Our First Project – The Contemporary Cottage

This post is part of the #ArchiTalks series in which Bob Borson of Life of an Architect selects a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is “My First Project.” I hope you’ll check out the links at the bottom of the page to learn about others' "First Project"...

This is our first 'formally invited' post in the #ArchiTalk series. Many thanks to Bob Borson and Enoch Sears for allowing us to joint the blog chain! While there was much debate as to whether we (Palo Alto Design Studio) should write about our first architecture related project ever (probably a Sims house – you know, building your own house in the computer game, "The Sims"), or perhaps a project we were most proud of in school, we ultimately decided it would make sense to blog on our most recent project in the works that happens to be our own home: The Contemporary Cottage. 

View from the rear yard of the contemporary cottage.

View from the rear yard of the contemporary cottage.

While there have been many ongoing blog posts about the construction progress, we felt this was a good time for me to explain the background behind it. My family has lived on the property since 1996, so close to 20 years now. Granted, I was away for college and thereafter when working abroad, but the property is something I know like the back of my hand. Property values have been getting ridiculous in this neck of the wood and now that my two brothers and I are grown up (I think), we've begun to think about insurance of a place to stay in our hometown where it's near impossible to get into the current housing market.

Our lot has a lot (no pun intended) of irregularities about it. While more or less a rectangular parcel, it's surrounded on two sides by a condominium complex, and on one side by single family residences (the fourth side would be the street). Our address is not straightforward at all because the original lot and house was here before the expressway and condos were built. Hence, we have a larger than normal lot, but single family residence zoning. 

My family's first thought was to see if we could rezone the lot because if we could, it would allow us to build more than the allotted 2 dwellings: one main house, and one secondary dwelling unit. We already have a small ~300 SF studio in the back yard, but if we're thinking about my parents and their three sons, we need 4 units. If our land were multifamily zoning just a step beyond single family, we would be allowed 4 units exactly per the area of the parcel.

Here was an early study of trying to fit four units on our lot. I can't remember what the concept was other than two duplexes, but it still California Dreamin', just ideas, nothing permitted and no loan taken out for construction.

Here was an early study of trying to fit four units on our lot. I can't remember what the concept was other than two duplexes, but it still California Dreamin', just ideas, nothing permitted and no loan taken out for construction.

This was two years ago. After getting burned by the current political situation and the city's unwillingness to allow a rezone, I decided the next best thing was to replace the existing secondary dwelling unit with one that would max out the allowable size. If the current cottage is 300 SF, we are allowed 900 SF by city ordinance. This is where we started ideating and mixing and matching small cottage/small house plans to fit our 900 SF max. Hence, the birth of the contemporary cottage. 

There was A LOT of throwing around ideas at first. 

This was an early idea for the cottage with an indoor/outdoor space that could make the small house seem a lot larger than it really was. I think I was also dreaming for a German SUV...

This was an early idea for the cottage with an indoor/outdoor space that could make the small house seem a lot larger than it really was. I think I was also dreaming for a German SUV...

Once the program developed a little more and a sense of urgency was placed (expecting the birth of our first child), something gave form to what we're currently building now.

Here was an earlier rendering that at least reflects somewhat the current construction, after we decided to go the secondary dwelling unit route. 

Here was an earlier rendering that at least reflects somewhat the current construction, after we decided to go the secondary dwelling unit route. 

But the road is never straight and steady. After going through several schematic studies, I realized that the flood zone we're in would have some severe impacts on the actual design. While I knew the finished floor was going to be somewhat raised, nearly 42" above existing grade came as a big shock and changed the design.

Here's a version of the contemporary cottage with a raised floor. The material choices here were quite different than what we ended up choosing in the end. 

Here's a version of the contemporary cottage with a raised floor. The material choices here were quite different than what we ended up choosing in the end. 

Even with a floor plan that we were pretty happy with, the form of the building went through an evolution that eventually led to something similar to the roof we have now. 

We were still playing with awnings and canopies and overhangs. How to slope the roof, covered by a parapet. Stucco expansion joint lines, sliding doors in bedrooms that eventually changed to become full height windows...

We were still playing with awnings and canopies and overhangs. How to slope the roof, covered by a parapet. Stucco expansion joint lines, sliding doors in bedrooms that eventually changed to become full height windows...

Notice that the smaller flat roofs at different levels was eventually reduced to a single plane. Even from this step, we actually did change the floor plan a little bit and played with the window sizes too.

Notice that the smaller flat roofs at different levels was eventually reduced to a single plane. Even from this step, we actually did change the floor plan a little bit and played with the window sizes too.

Along with straight-on elevations, we did some perspective renderings now and again. We learned that with the areas of stucco we were proposing, expansion joints may not be necessary.

Along with straight-on elevations, we did some perspective renderings now and again. We learned that with the areas of stucco we were proposing, expansion joints may not be necessary.

There was a lot of back and forth on siding choices and whether the stairs and decks would be wood or concrete. Our contractor recommended we increase the window heights above the garage doors. 

There was a lot of back and forth on siding choices and whether the stairs and decks would be wood or concrete. Our contractor recommended we increase the window heights above the garage doors. 

While the elevations here look similar and very close to what's built, the roof actually continued to play out... Notice this scheme has concrete stairs and decks...

While the elevations here look similar and very close to what's built, the roof actually continued to play out... Notice this scheme has concrete stairs and decks...

Here is the near as-built elevation. We sloped the roof structure altogether, towards the front of the house. We ended up choosing to do the entry deck and stairs in concrete while keeping the rear deck wood. 

Here is the near as-built elevation. We sloped the roof structure altogether, towards the front of the house. We ended up choosing to do the entry deck and stairs in concrete while keeping the rear deck wood. 

The side elevations are where you really can see what's going with the roof. 

The side elevations are where you really can see what's going with the roof. 

We've come a long way, not only conceptually and in a design sense, but physically to where we are right now. It's almost crazy to think how many hours and time has gone into this project even though it's just a small cottage. 

Here we are today. The roofing is done, the siding prep is ready for stucco and wood, windows are in, and we eagerly watch each day as construction continues!

Here we are today. The roofing is done, the siding prep is ready for stucco and wood, windows are in, and we eagerly watch each day as construction continues!

We are honored to be a part of this architecture blog ring! Please take a look at the other first projects on the list below. ALL are awesome reads:

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
My First Project: The Best Project Ever Designed That Wasn't

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
My "First Project"

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
My First Project - Again

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
first project first process

Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
Our First Architecture Project [#ArchiTalks]

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: My first project

Cormac Phalen - Cormac Phalen (@archy_type)
I GOT A ROCK

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
my first project: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
The First One -- A Tale of Two Projects

Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
Why every project is my "First"

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
"My First Project"

Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
The Early Years of My Architecture Career - My Role

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
I Hate Decks

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w)
[first] project [worst] crit

Sharon George - Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
My First Project - The First Solar Decathlon #Architalks

Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
Project Me

Daniel Beck - The Architect's Checklist (@archchecklist)
Fake it 'til you make it

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
Define First

Anthony Richardson - That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent)
my first project

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
My First Project

Jeffrey A Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Top ten tips when faced with a challenging Architectural project

Aaron Bowman - Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Community 101

Samantha Raburn - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
6 Major Differences between my 1st School Project & my 1st Real Project

Kyu Young Kim - Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
My First Project – The Contemporary Cottage

Nisha Kandiah - TCDS (@SKRIBBLES_INC)
The Question of Beginning