BY NICOLE BELL | PHOTO BY TRICIA SHAY
Stephen Bruns, principal at Bruns Architecture, worked with angular modern ideas in the artful exterior of this Fox Point home.
For one growing Fox Point family, renovating their mid-century house led to a surprising reinvention of their idea of home.
Working with Stephen Bruns, principal at Bruns Architecture, on the original dwelling’s improvements, the homeowners soon decided to switch gears, abandoning the plan in favor of purchasing a serene and private lot nearby on which to build a creative, contemporary dream home with plenty of room for their family to grow. Bruns was happy to go with the flow.
“The new project was really a blank canvas that allowed us to approach the house more sculpturally,” Bruns explains of his ability to be creative with ceiling heights, room structure and the home’s angular exterior design. “There’s aspects of the new design that seem a little bit more carved out of stone. We were able to play with and manipulate geometry more comprehensively.”
Enjoying the freedom the homeowners afforded him, Bruns thoroughly explored different concepts and floor plans before securing the final design. Bruns kept the family’s must-haves top of mind — a sense of privacy from the road, an open-concept first floor space, and plenty of windows from which to view the pretty nearby ravine. The home’s wedge-shaped lot offered a spectacular view of the ravine that ultimately sold the couple on building on the property.
“The ravine is a beautiful, beautiful feature,” Bruns says. “It just has such interesting character at different times of the day in different times of the year. The way the light penetrates down through the trees, it creates this symphony of shadows down there. In response to that, we have a series of really tall, narrow window openings that sort of get these slices of tree structure within that ravine.”
To keep an open-concept floor plan, but give each room a feel of separation, Bruns varied ceiling heights in each room for a sense of division without walls.
The home’s first floor — consisting of the kitchen, living and dining rooms, a TV den and an office — was strategically designed with the homeowners’ desire for an open concept in mind, but Bruns had a trick up his sleeve to still provide a sense of separation and privacy between rooms. He changed the ceiling height upward about a foot in each space as a wall-less divide.
“The main level becomes more of a public experience,” Bruns explains. “We’ve used the quality of height as a way to divide a lot of the spaces. So even though the floor plan might be open, the entry has a lower ceiling. And then the kitchen and dining room raise up to a little higher level. And then the living room, and then an office, have a higher level yet. So experientially, you move through the space and it opens up taller as you go through.”
All of the bedrooms, along with a play area for the children, are located on the second floor. And while the basement is a project for the future, Bruns left room for the homeowners’ desired workout area, guest bedroom and living area for when they’re ready to finish the space.
Bruns took unique sculptural designs from the exterior of the home and brought them inside, as well. He’s most proud of the artful execution of the staircase.
“We like to create something more than just vertical circulation out of every stair that we do,” Bruns explains. “In this instance, rather than assembling a lot of small pieces to create something beautiful, this was almost like a larger piece.
“The intent was as if it were carved out of a stone or marble, like a statue in Greece,” he continues. “We placed that right in front of a full wall of windows that faced the west-facing yard. So from inside, you get to see it in silhouette and as the light scrapes across the surfaces, it’s constantly changing, which is quite beautiful to look at. But then from the yard side or exterior, you also get to see it through the window when you see it in a different view.”
Every bedroom is on the second floor for privacy, while the main level offers entertaining and gathering spaces such as the TV den shown here.
The sink, mirror and vanity in this modern bathroom convey the sleek, angular sensibility Bruns employed throughout the entire home.
Beautiful by day or night, the stairwell, says Bruns, was intended to be a piece of art in itself.
To complement the home’s clean lines and dramatic angles, Bruns worked with a neutral color palette to enhance the bold dynamic.
“[The homeowners] liked the pure white qualities of the stucco which we used as one of the primary elements of the façade,” Bruns explains. “We also brought in a soft gray texture with the masonry. Finally, we added a patinated metal ‘box’ to the composition, as well as a crisply contrasting window frame to complete the palette.”
In an age when home-design dreams are more varied than ever, Bruns says he’s up for any challenge presented to him, and not wedded to a specific design sensibility.
“I don’t like to think that our work is a ‘style,’” he muses. “I just like to think that we design in response to how we want to live today. It’s a little bit more organic from function to process.” MKE