A nest of modest, shotgun-style wooden homes built during the tail end of the 19th century, Houston's Old Sixth Ward stands as one of the sprawling Texas city's most important preservation districts, filled with Folk Victorian homes. When architect Michael Morrow moved into the neighborhood years ago, his mind and work was squarely focused on the modern and contemporary. But after a few years of living amid the rows of historic homes, he developed such an appreciation for their character that when he and his partner, Taryn Kinney, decided to build a new office for their 10-year-old firm, Kinneymorrow Architecture, they sought out something local. The end result, a sleek update of a 700-square-foot cottage, offers a lesson in small space office design and a less-is-more approach to renovation and preservation.
"The best projects offer the best bang for the buck and the least intervention," says Morrow. "We had an interest in the fabric of the neighborhood, and building out this office became an act of preservation to maintain the home and keep it viable."
In the case of the Kinneymorrow office, it was also an act of perseverance. Now located on 2219 Kane Street, the home was first built as housing for railroad workers, was originally located on a lot down the block at 2314 Kane. Strong preservation ordinances had prevented the previous owner from demolishing it and replacing it with a new home, so Morrow took advantage of a loophole and simply moved it to a nearby lot. After a year spent obtaining proper paperwork, arranging a house-and-land swap and sorting out the logistics, the building was moved two years ago, and renovations could begin.
With the shell of the wood-clad historic home intact and in solid physical shape, making the most of the minimal interior became key. The first move was to re-arrange the interior of the modest, three-room home to create openness and continuity. Like many of its original neighbors, the home's interior was cramped. Normally on a project like this, the firm would gut the interior, but due to its great condition, Morrow and Kinney saved the original floors, ceilings, glass, and window frames, instead focusing on expanding space and making it more livable. They extended and renovated the tiny kitchen and bathroom, added extensive built-in cabinetry and storage, and rebuilt the front and side porches, adding 150 square feet of additional outdoor space. Morrow even installed a murphy bed for visitors (he lives in the neighborhood, and occasionally uses the office as a guest house).
In addition to the repainted original wood exterior, the most striking aspect of the redesign was the arrangement of the workspaces. By rearranging the rooms and cutting a slot through the walls, the architects were able to create a row of workspaces that runs through the house. Lined with IKEA Hektar Pendant Lamps, the central gap offered connection between co-workers, as well as private space.
"It occurred to me that we might be able to cut the slot through, align the windows, and leave the rooms, while having the continuity among the spaces," he says. "It's the first project we've designed around an IKEA product."
In a way, Morrow and Kinney deliberately picked a smaller space because they enjoy being boxed in: limiting growth allows them to stay hands-on with their practice and avoid over-expansion. Morrow also likes the self-reinforcing simplification that comes with working inside a smaller office ("if I had a bigger desk, I'd just have a bigger pile of stuff"), especially since the days of storing massive material libraries are in the past due to the advent of digital catalogs.
Kinneymorrow moved in about 15 months ago, and found the new space to be a good fit. In addition to serving as a showcase for the firm's expertise with historic renovation, the office provides Morrow with a great pitch to prospective employees. In this tiny space, he jokes, "every office is a corner office."
Before and after shots of the kitchen.
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