Nature Steals the Show
authors Kim Berndtson
Many people are naturally drawn to the outdoors, so when they’re indoors, they want to find ways to make a connection and bring the outdoors in. Often, that contact is made through windows and doors that provide visual access to anything from a beautiful backyard, river or lake to a stunning city skyline.
However, when a home happens to have a beautiful view, it influences what happens to the rooms inside. Too many focal points and the eye doesn’t know where to land. Too much openness and occupants may feel exposed.
This month, KBDN asked designers to share their thoughts about how to maximize natural sight lines and balance the interior of a kitchen or bathroom with an exterior that takes center stage.
Bringing nature deeper into the home
“As humans, we thrive on natural light,” says Deanna Goguen, NCIDQ, ASID, principal designer, Designology in Spokane, WA. “We need sunlight. We need views of nature, so the deeper we can bring those things into the home, or the more we can enhance them, the more beneficial they are to our health.”
In the kitchen above, she accomplished those goals via a full bank of sliding French doors and a wall of windows, which provide expansive views to her clients’ acreage. To maximize the natural light and view, the windows rest atop the countertop.
“They bleed into the counter and vice versa,” she says.
By choice, she also eliminated upper cabinets along the window wall above the sink, which she often does to maximize a view.
“I try to avoid uppers whenever possible so we can have nice, big windows,” she explains. “If we can’t eliminate them, I panel the ends of the cabinets next to the windows with mirrors. It’s a great way to bring in the light and the views. Almost everybody has some natural element or greenery outside their window to bring into the space…whether it’s a tree, a plant, a bush or even a fence with plants hanging on it.”
To carry light even further into the kitchen, the designer added a mirrored backsplash behind the cooktop, wrapping it part way around the corner.
“Reflective materials, such as mirror and glass or brass and chrome, or even crystal, in fixtures…anything that’s shiny…will bounce light around the room,” she says. “These materials also add sparkle to make a room lively. I like to include things such as plants or drapery near a window, too. When they blow in the wind, the kinetic energy helps the room feel vibrant.”
Mixing light and dark cabinetry – the latter of which is accented with zinc panels in the island and bumped out sink base – keeps the interior from becoming monotonous. Hanging brass pulley-style pendant lights above the island
“We really wanted to highlight the lights,” she says. “They’re very, very fun.”
Because this home is located in a gated community on several acres, the homeowners can also enjoy stunning views from their master bathroom, which from this vantage point provides visual access to a pond. Similar to what she did in the kitchen, Goguen included plenty of opportunities to see outside. However, to enhance privacy, she included woven wood blinds for the windows as well as the door that provides physical access to the landscape.
“We had lengthy discussions about balancing privacy and maintaining the view,” she says, adding that when privacy is required, she often uses blinds that offer a mix of sheer and opaque properties within the same shade. “When my clients step out of the shower, they are right in front of the door. We decided to keep the glass clear, so the blinds offer a way to cover the windows and door when modesty is needed.”
Keep it simple
While this home was only about 10 years old, Betsy Brunnemer’s clients decided they wanted to bring more natural light into their kitchen. At the time they built their home, they wanted to incorporate a 48″ range and ventilation hood along an exterior wall, which only left enough room for two small windows to each side. However, as time passed, they realized that the design configuration just didn’t allow for enough natural light.
“They wanted a space that was brighter and less ‘bulky,’” says the designer/CKD, DesignLoft Cabinets in Charlotte, NC, who worked in collaboration with architect Sam Greeson.
With a new focus to guide the design plan, Brunnemer dramatically opened up the wall with a series of five tall windows that reach nearly to the top of the 10′-tall ceiling. She replaced the range and ventilation hood combination with a cooktop and double oven, moving the former to the island and the latter to a perimeter wall. She also relocated the sink from its original position in the island to its new location beneath the windows, which allows her clients to enjoy the plants in their window box. An exterior shade, which can be controlled remotely, offers relief from the direct sun.
“The windows actually overlook the driveway,” she acknowledges, noting greenery beyond. “But we built a long planter box right outside the windows where she planted herbs. Window boxes are a neat way to address the situation if the view isn’t quite as scenic as you’d like. You can camouflage what you don’t want to see, but still have lots of windows to let in the light.”
