X Marks the Spot
By Jill Waldman
On a 6,000 square-foot Brooklyn neighborhood lot, 50 feet wide and 125 feet deep, sits a 2,000 square-foot home, including the garage, which defies the price-per-square-foot odds of building in Steamboat Springs. At $250 per square foot, high by national standards but low by Steamboat standards, this remarkable small home is the result of Christina Freeman and Nick Bencke’s meeting of the minds with builder Erik Lobeck.
Freeman and Bencke sought a low maintenance exterior with low utility bills and building costs, while respecting environmental issues. Lobeck cut corners on cost by not cutting the corners. “One of the simplest ways to save in home-building is sticking to a basic shape,” says Erik Lobeck, owner of WorkshopL – the design/build firm that took on the project. The home is a rectangle but a deck and sloping roofline give visual interest to the structure.
The design concept evolved primarily from the site constraints. The southwest corner of the lot was the most unencumbered in terms of daylight and views, providing the best location for the kitchen and living room. The bedrooms are on the eastern end of the house to take advantage of the morning sun. The roofline elevation rises up toward the southwest, reinforcing the light and view corridor.
North-facing windows and several large windows were upgraded to triple pane glass to ensure occupant comfort in Brooklyn’s cool microclimate. Triple-paned windows exceed code for energy efficiency by around 20 percent. Lobeck achieved a low-maintenance exterior using insulated metal siding with an R14 value that has two inches of foam insulation bonded to it, serving as both protective siding and insulation, thus eliminating a second insulation layer. That brought the overall R-value of the home to R-32, well over the R21 code.
To devise a heating strategy, the couple called long-time friend and mechanical designer Jeffrey Campbell of Simply Radiant Heating. They opted for a mix of in-floor radiant heat with hydronic radiators to optimize savings and enhance control. A small gas fireplace was added for ambiance and to provide additional heat in the living room, when needed.
Cork flooring was both an environmental choice and one of comfort. They have some give, as they are soft underfoot. Downstairs, concrete was poured over the radiant heat system and then polished. Lobeck re-purposed tile from his personal stockpile to use in multiple bathrooms.
One of the more striking and unconventional features of the home is the topographically accurate map on the garage door. Bencke, a cartographer, designed it around the topo of Emerald Mountain and their Brooklyn neighborhood, to mark the exact spot of their home.
They chose an inexpensive white metal garage door, and Jessica Lobeck, Erik’s wife and graphic designer at WorkshopL, created the graphic for the map. Steamboat Sign Company produced and applied the vinyl decal transfer.
Several pieces of artwork by Bencke’s father, Swiss-based artist Preben Jensen, add further flair to the property inside and out. The most preeminent piece is a sculpture named “Duo” that graces the front yard.
Jensen traced the modern straight lines of the house for the outer edge of the sculpture. The interior lines flow in sync depicting a male and a female dancer, inspired by the pas de deux in ballet.
The couple created albums filled with interior design and color ideas on the Houzz website to give Lobeck a sense of their style. “In the building process, we tried to add a few pops of color to warm things up from the traditionally stark contemporary look,” Freeman says.
Lobeck says 40-50 percent of the cost of a building project is labor, but by doing a portion of the work themselves and enlisting friends, Bencke and Freeman were able to save significantly.
“The first IKEA cabinet we built took us 4 . hours to assemble, largely due to cartoonish instructions with no words. By the time we finished the fifteenth cabinet, we understood the cartoons and were done in under 45 minutes,” Freeman says.
The low price per square foot was achieved by eliminating waste, calling in friends for help, and utilizing sweat equity. The plumber, heating contractor and framer were all neighbors and live within walking distance to the project. Lobeck kept the interior simple, but designed a modern, light filled, environmentally friendly space to keep the project on budget, energy efficient and enjoyable to the couple for years to come.