Q&A w/ Matthew Tills, 2501 Balden St.

It’s almost time for our Madison Modern Home Tour! We’ve got a lot of unique designs on this trip that we can’t wait to check out. One of those designs is at 2501 Balden St., a home that evokes the warmth and timelessness of true modern design. We had a few questions for the architect, Matthew Tills,who enlightened us on the process behind creating this home and the various special features we should look for when we see it in person.

Describe for us some of the design decisions that went into determining how to create space in this home designed for a family of four.

We wanted a house that we used every square foot of on a regular basis.  So many new homes default to a more-is-better design, which is both wasteful from a resource and energy perspective, but also creates a family environment that discourages interaction.  The first floor is open, but zoned into different spaces using ceiling height changes, floor level changes, and half-wall dividers to create a sense of separation without isolation.  The bedrooms for our boys are very simple in layout, but we created a large sliding door between them to allow for a larger contiguous play area, if they want it.  We opted to not build a basement because of the high water table in the area, so the connecting boys’ rooms are designed to fill the “play room” void.
The house was laid out to sit on the site of the tennis court that existed on the site prior to the house being build.  This footprint restriction was a nice design guideline.  We decided early on in the design to detach the garage and use it as an element to create more cloistered outdoor space.  This allows for a nicely sheltered entry experience.  The screened porch is integral to this cloistered space as well.  It serves as a mosquito-free room that has visual connection with the front and back of the lot.  We wanted to situate the home so that from our living room, the effect was that we were totally isolated in the woods.  The view from the living room is due South, which allows for warm sun to penetrate into the space in the winter.

What materials were you drawn toward using in the home?

In general, we were drawn to materials that are more raw, ie metal panels, heavy timbers, and concrete.  There is something that is familiar about these materials, yet unexpected in a small home.  Modern design is so often interpreted as stark, white and cold, but we wanted to approach materiality of the house from a more warm-industrial aesthetic.  Simple planes of material and rich wood accents were the drivers for the interior palette.   Sustainable, recyclable qualities were also a factor.

What can you tell us about the sustainable features of the home?

There are many “sustainable” components to the house that are both visible and hidden.  Perhaps the biggest decision for using resources and energy efficiently was the use of SIP panels for the primary framing of the house.  This is  a modular, pre-fabricated system of sandwiched rigid styrofoam panels that create a building envelope that is nearly 100% airtight, with a high insulation value, and extremely sturdy compared to conventional stick framed construction.  We also opted to use exposed concrete floors with radiant heat throughout the first floor.  This eliminated the added cost and need for unnecessary flooring.  The radiant heat is more efficient than forced-air heat and allows for a lower interior temperature in the winter.  The cool concrete in the summer adds to the comfort without excessive AC.

What can you tell us about the landscaping and other outdoor features?

Landscaping has been an ongoing challenge for us in the unique environment of the Arboretum neighborhood.  We purchased the lot as an abandoned tennis court.  The site was choked with vines and invasive plants which we have been slowly working to eradicate and replace with native plantings.  The site is heavily wooded and has the feeling of being out in the woods, which we wanted to celebrate.  Therefore, our landscaping is intended to provide a transition between the natural woods and the controlled environment of our yard.  The delineation between yard and woods is meant to be blurred.  We also have the added benefit of ample wildlife as part of the Arbortetum.  Deer and Turkeys are constant visitors in our yard, not always with the best results for our planting beds!

What features of the house should tour-goers be sure to keep an eye out for?

Look for the imperfections in the concrete floors.  Leaves and other materials made their way into the surface during the pouring of the floor, which we love.  We love the use of ceiling height and material changes to create different characteristics for the various rooms.  We love the expanse and connection with the front yard from the living room as well as the more private seclusion of the master bedroom.  The screened porch is another central feature of the home.  Unfortunately, during April, it is still too cold to be able to experience the wonderful quality of this space, but believe me, it is one of the most appreciated rooms of the house during the summer!  And, don’t forget to check out our chickens’ digs behind the house.

Come join us to this and other beautiful modern homes in Madison on April 6th by purchasing tickets here.

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