To direct the focus to the window wall, Brunnemer added several shiny pendants in front of the windows. She also kept the kitchen relatively neutral, choosing gray cabinetry, white countertops and large-format 18″x18″ marble tile, which clads the walls.
“Using neutral colors creates a quietness,” she says. “You don’t have anything jumping out at you to pull your eye away from the window.”
The designer minimized the number of upper cabinets along the exterior wall so as not to infringe on the windows, which would make them feel smaller. She also kept the perimeter wall with the refrigerator, double oven and tall cabinets on the same vertical plane to maintain a clean look.
To add interest, she included open shelves crafted from glass and steel, locating them next to tall countertop cabinets accented with mirror/mesh door fronts.
“They offer relief from the same old thing,” she says. “You could also add some touches of color, such as from a piece of pottery that you could change or move. But the elements of the room itself – the tile, the cabinets, etc. – should stay very subtle. You don’t want to clutter the room or take away from what you want to emphasize.”
When Kristina Curtis took on the remodel of a high-rise condo in Chicago, she knew it needed dramatic changes that not only highlighted the views, but also set the tone based on what’s beyond the windows.
“For this project, it was important to consider the colors and tones of the view,” says the owner/designer of Kristina Curtis Interiors, with office locations in Chicago, IL and Orange County, CA. “You want a room to be seamless [with the view], so it’s important to select items and materials that allow you to look straight across and out the window.”
That design approach plays out in the ‘cool’ north-facing master bathroom and ‘warm’ south-facing kitchen/main living area.
“The bathroom was very blah…beige tile, orange highlights…very drab and sad,” she says, adding that a new color palette gives her client a bright, fresh and uplifted place to wake up to. “When she looks out the window, she sees tones of gray and blue in the surrounding buildings and a collection of blues from the sky and the lake. When she looks down, she sees a beautiful green park. With the light coming in from the north-facing window being more of a blue tone, especially during the winter, it feels very clean and crisp.”
To match the vibe, Curtis incorporated Calacatta Bluette marble, using it in the shower, as an accent wall behind the tub, as the tub surround and as the vanity top.
“I love using natural stone,” she says. “For this bathroom, the marble adds drama and sets a beautiful tone inspired by the view.”
Conversely, in the kitchen, Curtis went ‘warm’ with selections including tan Taj Mahal quartzite countertops combined with rift cut oak custom cabinets that add softness. Mirrored doors on a bank of tall perimeter cabinets create interest and allow the soft tones to reflect and bounce around the room.
“This space has a beautiful 5 o’clock cocktail hour glow,” she says, noting that it showcases the city skyline and overlooks Millennium Park. “And in the evening, the client enjoys looking out at the twinkly lights of the city, so we kept materials warm, sexy and neutral.”
When Curtis works in urban settings that offer impressive cityscapes, she also encourages clients to consider dimmers for their lighting.
“They give a soft glow to enhance the outside, allowing attention to be turned in that direction,” she explains.
Given the condo’s lofty location and distance from other buildings, privacy wasn’t necessarily an important issue when considered in the conventional sense.
“However, in this case, we wanted the client to have a ‘feeling’ of privacy by providing her with sheer blinds,” she says, noting the electronic roller blinds in the bathroom that, when lowered, offer privacy while allowing a bit of light to flow into the room. “I do love to use window treatments because they can really frame the outside space. Some people get nervous that they’ll cut off too much of the view, but there are tasteful ways to accomplish both. I am currently working on a penthouse condo, also in Chicago, where I’ll be using sheer curtains. They add a bit of privacy but give a sexy backdrop with the city skyline silhouetted.”
Decorate with the landscape
Rick Staub grew up out West where expansive, ‘long’ views were the norm. Working in New England now, he still experiences some of those same situations, especially when working on homes with water views. Equally common are homes with ‘short’ views, those found in backyards and wooded areas.
Regardless, Staub, AIA, Point One Architects in Old Lyme, CT, likes to maximize window size, relative to the space, whenever a client is blessed with a beautiful view.
