10 Most Inspiring Houses In The Life Of Firstangle (The First 35 Years Of My Life : 1978 - 2013)

As i sit here pondering what has happened in the world of architecture during my short 35 year life, i begin to wonder what are the houses that have most shaped my life over the last 35 years. Surprisingly there are what you may consider some rather odd selections & there are of course a few that are to be expected considering the standing they have within the Architectural community.

The aim of this blog is to attempt to explain the method in the madness that is why & how i design the works that i do. After all it is my belief that our design principles are shaped greatly by the structures we are exposed to as we grow. What we are left with is a biased design principle that leaves behind a signature regardless of the style of architecture we may produce over our life.

Now coming up with the 10 most inspiring houses in my life was not an easy task at all. It has been quite painstaking sifting through the structures that over time have impacted the architecture i create & how i have set the design principles of my business. There were a couple of ground rules i chose to adhere too.

Ground Rules.

1. Each structure chosen must be a residence for either a client or the designer.

2. Only one house per designer could be chosen.

So now that we have settled upon the ground rules (not that they were impressive) lets get stuck into the list. The list will be worked through from 10 - 1 with 1 being the most influential house in my life. Now i must warn you that some of my decisions on house selection may leave you wondering what i was thinking but i assure you as you read through each it will become clear why i have selected the houses & why they have been placed in the order i have them in.

10. Farnsworth House - Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe 

The Farnsworth House was designed and built between 1945 - 51. It is a single room weekender that Mies designed for Dr. Edith Farnsworth. At 140m2 it is a small yet open design that sits as one with its surroundings & for me was one of the first homes i studied that showed me that homes did not have to be large in order to achieve the cosy feel the Farnsworth House achieves. Understanding that it is not a family home it does however give us ideas & concepts that can be incorporated into small family homes. Architecturally it carries with it some interesting open indoor/outdoor design responses that we as designers & architects are still coming to grips with today.

Design wise this home was ahead of its time with its architectural look immediately apparent to those viewing it from the outside. The steel framed structure allowed for floor to ceiling glazing to occur thus allowing the outside into the home & the inside out of the home. This single design option is something i have taken with me into my current design structures & is something i have been working on as i design project after project for my clients. Each time getting closer & closer to that perfect mesh of Steel to Glass ratio whilst still retaining high levels of energy efficiency & in some cases coming close to 10 star ratings of efficiency (The Fall Road Eco Module being one such structure at 9.2 stars).

The home was designed with a central core for the services to be hidden within & once again this core of services is something i have taken from this design & in a way implemented where possible in my designs in order to reduce the amount of pipe works needed to service these areas which in turn reduces construction costs.

In essence this structure has given me 2 main design ideals that i have over time tweaked to my satisfaction & are two recurring themes in all works i produce (even those projects where you have no control over the look of the structure). These design ideals came at a time when i was still studying & therefore have become staple principles in all my works. when studied closely they can be seen clearly & none more so than my own family home which has a main living core, & a sleeping core which contains the wet areas for both minor & major bedrooms as well as large expanses of glazing to the main living core leading out onto the rear yard area.

9. Kevin McCloud's Man Made Home - Kevin McCloud

Now while this may seem an odd inclusion but when you watch the 4 part series on Kevin's man made home you too will see the wonder & amazing creativity he shows us as well as the ideals of living minimal off the earth & what i would suggest is true eco friendly living.

The house itself is non permanent & made from felled trees found on the plot & architecturally it is rather stunning. A complete timber structure that encapsulates the ideals for eco friendly living off reclaimed, re-used & recycled product. It tugs at my eco heart strings & has already (in a short time) provided me with inspiration on a few renovation projects i am working on.

The most inspirational piece however was not the home or anything attached to it. It was in fact the reclining chair made from a rusty old tractor & converted into a recliner which to my surprise was invented around the time of Napoleon (Who knew!! well not me). ANyway this chair & its conversion & up-cycling is probably the most amazing piece of architectural furniture i have ever seen. I mean Eames was a master, as were the others but seriously this conversion is a stroke of genius & is the inspiration for me to get back into designing furniture & Kevin himself is the reason i am sketching free hand again.

