Kenneth Turner travels all over the world designing high-rise buildings.
In fact, when he was an associate partner and design studio head for Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, he directed design for the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (think Tom Cruise scaling its exterior in "Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol").
So when he returns home to his wife, Miranda, and their son, Austin, in Arlington Heights, Turner wants to find himself in a home that meets his modern architectural standards.
"I am literally uncomfortable in a room where the windows, for instance, don't line up. I find architecture that is logical and purposeful to be soothing and I want to surround myself with those elements in my home," said Turner, now a design partner with his own international architecture firm, Turner + DeCelles.
That is why the Turners purchased an empty corner lot in Arlington Heights and hired JRC Construction and Kingsley + Ginnodo Architects, both of Arlington Heights, to build them a modern, three-bedroom, 2,200-square-foot home with a detached two-car garage. It was completed in late spring.
"This was the first contemporary home we have ever built and it is certainly unique in Arlington Heights," said Jim Cochran, owner of JRC. "We pride ourselves on building our clients the homes they want and this one turned out to be so much more home inside than you can see from the outside. The internal design, in particular, is awesome."
The Turners' home stands out in a suburban sea of tract housing.
"The fact that Arlington Heights, which is traditionally a conservative architecture environment, was so quick to approve this plan shows that officials here respond to good ideas and architecture, no matter the style," said Keith Ginnodo, the local architect who drafted the plans. "Before this, many had been afraid to try the modern aesthetic here."
In a modern home, the shape of the home and the basic finishes are your detail, Turner said. "You want a totally clean and functional look, so we included clerestory windows upstairs and a balcony off the master bedroom to cover the front door and to add detail," he said. "The trick in designing a modernist home is stripping it down to the basic elements without making it look cheap.
"You have to be careful to add just the right number of details to make it refined without losing its streamlined look. For instance, one huge continuous ceiling looks cheap, so we put in a drop ceiling over the kitchen/breakfast bar area to break up the monotony in our large family room/kitchen.
"In addition, the cove light ceiling in the dining room warms up the space and sets the mood for entertaining," Turner said.
Upstairs the bedroom ceilings follow the slope of the roof to achieve taller spaces. Travertine stone tile floors grace the hallway and bathrooms, but the bedrooms are carpeted.
"Many people are afraid to consider modern design for their homes. But once the trappings of traditional design are relieved, the architecture can respond more honestly to the needs of the occupants and the conditions of the building's location," Turner said.
In a bow to the neighborhood, the design team chose to use an angled, single-pitch roof instead of a more modern flat roof. They also installed the siding slats horizontally, like most of the houses that surround it, and used traditional cement-based stucco on large sections of the home. The stucco is painted a creamy white while the composite decking material used for the siding is a dark brown, which mirrors the color scheme of much of the home's interior.
"Instead of using Ipe wood like they use on home exteriors in California, composite decking was chosen as a less expensive alternative with the same look," Cochran said. "The low slope of the roof was also influenced by California homes."
Architecture lovers who look closely will notice that the siding has been installed in a basket weave pattern at the corners of the house. That, combined with the exposed stainless steel screws attaching the composite siding to the home, allows modernists to see and appreciate how the house is actually put together, Turner said.
A fence that shields the courtyard area between the house and detached garage is made of the same composite material as the home's siding. It gives the family added privacy when using their yard and allows the eye to travel seamlessly from the home to the complementary garage.
Turner freely admits that if it had been entirely up to him, he would have painted every wall in the house white and used travertine floors throughout. He said that Miranda deserves the credit for inserting homey warmth into the Turner home through her selections: painted accent walls in warm hues; oil-rubbed bronze hardware; dark hardwood floors in key rooms and a dark wood rail on the open riser staircase; oval light fixtures and accent furnishings; and espresso-colored kitchen cabinets to contrast with the vein-cut travertine floors and horizontal-cut white glass backsplash tiles.
"If it had been a bachelor pad, I admit it would have been very cold," Turner said.
In addition to building a modernist home, the team wanted to create a sustainable home that would use a minimal amount of energy. So they installed 36 solar panels on the roof, integrated cantilevers with 2½-foot roof overhangs for summer sun protection; and installed an electric hybrid water tank and energy-efficient mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and appliances.
"The way the home is designed and oriented on its lot allows it to capture the sun when it is wanted and shade the house when it is not," Ginnodo said.
The long, single-pitched roof is oriented to the south for maximum exposure for the rooftop solar panels. The low roof slope also allowed the solar panels to blend into the roof, Cochran said. If the roof pitch had been steeper, the solar panels would be much more apparent.
"Its big overhanging eaves protect the exterior stucco from heavy rains. The same eaves are designed to protect and shade the large windows, blocking 100 percent of the sun at noon on the Summer Solstice and allowing lots of sun to come into the house during the middle of winter," Turner said.
The composite decking used for the siding slats are spaced to permit convective air flow and divert rain away from the house. This system allows moisture to dry out very rapidly while allowing the interior of the wall to cool by convection, Turner said.
A rainwater retention system may still be added and the Turners are considering applying for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification, for which certain environmental building standards must be met.
"I am most excited about the solar panels and knowing that, with this house, we are contributing to a safer environment," Miranda Turner said.
But their son Austin likes the fact that his house stands out from the rest.
"I like the fact that my house is not like every other house in the neighborhood," he said.
"With this home we have shown that with the use of credible architecture and common sense, you can solve a lot of problems and at the same time, enhance a home's design," Ginnodo said. "More and more people are moving out here from the city and many of them are accustomed to modern architecture. So we expect to see more of a call for these types of modern homes in the suburbs."