Norm Architects explains the design of the dwelling house


How did Norm Architects approach the Dwell House file?

We had been thinking about a project like this for a long time and were looking for an opportunity, so the collaboration really made sense. There were constraints to the overall size of the ADU as it needed to be transportable, and our approach was to optimize that space and get the most usability out of it. We wanted this to be a unit for your backyard that you could rent out, or use as a guest house, extra living space for elderly parents, or work space – so we had to put together the spatial layout of the best possible way to suit all these different scenarios.

Norm Architects’ Archipelago House embodies the company’s sensibility. The studio’s book “Soft Minimalism” will be released later this month.

What kind of life experience did you want to create?

We wanted to create simple spaces open to nature, and it was important to blur the boundaries between indoors and outdoors. In the living room, one of the main features is a large folding glass door that opens to the outside to create a cross breeze to the kitchen window and provide an unobstructed view of nature. It’s about creating a space where you can have those simple moments – enjoy a coffee and the California summer breeze.

Norm’s product design capabilities, including the case study chair for Karimoku, made them ideal for designing a pre-engineered process.

How did you get the most out of the small footprint?

We have created a utility “backbone” that runs through the house with an integrated kitchen in the living-dining room, a bathroom, a shoe cabinet with coat hooks and shelves, and a cabinet with integrated washer-dryer. Everything has its place, which opens up the rest of the space to be arranged to meet all needs.

More generally, we approached the project in the same way that we would approach a typical residential project only condensed. We always aim for a very simple setting where every element is considered, and we use a lot of built-in joinery to create a clutter-free, calm and comfortable space. In the Dwell House, for example, there is a niche in the wall of the living-dining room which can be used as a library or to display works of art. We also use a lot of natural materials. Here we have charred wood floors, oak millwork and stone countertops in the kitchen and bathroom.

A custom bench by Firm pairs with interior finishes at a client’s Forest Retreat in Sweden.

How does the design of the Dwell House differ from the design of a conventional house?

We had to think more broadly and imagine the Dwell House being installed in a variety of locations, with many different types of users and usage scenarios. Whether you’re sitting on the couch reading a book and looking through the folding glass door, or cooking in the kitchen and seeing the long view over the counter, it’s all about framing and enhance the surrounding nature.

How did the factory manufacturing process influence the design?

The Dwell House has to meet many technical specifications, mostly related to how the house is transported and durability. For example, we couldn’t use large tiles in the bathroom or a plaster finish on the walls because they could crack during transport. However, it made the process really interesting and we worked with the manufacturer to find appropriate details and finishes.

Interior/exterior design – the basis of the Dwell House – is second nature to the company, as this summer residence in Sweden demonstrates.

What did you find most rewarding in your work on the Dwell House?

We had to balance a wide reach with a unique aesthetic expression without having a specific client – and it was both challenging and very rewarding. We looked at what typically creates a sense of well-being and used simple, timeless design language to evoke feelings of comfort. It was also very rewarding to achieve such a level of detail. Take, for example, the way the panels are installed in the facade, or the emphasis on detail in the kitchen and the integrated carpentry. The resulting space has a very relaxed feel. If I was lucky enough to have a large lot with a view, I would like to sit at the dining table watching nature and soaking up the sun.

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Tour Dwell’s new prefabricated ADU.

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