Because the home is in a desert environment, where summer temperatures can reach 110º Fahrenheit or more, MerzProject chose high-efficiency insulated glass. “Any time you use that much glass, it’s going to be difficult to cool, but I think we used it wisely,” Nieto says.
To create harmony between the original house and the new structure, Rainey used walnut in both sections. In the existing house, walnut was used for doors and bathroom cabinetry. In the addition, walnut was used for the kitchen cabinetry, a wall of storage, the doors, and for wall dividers between the master bedroom and the closet and bathroom.
The design also enabled the builder to preserve some of the original craftsmanship, including the window trim and hard oak and pine wood floors, which are character-defining elements of the era. “When you look at the house, you can clearly see the addition and you can clearly see the original structure,” Rainey says. “We’re not trying to pretend both of these structures were built during the same time period.”
The crew updated the electrical and plumbing systems, and installed a new central-heating and air-conditioning system with programmable thermostats.
The existing trusses had to be reinforced with additional 2x4’s after the partial removal of a load-bearing wall that previously separated the dining area from the family room. “We opened up the space so the original dining room and family room now feel like one space,” Rainey says.
The exterior paint was also stripped away, allowing the home’s original red-brick façade to once again dominate the front of the home.
The melding of historic and contemporary elements in the house was recognized by the American Institute of Architects, which honored MerzProject with the “Home of the Year” Award in April.
MerzProject incorporated several sustainable elements into the renovation. The company preserved the original hard oak and pine wooden floors in the bungalow, and refinished all old and new millwork and flooring with non-petroleum-based finishes and sealers. The custom kitchen cabinetry is made with nontoxic glues and formaldehyde-free plywood. And the abundant use of double-glazed glass admits more natural light into the home during the morning hours. Plus, the sliding glass doors allow for cross ventilation during cooler months.
After considering various materials, including aluminum and galvanized steel, the design team chose three textures of zinc. “Zinc is a material we were interested in exploring and learning more about,” Rainey says of the choice. Along the south and west walls, the exterior is clad in high-performance recyclable corrugated zinc panels. “It acts like a breathing skin so the metal is held off the structure of the wall and allows for heat to escape,” Rainey says. The corrugated zinc also operates as a shade for the home, reducing water and air infiltration. The entire house is covered with a standing seam zinc roof and the north side of the house has interlocking zinc flat panels.
Low-VOC paint covers the minimal amount of drywall used in the home. The new walls, ceiling, and existing attic space are insulated with high-density spray-in foam. The team also specified low-flow plumbing features and a high-efficiency water heater.
A significant sustainable element in the new structure is the concrete slab finished flooring, which contributes to the formaldehyde-free environment. “The inside is clean and modern,” Rainey says.
A Splash of Water Although the homeowners decided not to add a swimming pool, they did opt for an interesting water feature. Landscape architect Chris Winters worked with MerzProject to design a cast concrete slab that extends from the back of the addition near the master bath into the yard. The fountain, shower, and mechanical pump are part of a self-contained unit. “It recirculates the water and creates a nice reflecting pool outside of their shower, but it uses very little water because it’s all contained below ground,” Winters says.
Creating a modern feel wasn’t the only goal of the project. The Nieto family also wanted to take advantage of the spacious backyard. But much like the layout of the house, the yard fl ow was a challenge.
The backyard was once home to a street, an alley, and a canal. And because the yard had accommodated each element at different times, there was an existing grade change between the east and south ends.
Chris Winters, a landscape architect who had previously worked with MerzProject, was asked to marry the contemporary architecture of the addition with the existing lot. The goal was to make the yard feel spacious. “We wanted to keep the landscape very simple and very open so it achieved that goal,” Winters says.
Both the upper and lower levels of the yard feature lush grass and drought-tolerant plants, including agave, aloe, lady slipper, and gaura. A pea-gravel channel runs along the length of the addition, creating a border between the grass and the concrete sidewalk outside the sliding glass walls, and also along the bedroom windows. There is no barrier separating the front and back yards, so the designers used pea gravel as both a divider and a way to harmonize the front and back.
Although the family originally contemplated adding a swimming pool, the idea was put on hold until the children are older. Continuing with the contemporary theme of the addition, Winters selected steel panels in place of more traditional concrete or wooden fencing.
“What really drove the landscape was how Chris and his young family were going to use it,” Winters says. “The design responded very well to their lifestyle — simple, clean, and open.”