December 2016 — With concrete work on hold until Spring, we have more time to get the interior details figured out. Mark had the floor plans wrapped up months ago and the only real change since then has been to replace the gas stove with a Jotul New Harbor gas fireplace. But when I put the fireplace in the corner of the living room where the stove had been, it looked wrong. Putting it on the wall under the high windows worked better. Since the firebox requires at least 16" of depth, that suggested flanking shelves and cabinetry. And because the chimney only had to go up eight feet or so to where the vent pipes go through the wall, that suggested capping everything with a big soffit. Which in turn produced an ideal space for recessed lighting, with the added benefit of a high shelf to display Large Interesting Objects of Questionable Utility.
So, one relatively small change triggered off a series of design decisions that firmly established the big room's character, at least in our virtual world of Sketchup Pro, Google's 3D design program. The house has an open floor plan, so materials and colors used here need to harmonize with those in the kitchen and dining areas. Designing those spaces is easier now that we've set the tone and palette. In this process of assimilating all the potentials and then reducing them to a few simple directives, we develop a plan for fitting out the entire interior.
The house is located on former farmland, and its exterior design echoes the lines and colors of New England barns and farm houses. The mandate for inside was to keep it simple and light, with a focus on white, black iron, natural wood, and stone. The insulated concrete floor is a smooth rich grey, and the massive trusses holding up the roof are solid Douglas Fir from Vermont Timber Frames, naturally finished with oil. All these elements combine gracefully and authentically to create a home that we dubbed "The New American Barn."
It's a long way from 15th century Japan to rural Connecticut, but the values of honest material, timeless craftsmanship and simple beauty travel well.
Which brings us to Wabi-Sabi. While there is no precise translation of this delightful Japanese term, it is used to express a design ethos focused on simple, natural and earthy elements, and "the Art of Imperfection" as exquisitely explained by Robyn Griggs Lawrence. In this aesthetic view, the authenticity of materials is a guiding force, the essence of materials defines their utility, and the beauty of materials grows as they naturally age. Wabi-Sabi came about in 15th century Japan as a visceral reaction to the ornate and gilded finery of the Imperial Court, and has remained a common thread in Japanese culture since then. Not too surprisingly, it is also in tune with the sensible building approaches of The New American Barn.