situations where you got a great deal on a lot but had 90 days to get a house permitted? I have read about these situations in Dwell and have no idea how this can be. If you have such a case, please let us know how it came to pass.

Apart from that, what is the situation and are exterior treatements the only things that can change at this time.

Re: front elevation

Posted by RJ R at October 31. 2006
No it wasn't a situation like that. It was a lot on the market that anyone could buy and build on now or later. I had a set of plans for the home I was going to build on it, but I was a couple months too late and the neighborhood building code/restrictions had changed by the time I went to apply for a permit. There were some major changes made, especially in height restriction (preventing people from building 'McMansions' and blocking the neighbor's view). The problem is that I already have a construction loan to build the original home, so the clock is ticking on my construction deadlines. So I need to change the home quickly to meet the new requirements, but still keep the same square footage and home value to satisfy the bank. This doesn't explain why I couldn't find an architect in time, but that's another long story in itself.

Basically I can only build a home including roof that is 28' high (at the highest point, i.e. the back of the home) or 20' wall height. This obviously penalizes flat roofs because if you have some pitch you could use that area for living space or ceiling height. The height restriction used to be 38', so unfortunately I think I may need to get rid of the loft area.

As much as I love flat roofs, I'm now looking for examples of modern homes I like with some roof pitch. Anyone have any pictures or links to share?

Here's a roof design I kind of like:

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by darrel at October 31. 2006

Our codes are like that here. I think they comprehend hip and gabled roofs and nothing else. Frustrating.

Will code allow for a shed roof? Or would that be caught by the wall-height issue?

Maybe you could 'fake' a mansard roof by having the loft area clad in roofing material (perhaps standin seem metal) and set back slightly from the main walls. Then give that a shed roof. Visually, it'd look like a flat roof house with an interesting add-on to the top (like a lot of modern condo rehabs built from old warehouses where they add the contrasting rooms on the roof).

Again, not to sound like a broken record, but a good architect can come up with quick, creative ways around these codes.

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by Ed at November 01. 2006
This thread reminds me of a recently completed spec [url href=""]house[/url] located on the next street over from mine. I happen to like it a lot, even though it's not exactly modern. I'm not sure what to call it. Even the listing gives it some specious, ethereal designation: "Combining Malibu, South of France, Asian, and Tuscan feel." Anyway... it has very simple, unadorned modernist lines, with Frank Lloyd Wright-ish standing seam rooflines. Perhaps this could provide some inspiration for doing a modern-ish house that incorporates pitched/gabled roofs.

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by Jeffrey Rous at November 01. 2006

hejiranyc, I would call that a Victorian style house. But the widow's walk idea might be useful.

rjrmodern, So are dormers considered part of the roof? Could you build a hipped roof structure that is mostly dorners and windows? With 5500 sqft, do you really need the space? I can see a roof structure that is mainly a skylight (perhaps like the widow's walk in the previous message's link). Or, I like the idea of a pyramid shaped skylight (covered in wither polygal or Kalwal) funneling light into the center of the house.

Can you show us the plan?

In addition, it is really the fenestration on the back of the house I am not thrilled with. Depending on the use of each room, you could really do a lot with different window sizes and shapes.

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by ThreeDogKnight at November 01. 2006

If the restrictions say max 28' building height, and max 20' wall height, could you possibly get away with a flat roof using a plan that looks like stacked boxes (similar to the Cambridge project metioned)? The upper floor box would be smaller than the lower floors. This way, you don't have an exterior wall that is more than 20'. I guess this is really pretty close to the same idea that incubus had.

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by Bob at November 01. 2006

these things (building wall heights etc) are not building code restrictions. they must be zoning requirements or historical/neighborhood district guidelines etc.

1. everything in the zoning ordinances is subject to a variance. it will require the proof of a hardship presenting your case before the local zoning board. buying the land with the intent of building a specific building may or may not warrant such a variance depending on the zoning boards ruling. it might be worth a phone call to the township zoning officer (preferably to set up a meeting where you can show you had plans, financing etc based on a certain house design). if you bought your land after the zoning revision was made you may not have a case (they'd say it was your failure to do the proper research), but if you bought the land before the revision you should be able to argue a case for building your original design (i.e u couldnt apply for permit until u had financing and that took too long). most revisions to zoning ordinances dont go into effect immediately so my guess is you bought the land after the revision was made and just didnt do the research.

2. assuming u cant make an argument for building the original design i suggest you get a copy of this zoning ordinance. most zoning ordinances specifically define how to determine building heights on sloped sites like yours. some townships take the average of the height above grade, some take the worst case dimension at any given point on each elevation. it might be worth checking out.

good luck

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by RJ R at November 15. 2006

Now that I am going to pitch the roof because of wall height restrictions, I really need some advice on the front elevation. This is where we're at right now. It is all garage and quite boring. Any ideas? I do plan to use some very nice garage doors (i.e. clopay avante glass/aluminum), but it is still not very visually appealing.

We may be adding a bonus room above the 2 car garage to gain more square footage and change the look of the front.

Does anyone have examples of a home that combines flat and pitched roofing? Something like that might work here....

Re: side view

Posted by RJ R at November 15. 2006

And here is the side view, in case that helps.

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by RJ R at November 15. 2006

And here's one more picture. This one shows how it would look from the front with the trussess rotated so the gables face the side. This is probably the most practical layout as far as the roof height restrictions go. Any thoughts on how to jazz this one up?

Re: Need advice on this front elevation for a new modern home

Posted by Jeffrey Rous at November 16. 2006

Do dormers count against wall height?

Other than that, do you absolutely need that top floor? I mean, 5500sqft is absolutely enormous and I can see how it might be neat to have the front of the house look as minimal as possible, perhaps only containing a entry, study, small bath and roof deck all behind the garages.

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