Designers try to foster sense of 'discovery'; Habitat: A team from Ilex Construction & Development wants its showcase home to blend into its surroundings, and to fit the patterns of a resident's life.; Design House 2000


It could easily become another "McMansion," sprouting from the ground like a giant brick mushroom. But that's hardly what Ilex Construction & Development designers wanted. Instead, visitors to the home they are constructing in Phoenix are going to experience a "sense of discovery."

The design team at Ilex wants their showcase home to marry habitat and architecture.

"Most houses are built for resale instead of for comfort," said Frank Yockey, Ilex project manager.

"They're not inviting. There's no sense of discovery. They're square to the road," Yockey said.

Working in harmony with the contour of the six sloping acres in Cloverland Farms, Ilex builders wanted to convey that element of surprise in the positioning of the house, so the house reveals more and more of itself as one approaches.

To achieve this, as well as make best use of the site, the floor plan was arranged so the home is positioned nearly sideways to the street, rather than "plopped on the road." The entrance faces uphill rather than directly toward the street. The back of the home gets southern exposure to the sun.

"A lot of people make that mistake," Yockey said. "They choose a design that doesn't work with the site. We work to the site, not against it. We wanted nothing drastic to be as gentle as possible."

Influenced by architectural icon Frank Lloyd Wright's philosophy of harmonizing design with nature, the house will appear to be single story from most angles, although it has two floors and a walk-out basement.

The first thing visitors will see when approaching the property from Dulaney Valley Road is the southern elevation, two stories that include the walk-out basement. Then come the sides of the home that appear single story -- first the master suite and then the front courtyard. More and more discovery.

Grading will be kept to a minimum so that the home does not look unnatural or invasive. In fact, most of the grading is being done only to guide water away from the house.

"The idea is to make it look like we've never been there like it's been there 100 years," said Kent Darrell Jr., another Ilex project manager.

Some might argue that the arrangement sacrifices curb appeal, but Maryland Home Builders officials feel it's best for everyone, especially the owners.

"It's the right thing to do," said HBAM President Marty Azola. "You have to be smart enough to appeal to people with the site. The slope is an issue."

"There's a lovely view but it creates challenges to not make it look perched," he said.

Outdoor steps were kept to a minimum to further blend with slopes and minimize stark, vertical lines. The rear of the home will overlook lots below -- and the library, office and master bedroom will overlook open-space greenways.

"You move away from the planned box -- the dropped, forced look," Yockey said. "We like Frank Lloyd Wright's style. It's natural. You ease into the site."

Not only will the house blend with the land, but it will also use natural elements such as sun and wind to its advantage. Sunlight will stream into the breakfast room in the morning and, as the day passes, fade in the family room and master bedroom in the evening -- following a resident's normal life pattern.

Woods outside the breakfast area will act as sun shields and privacy buffers, and windows set high in the master bedroom will allow the hues of the sunset to come through.

"I wanted to see the sunset without it being retina-searing," Yockey said. "With these windows you can see the colors of sunset. The shadow and relief provides dimension."

Wind patterns were also considered in the positioning of the home.

First, the house isn't set on the crest of the hill, thus protecting it from stiff breezes. The courtyard is also in a depression so that calmer areas are near the entry. The higher windows in the master bedroom allow a natural breeze to flow through the house.

Although there was extensive surveying and staking, the key to the design process took place simply by the designers standing on the property -- again and again.

"We stood on the lot at different times, on different days," Darrell said. "A lot has to do with how people will feel there.

"Builders at this end of the spectrum should take time to consider [positioning]," Azola agreed. "The home can look very important from the street, but the owners are freezing in the family room at night."

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