So as you can see there are quite a few reasons for this house & its contents to be included in my top 10.

8. Experimental Summer House - Alvar Aalto

This one is one of those odd structures that just seems to grab you. in its design there are a few elements here & there that stand out to me with regards to the layout itself but most of the actual inspiration i gain from this home is in the mix of materials used & the sheer delight taken by Alvar Aalto to experiment with materials & construction methods on this home. That in itself is reason enough to have this in the most influential homes list in my opinion, but i guess the most amazing portion of this homes standing is the reasoning behind the experimentation was that the home was simply a laboratory for architectural & building experimentation.

With varying styles of brickwork & varying attempts at passive solar design from a heating point as well as a centralised courtyard design which was well quite simplistic in design yet served as such an amazing outdoor living space with views over Lake Paijanne.

So other than the mixture of material & its use of experimental design practice it served as inspiration for me with regards to its simple use of the courtyard in an inspiring cost effective way it was constructed. The sheer experimental nature of the house is also something that rings true with me as i am constantly evolving my own house & adding new & fun features to it. From my converted sitting room through to the recycled pallet office desk i'm working on (more on that later…..)

7. Case Study House #22 (Stahl House) - Pierre Koenig

The Case Study House by Pierre Koenig Was one of the first Case Study houses i studied & is to me one of the most amazing structures of our time. its sheer simplicity in look & complexity in steel framing are a wonder to me still today. The feel you get from those images where you are made to feel like you are dangling off a cliff atop Los Angeles is one of pure genius. It is also the house that brought to my attention the work of Julius Shulman, who is perhaps the greatest ever architectural photographer of our time.

But to understand the reasoning behind why this house is truly such an inspiration to me & my design work we must go back to the beginning of the project where the owners Buck & Carlotta Stahl purchased an unenviable block of land which whilst contained great views was not the easiest of sites to build on. In fact it took some time for the owners to build a platform that was large & stable enough to fit the house they had dreamed of upon the site.

After some searching they engaged the services of Pierre Koenig who set about pushing the boundaries of design & construction with full height glazing to three sides of the structure & the now immortalised cantilevered view over Los Angeles that we all know & love. There are so many architectural ideals to take from this house ranging from the full height glazing & steel framing that sets the standard of this home through to the deepened eaves set in place to protect the home from the hot afternoon sun & the integration of the home with the site & making full use of available views.

It could have been easy for a designer or architect to put a simple home that would have been sympathetic to the homes of the era, however Koenig & his clients took it upon themselves to do justice to the site & its available options. This itself is for me the most important part of design, after all it's easy to plonk a house on the site that looks nice but it takes guts & creativity to push the boundaries of design & create a home that suits a site specifically like the Stahl house does.

6. Gamble House - Greene & Greene

When i was younger i can remember sitting watching "Back To The Future - Part 1" (BTF) & noticing this amazing home in the background when Marty went back to the 50's. i remember thinking "Wow that's an awesome looking home! i wonder if it's real". Being a child i got hooked into the movie & forgot all about the amazing house i had just seen & for some years it disappeared off my radar except for when i watch BTF again. After some years & me finishing high school & heading off to study architectural design & drafting, Oh & the creation of the internet i was able to do some online searching & came to find that the house in the movie was the Gamble House by Charles Sumner Greene & Henry Mather Greene.

The Greene's were brothers, both as creatively brilliant as each other & both dedicated to the passion of architecture & all forms of design within it. Not only did they design houses but they designed the light fittings within & the furniture as well & even the landscaping surrounding the homes. Now the Greene's have produced a number of amazing architectural homes, all of which are inspirational in their own right. However none of them had the impact that the Gamble House had on me in my youth.

I mean how often does a design sit with you as a child for so long that it pushes you so far in a direction that it has such impact as this home did. Without it, regardless of the impact of the house at No2. on this list i doubt i would have gone to school to study architectural design & i doubt i would be sitting here today discussing this home if it wasn't for the Gamble House. For some time i was sort of obsessed with the Greene's architecture & rightly so when you look at what they produced.

