What really is 'Indoor-Outdoor Living'? - May 6, 2022
Updated: May 15
“What you really need is to find a house with true indoor-outdoor living,” said every luxury-real estate agent ever. The realtor pours you a glass of white wine and has you imagine opening up these glass doors and stepping outside with your morning coffee to enjoy your multi-million dollar view.
Some of the primary defining factors of west coast modernism are indoor-outdoor living and site-specificity (as in an intimate connection to the site itself). These words in the real-estate world dilute these concepts to capitalize on an expensive ocean view or massive plot size. So what does it mean to achieve indoor-outdoor living and site-specific design? Visiting Ron Thom masterpieces like the Carmichael House and the Case House today gave me time to analyze these principles of west coast modernism.
The Carmichael House (or at least the recently renovated version) is the real-estate version of indoor-outdoor living. The choice to not level the ground and leave the steep slope to the front door is one of the only site-specific things about this house. The only other site-specific element was the waterfall directly outside the office, which exemplified tranquillity. In all likelihood, the waterfall is a constructed fountain that had no previous existence. Most importantly, the main exuberance of indoor-outdoor living is the floor-to-ceiling glass windows along the south edge of the home. The house's edge has a seamless transition from the kitchen to the deck, perhaps due to the low decorative ceiling that extends outside into a roof overhang. While having a completely open wall to the deck and the ocean view is indoor-outdoor living, that’s about it. Matthew Soules has some interesting thoughts on what he called ‘View Machines’ in his book Icebergs, Zombies, and the Ultra Thin: Architecture and Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century (2021). He makes some excellent points about foreground and mid-ground views rendering the presence of flora details, textures, and behaviour. At the same time, finance capitalism only cares about the distant, sublime view associated with privilege and power (Soules, 2021, p.151). Lastly, the predominant element I noticed is that the deck is floating so high above the land that you can’t sit on the edge and have your feet touch the ground. Being physically removed from the earth is the opposite of ‘integration with nature and site.’
On a more positive note, I found that the Case House delivered on west coast modern promises. The Case House is a more architectural and profound version of indoor-outdoor living that genuinely celebrates the site and nature. During entry, we experience a syncopation of dark and light, open and closed, as we are welcomed on a path of stone and head toward a beautiful trio of Arbutus menziesii trees, celebrated for all their glory. The rough-cut stone path is carried past the heavy door and meets the carpet much further into the home. It takes a minute to realize the ground material isn’t conventional, but it doesn’t feel out of place. Aside from this being a true example of indoor-outdoor living, we also have an excellent example of site-specificity in the bathroom on the bottom level. A sink placed daintily on a massive rock outcrop reminds you of your location on the side of a mountain on the North Shore and provides a grounding experience. While the primary access to the spectacular view is from the lower level, just off the kitchen, we are still offered swaths of views from the living and office spaces to the outside. These two homes highlighted drastically different proponents of indoor-outdoor living and west coast modernism. Real-estate considerations are crucial to grasp as designers if we can truly cater to the general public’s desires. But, we must not lose the essence of what we intend to do with designs and what kind of lifestyle we want our clients to experience.
Soules, Matthew. Icebergs, Zombies, and the Ultra Thin: Architecture and Capitalism in the Twenty-
First Century. Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2021.