Create an ideabook for your next remodeling project!
Browse more than 1,000,000 photos from top designers and save your favorites
One of the most impressive aspects of the house was what it looked at. It's easy to see why a frame wasn't used at this corner window: the sky opened through the trees toward the east. Each day that we were in the house (two days before the hurricane, five days after), the sun rose in this spot over the trees. Around the rest of the house the trees were close, embracing us.
What was disconcerting about this view is that normally the clouds would be moving away from the house (as in this photo, a couple days before the storm), but during Irene — given its counterclockwise rotation — the weather moved toward us. Therefore we could see not only the clouds coming our way but also the lightning, one of the scariest aspects of the storm.
Another reason the view in the previous photo is important for this story is because it was our view all throughout the night when Irene hit. The view through the corner window was from a family room adjacent to the formal living room; both shared an impressive stone hearth, so the owner recommended those rooms for safety over the bedrooms down the hall.
Our experience in sleeping in the family room was a pull between two opposites: the strength and solidity of the stone and the openness and impending view through the glass. Without curtains on the windows, our view of the storm, and the lighting up of the room through the lightning, was a constant. Water splashed upon the glass like waves on the sea, and the roof creaked above us, but we were safe throughout the night, even if our minds had a hard time believing that was the case.
I took very few photos during the storm, partly because it hit strongest during the night, but mainly because I was in no mood to take any. New York City may have laughed off what happened with Irene, but in our location it was a scary affair. These photos show the relative amounts of rain being shed from the roof: the photo on the left was taken at about 2:30 p.m., before Irene hit; the photo on the left was taken at about 8 a.m. the day after. During the storm the rain was at a 45-degree angle, due to the wind blowing from right to left.
Note the leaves in the foreground on the left edge of the morning-after photo. Those belong to a large tree limb that fell on the roof. Thankfully, the felled limb did not puncture the roof, because that would have meant that some of the rain would have worked its way indoors.
A day and a half after Irene hit, the weather turned for the better. This is the sunrise that woke us as we slept in the family room. After a day of more rain, the second day after the storm was the start of our appreciation of the house, articulated here as four lessons.
1. Design with the sun. The orientation of the house, and its corresponding design through materials, was evident. The stone and glass dichotomy of the family room actually extends to the whole house: Stone anchors the house on the west, and glass opens it up on the east. This welcomes the sun in the morning, though much of it is light filtered through the numerous trees; this was especially important when we were there, as it was August and we didn't want too much sun entering the house.
We returned to the house in December, when the trees were bare, and the sun had the effect of warming the house beautifully, particularly by heating up the concrete floor and allowing its warmth to dissipate when the sun disappeared. (We learned this the hard way, as the power went out once again, but only for a day.)
2. Design with the wind. Even though the leaves filtered the August sunlight when we were there, the 80-degree weather necessitated some cooling. With the power out, this meant natural cooling — breezes. Here the house excelled. The glass walls facing east all opened up, with glass doors on the outside and matching screen doors on the inside. With doors open on the east and windows open on the west, breezes made their way easily through the house. The humidity was not as high as before the storm, but nevertheless the cooling effects were noticeable and considerable.
This photo shows one reason that the power was out for us and many people in the area. The wind knocked down lots of trees, many of them landing on power lines.
4. Live with the sun, wind and land. But design is only half the story; the rest is actually living with the house. My appreciation of the architect's design came about because we embraced the sun when it shone (in the extreme, waking at sunrise and going to bed just after sunset; at other times simply sitting by the window to read), controlled the breezes through opening and closing windows and doors, and got out of the house to enjoy the spaces around the house when we could.
These lessons are hardly comprehensive and are not meant as guidelines for designing a passive house, for example. They simply serve to illustrate some of what living in a well-designed house after a major storm taught me — or retaught me, to be more accurate.
Ultimately it's helpful to see a house as having a reciprocal relationship with us: We impact a house when living in it, and in turn it impacts us. Therefore it's important to consider a house's design apart from the infrastructure and gizmos that it supports, not as a doomsday scenario but as a call for better responses to natural conditions.
One way to gauge a house's success is to ask, "Would your house be comfortable without power for five days?" I know this Frank Lloyd Wright house was.
More: 11 Ways to Hurricane Proof Your House