Iannuzzi Studio designs the Briarcliff house as an 'unplottable' residence in Michigan

Inspired from the whimsy of Harry Potter novels, a house designed in a 'familiar vernacular' in the Detroit suburb, sits hidden in its lush context.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : Sep 15, 2022

Four barn-like structures sit tucked into a 3.5 acre verdant landscape of Franklin in Michigan, USA, as a response to a family’s aspiration of the place to appear 'unplottable'. Detroit-based architectural practice Iannuzzi Studio was commissioned to realise a residence with segregated spaces of living and recreation instead of a homogenous entity that facilitates all domestic functions, all along making sure the house "should not be seen or found on a map". The Briarcliff house was thus born, carrying spaces cloaked in its context with a similar whimsy that runs through all Harry Potter stories. You discover spaces and paths perchance, and there is a curious sense of things unfolding before you.

Four clustered gabled-roof volumes give shape to the Briarcliff Residence by Iannuzzi Studio | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
Four clustered gabled-roof volumes give shape to the Briarcliff residence by Iannuzzi Studio Image: © Rafael Gamo

Looking at the built form, one sees a close reference to the local American architecture, of farmsteads and the generations-old gabled-roof structure that dot the Detroit suburb. The area, however, is more popular today for its estate-style homes and a cider mill. For Iannuzzi Studio, that has been consistent in realising buildings and spaces that resonate with their place, the natural landscape of Franklin served as a major inspiration in crafting the exterior geometry of the 6400 sqm home, however the overall contextual design responds to a thorough understanding of contemporary architecture, aesthetics and living needs.

The four pavilions are located amid a densely wooden landscape | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
The four pavilions are located amid a densely wooden landscape Image: © Rafael Gamo

In keeping the concealed nature of the private residence intact, Iannuzzi Studio made sure that the building remains hidden from plain sight without affecting the context’s natural harmony. As the area is defined by gently rolling hills that have been fluidly sliced with corten steel retaining walls, Briarcliff residence is discreetly nestled behind several such knolls, clustered trees, and a submerged motor court in its front, creating a scenery that appears vividly untouched.

The double storey semi-private living den facing the rear side of the property | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
The double storey semi-private living den facing the rear side of the property Image: © Rafael Gamo

The spatial layout follows a separation of public and private areas within the four pavilions. The longest single-storey volume is faced by the two other pavilions sitting perpendicular to it. Aligned to the site's north-south axis, the interrupted volume of the former overlooks a pool and an outdoor lawn on one side through its glass façade. Owing to its outward-looking nature and close proximity to open public spaces, this becomes the family's entertainment pavilion comprising the living, dining and kitchen space. The interior design, by Franklin-based Elizabeth Fields Design, is marked by high vaulted ceilings, exposed steel bent frame, and built-in millwork; its highlights include a blue-steel hearth and a kitchen clad in emerald green and stained walnut that add more verve and playfulness to the space.

  • The main living area within the house's longest volume | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
    The main living area within the house's longest volume Image: © Rafael Gamo
  • The dining area reveals a playfulness of heights, surfaces, and hues | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
    The dining area reveals a playfulness of heights, surfaces, and hues Image: © Rafael Gamo
  •  The bathroom is distinuished by its multicoloured tile work  | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
    The bathroom is distinguished by its multicoloured tile work Image: © Rafael Gamo

The family’s private den is housed in the other two volumes, while the fourth volume – slightly distanced from the trio of pavilions – is the residence's garage. One of the former two volumes, being single storied, locates the family’s main bedroom that spans 1600 sqft. Designed with three rooms accommodating the client’s bedroom, walk-in closet, and a bathroom, what pivots this space centrally is a floating fireplace with a small kitchenette and linen closet at its rear side. Like a sanctuary, this storey remains extensively introverted compared to the larger complex, and here openings are curated to capture more private views.

  • Different degrees of visual transparency permeate throughout the interior spaces  | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
    Different degrees of visual transparency permeate throughout the interior spaces Image: Dummy | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
  • High slit windows capture a limited section of outdoors from the bath area | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
    High slit windows capture a limited section of outdoors from the bath area Image: © Rafael Gamo

The third storey, spread on two levels, features an array of semi-private spaces which includes a music room, and a family lounge on the lower level, and two bedrooms on the upper floor. The fourth storey being the residence’s garage has space to park three cars, in addition to a laundry room and a room for trash with direct access to the driveway.

  • Cedar slats and fiber cement panels cladding on the exteriors | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
    Cedar slats and fibre cement panels cladding on the exteriors Image: © Rafael Gamo
  • Entrance foyer; the playful interiors are designed by Franklin-based Elizabeth Fields Design | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
    Entrance foyer; the playful interiors are designed by Franklin-based Elizabeth Fields Design Image: © Rafael Gamo

The home’s rustic exteriors are the result of Iannuzzi Studio’s ingenious treatment of cedar slats and fibre cement panels which also contribute to the height and stateliness of the gabled form. From a more muted character outside, the transition into the contemporary indoors is enlivened by an assemblage of eclectic forms, colours, and patterns.

  • Briarcliff house captured in the evening | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
    Briarcliff house captured in the evening Image: © Rafael Gamo
  • The concealed nature of the house is in response to the client's brief who wanted it to appear untraced on a map | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
    The concealed nature of the house is in response to the client's brief who wanted it to appear untraced on a map Image: © Rafael Gamo

Speaking of the home's guiding brief, Iannuzzi Studio shares, “The concept of “unplottability” translated into an abundantly modern building that is cloaked in a familiar vernacular, so that one could potentially pass by without taking notice – or from an aerial view be hidden beneath a collection of simple roof ridges. […] Unplottability also became the root for a major concept in the landscape design which was to build the home into the surrounding knolls, making it appear as if it is emerging from beneath the ground.”

"This strategy," the studio concludes, "is carried out by the use of corten steel retaining walls that “slice” a series of knolls, leaving rolling hills to face the street and submerged walled walkways facing the house.”

  • Site Plan | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
    Site Plan Image: Courtesy of Iannuzzi Studio
  • South Elevation | Iannuzzi Studio | USA | STIRworld
    South Elevation Image: Courtesy of Iannuzzi Studio

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