How Old Wood Gives Family’s New House The Feeling Of Home

I’m an architect because of Mike Brady. And Marcia.

Growing up in the 1970s, I watched a lot of TV, and it seemed that “The Brady Bunch” was always on. I wanted to live in the Bradys’ house, with its open riser stairs, its variations-on-orange color scheme and its AstroTurf backyard. I fantasized about hanging out with Mike in his home office, asking him what it was like to be an architect. I also fantasized that, during our conversation, Marcia might pop in. Possibly in her underwear.

I’m also an architect because of George Carlin, who showed up on our TV one night in the late ’70s, when we got HBO. Aside from teaching me seven neat words and phrases to use at school, he taught me a valuable lesson in architecture, namely that a house is “a place to keep your stuff, so you can go out and get more stuff.”

This struck a chord in me, even though I was only 11 years old. I regarded my family’s stuff for the first time. We had lots of stuff. Some of it was old and sacred and full of mythic story, like a wooden “spinning wheel” that existed grumpily in a corner of our family room. It looked like a pile of brown bones, a century-old jenga tower just barely abiding by the laws of gravity. It was not to be touched.

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Some of it was newer, mass-produced stuff, purchased out of need or perceived need. My awesome NFL bedsheets. Or my Pet Rock. His name was Joe.

I realized that night that our house — and our stuff — was our story, unlike anyone else’s story. The two things, together — our house and our stuff — formed a full-scale, three-dimensional, ever-expanding narrative. This awareness that architecture and story have the same fundamental DNA has helped me connect with my clients in the design of their homes.

Enter Chris and Kristie Day and their kids, Oliver and Phoebe. In 2015, they hired my firm to design a home for them in Leawood.

Over the course of a few weeks, our project team asked a lot of questions and learned about the Days (and their stuff) on a deep level. It was important to them that their home reflect their personalities and the way they lived.

Eventually, a south-facing courtyard design was developed to allow a connection between living spaces and the outdoors while maintaining a sense of privacy. The courtyard also allowed for cross-ventilation to reduce usage of their air conditioner.

USE courtyard The barnwood is visible through the windows that line the wall facing the courtyard. Exterior finishes include painted cement board and a custom galvanized metal and cedar window screen in the upper windows, to reduce direct solar gain into the home. Mike Sinclair

Sustainability was important to the Days, so the design also integrated a ground source heat pump and spray foam insulation to make sure that their home had as little impact on the environment as possible.

Which brings us back to stuff. As it turned out, Kristie had some unique stuff and a unique story to tell.

One day (pun intended, thank you), Kristie called with news that there were some old wood boards from a family barn that we could use in the house design if we wanted to. She came from a farm family and had great memories of their barns; she thought these old boards could tell the story of her family’s past, while adding visual texture and depth to the design.

living room In the living room, the barnwood recedes to allow the Days’ furniture to be the focus. Mike Sinclair

Our design team loved the idea of the old boards telling the Days’ story, and we also loved how it reinforced their commitment to sustainability. This seemed like a win-win, and we quickly came up with an idea about where the boards should go.

Our courtyard design was basically a modified “shotgun” scheme, which is typically quite skinny and long, with living spaces on one side and an extended circulation path on the other. Our scheme took that basic idea, but instead of making a long rectangle, we bent the shotgun into a C-shape, with the circulation path adjacent to the courtyard.

We proposed making the courtyard wall mostly out of glass and then using the barnwood on the surfaces defining the interior circulation path, about 4 feet inside the exterior wall. In the kitchen and dining area, where there wasn’t a true hallway, we used the wood more sparingly, to help define the spaces and tie the house together.

The Days liked the idea. They would get to experience the wood in two ways: first, as an interior material forming the circulation zone on the perimeter of the house, and second, as a material viewed from the courtyard through the glass.

entrance hall The entrance hall, which includes open cubbies for the family, has a hint of the barnwood, which defines the “shotgun” pathway into the home. Mike Sinclair loft The wood has a sculptural quality in the space. The design team took advantage of the vaulted ceiling by providing the kids with a special loft for play and crafts, accessed by a spiral stair. Mike Sinclair USE kitchen The rustic barn wood provides a contrast to the more finished wood of the kitchen and pantry casework. Mike Sinclair

The design team then documented the details of how the wood wall would come together, which wasn’t that difficult. Not to sound too philosophical, but the boards kind of told us where they wanted to go. The hard part came during construction. It was one thing to listen to the boards about how they would like to live on the walls; it was another thing entirely to convince them to actually get up there.

Construction was led by Tyler Harrelson of Centric Homes. When he first saw the huge pile of dirty, old, warped nail-impregnated boards — different lengths, different states of disrepair — his knees buckled a little bit. I remember him taking a deep breath and saying something along the lines of, “Huh.” Never had a single monosyllabic non-word communicated so much.

hallway The hallway separates the bedrooms from the courtyard. Each bedroom has partially frosted windows that borrow light from the hallway. Mike Sinclair

Prepping the wood took a few weeks. Tyler sorted out the boards that were beyond salvaging. He had the nails removed and power-washed each board to remove the decades of paint and grime. He then had them kiln-dried to remove any moisture, and treated them to eliminate any bugs that had taken to calling the boards home.

All told, Tyler was able to use about 70 percent of the pile. His crew took extra care to install the boards so that the pattern was balanced. They then applied a clear, matte finish sealer.

A month later the Days moved their stuff, and themselves, into their new digs.

I gave Kristie a shout about a year later and asked her about how the barnwood was working out. “I’m so glad we used the old wood,” she said. “Everyone who comes into the house comments on how much they love it.

“It brings the outside into the house and adds a lot of texture and movement. I love that it’s not perfectly smooth or homogenous, and that we have some of our family history with us every day.”

An architect’s job is all about drawing — with computers these days — but it starts with listening: to our clients, to their stuff, to the site, to the materials that come together to provide shelter. If we do our job well, we help create authentic places for people to gather and connect — places rich with energy and story. Places that, hopefully, will spark new stories in the years to come.

Dan Maginn, FAIA, is a principal with DRAW Architecture + Urban Design in Kansas City.

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