Designing a micro-dwelling is not easy. Tuft & Needle customers Christoph and Shauna Kaiser wanted to create a home that feels like home despite a radical reduction in size. We photographed Christoph, an architect, and Shauna, a boutique hairdresser, in their spectacular silo house while catching a glimpse into their daily lives.
What’s the typical day in the life of Christoph/Shauna?
Christoph: For now, we are busy people, but with a healthy balance of leisure. We’re up early on weekdays, typically six o’clock. We workout if we’re able, and then off to work. For Shauna, she works the boutique salon, or does bookkeeping from home on days she stays here and tends to the house and garden. I’m typically either off to the office or to visit a jobsite, or run errands. Being in the home stretch of three different projects currently, my days require a lot of run around. Fetching things, approving things, troubleshooting things. Sitting and catching up on computer work becomes a struggle during these home stretches. For my design lead Mark Lewis and project manager Trevor Kowal and I am forever grateful, nothing would get done without them. When Shauna and I retire at the silo evenings, we generally cook, have a glass of wine, eat, and either read or watch something dumb on tv before going to bed.
What’s the drive behind your work?
Christoph: The drive behind my work is the desire to make things that move people, positively hopefully. Once you’ve done it a while, ‘making’ is easy. Making good, or making really good – the kind of good that makes you consider things, like our own human form, and how it likes to feel, and how it operates in space – that, in addition to meeting utilitarian needs, is what thoughtful design should strive to do. Imbuing my design work with that level of thoughtful consideration is what drives my work. For me there is little to be desired in the perfunctory 'tasks' of my profession.
Shauna: I like to make a bright spot people’s lives. When I see clients leave my chair with a big smile on their face, feeling renewed – that makes me smile. I also want to help bring quality retail and quality retail space to our rapidly maturing city. Phoenix is an exciting place to be a part of right now, and hair salons, in some stretch of the mind, are at the epicenter of the city’s consciousness.
What inspired you to do micro-dwellings/architectural masterpieces like the silo house?
Christoph: Designing for extremes is fun – designing for one of the hottest climates in the world, making a load bearing space frame with as little material as possible, making the smallest home while preserving a sense of home – these sort of challenges become studies in the root of things. What is home? Reducing a home to it’s barest essentials requires study in what those things are. I’m also plagued by the awareness of what it takes to cool the volumes of air in our homes, a process that conversely pumps hot air into our atmosphere. The prospect of a home that requires fewer lights, less air conditioning, less overall power, and less building materials because it is smaller, and yet generous, is compelling. We are after all on the back swing from our appetite for big - Humvees and McMansions have lost their appeal. Making low carbon footprint living the new cool is not out of our reach.
Tell us about your style. What draws you to that style?
Christoph: The short answer is I like clean, simple lines, material honesty and warmth. The longer answer is that style is born out of the thesis of your work. Good style – the style that gets followed and revisited for generations to come, is usually born out of a strong thesis – a conviction or stance or set of parameters that every detail and material choice becomes subordinate to, and speaks towards. Le Corbusier said “a house is a machine for living” – and the style of his Villa Savoye is ruthlessly pure of traditional domestic language, ornament, or historic references. It is a stark and primary form, machine like in appearance. My intention with the Silo House was to create a home that feels like home despite a radical shift from conventional form and a radical reduction in size. From this perspective, the style will be familiar yet foreign… my answer to this was something of a warm cottage with galactic overtones.
When creating, are your concepts based off ideas before you think about materials and function, or do you begin with thinking about the limitations of the materials and work into a design?
Christoph: For me, ideas drive everything else. I subscribe to the ol' “form follows function” adage - material follows function too, as does every other characteristic of design. Function though, the strict utility of a thing, is a must have, a given. Hopefully, there is a strong concept or position about something at the core of your work that is reinforced by material and tectonic choices, and speaks to something larger than the thing. In my view, there are opportunities for materials to be the thing that drives a project, but I feel those cards are typically played within a short time after that material's inception. When glass was introduced as a building material, a generation of architects played, beautifully, with what that material allowed - many of those project were about exploring and exploiting glass as a material. Philip Johnson's Farnsworth House is an example of this. What is a house if glass is your building material?
What kind of solutions did you come up with for living in a round house?
Christoph: Pack it to the sides! When building a silo house, as we all often do, you could construct a core of bathroom/kitchen/mechanical at the center of a silo that contained all the guts required for a modern dwelling. You could even put a mattress on top, a sort of fat panopticon approach – but you would never experience the volume of the silo. Walls would never be more than a few feet away. Alternatively, pack the kitchen/bathroom/mechanical into a crescent that hugs the outside perimeter and you’ve got living space that’s 15’ across in two directions and 24’ tall – that’s spacious. As it turns out, packing it to the sides while honoring the circular form of the thing requires a whole slew of smaller scale solutions that were nearly the death of me – curved wood closet doors built like airplane wings, laser cut translucent polycarbonate arching cabinet 'underbellies' that illuminate the room from the crevices ('light play' that grows the perceived size of a space), a concealed crescent shaped service trough at the top of the silo that contains all ambient lighting, supply and return air conditioning ductwork, speakers, a digital receiver/amplifier, low voltage cabinet lights, the door bell, a digital projector, two infrared remote eyes, a smoke alarm, a cable chase, a wifi antennae, and apple tv. Perhaps the most challenging component was the 9’ wide curved steel and polygal sliding door on the back side of the silo. 6” diameter soft polycarbonate “v” groove wheels help ease the ride for this large sliding door. The skylight at the top of the silo is also operable and designed to help passively cool the silo.
These creative people believe in making the world a more beautiful place. By thinking outside the box, they created a space where they can dwell thoughtfully. We hope they inspire you. They've certainly inspired us.