The Ann Arbor–based studio Ply+ injects bold color and unique geometries into the design of a single-family home

Not So Clear-Cut

Architecture studio Ply+ designed House P—a slender rectilinear building outside Ann Arbor, Michigan—with two goals: to accommodate the clients’ desire to age in their own home and to showcase their large art collection, which ranges from prints to sculptures. According to firm principal Craig Borum, the two story house’s sleek form—it contains two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a kitchen and dining area on the top level, and ample lounge space—was influenced by the site’s steep topography.

The house’s front door is accessed by a sloped entry ramp at grade. The landscape’s contours are echoed inside, where self-contained, curved rooms threaten to intersect (or do so in subtle ways), leading to all sorts of formal intrigue. The architects devised a set of operations that determined the shape of each room based on its relation either to the home’s long, bending west wall—continuous across both floors—or to its neighboring room. The result, said Borum, is a series of “incomplete” or remnant geometries; for example, a thickened arc on the ceiling of the eat-in kitchen helps to delineate functions without occluding them.

These funky apertures frame views from within each room to pieces by Frank Stella, Donald Judd, and Jasper Johns opposite. Lit by a strip of clerestory windows, the artworks are situated up and down the primary west wall, which, in addition to organizing the spatial plan, serves as the “gallery.” (Ply+ worked with New York–based curator Randy Rosen to select and arrange the pieces.) Built-in display features throughout the house, like an alcove in the living room that holds a geometric glass sculpture, showcase three-dimensional works. In a characteristic flourish, the alcove backs onto the staircase and hovers like a grace note.

A screened-in porch runs along the top-floor living/dining rooms. The linear form hints at the programming inside—the owners are art collectors and wanted to set gallerylike conditions to stage their most prized pieces. (Jeffrey Kilmer)

The west wall anchors the floor plan across both levels of the house. Artworks by Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns and more are arrayed up and down the length of the wall. Clerestory windows—registering as ribbon windows on the primary facade—light the interiors. (Courtesy Ply+)

Ply+ worked with New York–based curator Randy Rosen to select and arrange the pieces throughout the interior. (Courtesy Ply+)

Though the interior is mostly white, the architects injected a pop of color to complement the bright array of contemporary collectibles. A rich blue is applied throughout—for instance, to a Marmoleum floor in the kitchen and built-in seating in the breakfast nook and to the ceiling and walls of the screened-in outdoor porch on the top level. This blue—not quite the International Klein Blue the architects first studied, Borum admits—spills out to the exterior walls, which the architects wrapped with blue stucco, creating a cool contrast to the metal panels that clad the facade.

Ply+’s approach to color is another way that the architects brought a sense of continuity to the project, connecting the interior and exterior. By manipulating shapes, as well as skillfully integrating the landscape, they have created a cohesive parti that introduces complexity to the house’s straightforward rectangular form.

Header images: House P is sited on a steep lot in an Ann Arbor, Michigan, suburb. The home’s core functions are located on the top floor, with auxiliary spaces below. (Jeffrey Kilmer)