Lessons from Living in a House Designed by William Wurster
From taking tours of other Wurster designed houses, I have observed that he typically made creative use of circulation elements such as stairs to create a dramatic effect in otherwise fairly ordinary plans. For the thirty-five years we have lived in our Wurster-designed house, I have never ceased to marvel at the beauty created by its simple curved staircase.
Midway between the first and second floor, a large, projecting window offers a view of distant trees and lights the space. Wurster approximately doubled the wall depth to accommodate this window. The design permitted simple construction and was relatively inexpensive for such a dramatic custom treatment. Furthermore, it enhanced the experience of going from one level to another.
The upper landing leads to each of the three bedrooms and features a solid bannister overlooking the stairs. The center point is a rounded element that also is finished to match the plastered walls. A light hangs over the top of the rounded center and a fixture was chosen that is a simple glazed cylinder. This stairway is the one dramatic element in an otherwise simple and plain house. The lesson is that stairways are an opportunity to add spice to the relationship between form and function.
Every time I look out of the windows in the house, I am stunned by what often appears to be an artful arrangement of what is on the outside. The single pane opening means that the outdoor space is virtually part of the indoor space. Although in a time of awareness of energy efficient design, a large, single paned window becomes more problematic–especially when they are made operable–windows and their detailing are of prime importance to the beauty and livability of a home or a workplace.
When you are seated inside our house and look out one of the ground floor windows, you can see the ground as well as the horizon and sky. Wurster designed the window openings on the ground floor to be at a height above the floor level of approximately 27 inches. The result is a strong visual connection between the outdoor and the indoor space. There is no sense of floating or of being in a tree. The design is one of being literally grounded, even in a setting of almost overwhelming long-range views. The ground plane is made part of the view. This detail reinforces all aspects of the connection between indoor and outdoor space.