Avante Garage – A New Model from Old Zoning

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We have a new, and as yet, somewhat secretive project that has led us to a brand new model. The impetus behind this model was a set of existing zoning plans that came along with the piece of land in question. These zoning plans were, by and large, pretty similar to most construction in the neighborhood. They featured three stories and fairly standard lot coverage. They were pretty easy to adapt for our own odd purposes except for one glaring discrepancy . . . garages.

Garages never seemed like something we were likely to do. We have a general aversion to the way they place an inflated value on automobile ownership, and we don’t like the blank face they show to the street. However, we have an even stronger aversion to the zoning process which is slow, painful and often seems combative for little to no reason. So, we felt it was wise to incorporate the existing garage zoning into our plans, but as always, we’ll do it our way.

The current concept is to separate the garage entirely from the house. This simplifies insulation and air sealing, and it protects the house from the nasty air that often gathers in garages. In other words, we will basically be building the entire house above the garage. In effect, this is similar to the concept of our WORK model where the entire downstairs is an open space, but in this case, that space is unconditioned. It can be used for storage, tinkering, play or even, car parking, and it will open out directly into the backyard. We also plan to create some level of transparency to the front garage door to soften it’s “blank face” impact.

The following are some conceptual plans we are currently working with. You will note that ISA has developed a sort of split level model with some interesting open space between the floors. We are also hoping to include a roof deck and expect these homes to have a nice view of the city. Take a look . . .

As you can see, there are two different floor plans we are throwing around. For the sake of discussion we will differentiate the two by calling the top one, with the kitchen in the front, “Steve” and the bottom one, with the kitchen in the back, “Gwen”. You will also note that both Steve and Gwen have a rendering associated with them. These renderings show a concept for the back space of each design.

So let’s hear your thoughts. How do you like the overall concept? Do you prefer Steve or Gwen? What are specific elements you like or dislike? Do you want one of these (looks like we are only building four so speak up)?

Say it in the comments.

19 Comments

  1. Brandon says:

    Steve: I’m a sucker for the wide stairs/seating thing. Plus, guests entering the house hit the living room before the kitchen. I know that the kitchen is the heart of many homes, but I don’t like houses which require visitors to traipse through the kitchen to enter the house.

  2. […] on over to the Avant Garage post on the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our conceptual floor plans. There are even a few little renderings […]

  3. eagleapex says:

    I like the design, but I have a problem with urban garages. They make for bad neighbors! There are a few garages in my neighborhood and I never see the people that live there. They just roll in, close the door and never interact with the street. I disagree with the zoning board and place no value at all in a garage.
    But I do love some roof decks! I would buy this and stuff the “garage” full of bikes just for the roofdeck and split-level.

  4. Brandon says:

    Unlike my doppelganger above I’m not into having stadium seating in my house…unless of course you’re suddenly making the Post Green Theater Experience Extravaganza. I do agree with bizarro Brandon about not entering into a kitchen though…it just feels weird and unwelcoming. All in all I think having a garage is a great idea and an evolutionary step in your development. Thumbs up guys.

  5. Avery says:

    I’m going with Steve as well. After a long day of work, walking into the living area and taking a seat is necessary.

  6. Justin says:

    Great designs, I am intrigued by the use of a split level floor plan. I am a fan of stairs that engage with a space and become more than just a circulatory element. Being that there is a split level design I think the wide stairs help to connect the living and kitchen spaces, though without seeing the stairs in the elevation I can’t fully see how the spaces will relate to one another. What will the view be like from one space to another? Looking from the kitchen toward the living space may just provide a view of a blank wall.

    I look forward to seeing where this goes, my vote is for Steve.

  7. Geo says:

    I agree with Brandon#2. I like the idea of the stairs/seating thing but I think it would wear out over time and loose utility as the novelty wore off. The kitchen booth seating on the other hand would surly age with the occupants and provide utility whether eating or doing projects/playing.

    I also agree that walking through a kitchen could seem odd, but in this design you are trying to deal with existing zoning so there may have to be a little give there. What about instead of stairs in the “steve” design, implementing a more traditional built-in with a plush bench. Possibly a reading lounge, built-in having shelves for books/games, under the bench slide out storage for blankets/pillows etc. I would probably leave the split wall open and extend the built-in to that open space, the top shelves being passthrough so you could place art/plants so on and ensure visibility. I guess I’m thinking along the lines of an updated interpretation of the inglenook, a cozy place in space.

    I find the angle of the lower level window to be interesting as well. Any thoughts on natural lighting/indirect light in that configuration? Have any particular yard designs in mind?

    I am interested in seeing this one develop.

  8. Janis D. says:

    I am more for the second one, but, like Brandon (1), I think that having the large stair would be pretty cool. Besides, you guys are all about the excitment in the design, so why not offer something like this? One thing that puzzles me, though, is the extra-super-mega sized person digging up the yard in the very first sectional rendering. I do not think she/he would fit into the house and might require a large tent or other kind of structure in the backyard.

  9. Larry Harris says:

    I prefer the “Steve” floor plan, as it allows for the living & kitchen spaces to flow together.

    I was curious about what was driving the split level section configuration – is it the overall maximum building height? It appears that the rear garage space is at minimum ceiling height – and I understand wanting the front parking spot to have a higher ceiling – but the angled ceiling of the front garage space kinda eats up some of the possible ceiling height of the living (or kitchen) space directly above. Could the front edge of the angled ceiling drop by a foot or two, resulting in a living space with a higher ceiling ? (And thus reducing the number of steps required between the split levels.)

