Architecture: Modern Meets MidwestMar 01, 2022 10:00AM ● By Leo Adam Biga
Photo by Tom Kessler
Open, yet cozy.
Contemporary, yet warm. Inside connected to outside. Everything tied together by a central courtyard doubling as a front entrance and private oasis.
An Omaha professional couple shared these seemingly contradictory wishes with architect Brad Brooks, principal at B2Lab Architecture, for designing their new home in Skyline Ranches in Elkhorn. Design work on the custom residence began in 2016, and construction wrapped in 2020.
The homeowners wanted a sleek, aesthetically pleasing design that also met their growing family’s needs for livability and privacy, all while echoing the neighborhood’s rustic environs.
The high-end result is what Brooks calls “a modern vernacular home” inspired by “the simplicity of Midwestern architecture.” The single-story, 6,000-plus square-foot dwelling features a “clean palette” of stucco, stone, and cedar. Soft-white paint complements the earth tones.
A small barn that came with the acreage has proved a bonus, becoming a combination pool house and recreation room. A sink and industrial work area are being added. The home’s design plays off the barn and the neighborhood’s many unadorned country-life structures.
“That’s why the lines are very simple and why there’s no overhang, no decor or trim on the outside,” Brooks said. “We took that vernacular of Midwestern architecture and we modernized it with a contemporary use of glass, color, and materials. The result is a comfortable, homey feel but also a very modern aesthetic.”
The many floor-to-ceiling windows suggest a glass house; but any cold translucence is warmed by abundant natural light. That illumination accentuates the home’s open concept and increases energy-efficiency.
The property’s irregular, undulating contours combined with the owners’ vision for a central courtyard, a non-rectangular house footprint, a wide-open interior, and a seamless indoor-outdoor relationship translates to a layout with separate yet connecting wings.
One wing is the children’s side, while the other is the couple’s side. The wings are connected by a courtyard in between. Function influenced form to allow maximum flow from one area to the next.
“Instead of having a conventional backyard where you look from the house out into a space, we actually created a third space for the home,” Brooks said. “With the windows and transparency we put along the perimeter and inside this core area, it creates a third wing that is outdoors but also connects to the indoors. It gives an enclosure without really being enclosed. That’s how we balanced the open-versus-cozy kind of feeling.
“It’s a space all its own with a very wide opening that connects straight into the house. You walk out into the pool deck, the fire pit area. It can be used virtually year-round. We oriented it toward the south, so it’s always getting sunlight.”
The indoors-as-outdoors architectural style took much intentional planning.
“We have overhangs that go into the central courtyard that don’t have any columns,” Brooks said. “Part of that was for rain protection, and part of it was to extend the ceiling to the outside. The visual horizontal plane of the ceiling continues all the way out, then stops, giving you this implied feeling the outside is a continuation of that space.”
The main living area leads right out into the courtyard with its above-ground swimming pool.
“It feels much more intimate,” Brooks said. “It’s much closer and related to the house itself. Again, it feels like an extension of the inside.”
The owners said the “seamless” transition from inside to outside is just what they ordered, with views of the courtyard from virtually every room.
Lanoha Nurseries designer J.T. Savoie installed elaborate landscaping around the home. Grass beds surround the house, while flowers add pops of color. New spruce trees and bald cypresses complement existing evergreens to increase privacy and enhance aesthetics. The courtyard’s tall grasses and different types of ground cover lend a less manicured feel. Lanoha also did the courtyard’s hardscape, with pavers emulating a naturally carved trail.
Brooks said exterior and interior elements work harmoniously to create an “organic design” that makes the house an apt fit for its surroundings.
“It feels like the house has been sitting there for awhile already, which is great, because it means it’s grounding itself [to the site] really well.”
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.