Design Chat: Nicholas Lee, AIA

By Dan Gregory

The shallow sheltering gable and long livable porch are classic architect Nicholas Lee has designed six houses for the Sonoma, California region, with more on the way, so we thought it was time for an interview -- specifically about the design of his latest house, Plan 888-6, shown above. The long single gable extends over porches at the sides and, with the board and batten siding and tall double hung windows, creates an iconic image of home. Inside it’s all about modern living in a split layout where the master suite is on one side of the great room and the children’s bedrooms are on the other. 

What are the key ideas, inspirations?

Simplicity, proportion, and setting. Given the simple form of the house, it was important to simplify and refine the few elements that the house does have — columns, windows, doors, and the fireplace. We liked the idea of tall, slender proportions for the doors and windows
 and repeated this throughout the house.

Suitable for what type of lot? Climate? Orientation? 
This house is designed for an open site with good views on both sides. The covered porches are intended to provide outdoor living places throughout the day. Drink your coffee on the Morning Porch, then watch the sunset on the ‘Mai Tai Lanai.‘ Designed for a place with hot, warm, and mild temperatures throughout the year.  Best orientation would be to have the porches or long sides of the house facing East-West. This gives more sun exposure on the long sides of the house. Orienting the house with the long sides facing North and South would not give you much warmth from the sun and would make the house dark, especially during the winter months.

Can you suggest ways to customize the plan? Where would you put a garage?
Or how would you make the front door more obvious?

Adding a garage really depends on your site, but I can see two different options. One would be to create an attached or detached garage connected by a breezeway adjacent to the kitchen. This would allow for easy access from the garage to the kitchen. This is nice especially when you have a large load of groceries to bring in. The other location would simply be an extension to either end of the house.

Because the house form is so straightforward anything that is done to the roof line will stand out as a beacon. If you want to make a more obvious entrance, you could simply add a gable roof that attaches to the main body of the house. This house is intentionally designed to be subtle and linear. If you wanted to break up the length of the house, you could add a gable roof over the great room. This would give you a cross form and express the main living space on the exterior.

Now that you’ve designed six ranch houses, do you have any lessons about working with this house type?
The main lesson I’ve learned is this house is very adaptable. The house can easily get larger or smaller by lengthening or shortening the form. The shape of the house can change to adapt to different site conditions. For example, the L-shaped house, Plan 888-5, was designed to create an exterior pool court and wind barrier for a particular site. The porch doesn’t have to be on both sides. Depending on your views and orientation the porches are easily added or removed depending on the needs of the site. We had another site that had a neighboring house right next to ours so we placed the porch on the side away from the neighbor, which also happened to be the view side, for our Plan 508-1so that design has only one porch, as shown above. These houses were designed from the inside-out and the outside-in… meaning the covered porches and direct connection from all the major rooms make the houses feel larger than they are. If you want to go outside, you simply open the door. You don’t have to walk down the hallway and through the living room to get to the pool.

Thanks, Nick!

May 9, 2014

Hours  Mon-Fri, 9 am - 8:30 pm (EST)