THE 8 FOOT HOUSE.. Sounds small, right? Think again. The only thing that is small about this house is the amount of waste produced during the building process. William Buyers of 720 Design has big ideas about how to cut out scraps. Buyers has been a one man show for ten years – he is the architect and the contractor. Only working on one project at a time allows him to save money and devote his undivided attention to each renovation or new build. Design consistency is the result of Buyers’ technique – being the sole decision maker throughout the process results in homes that flow from room to room.
Buyers describes his sustainable approach as passive – passive in the sense that the design process is sustainable, not manifested through groundbreaking technologies, but instead by paying close attention to mainstream practices. Seemingly simple decisions resulted in an organic home that reorganizes our space. Buyers’ discerning nature takes us back to the programs of early modern architects – ask questions about how we live and answer with thoughtful design.
Inspired by previous projects, Buyers had been imagining the 8 foot house before it became a reality. During renovations on a project in Krisana Park, Buyers saw firsthand the efficiency behind the design of homes in the 1950s. Buyers explains – “When I took the whole home apart, I started to understand that there were these underlying systems going on, maybe it wasn’t as clear and rigorous as what I was doing, but I realized everything was eight foot framed and it didn’t feel uncomfortable to live in.”
When Buyers purchased a narrow lot close to Arapahoe Acres and in the Slavin Elementary School District, the 8 foot house came to life.
The use of five structural bays infilled with 8 foot tall wood studs was the first step in the process. This allowed Buyers to use full height cedar plywood panels on the exterior of the house. Without having to cut any studs or plywood panels Buyers saved time, money and waste. But how much waste?
Buyers paints the picture best – “Materials are 4 x 8. You can special order 4 x 9 or 4 x 10, but once you go away from that you are always going to have a little strip of plywood here or there and you need something for your plywood to go against, that is your studs. Say you arbitrarily want 9 and 1/2 foot ceilings – you are basically taking a 10 foot wood stud and ripping 6 inches off every piece – chop, chop, chop. Then you put your 8 foot materials up and you have to rip off another piece of plywood to sheath it. You have all that waste and that is what I tried to steer away from.”
For the interior, Buyers used full height gypsum board sheets. Why cut the windows? All of the windows on the main level of the house are 2 x 8 feet and go from floor to ceiling. Door headers, who needs them? The doors are 8 foot solid core maple that stretch from floor to ceiling. Buyers’ effort to not cut any materials, beginning with the studs and continuing to the windows and doors, results in a home with vertically heightening lines.
Simultaneously while thinking about cutting out waste, Buyers was thinking about how we live today. Do our homes reflect and accommodate our lifestyles? The 8 foot house has a mid-level entry next to a stacked carport. Eliminating the traditional two car garage gave Buyers more living space to work with. Stemming from his belief that large front yards are a thing of the past, Buyers focused on positioning the living room and kitchen area adjacent to the backyard. “I really believe in backyard spaces and having a place where kids can go run around and while you are inside you can still see them. Why have these giant front yards which really don’t do anything anymore?” Buyers asks.
Placing the communal areas of the home at the rear meant the private areas of the home would be at the front. While that might seem like an odd concept, the connection between the indoor and outdoor living space works. The wall of windows separating the backyard fill what could be a family room, dining room or entertaining space with warm natural light.
Going against the traditional design of a home makes some people uncomfortable. Buyers’ response? “I get bummed out when people come along and say, ‘aww, I’m so disappointed, we were hoping for something more traditional.’ This is a well built house and there is no waste whatsoever.”
Why have a pitched roof if it isn’t necessary and doesn’t add to the space of the home? Why have a 10 foot ceiling instead of 8? Saving money and reducing waste doesn’t mean cutting corners and using poor quality materials. For Buyers, it means doing it all – being the architect, the contractor, the landscaper, while paying attention to the way we live and cutting arbitrary decision-making out of the building process.
Words: Kelsey MacArthur
Images: Andrew Pogue