The layout of the Gamble house is typical of the era & not really at the forefront of architecture in that department, but that can be forgotten when you look at the use of timber within the home, i guess in a way an early form of low carbon footprint design, considering there is little brickwork or steel in the home.

The Gamble house itself is in no way responsible for any design principles i use in my current work & nor was it responsible for any inspirations in previous work, however what should be considered is the impact it had on the finer details of the designs i produced. the stair designs, the fireplace designs, the landscaping ideas & the theory of organic architecture & building a home that works with the land as well as the concept that architecture is not just just about the floor plan but also about the way the home feels when constructed. it is about areas working together.

The Gamble House inspired me on so many levels & i guess we can thank BTF for exposing me to the house itself & therefore inspiring me & guiding me into the world of architecture. I have for many years marvelled at the stair designs & construction, the amazing use & craft put into the timber that is contained within the house & the sheer perfection in architecture that this house is.

5. Audette House - Peter Muller

In late 2006, whilst researching Walter Burley Griffen's, Castlecrag estate i stumbled upon a house that seemed to just speak to me. it had all the design & layout principles i felt were right for architecture & the look of it was to me, exactly what architecture should be. It worked with the land & used the views to its best potential & architecturally when built was ahead of its time.

I guess however the most interesting part of this home was the sheer determination of the architect to prove to his clients that he knew what was best for them, he took it upon himself to design a house that was vastly different to the one they had commissioned. Originally this masterpiece was meant to be a colonial home, but Peter Muller knew better & created the Audette house for his clients.

The idea of this home was that it blended with its surroundings & the home was originally meant to have a sandstone facade to the base & when met with bricks delivered to site that were not what had been intended (pressed red bricks purchased by the client without the architects knowledge) he proceeded to allow the mortar squeeze out from between the bricks & inserted slices of terrazzo in order to gain back a sense of the organic feel he was going for with the home.

For me this home is a great example of early sustainable design with it meeting all the relevant tests from the CSIRO's sun orientation tests & also a great example of showing what can be done with timber & other products (like the brickwork) to create a home for the site that suits the families needs. It also shows that sometimes as a client you need to let go & allow the designer the freedom to create a house & a home for you, After all that's why we studied & this home allows me to show clients what can be achieved if a designer is left to his devices. It also served as one of the earlier homes that pushed me further down the path of sustainable design & gave me confidence to push myself with regards to my designs.

4. Kaufman House - Richard Neutra

Where do we start with the Kaufman House, Like Pierre Koenig's architecture i came to discover the work of Richard Neutra through the "Case Study House" program in post war California when doing some research. Now i know these are guys i probably should have known about in my formative years but being the pig headed designer i am in those early years i felt i knew all & didn't need to research many other architects, so because of that guys like Koenig & Neutra were never initially on my radar. However once i came across them the impact they have had in my more recent work is astounding.

The Kaufman house is a house i came across when watching a documentary on the great photographer Julius Shulman called "Visual Acoustics - The Modernism Of Julius Shulman", this dvd is on constant playback in my house as it is in my opinion the most impressive documentary on architectural photography & possibly the most impressive architectural dvd i've seen. The vast amount of buildings covered by Shulman over the years is amazing & to see the architecture of Neutra contained within it was simply breathtaking to the point of immediate research on the Kaufman House.

Architecturally the Kaufman house is a masterpiece with an amazing layout & brilliant use of lines in elevation. The modernist look of this home amazes me every time i look at it & i learn new things from it daily. For the last 12 months i have been trying to create simple thin roof lines in my architecture for my clients & every time i discuss the roof structure of my new projects with engineers i am met with walls of defence, to which i simply respond "If Neutra Could Do it On The Kaufman House Why Can't We Make It Work Now?" needless to say most of them have no response & the one's that do simply suggest giving them more walls for bracing..

That there is the inspiration this home has given me, the sheer determination to get as much light into my homes & open the homes up truly to the outside with minimal framing where possible whilst all the while trying to keep some form of a cosy home feel to the structure. The Kaufman house achieves this in its layout & design & still manages to wow me on a daily basis.

