In this generous setting, the house reaches out into the landscape expansively in a single story. But to give the rooms height while endowing the house with a presence sufficient to meet the surrounding grandeur, the architect created a barrel-vaulted roof, all the more solid because it is surfaced in standing-seam copper. Inside, the ceiling is lined with cedar, which warms the room like a wraparound hearth. The wood colors the cold winter light.
As in previous projects, Abramson kept the constituent architectural elements separate, the space-dividing cabinets and closets stopping short of the ceiling, creating a sense of spaces beyond spaces, and forms beyond forms, through a process of layering. Planes that in previous projects remained abstract here take on an organic quality the forest comes to Dunsinane as a collage of wood, stone, slate, and copper, inside and out. Exterior columns are wrapped in tree trunks, a visual pun on the origin of columns and a semaphore for the agreement of the house with nature. The bones of the house are modern, but the crispness of the more tooled buildings in the city cedes here to the softer connotations of nature. As in a Frank Lloyd Wright building, the design intensifies the landscape, both as a focal point and a summary of its materials. Like a ledge or outcropping hunkered down into the hill, the house does not just live off the panorama but becomes part of the view.
The year Elk Run was completed, Abramson faced an entirely different natural context for a new project, the Knight residence in Newport Beach, California a property with the tight dimensions of a townhouse and a comparable level of required design sophistication. Local codes favored mansard roofs if the roof level was to exceed two-story height.
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Spatial generosity is not a given in the calculus of these beachfront properties, where clients and economics usually militate in favor of maximizing square footage at the expense of a sense of spaciousness. The buildings are typically built out to the allowable envelope; in this case, the maximum width was 30 feet on a property 40 feet wide.
Abramson challenged the permissible envelope by conjuring a volume in the form of a sail, or seashell, that captured additional vertical space; the geometry of the curves sidestepped the mansard shape but satisfied code. The consequence was that the architect created a double geometry that played in and around itself, the sail curving within and against the orthogonal frame. The curvilinear gesture arches through the structure and breaks through the top of the frame, all in one continuous volumetric stroke. The two simultaneous geometries create the layering and interstitial spaces that characterize the design of other Abramson buildings on larger sites.
The sail also allowed the architect to increase the total volume of the structure, as the interiors reach up to the extended height of the roof. But he found even more space elsewhere within the tight confines of the site. He widened the walk from the street to the front of the property by angling a path to the front door at grade, carving out an inviting space under a bedroom overhang above. As in previous projects, the architect boldly cleaved the interior volume of the house under a skylight, creating a V-shaped void near the garage, sided by Kal-wall, that funnels a vector of light to the ground floor, at the heart of the house. This skylit stairwell separates the bedroom wing on the street side from the two-story section facing the ocean, and the stairs lace together front and back sections, which are staggered vertically in half-story increments. The stairs lead to a roof deck