Context and Compatibility

Hiding in Plain Sight

The new icomfort Wi-Fi™ thermostat from Lennox is very cool — figuratively speaking. Designed like an i-Pad (hence the i in front of comfort, natch), it lets

you set your home’s temperature from anywhere in the world with a smartphone, tablet or laptop. It shows how much energy your home is using and even doubles as a weather station. And there is, to my mind, an even cooler aspect: it can shout its presence on your wall or practically disappear, depending on your taste in decor — thanks to optional protective covers (called Gelaskins; the latter company also makes customizable covers for smartphones) and downloadable screensaver images to match. So, for example, your thermostat can become an

impressionistic miniature Van Gogh, sport a red frame, or perhaps produce an

impressive double take by simply going away — I saw this example at the Home Builder Show in Las Vegas. A further elaboration would be to take a photo of the wall where the thermostat will be and then use the image as the thermostat screensaver and voila! Or should I say, au revoir! (Images courtesy Lennox and Gelaskins.)

Which leads me to the very architectural question of context. It’s an important issue when thinking about building a new house. A design can either contrast with its site — i.e  context — or complement it. Both are valid ways to go. The innovative firm of Johnsen Schmaling Architects designed their “Camouflage House” on a rural site in Wisconsin to interact visually with its woodsy setting,

or in their words “assimilate with nature.” The exterior walls comprise a grid of vertical cedar, echoing tree trunks, and panels of resin-based wood veneer in a spectrum of hues based on surrounding foliage. Landscape architect Scott Lewis took a more extreme approach in this San Francisco garden beside a small park,

where the backyard studio — see the black window frame peaking through the leaves in the distance — blends into the foliage, thereby making the small yard

appear to be part of the larger greenscape (photos courtesy Scott Lewis). Mirrors are another way of playing with, and quite literally extending, context,

as this garden pool example shows (courtesy Sunset). There is a long tradition of

contextural approaches in the world of interior design, including the use of trompe l’oeil (fool the eye), as in this example of painted wallpaper across a hidden door (image courtesy Gadget Review). The flush-mounted door within a wainscoting

was a favorite trick of 18th and 19th century architects — and our very own Oval Office has a good example — the camouflaged, flush-mounted door’s outline is visible behind the President.

One way to search for house designs is to look for features that might be compatible with your setting: if you are building on an infill site within a neighborhood of bungalows, for example, it seems logical to consider what might be possible within the bungalow esthetic. Designer Brooks Ballard of Home Patterns is

especially adept in this regard and has developed multiple variations on the Craftsman bungalow theme, as in Plan 461-31, with welcoming front porch and dormer windows. It’s true that expressing visual connections between a new structure and its surroundings can easily lead to mimicry and soulless imitation, but when done well it is inspiring and can help one see the forest in addition to the trees.

For more on Craftsman style and Brooks Ballard Plans click here.

One response to “Context and Compatibility

  1. Such beautifully creative ideas, and not (in most cases) completely unattainable….thanks!

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