Design Chat: Architect Nick Noyes

By Dan Gregory

Crisp gable shapes, white siding, and carefully proportioned windows create a contemporary update of the classic farmhouse.

For San Francisco architect Nick Noyes, who designed our Flexahouse (Plan 445-1 through Plan 445-6), architecture is a collaborative process. You don't just present your client with the one and only final design -- you listen to what they say and develop a plan together. For example, as he told me about designing the house above on a rural site for a couple with two children: "We developed three different master plans with 3D models -- they wanted the project to give them a sense of exploration." {An analogy for using ready-made designs would be to select three plans and compare them with your site in mind.} 

The couple liked the straightforward wood buildings of Nantucket off the Massachusetts coast,

(archival photo courtesy Dreamland Film & Performing Arts Center) and also admired another country house Nick had done using simple gabled forms and expressive interior plywood walls, shown below.

Nick also happens to be a fan of earlier Bay Region architecture -- like the work of William Turnbull, for example, which emphasized simple proportions and easy indoor-outdoor living -- as shown here in

Turnbull's Sea Ranch Cottage (Plan 447-1), which found inspiration in typical late 19th century farm buildings  

and mine country architecture (archival photo above by Roger Sturtevant, courtesy Library of Congress). 

At first they thought this would be a two-story house but as they explored ways to connect the house to the site, they decided on a one-story courtyard design shaped by gabled wings with metal roofs. 

A fourth wing is the garage. A breezeway and a trellis-covered walkway connect the wings. Trees shade the courtyard in the hot summer months. 

The open kitchen at one end of the spacious living room is the heart of the house, as shown here. 

According to Nick, the family didn't worry about the fact that the dirty dishes would be exposed -- they like to live informally. 
What makes this house striking -- and adds an abstract modernist vibe -- is the simple geometry and limited palette of materials, including crisp metal roofs, composite siding in narrow horizontal bands, tall narrow double-hung windows, and the linear steel and cedar trellis. Because the forms are so simple, everything is visible, which means that many detail drawings and very careful construction practices were necessary. It turns out that it takes a lot of effort to achieve true simplicity. 

The house feels both contemporary and appropriate to its rural setting. I'd call it modern and regional -- the best of both worlds! (All photos of Nick's houses courtesy Nick Noyes Architecture.)

To see more ranch houses plans click here.


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