The end of the house that faces away from the street toward the east is, actually, quite “architectural.” For one, it’s enveloped largely in glass, so as to endow the interior living space, especially the open-plan main floor, with natural light and a dramatic scenic backdrop. It also contains exterior wall segments made from an unusual material: Rastra block.
Sturdier than the stick-frame structure that supports the rest of the house, these stacked units of concrete and recycled Styrofoam keep the home’s glass-heavy east face stable in case of high winds or earthquakes. Rather than camouflage the industrial-looking material, Raphael drew attention to it—coating the blocks with stucco on the home’s exterior and tinted plaster on its interior to create a smooth, touchable surface.
Its hybrid support system isn’t the only way in which the house, despite its traditional roofline, displays advanced architectural design. Raphael applied as many cutting-edge green building principles to the three-level, four-bedroom home as he and Rachel could afford. This is (subtly) visible as soon as you enter the modest foyer, where your gaze is immediately drawn through the dining and living areas toward the windows that look to the east; it’s easy not to notice that the entire west side of the main floor is windowless, which helps to keep the interior cool on hot days. Walk up the open stairwell adjacent to the foyer, and you’ve entered a giant ventilation shaft: On summer evenings, a powerful fan in the third-story attic sucks air from open basement windows to cool the rest of the house.
Come winter, warm-water-filled radiator pipes embedded in the floors provide an energy-efficient heat source controlled by three separately adjustable thermostats—one for the main floor; one for the second floor, which contains three bedrooms and two baths; and one for the basement, which houses a guest room and a play area for the kids. Moreover, throughout the home various construction materials and hardware, from wood floors to lighting fixtures, were salvaged from warehouses and construction and demolition sites around town. Uniting all of these elements is Raphael’s handcrafted furniture, including tables, chairs, cabinets—even bar stools, whose shallow, indented seats match those of the long benches that flank the dining table.
Appraising the result from the front sidewalk, Raphael describes the house, humbly, as “a big piece of furniture.” And it is that: a finely crafted showcase of wood and glass that displays both the beauty of natural materials and the functional payoffs of intelligent design. But if you prefer, you can call it architecture.