Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson
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A CABIN IN THE WOODS

It took a stay in an architect-designed converted barn outside Frankfurt, Germany, for Garrett Boone—the founder and chairman of the board of The Container Store—to realize that he had never lived in an inspiring house. The Boones, who have three grown children and live mostly in Dallas, had purchased a heavily wooded five-acre plot in East Texas, on the eastern shore of a lake. It was there that they decided to build their own inspired and inspiring house. They hired Max Levy, of Dallas-based Max Levy Architect, to design it. Levy is revered for his carefully crafted Modernist designs and his sympathy for the environment. The Boones wanted a house that had some kind of communion with the outside spaces, and Levy came to the conclusion that the best way to do that, while keeping the wooded site intact, was to build a series of small buildings rather than one big one.

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An effective way to kill trees is to build a foundation—architect Levy did everything he could to avoid destroying the little forest around the houses: He used 12-inch diameter concrete piers to prop each building up, which also meant that there was no site grading since the piers could be built to the heights needed. Levy’s plan was successful—only one tree had to be cut down.

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Levy used inexpensive materials throughout the project, including industrial fans, MDF interior cladding, battleship linoleum (It’s green and it’s coming back in fashion, Levy notes), aluminum storefront windows and doors, and silver-bowl light bulbs with white vinyl disks on the wall behind them to reflect light. Industrial pendant lighting was also used in the kitchen and dining areas.

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The 1,200-square-foot main building, where the kitchen and dining areas are located, has built-in window seating and storage, a 17-foot-long island, and a wood-burning stove.

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While the Boones liked the idea of the separate structures, they weren’t so sure about the cladding Levy chose—three-tab composition shingles, in colors that blend with the surroundings, including green, black, and gray. These shingles aren’t glamorous—they are the cheapest roofing you can get, and are usually seen on the roofs of horrible suburban builder houses. But, they are maintenance free, and some of the colors are actually attractive. Think of them as architectural camouflage—they allow the little buildings to hide in the trees.

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Even the windows in the bathroom serve to direct breezes where they’ll do the most good.

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Oriented with breezes in mind (Levy notes that the buildings are like a school of fish that faces the current), each building takes the form of an elementary gabled box. Levy added interest in details, such as the windows, which he calls “breeze structures.” Mesh boxes constructed of aluminum tubing and insect screens protrude from each building, allowing for extra room for the windows to swing out as the prevailing breezes demand.

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The buildings have a geothermal heating and cooling system, but Levy notes that the idea isn’t how to make the heating and cooling more efficient. Instead his goal was to encourage the homeowners never to turn the systems on at all. And, they don’t. The structures remain cool in the summer, snug in the winter thanks to the ceiling heights, the orientation of the buildings, the shade in the woods, and the adjustable breeze structures.

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Connected by an elevated ipe boardwalk, the compound is made up of seven buildings—the main kitchen/dining/living area with screened porch; a master suite; three guest bedroom buildings; a bunkhouse; and a boathouse (see plan, below).

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHARLES D. SMITH

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