When Remodeling is an Exercise in Sustainability

WHEN REMODELING IS AN EXERCISE IN SUSTAINABILITY

Boulder Architect Connects Family to Outdoors In Recreating Home Ripe For Demolition

Boulder, Colorado – (Sept. 21, 2006) – Spending a lot of time outdoors is basic to the lifestyle of Karen and Don Kehn and their children. The family, for example, spends every winter weekend at Eldora Ski Resort, says Mrs. Kehn. But at home, the Kehns lived for nine years in a house that felt confining. The kitchen, dining and living rooms, prime gathering areas in practically every home, were walled in and cut off from one another. The second floor living room had no direct access to the outdoors, so the Kehns knew that if they were to remodel, an extensive deck system would have to be added off of their living space. “We’re outside a lot,” says Mrs. Kehn, a systems engineer.

The structure of the Kehn’s Boulder, Colorado, home presented other challenges: a narrow, enclosed bridge connected the original structure, a cottage built in 1956, to the central living quarters, added in 1984. The main entry was hard to find, obscured by the original cottage. A total of four additions had been made to the property over the years, including children’s bedrooms the Kehns added in 1997. Each addition represented the decade in which it was built and stood out from the whole. “We wanted the flow of the home to be better and we wanted it more open,” says Mrs. Kehn. Several architects, including a young architect working for the firm that eventually redesigned the home, thought it would be best to demolish the house and start from scratch. “But I could tell Dominique [Gettliffe] was visualizing the solution,” says Mrs. Kehn. “We trusted him. This is how [our home] is supposed to look.”

The Kehn’s choice to remodel, rather than demolish, was ecologically responsible, says Dominique Gettliffe, principal, Gettliffe Architecture. Gettliffe’s work has focused on sustainable design for more than 20 years. Even if materials from the demolished home had been recycled and reused, he says, a greater volume of waste would have remained than what remained from the renovation. The difference, he estimates, is 20 percent waste from a deconstruction versus 4 percent from the actual remodel, without mentioning the labor and energy that would have been used for deconstruction, transportation and reprocessing of materials. And Don and Karen Kehn estimate their costs for a complete redesign and build would have been three times what they paid to remodel.

Opening and Connecting Space Gettliffe says the solution for the Kehn home came down to finding a way to open and connect spaces within the existing structure. His redesign addressed four areas:

  • Relocate and redesign the main entrance. The result gives the home a unified style from the outside in and creates an unmistakable focal point. Gettliffe moved the door left of its former location and elevated it to the level of the main floor. The complete entryway design begins at a metal gate that opens to a courtyard. Beyond the gate the eye is drawn to a copper-clad wall that frames the door. A deck and overhang accentuate the formal sense of entry.
  • Connect the rooms that make up the heart of the home: living and dining rooms and kitchen. A stairway connected these spaces. Gettliffe replaced the existing stairs with an open tread staircase and removed the walls around the stairway to make it as transparent as possible, creating visual access to the kitchen, a half-level below the living room. The steel cable guardrails of the deck (described below) are also used on the staircase. For further visual continuity, Gettliffe placed a maple-wood wall next to the stairway to run vertically through the home’s three levels.
  • Open and connect the interior to the outdoors. The deck system the Kehns couldn’t live without affords views from three levels and adds outdoor dining and sitting rooms. The deck is a chief design element because, from indoors as well as out, it eliminates the disparate look that had resulted from the additions. To visually lighten the deck, which, at 1,157 square feet, comprises nearly 30 percent of the home’s square footage, Gettliffe combined steel structural elements and guardrail cables with accent wood and composite decking. “Steel gives you a thinner, lighter structure than wood, which is warm to the look and touch. The combination of the two is a good contrast,” he says.
  • Increase the space within the bridge. Gettliffe literally raised the roof and inserted windows to give the space a wide, western exposure. A walk across the bridge from the original cottage now opens up to the view of the mountains.

Additional Elements of Green Design

  • Gettliffe offset the decking on the second level from the structure itself to allow sunshine to enter the pool room, a passive solar room on the home’s lower level.
  • Blown cellulose insulation, made from recycled newsprint, makes the home air-tight.
  • Flooring throughout the living and dining rooms, kitchen and bridge is sustainable bamboo.
  • A clean-burning pellet stove is the home’s primary heat source. Thanks to the stove, the house’s furnace will turn on perhaps twice during a cold winter, says Mrs. Kehn.
  • The composite material for the deck system, called “Oasis,” is made of recycled plastics and wood.

Since the renovation, the Kehns dine outdoors on the deck. Don spends time reading in the newly opened spaces, something he never did before, his wife says, and the couple enjoys lingering on the deck off the master bedroom in the evening. “It’s like being on vacation,” says Mrs. Kehn. “We’ve never had that outdoor element before. It’s a very comfortable feeling.”

Gettliffe Architecture is at 3014 Bluff St., Unit 101, Boulder, Colorado. The phone number is (303) 449.9155.