A Q&A with UNUM principals Adam Steinbach and Jim Pfeiffer

A Post-Pandemic Home

The COVID-19 pandemic changed how we live in our homes. Born out of the spring 2020 quarantine in Colorado, UNUM:home addresses those changes with a modern colonial typography and no-fuss build process.

 

story: Kristin Kirsch Feldkamp

Unum means one in Latin and is both interesting and fitting as a moniker for a collaborative multi-disciplinary design studio.

Founded by principals Adam Steinbach and Jim Pfeiffer in 2017 in Denver, UNUM’s goal is to deliver a holistic and collaborative team-focused approach to the design and construction process. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put several commercial projects on hold and found everyone spending more time at home, prompted Steinbach and Pfeiffer to adapt their business somewhat. They saw an opportunity to deliver no-hassle homes to clients in a pandemic-changed environment with people working from home more and living differently. At the time—spring of 2020—Steinbach and Pfeiffer were working on a custom home for builder and developer Nate Boyer, who became their partner in UNUM:home. To better understand UNUM:home, Modern In Denver recently spoke with Steinbach and Pfeiffer. The conversation has been edited for brevity.

 

How is UNUM similar to other residential design-build firms, and how is it different? Can you tell us about the genesis of UNUM:home?
Adam Steinbach: We like to think that we take a design-theory-first approach to our process. Our intent is not to maximize lot size or program to yield the highest return but to deliver a product that feels appropriate to the neighborhood and contributes to a high quality of life through design.
This UNUM:home small balcony was inspired by mashrabiyas and is designed to allow privacy and connection to the neighborhood at the same time.
We also attempt to leverage technology. Implementing virtual reality as a communication tool allows us to walk clients through their home so they get a greater understanding of the spatial experiences and the finishes before we even stick a shovel in the ground. This provides an immediate feedback loop to our design team and allows us to make small adjustments to the design without additional costs or delays.
Relegated to working from home during quarantine, we began to ask questions about what it means to exist in a home and what the post-pandemic life might look like for our community. We wanted to understand how the home could be a sanctuary from the stresses and pressures of life but remain functional for all the additional activities and programs it was expected to support. This led us to focus some of our team efforts on building a platform that would become UNUM:home.
Jim Pfeiffer: When we talk about the process to a client, I think the way we are able to differentiate ourselves is that we have done the homework in the sense that we’re a team of architects and designers, and we’ve gone through it—generated a house concept that we feel is based in true research about what it means to live in a house [after] 2020. Clients can come to us and know that what they’re signing up for has already been worked through. One of the biggest time sucks of these projects is the permitting process. We can safely say that we’re able to cut the permitting [time] by a quarter to a third.
Tell us about the homes—your three models?
Steinbach: Each home is based on a modern colonial archetype, which is founded on a simple gabled formal architectural language. There are three standard models, ranging from 1,800 to 3,000 square feet above ground, but can grow larger if a basement is selected. Each model is designed to fit within a standard Denver lot, which makes it ideal for Denver infill neighborhoods. Catering to this lot size also enables us to expedite the documentation and permitting process, which means we get to construction sooner, which delivers the house to the homeowner sooner. Each of the homes has a series of different options, ranging from exterior and interior finishes to front door orientation and window layouts. Each home has a flowing open ground floor plan, with a double-height volume around the living room.  This second-floor connection between the living quarters and private bedrooms celebrates the vertical circulation of the home and promotes visual and physical interaction between floors.
Having three size offerings allows us to provide options to a wider range of clientele and demographics. Too often home buyers either can’t afford or have to stretch beyond their budget to get into a new home since most developer economic models are focused on maximizing building footprint and capital returns. UNUM:home is able to offer more modest options with the same level of design and detailing you’d find from higher-priced custom designs.
Pfeiffer: There was one thing I wanted to add about the colonial inspiration as an original typology. We’re spending more time in our houses and that colonial model lends itself more to a neighborhood connection. So, being out on your front porch and connecting more with your neighbors in that way.
What’s on the horizon for UNUM?
Steinbach: As architects and designers, we are constantly looking at how we can improve processes and efficiencies to do better in the world. We are actively pursuing ways to incorporate new building methods and materials that would reduce or eliminate excess waste. We’re also researching how we might construct these models, and possibly future models, using offsite or prefab construction as well as 3D printed technology utilization.

For more information on UNUM:home, visit: unum-home.com