Dappled sunlight on a site near Duke Forest in Durham, North Carolina determined the new home's orientation. A couple’s opposite sleep patterns drove its layout. And a long-gone pet cat inspired its name.
The firm that designed it, Raleigh-based In Situ Studio, was just 18 months old when the clients reached out to partners Matthew Griffith and Erin Sterling Lewis in 2012.
Their first order of business was a tour of the site. “It was a 10-acre property with an old roadbed that followed the topography,” says Griffith. “As we moved east along the site, we had a kind of ‘Aha!’ moment.”
A stream wanders through its northern edge, woods alongside it. “We could see into the forest, and where the stream moves off to the east, there’s a clearing where we could see sunlight coming through the trees,” he says.
The architects hadn't yet been hired at that point, but they developed a site plan, with drawings and a model. That helped win the commission for the 2,500-square-foot project. The firm worked with nBaxter Design on the interiors, and L. E. Meyers Builders helped with construction.
They sited it for maximum privacy on the edge of the forest, with living and deck spaces opening up to the trees. “It’s carefully nestled into the woods to capture the views, both near and far, that are important to both the site and the clients,” he says.
They’re a couple who retired to Carolina from the San Francisco Bay area, and they were articulate in communicating their daily routines to the architects. One’s a night owl who sleeps mostly during the day, while the other’s an early riser who likes to wake up to the site's sweeping vistas.
Griffith and Lewis tailored living spaces to the needs of each. “She can walk out of their bedroom to her window seat, her books and her coffee maker, first thing in morning,” he says. “He prefers to stay up late. When he’s awake, he’s involved in graphic design, woodworking, and music, so the space is specific to him – there’s soundproofing and lighting control.”
Fifteen years ago, the couple owned a much-loved cat named Fred. “It was a long journey to design the house, but before they even began, they knew it would be named Fred,” he says. Nine lives or not, his spirit lives on.