The Nexus House, a compact home for a young family of four, occupies a small site in University Heights, a historic residential district in Madison with iconic homes by Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Keck & Keck, and many others. Successfully contesting the local preservation ordinance whose strict guidelines advocated stylistic mimicry while failing to recognize the neighborhood’s rich architectural diversity, we designed a quiet but unapologetically contemporary building, its formally restrained volume discreetly placed in the back of the trapezoidal site, where it avoids direct visual competition with its two dignified neighbors, a hundred-year old Spanish Colonial home and the Ely House from 1896, a cherished landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
The house is composed of two principal building blocks: a two-story brick podium partially carved into the site’s existing slope; and a linear cedar-clad meander that wraps up and over the podium before transforming into a cantilever, its overhang providing shade for the south-facing main level patio. Following this binary parti, the home’s “public” functions – garage, support rooms, and an open living hall – are located in the brick base, while its “private” spaces – upper level bedrooms, baths, and a small reading room – are housed in the cedar volume. Exterior steps lead up the slope to the home’s front door, a glazed recess with a delicate steel canopy marking the vertical joint between the two distinct building blocks. The glass entry door opens into a small vestibule that leads into the main living hall, an open space for cooking, eating, and sitting, where a series of floor-to-ceiling windows offer arriving guests expansive, carefully framed views into the neighborhood.
The deliberately neutral interiors of the living hall are complemented by a troika of dark-stained wood objects that spatially anchor the open space: a small entertainment center; a fireplace and chimney; and a wood wall and canopy cradling an intimate side lounge, which can be separated from the living hall with large pocket doors to serve as a guest bedroom or quiet study.