Creative Thinking: Part 1
Creative/Editorial Director Amy Vischio shares her studio addition in a multipart web series
Choosing an architect is not a decision to be taken lightly. Let’s face it—there is a permanence that comes with the job. Projects can go several ways: The best case scenario is that you pull up to your abode every day and marvel at what stands before you. The worst is that you are forever reminded of your poor choice. So, when embarking on a studio addition to my home in Fairfield, being the very particular (though some may use a stronger word) person that I am, I knew it would be time well spent to do some homework. I wanted an architect who had experience solving all types of architectural puzzles but wasn’t married to any particular style, someone who had the design chops to make the addition visually appealing, and the know-how to create a well-functioning structure in a tricky footprint. Even though I have been a serial renovator for decades, I really needed guidance on things like zoning restrictions, headroom in tight spaces, and a dozen others issues—and I could not risk a screw-up.
A first try at the front elevation.
Why Neil Hauck? The simple truth is that years ago, Neil’s logo caught my eye. I love white houses and to date I have owned four, and his logo, which includes a little white house, led me to investigate his portfolio. Design-wise he fit the bill, but what really cinched it was meeting him. Easygoing, no ego, lots of smarts and ideas—this was someone I knew I could work with. I threw a lot of ideas at him, but when he started casually sketching, I knew the next little white structure in my future would come from him. And so it began.
Athome sat down with Neil to talk about the first steps in his design process:
athome: You have designed new homes and renovated existing ones—was your process any different for this smaller-scale addition?
Neil Hauck: No. I use the same approach for every project I design. Truth be told, the smaller renovations are sometimes the most challenging, because I am asked to accomplish many things in a small volume.
AH: Can you talk a little bit about how you began the process with Amy and her husband, Chris?
NH: We began by meeting at the house. We discussed the building program (i.e. "wish list") for the project over a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning and decided on a small addition with an oversized one-car garage that could double as a shop for Chris's welding projects, and a painting and photography studio above for Amy.
The existing floor plan was altered to accommodate a new mudroom entrance, an interior door to the attached garage, and a mini-office.
The next time we met, I showed them a similar project that I had designed to give them a feel for the scale of the spaces. After that, I began the actual design process. The studio has a full bath and kitchenette so that it can double as a guest bedroom suite in a pinch, and we included a side door into the mudroom that connects the garage to the main house contains a stair to the studio above.
AH: How long does it usually take to plan a project like this—from first meeting to breaking ground?
NH: That is a tricky question. Of the four phases of a project (Design, Construction Documents, Bidding/Permitting, Construction Observation), the length of the Design Phase is always the most difficult to predict. Sometimes we arrive at a solution quickly and sometimes there is a great deal of back and forth before we settle on the final design. In this particular case, it took a little over seven months to get from the first meeting to breaking ground, but we lost about three months navigating the zoning approvals process.
The first of a few sketches that Neil produced to rough out the studio space.
AH: What were the challenges you saw in this job?
NH: By far, our biggest challenge was to find a way to limit the apparent scale of the addition, as seen from the neighbor’s yard, while still providing you with sufficient head height and volume in the studio spaces. One way we addressed this problem was by creating a vaulted ceiling, which makes the space seem larger than it actually is. The existing lot coverage left little room for expansion, so were forced to obtain variances for lot coverage and rear yard setback. The “rear yard,” according to the Town of Fairfield zoning regulations was, for all intents and purposes, a side yard, so we put a lot of effort into finding a way to limit the scale of the addition, as seen from the neighboring property. The town also forced us to limit the overall height of the addition, which presented challenges in terms of head heights and rooflines. The final design was based on a very tight set of geometric relationships, and there wasn’t much wiggle room.
AH: What type of project management services does your firm, Neil Hauck Architects, offer?
NH: We offer full architectural services, which means that we follow a project through from the first concept sketches to the final inspection when the construction phase has been completed. I am a strong believer in the fact that the "design process" doesn't end at the end of the Design Phase. The design is continually refined along the way. As an example, sometimes you discover something during the Construction Phase that wasn't obvious before that and you make a small adjustment that can make the project better.
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