A Sociable, Passive Solar Home and Kitchen

Designed around a large, people-friendly kitchen area, this passive solar home in Asheville, North Carolina, really shines.

| September/October 2006

  • South-facing floor-to-ceiling living room windows bring daylight deep into the house and blur the distinction between outside and in. Flowers planted at the base of the windows can be enjoyed from the comfort of indoors.
    Gil Stose
  • The Larsons’ “sociable kitchen” incorporates a sofa and a small table—an extension of the countertop—for maximum hangout potential. This allows comfortable distance for conversation, yet keeps guests out of the busy cook’s way.
    Gil Stose
  • The kitchen counter extension serves as a desk or as a small table for a quick meal. The rack above the sink lets dishes dry naturally and provides handy access.
    Gil Stose
  • The outside entranceway stone wall extends into the living room and becomes part of the fireplace setting for the wood-burning stove. The chimney flue rises up through Mary Ann’s upstairs office and provides additional warmth to her space.
    Gil Stose
  • The bathroom cabinetry is made from recycled-oak barn siding. A salvaged granite piece and 1920s tiles add a touch of refinement. Towel racks created from cherry branches bring the outdoors inside in a whimsical fashion.
    Gil Stose
  • Leftover cutoffs from the rafter tails were utilized as diagonals for the stair steps. A river birch branch was selected for the handrail because the diameter of the branch stays relatively the same throughout its length. A cherry tree that had to be cut down on the property was put to use as the stair spindles.
    Gil Stose
  • The kitchen door leads to an outdoor patio that extends the dining and social area.
    Gil Stose
  • Two bedroom walls of expansive glass showcase the woodlands, allowing the Larsons to awaken to the sights of nature around them. The southern yellow pine ceiling joists create a canopy over the bed and closet and allow air to circulate.
    Gil Stose
  • The home’s stacked, pyramidal shape and careful window placement keep it cool without air conditioning.
    Gil Stose
  • Mary Ann, Haley, Chris, and pooch Bunky stand in front of the exterior entranceway wall that extends into the living room. The wall is built of locally quarried stone.
    Gil Stose

Of all of the fond memories of his childhood home, designed and built by his architect dad, Chris Larson remembers the kitchen area the most. “The informal-style dining room table was not quite in the kitchen, nor entirely out of it either,” he says. “Near the table were a love seat and a comfy overstuffed chair. And no matter how nice the rest of the house was, most activity took place in that kitchen and the hang-out zone near it.”

Chris built a home for his own family (wife Mary Ann Watjen and daughter Haley) in Asheville, North Carolina, that suggests he inherited his dad’s design sense. For his own  home, Chris, who also is an architect, had free reign to play with his two guiding principles—“sociable architecture” and natural forms—when designing the cozy 2,700-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath passive solar home.

The sociable kitchen

Throughout his career, Chris has been intrigued by the home kitchen’s gravitational pull. “People would leave the comfortable living room sofa and opt for standing and talking in the kitchen,” he says. “So if folks are that determined to hang out there, I decided to focus on how the kitchen could be designed to enhance comfort.”

The Larsons’ “sociable kitchen” is a triangle that includes the kitchen, dining room and living room area, without dividing walls. “This allows space, view and light to flow freely,” Chris says. “Instead of looking out a window over a kitchen sink, we look across open space to windows and the view beyond. Even while cooking in the kitchen, we can still observe and feel we are part of the outside. We can see across the living area to the fireplace that adds to the warmth of the kitchen.”

At one end of the range and sink islands, an open space accommodates a small table that seats three or four. This serves as a convenient place for quick meals or for Haley to do homework (with help from whichever parent is cooking). Attached to the backside of the two islands, storage shelves create a “kitchen” feeling, keep everyday utensils handy and provide a screen that distinguishes the kitchen from the living room area.

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