The first time architect Russell Buchanan, of Buchanan Architecture, and his client Cherryl Peterman worked on a project, they created a large home. The next time they teamed up, it was to create Peterman’s smaller forever house on a very special site in Dallas.
“The first house we built together was really wonderful,” Buchanan says. “But it was a big home on a big lot, and ultimately more space than Cherryl wanted.”
When Peterman—the president of Winston Services, a building and permitting consultancy—found an empty lot with jaw-dropping city views, she decided to build a house designed just for herself, as opposed to future buyers. She hired Buchanan to do it again, but on a different scale.
“This time around, I wanted something smaller and less formal,” Peterman says. “I had always had a home with separate rooms. After I sold my last house, I lived in a rental for a year. It was basically just one big room, and I realized it was a better way to live.”
With that in mind, Buchanan started with what the site had to offer. “It’s amazing that it hadn’t been built out earlier,” the architect says. “It had been in the hands of a state representative, and I think he couldn’t decide what to do with it.”
The architect had no such indecision. “The view is beautiful—it looks perfectly due north over the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava,” Buchanan says. “We started with the view, and all of the other pieces fell into place naturally.”
Naturally—but with a bit of design help. One of the goals was to have a single-story house. But in order to enjoy optimum views, the house needed to come up roughly four feet. The answer was bringing the grade up a bit, which left the 2,200-square-foot house sitting on a small island and accessed via a metal bridge. It was a decision born of function, but the result is an element that’s as enchanting as it is utilitarian. “Crossing the bridge gives you the impression you are entering a magical world,” says Buchanan.
But from the street, what that world entails is a mystery. To understand that, you have to know how most homes are designed in this city and what’s important to this owner. “Here in Dallas, homes generally embrace the street. They have big windows and porches on the front. You can see out, and people can see in,” says Buchanan. “This concept is not important to this client; she’s a more private person.”
Buchanan designed the house with a front facade that’s a solid plane and a rear facade that’s a wall of windows. Cross the bridge, and you find a massive gate and fence composed of aerated aluminum (one-inch-thick sheets of aluminum pierced with irregular holes) and corrugated walls (aluminum and paint grip steel). Pass through the gate, and you enter a courtyard that leads you into the house with its glass rear wall.
Buchanan says he envisioned the home as a series of three boxes. “As you approach the house, the spaces open up and reveal themselves to you,” says Buchanan.
For Peterman, the idea resonated because of a trip she’d taken to Mexico. “I visited Guadalajara, and I noticed that, from the street, all you see of the homes are concrete block walls. But walk through the front gate, and it’s like you are entering a lush, green paradise,” she says. “In this country, I think some people design homes that look good from the outside to make an impression. I liked the idea of a blank wall in front—I like the privacy and security of it.”
Another important element for Peterman: ease of maintenance. “We used a lot of simple materials—you could even call them bonehead materials,” says Buchanan. A prime example: the paint grip steel that covers the majority of the exterior. This is corrugated metal that hasn’t been galvanized; instead, it’s treated with a chemical that turns the metal a dull gray-brown and makes it easy to coat with paint. “The manufacturers kept asking us what color we wanted it painted,” Buchanan says. “They were shocked we wanted it just the way it was.”
Inside, the concrete floors were ground and then polished, giving them a mottled, terrazzo-like finish that the architect describes as “indestructible.” Laminate cabinets in the Bulthaup kitchen are easily wipeable and countertops are tough stainless steel. “We got her as close to zero maintenance as possible,” says Buchanan.
Another sleek element—the ceiling—has more to do with appearance than upkeep. “In the last house, there was elaborate lighting for the art, and Cherryl never used it,” Buchanan says. “In this house, we didn’t want to put can lights in the ceilings, and thus avoided that “Swiss cheese overhead” look. Instead, we put cove lighting on the north and south sides of the rooms and coated the ceilings with a highly reflective Sherwin-Williams paint. The effect is a bright, luminous light whose source is hard to determine.”
You could say the new home has Peterman looking at everything in a new light. “A lot of this house was about paring back—everything is pared back to its essence,” she says. “We cut back on space and maintenance, and made everything clean and simple.”