Internally the layout is simplistic & complex all in one & the divisions between rooms are subtle & wonderfully done. The finishes also speak to me architecturally & the separation & cosy feel created by the fireplace is a stroke of genius. the home is separated in a quadrant of areas each with its own unique use & each with its own area of privacy that is created from the pinwheel floor plate that is evident in a lot of Neutra's work. I guess for me the Kaufman House is a work of art & architecture with all aspects of it fitting together like the perfect jigsaw puzzle. Not to mention the background of those amazing mountains.

3. Fallingwater - Frank Lloyd Wright 

Those who know me will know that i have dreamt of visiting this house for almost 20 years. One day i will get there & i will view this masterpiece. So inspiring is this house that i once carved an image of it into a bbq table with a soldering iron (madness & dedication all rolled into one). So you could say i am a bit obsessed with Fallingwater.

For me Fallingwater would have to be one of Frank Lloyd Wrights most important & amazing pieces of architecture. The man created many brilliant buildings in his life but for me none are as inspiring as Fallingwater is, i mean how often do you build a house partially over a waterfall & make it stand up!! sheer genius in there. I also find the story behind the design of this building quite amazing as well & it alone shows the brilliance of the man who created it.

For those who don't know the story behind Fallingwater here's a shortened version. Basically Kaufman called Wright one sunday morning & Wright informed him the plans were ready & to come along. The plans in all reality were not even documented in even sketch format. He then spent the next 2 hours between the call & the arrival creating the sketches for presentation to Kaufman whom upon seeing them approved them. That is the creative genius that is Frank Lloyd Wright. His theory behind it was to have the design live in your mind before committing it to paper.

This journey of design is something i have taken on board in my own practice with every design i create being moulded into shape within my own mind before i put it down on paper. Most think this is absurd but for me it has enabled me to create some of my most inspirational works. The sheer fact that he was able to convey his design in such a short period of time shows that if you know what is meant on a site all you need is enough time to document your thoughts. A simple & effective design method that i use to this day.

Architecturally Fallingwater is inspirational in itself. Regardless of the angle you view it from the building just seems to work & work perfectly. Wright in my opinion created his greatest piece of work in this rural bush setting of Bear Run, Pennsylvania & as great as the other works he created are, for me none come close to Fallingwater for architectural genius, design theory & creative design process not to mention engineering & construction methods used to make this structure work.

From this building not only do i take the design process an inspirational piece of creativity but the cantilevered balconies & use of space internally & externally are perfection contained within a structure that to this day is yet to be replicated in any other works produced by an architect.

2. Family Home I - Unknown Designer (Childhood Home)

The family home i grew up in was small & when i say small i'm talking UK small. Nothing against the size of homes over there but that is probably the easiest way to describe it. With on lounge/dining & a small kitchen/meals you'd be surprised to find it had 3 bedrooms (small bedrooms compared to todays beasts) & one small bathroom with a toilet… oh & there was a laundry somewhere in there as well, although it sometimes got confused as a linen it was so small.

Anyway that house was my home for 22 years & in that time it went from a small cosy 10sq house with mum, dad, myself & 2 brothers to a larger home when my little sister came along. Now i won't be going into the renovations that took place because they occurred well after the house left its imprint on me. For the first portion of my life in this house i shared a room with my older brother. then from when i was around 8 i began to share a room with my younger brother up until i was 17.

In that time i experienced many wonderful memories as well as some not so fun, but none of those impacted my design career like actually living in that house for those first 17 years whilst it was so small. it taught me a lot about life in a home, it taught me poor design & also the love & affection a cosy little house can bring to a family. It showed me the importance of a back yard & how it needs to interact with the hub of a home (the kitchen). In fact this house taught me many many things like orientation! from an early age i became aware of orientation of homes (i'm talking when i was 5) every summer i remember pulling the blinds down on the lounge room & bedroom windows because they faced direct west! needless to say the house was always stinking hot in summer & fans were employed at will & after some time our refrigerated air con unit was blasted time & time again. Not the most eco friendly home but a great place to learn & understand about good orientation & the impacts of a design on family life.

Growing up in that house i learnt that the meals table was where most family business was done. it was where we met after school, for dinner, after dinner. It was where friends & family came & sat when they visited. In fact it could be said that the kitchen/meals area (with it's bright orange laminate bench top) in this house was clearly the hub of the home! it was where homework was done for many years & was where our parents watched us as we played footy & cricket in the backyard.

