Glenda and Bob Williams call their custom-built contemporary at 8602 Forest St their “summer solstice place.” The home, which started as a three-bedroom, suburban split level, was rebuilt to marry Feng shui design sensibilities with green construction practicalities. The result is a unique home designed to utilize solar energy and maximize flow and open spaces.
Bob, a CIA retiree, bought the 1967 home in 1991, and decided to entirely revamp it in 2007, soon after marrying Glenda, who works for the Personal Care Products Council. The couple hired architect Mathew Guenther at GC/a Architecture to help them design the renovation.
“We wanted to build a house with a theme,” said Bob, who has taken courses in architecture. “Originally, we considered an 1850s-style lighthouse home.” The couple reconsidered, and instead made the home’s focus Feng shui, a Chinese approach to design placement that emphasizes natural elements.
Design and construction of the redesigned home took two-and-a-half years. “It took a year to design and 18 months to build, so in some ways it was the project from hell,” said Bob. “We had to live in rental properties, but we went to the site every single day.” The renovation was completed in 2010.
The couple’s overriding design goal was that their three-level home not look like every other house. “We didn’t want a traditional pile of bricks,” said Bob. “But we also didn’t want it to look severely different from the other homes in the neighborhood.”
Working within some challenging setback constraints, the house was oriented on the Williams’ one-third acre lot to maximize use of the sun for heat and light, and to design within the concepts of Feng shui. The house has an open concept main floor, with a three-sided propane fireplace that can be viewed from the kitchen, dining area or living room; the main level also has a bedroom and an office. The upper level has a master bedroom and a sunroom/office, while the lower level has a two-car garage, and a heated workshop and exercise/media room. There are decks off the master bedroom and the kitchen/office area.
The couple used a Feng shui map—which attributes certain characteristics to each compass direction—in choosing where and how to design the home’s living spaces. Those characteristics include an element such as fire, wood, or metal; particular colors; and a life concept such as creativity, family and health or spiritual growth. Using the right combination is said to balance the “chi”—the life energy—within the home. Proponents of the Feng shui concept maintain that when there is harmony between the chi of the home and the chi of the individual, a sense of well-being, health and prosperity will result.
“One Feng shui concept is to avoid straight lines, to redirect energy and find the chi,” explained Bob, who cited a curving rock stream bed that they placed on the property as an example. The house has no gutters, but the roof was angled so that rain water falls off the left front corner like a waterfall and fills the stream bed. “But even if there’s no rain water in it, the rocks make it look like a stream,” Bob pointed out.
The colors the couple used in landscaping also reflect Feng shui principles, Bob said. “That’s why there is a red color—the red maple—in the south/southwest corner.”
Inside, Bob cited placement of a long angled counter in the kitchen as an instance of designing with a Feng shui sensibility. “The idea is to turn people around so they see more of the house,” Bob said.
“The fact that when you come through the front door and step up from the foyer you can see right through the house to the back yard also is a Feng shui idea,” Bob noted. He said that using steel cable railings in the home are also a nod to Feng shui that provides a feeling of stability and of consistency with the home’s exterior.
The home, which was built by G&M Contracting also has green aspects.
Rooftop panels collect solar energy to heat the home’s water, used for showers, cooking, and laundry, and also water used for radiant floor heating in the kitchen and bathroom and two of the walls in the master bathroom shower. The roof was designed to let sun in during most of the day and the eaves are angled to provide shade in summer and sun in winter.
The home was built with extra thick walls and insulation, and it has a French drain system for water control. It has reinforced rafters and decks and was built to withstand 120-mph hurricanes. A five-gallon underground propane tank provides power to a stand-by generator.
The master suite has vaulted ceilings, "clearstory" windows and an opening on the closet wall so that there is always natural light in the bedroom, hallway and large walk-in closet. “You never have to turn on a light, even in the closet,” Bob said. “And, at the right time of year, the moon shines through the clearstory.”
Built for Grown-ups
“Our house was built for two people plus guests. It’s not a house for a young family, but for adults and entertaining,” said Bob, pointing to the exercise room, space for two offices and workshop, as among the spaces adults can enjoy.
“Even if you are in the office or the sunroom, you always feel connected to the rest of the house,” Bob added, also noting that the home was designed to allow addition of an elevator from the garage to the third floor.
Lighting was an important design element. “We wanted the interior lighting to give a warm feel with indirect light,” said Glenda. “We don’t like direct lighting, or large lamps… we didn’t want lights to distract from the quiet of the house.”
The couple hired Dave Konstantin at Dominion Electric Co. Inc. to help them create the mood they sought and to ensure that the lights did not cast shadows on the windows. In addition, Bob created a special rope lighting design above the custom soffits in the kitchen, dining room and living room ceilings that gives soft, ambient lighting. “That’s all we use at night; it’s very soothing and soft. There’s not a dark part in the house,” said Bob. “From the outside, it’s a warm, yellow glow.”
Glenda wanted a lot of organized storage space, and hired Carin Ryon at Closet Factory to create those spaces. “The huge, long closet in the master bedroom would have enough storage for a whole family … so we maximized the odd-shaped space of the back wall to build in three shelves of storage for additional linens and things that you don't use on a daily basis. They are all hidden from view by clothes,” Glenda said.
Bob said the home, which he terms “a collaborative work of art,” is very calm and welcoming. “I’ve had strangers come in from the street and ask to see my house,” he said. Glenda added, “It is a sanctuary from the city and the day-to-day life of busy people. Once we were home it took a lot to get us to leave and go anywhere, so I guess we accomplished our goal of peace.”
The couple thought they would never move from the house they custom designed for their professional, adult lifestyle, but unexpected changes in family circumstances led them to return to South Dakota. The home is now for sale for $950,000 through Yanji Lama of ERA Elite Group Realtors.
Bob and Glenda have found a new home in South Dakota. “It’s wonderful; we can see six miles to Mount Rushmore,” Glenda said. “But I wish that my Forest Street house were here.” She longs for her “big closet with the natural light” and the heated floors and walls in her shower. Bob especially misses his workshop.
“From the architect to the builders, to the materials, to the fixtures and the special design features...we put our vision of the perfect house into the construction. We love it and wish we could move it to South Dakota,” said Bob. “I hope someone will love the house like we do."