Forty Hurricane Katrina refugees were staying in Peggy and James Mitchell’s shotgun home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when an 80-foot tree fell on the back of the house, taking out a bedroom and a bathroom. “Though no one was hurt, the entire back half of the house was crushed, leaving one bedroom and bath for 40 people to share,” Peggy recalls.
What did they do? For a full month, “we just made do,” she says. “People slept on the kitchen floor, under the table, wherever they could find a spot.”
Once most of the guests had returned to New Orleans and the tree could be removed, the Mitchells turned to Plusone Design and Construction, an architecture firm that specializes in efficient, environmentally friendly design, to restore and revive their home of 40 years. “People don’t realize that good design does not always require lots of money,” says Plusone owner Fritz Embaugh. “If truly creative thought is put into a project and innovation is allowed, you can achieve something really quite extraordinary.”
The Mitchell home–called the Kiwi House because of its somewhat rough exterior and cool, open interior–is a modern interpretation of the shotgun house, built for $98 a square foot. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom energy-efficient house is designed to bolster an existing sense of community, tread lightly on natural resources, and minimize consumption and waste. For its innovation, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) this week awarded the Kiwi House a 2011 Small Project Award, which recognizes and promotes excellence in small-project design.
The 1,200-square-foot house has an additional 500 square feet of covered porches. The master bedroom, with private bath and walk-in closet, opens up to the back yard and private porch. The laundry and storage room are in the center, dividing public space from private space. A living room/kitchen combination at the front of the house features a full glass façade, connecting the Mitchells to their community and their neighborhood’s “front porch” culture.
“Creating community is a vital part of architecture,” Embaugh says. “The way a building is designed can inspire or inhibit its sense of community. By adding such amenities as large covered porches and large windows, you not only add aesthetic value but you open the house to the rest of the neighborhood, fostering a sense of community.”
The house is sheathed in galvanized metal panels and fiber cement board, both chosen for their durability, thermal properties and resistance to termites and mold. The metal roof and siding are 100 percent recyclable. Porches and windows are oriented to the east and away from harsh western sun, helping with energy efficiency. Large overhangs and protruding exterior walls shield all exposed windows, preventing direct sunlight, while small upper windows in the large rooms allow cross ventilation without sacrificing privacy. Additionally, the house is built on a concrete slab, creating thermal mass to minimize large temperature variances. The roof’s subtle pitch reduces air mass and its subsequent heating and cooling requirements.
Peggy and James will move back into their newly renovated home next week. “I’m so ready to come back home,” Peggy says. “I’m so blessed to have all of this.”
A full glass façade opens up the Kiwi House’s kitchen and living room to the neighborhood’s “front porch” culture. Photo by Kevin Duffy
Sheathed in recyclable metal panels and fiber cement board, the Kiwi House is resistant to termites and mold. Photo by Kevin Duffy
Inside, Plusone designed a metal reglet system that eliminates the need for crown molding and baseboards. Photo by Kevin Duffy