For some it might be a surprise that this house sits as high in the top 10 as it does, but for me it was the house that taught me smaller is better when it comes to homes. It was the house that taught me about sustainable design & orientation. it is the house that taught me the kitchen is where everything happens in a house & it was the house that taught me what not to do in design (sorry mum & dad no offence there). All in all that house shaped me into the designer i am today & for that i need to thank my parents.

1. Family Home II - Myself 

Now you're probably shocked by the inclusion of my own house as the most inspirational home in my life, however this house has been a long time in the making. It's been on & off the drawing board for well over a decade & has appeared in many different formats in that time as well. After some years spent being designed & redesigned over & over again the actual building of this home came to fruition in late 2010 when soil was turned in November of that year. Prior to that there were two separate planning applications both approved but the original double storey was in the end not warranted so it was resubmitted to council as a single level residence instead.

The house is modest, very modest when it comes to size. At 11sq's it is considered in Australia to be a small home & to some extent it is, however the design lends itself to giving you a feel that it is larger than it actually is due to the lack of wasted space. With no hallways & every inch of the house used as liveable area it is a compilation of all my years of study & learning on other designs rolled into one. It is also what i like to term the "Evolving House" initially it started out as a 2 bedroom with a small sitting opening off the entry then when Lil Miss arrived it was converted into a 3rd bedroom with a new doorway created off the small access area that i used to enter the other bedroom & the bathroom.

It is a thermally efficient home coming in at 7.5 stars even with an entire living area facing west (Let's blame councils lack of vision for that one) & as we in australia know the western summer sun is the worst sun you can possibly have beating down onto your home & into your living areas. However with some clever raised ceilings & northern windows we have been able to achieve a stack effect so that even on those hot summer days with windows open the airflow created cools the home to a comfortable temperature.

The design itself is fairly unique with the master bedroom being tucked behind the kitchen & to enter you must pass through what i have termed "The Door To Narnia'. Yes that's right folks it looks like a simple pantry door but is in fact the master bedroom door. The idea came about late one night when i was pondering how to create access to that room without creating a long narrow hallway for access into a single room. Usually that is what occurs & i was determined that every inch of my 11 sq's was well utilised, Thus the concept  of the hidden bedroom came to be & to be honest it works really well & saved around 2 m2 of hallway that was put into increasing the size of our kitchen.

The home just has a wonderful open homely feel & through the use of simple design, common sense & large expanses of glass it is a bright, airy & open home that feels much larger than it is. There are also a number of personal features that complete the home like the chain down-pipe next to the entry that leads into a wine barrel water tank & the stack bond feature recycled brick wall in the living area that used bricks from the portion of the house in front that was demolished to make room for the home.

For me this house is more than just that it is a home with connections everywhere. pieces of me stuck together throughout my years of not only designing but all those years of experiencing life. The backyard is basically a small gravelled area that contains one tree & a 17m long by 1/2m wide retaining wall vegetable garden which is a throwback to my youth watching my father & my Nono growing tomato's & other veggies. 

I guess you could say it has bits & pieces of me throughout & for that reason amongst many others it is the house that best speaks for who i am. a little bit unfinished but still every so amazingly quirky in all its little details, like the unfinished timber pallet desk i am building for my garage come office that is also half converted using reclaimed hardwood beams from an old 1950's garage that was demolished on one of my current projects & that door to the bathroom which is still yet to be fitted (an externally mounted track sliding door). Those small projects are works in progress & will be completed piece by piece as the recycled materials needed for them arrive on site. 

So there you have it, the 10 most inspirational houses of my life. Sure they won't be to everyones taste but hey thats what personal opinions are all about. They are all homes that have in some way affected the journey i am on in some way. Some clearly more than others & yet all have played an important part in shaping the designer i am today.

Check back soon for the top 10 most inspirational non residential buildings of my life, like this blog it is certain to stir up discussion on what has been included, but for now enjoy this blog & feel free to offer up your own inspirational homes in the comments section! i look forward to reading about them.