  10. archaalto says:

    definitely gwen.

    i think that either entering into a kitchen or the living room could be okay [depending upon buyer preferences], it just feels a little better in the renderings to enter into the living space after the climb up the stairs. the

    I’m definitely curious about the elevations, but I know those are the very last part of the conceptual process and you can have a thousand decisions to make before then. only curious because the window sizes feel a touch small at this point [i know… more $$].

    i’m really digging the open garage concept, but would there be concerns from owners about security and a feeling of lack of privacy to the backyard?

    nice schematics gents–well done.

  11. Rob says:

    Garages at street level (under a house) have always had several problems that few (if any) have been able to solve. The biggest in my mind, is that the inhabitants will be living on the second floor, 8 or more feet above the street level. In my opinion when the first living floor of a house is more than 4′-6′ or so, above the street level there is a disconnect between the occupants and the street/community. Being able to see the street and whats going on out there is vital to the health of the community. Jane Jacobs talks about eyes on the street in her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. She equates the amount of people who are watching the street to the decrease of crime. The more eyes the less bad things happen. Certainly it isn’t just that simple but I believe that eyes on the street are vital to the health of a neighborhood.

    Another issue I have with the current design is the huge, massive, big gaping hole in the facade. I find it interesting that there is a diagrammatic section, detailed plans, and informative perspectives, but there are not elevations from the street. I’m sure this will evolve as the the design progress, but I think it is something that needs attention now. The blank face you mention is a big problem.

    Is the intention to make the garage area open air (no door on the street or yard side?) If so what prevents things (leaves, possums, skunks) from accumulating in there? Also what happens in the gray triangular area above the prius’ hood? Seem like it is wasted space currently, could it be used for something? Mechanical room?

    And where is the front door? It appears that one must enter the garage to find the front door, essentially the garage entrance is the front door. Is that where the girl scouts knock when they are going door to door selling cookies?

    I have asked a bunch of questions but I do have a few ideas about solutions. I think the biggest thing would be to sink the garage a few feet into the ground if possible. This helps in many ways, lowering the first living floor, stairs could be placed out in front of the house (think brownstone), and the front door could be identifiable as the front door, if it were placed with stairs in the front.

    A few other ideas may work but it entirely depends on the specific site, a site plan could help. Is there alley access? How about a side street? I assume from the plans that neither of these are options.

  12. max says:

    love that you guys are continuously trying to add to your suite of affordable green homes. although it seems that shifting to a split-level strategy as you have done here may eliminate some of the economy seen in earlier models (beta 2.5 by the way – a home run) and introduce a level of complexity (added structural members/engineering, added material, and added time to construct) that seems to run counter to your original intention. also, split level homes always seem chopped up, lack visual connection between rooms, and are a pain in the ass to navigate; maybe just my own bias (you’re also creating a lot more obstructions that will inhibit air flow and make your ERV work harder). love your projects to date – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  13. Mid America Mom says:

    Hello!

    I think it is great you are looking at adding a one car garage and that terrace is spacious.

    I just have to say the main issue is that it is a split design. New splits are rare and there is a lack of warm/fuzzy feelings for them. It looks in this plan that the kitchen is isolated from the living space which could give pause to many buyers. Or is it in the STEVE that you can go up any of that stair unit into the kitchen? Still you would have a hard time seeing someone clearly.

    But looking at what you have… In GWEN the first space of the home is a kitchen. Since it has a built in table I wonder what the left side of the kitchen is supposed to hold/do. Ideally that would be living space. So Steve it is. The stair storage thing looks cool but open space would work just as well. The access to the terrace requires going through the master which is not ideal.

    Good Luck!
    Mid America Mom

  14. Goran says:

    I really like the multiple level effect. The wide open view between the kitchen and living room in the Steve is exiting, and really invites you to use the stairs. I read somewhere that demographic studies suggest multiple levels and additional opportunities to use stairs will probably result in a longer, and healthier life for the occupants. This is a house I could grow old in.

    A lot of variations are possible. If you’re replacing a home with a partial basement, you can drop the garage into the ground 1/2 floor and have the living room at ground level. If you don’t need the double bedrooms, you can put an office in their place, and repeat the exciting open transition down to the kitchen. The overhanging window could connect you with the area in front of it. In an urban area, with a vibrant street scene in the front (car enters garage from front), in a suburban area, with the back yard landscape. It might work better, though, if the overhang were higher up.

    One more vote for entering living room rather than kitchen. Did I mention I really like the extra stairs and open transition between floors?

  15. Chad Ludeman says:

    Thanks for all of the comments, guys! We just realized today that we had a lot of comments waiting for approval due to an incorrect email address entered into the backend of our site. We fixed it and all comments are up.

    We should be answering many of your questions in upcoming posts once we reveal the location and facade concepts. Everything will become clear and your feedback will certainly shape the direction of both the model and the first project incorporating the model. Thanks again!

  16. Kay Wisniewski says:

    Am I alone in loving the idea of a garage that could be a project/craft room instead? Or just showing my age(I am not my daughter, thou our names are similar)? Storage and a space for projects are huge enhancements to a basic house. Any parent with kids working on school assignments will bless you.

    But–for most people, entry feels most right thru the living room, and there needs to be a coat closet nearby, or you will have chaos. And–per Christopher Alexander, I am a huge believer in front porches/stoops as neighborhood builders, so entry that way into the living room would be perfect. I agree about sinking the garage–but give it windows from several directions or it will feel forbidding.

    Good luck tinkering out this design. Love what you all are up to.

  17. Jeff Steigerwalt says:

    Make the seats, theater seating!

  18. […] I want to thank all of you who commented on the first Avant Garage post. Your input is always greatly appreciated and I thought the comments on that post particularly […]

  19. House basement says:

    Great job.

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