“Getting a window edge down on a countertop line is extremely important,” he says. “It’s also important to make the window height taller than you might typically see. It creates a ‘big sky’ feeling where you are able to see the sky and a long horizon line. Even for ‘short’ views, when we can increase the height of the windows to see the sky above the trees, it opens up the horizon line in your mind and makes it feel even more expansive than it might actually be.”
Achieving privacy with expansive windows is also a discussion Staub brings up with his clients, noting that some are remote enough that it isn’t a concern. And “some just don’t care,” he says. “For those who do, there are curtains, blinds and roller shades, many of which are available in fabrics that are beautiful even when closed. Sometimes we also tilt the windows or splay the frames around the windows to create a portal that protects the view while providing privacy.”
Staub also likes to minimize distractions inside a home to direct attention outside.
“Use the landscape to decorate your home,” he says. “If you have a lot of color or pattern, especially on the walls adjacent to the windows, you can detract from the pureness of the view. That’s why a lot of modern homes have white or very minimal frames and trims around the windows. There is also a trend of using dark window frames and mullions because they are easier to see through.”
However, focusing on the outside needn’t dictate sacrifices on the inside.
“You can still have beautiful materials inside,” he says. “For example, the wall opposite the view can have more detail and decoration. A room is multi-dimensional. When you’re standing in it, you experience all four sides, and usually they don’t all have big windows with a view.”
Staub incorporated many of these design tactics in a recent kitchen project, which offers ‘short’ views of the landscaped front yard and ‘long’ views of the river at the back of the house, which can be seen while his client works at the island sink.
Material selections, including the nearly 8’x6′ window framed with dark bronze trim and the Japanese ash cabinetry, add to the aesthetics while maintaining a focus on the view.
“The window is huge,” he says, noting the room’s 10′-tall ceilings and towering floor-to-ceiling cabinetry deceptively hide its magnitude.
Staub also kept the cabinet style simple and its stain color neutral.
“There aren’t a lot of ‘gimmicks,’” he says, noting a collaboration with Kitchens by Gedney. “The design offers a modern aesthetic with clean lines so the views can be the focal point.”
Given its abundant walls of glass, there’s little about this mid-century modern home that doesn’t take into account its stunning riverfront location.
“Connecting rooms to each other, as well as to nature, was an important consideration when we renovated this home,” indicates Greg Wiedemann, AIA/principle, Wiedemann Architects in Bethesda, MA, who transformed the residence in collaboration with interior designer Shaun Jackson. “We also wanted a sense of connection to certain mid-century modern design principles, such as strong horizontal datum lines that provide clerestory light. In fact, through much of the home, including as you approach, you can see all the way through from front to back.”
For instance, clerestory windows in the kitchen allow natural light to stream into the space, while still permitting the inclusion of upper cabinets along a solid wall, which thereby allows the kitchen to be open to the living room that overlooks the river, Wiedemann explains.
Several material selections throughout the kitchen were inspired by that view, adds Jackson.
“My intention was to create fluidity between the interior and the exterior so I used a palette of fabrics and building materials in natural tones,” she says. “For example, walnut wall paneling speaks to the surrounding nature. And, the kitchen island is the color of water, but punched up a little to keep it interesting and to ground the side of the room that doesn’t have the water views.”
The master bathroom also highlights how the duo combined material selection and design techniques to extend the room into the landscape and beyond so there is continuity between the two.
“In this room, and for any room with a view, it is desirable to create a soothing interior that doesn’t compete with the view,” he says. “Instead, the interior almost invites the exterior in.”
They accomplished that goal via a quiet, neutral palette without a lot of pattern. However, within that palette Jackson incorporated textured materials, such as three-dimensional ‘wave’ tile that sheaths the vanity wall, to maintain interest.
“Even something as simple as the direction of the floor tile can have an effect,” says Wiedemann, “which in this case, leads the eye toward the water.”
Because of the home’s abundance of glass, addressing privacy was paramount.
“To provide the most options, in the bathroom I included automated blinds that offer easy adjustment between ambient light, partial views and total privacy, which is critical in a house like this one that is so exposed,” says Jackson. “Because of the home’s strong and expansive horizontal lines, in the living room we used soft, sheer panels, which are non-operable, to draw the eye up and emphasize the room’s height.” ▪