Square One

If it’s possible to design happiness, the key may be to begin with a child’s perspective.

A classic board game and the needs of young children were the starting points in this Birmingham home. The clients wanted a simple two-story rectangle, like the stripped-down shape of houses and hotels in Monopoly — the kind of home children first draw with their Crayolas.

And children are nothing if not open. So that youthful, “barrier-free” thinking became an element, as well.

“They wanted a house with no doorways, a modern open floor plan, and no formal living room,” architect Mark Johnson says of his clients, who were building a family home that would accommodate the activities of two youngsters.

“The kitchen, family room, and breakfast room all open to one another.”

The resulting home is airy, accommodating, and forgiving.

“Every piece of the house is accessible to the kids,” Johnson says.

“They live in all areas of the house. Toys are stored behind the sofa in the family room. The Ikea [kitchen] table and chairs are ideal for homework and markers and coloring.”

That “family plan” extends to the second-floor loft, which serves as a family/kids study. “It’s a place where they can gather at the beginning and end of the day in their jammies,” Johnson says.

As wholesome sounding as that is, it’s also a concept rooted in sophistication. Johnson says the loft is based on an idea that came from the Saarinen House at Cranbrook, which has a second-floor gathering room.

Johnson and the design/construction team addressed other challenges. Among them, how to create a contemporary space while fitting into the traditional neighborhood context — all within financial realities.

“We wanted to give them the right kind of scale and proportion for living within a tight budget,” Johnson says. The clean aesthetic saves money, because it involves fewer details, which can drive up costs. It was about making smart choices.

“When you mix high end and low end, the contrast heightens the value of the high end,” Johnson says. An onyx counter in the master bath stands out more when surrounded by products not of equal value.”

Savings in other rooms allowed for greater spending in the kitchen, which was a priority for the couple.

For Johnson, judicious spending was a reminder of the purity of architectural essentials. “We relied on scale, proportion, and sunlight and views,” Johnson says. “It was an exercise in value to create a house that lives large for a customer who has a realistic budget.”

Architect: Mark Johnson & Associates, Pleasant Ridge;

Builder: Whitelaw Custom Homes, Bloomfield Hills;

Cabinetry: Perspectives Custom Cabinetry, Royal Oak;

Interior design: Renee Laker, West Bloomfield Twp.

Iron: American Iron, New Haven; 586-749-0001

Landscape: Environmental Artists; environment-

Stainless steel: MCM Stainless Fabricating, Hazel Park;

* Winner of three 2010 Detroit Home Design Awards.

Photographs by James Haefner