Thanks to the sliding glass widow wall, the suspended fireplace is perceived as part of both living room and deck (photo courtesy Craig Steely Architecture).
The most compelling part of a home can often be a transition zone between indoors and outdoors. San Francisco architect Craig Steely’s own house, for example,
shows how the
living room merges seamlessly with the deck. The elegant suspended
modern fireplace is actually outdoors, but because of the sliding glass
living room wall, it’s visually — and sometimes virtually, when the
sliding doors are open — part of both spaces. The ambiguity adds a layer
of artfulness. The overhanging roof and the floating fireplace define the outdoor room
while making it an extension of the living room. Both spaces feel
larger than they are because they visually overlap.
An open-air corridor or gallery can function in a similar but more directional way. New Mexico regional modern architect John Gaw Meem
was particularly deft at the use of transitional spaces to tie
structure to site. In his McCormick residence of 1931, north of Santa
Fe, the entry is along a covered walkway hat opens to a terraced courtyard. The portico shades the entrance,
creating an outdoor room within the larger outdoor room that is the
courtyard (photo by Robert Reck from Facing Southwest: The Life and Houses of John Gaw Meem, by Chris Wilson, W. W. Norton, 2001).
Another example, this time on a slight downhill slope, is the entrance at the Wallace house of 1933 near Santa Cruz, California by Henry Howard
. The long corridor, paving
pattern, and distant open doorway beckon eyes and footsteps into and
through the house. If there had been no overhang the entrance walk
would be abrupt, exposed to the weather, and unwelcoming.
The porch-as-passage is an old idea: classic American examples are found
in the Charleston, South Carolina single-houses of the 19th century.
The front door opens to the porch, which in turn leads to the front hall (in some examples, the porch is
the front hall). These houses are only one room wide and the porch is
oriented to catch the breeze, while the front door preserves the dignity
of the street front and the privacy of the porch at the same time.
Add a glass wall and things start to evolve. One of the most important
examples of the glazed hallway was designed by U. C. Berkeley campus
architect John Galen Howard
(Henry Howard’s father) for the University’s Architecture School in the early 1900s. It stair-steps up the slope and is essentially a hallway with a wall of multi-paned windows along one side. The use of
shingle siding on the interior wall reinforces the indoor-outdoor
It has inspired many architects over the years, including William
Wurster, for example in his Robbins house at Hillsborough from the mid
1930s, where brick-paved floor and simple horizontal board walls emphasize an outdoor feeling. Wurster ultimately expanded on the glazed gallery
idea to invent what he called “the room with no name,” which was
essentially a sunporch or lanai that could have multiple uses as a kind
of family room or indoor-outdoor dining room. A hallway can be so much more than a corridor!