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

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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