Perched high above Table Rock Lake in the Missouri Ozark Mountains, the Terraced House proves there’s more than one way to set up a view. The clients, who live with their young child in Chicago, were looking for some basic requirements of a destination house—compact, sturdy, and low-maintenance. And, of course, a prospect from which to enjoy their spectacular slice of the meandering lake, which spans two states.
The traditional way architects treat a panorama is to design a long, horizontal building parallel to the view so that every room can enjoy it. In this case, however, the lot inclined rather steeply to the cliff’s edge. And while a rear walk-out scenario with bedrooms at the top of the house and living spaces below would have worked, the owners wanted to feel more grounded. “That led us to explore rotating the orientation to be long and linear perpendicular to the lake,” says Scott Miller, RA, and introducing a series of outdoor terraces on different levels—launch points for the house. The resulting design steps graciously down the hillside in tandem with adjacent terraces on three levels—a living and dining patio, a pool, and a swath of lawn.
In his first sketches Scott studied the idea of a detached garage, but attaching it led to the home’s most eye-catching feature: an elegant carport that frames the view. “It also serves as a covered outdoor space when it rains,” he says. The carport organizes the terraces that spill down the slope behind it. “From there you walk four steps down to the main outdoor lounge with a firepit, which is connected to the dining and kitchen area, then down to the pool, and a few more steps to a large green yard,” Scott says.
With its fascia clad in Corten steel, the carport’s cantilevering roofline extends to become a porch over the front entry. Inside, “as soon as you walk into the foyer, you see through to the lake,” Scott says. Several steps down in the open plan is the kitchen and dining room, and beyond, the living room with 12-foot-high windows. “It’s one of those jaw-dropping moments of wow, this is a pretty special spot,” he says.
Sectionally, a split through the middle of the house echoes the topography. Outside, this elevational shift is expressed as a glass slot between the boxy second story’s upper and lower volumes. Inside, it takes the form of an open-to-below void between the bunk room in the front of the house and the slightly higher pair of guest rooms facing the lake. “We tried to create zones of privacy—the primary suite is in the basement—but even with that break of the vertical space between the two bedrooms and the bunk room, which is kids’ zone central, they can be loud,” Scott says. “In the opening between them, you step up into the level with the two guest rooms; instead of being in the same hallway, it creates these zones that feel more private.” Cantilevering about 5 feet over the back of the house, the upper volume shades the living room’s western exposure. Downstairs, this volume registers as a higher ceiling in the living room, creating a sense of interior depth and vertical relief. A glazed section of kitchen wall, close to the shift, lets the cooks enjoy the view too. The main bedroom is ensconced on the walk-out ground level, with a private patio facing the view.
The light-filled house has a minimalist interior palette: the vista is the show. “Keeping it simple, durable, and of its place were our main drivers,” Scott says. White oak floors, a local material, are a mixture of rift cut and quartersawn boards. Cabinets are rift cut oak; and the granite countertops resist wear and tear.
A steel-framed staircase reinforces the home’s clean lines. Premanufactured bent steel forms the base of the stair, with wood treads and risers on top. “Looking up at the slot, we wanted to keep the stair as minimal as we could and just have that profile of steps with a handrail springing from it,” Scott says. “You can see the bent steel plate from behind the stair.”
Cedar siding satisfied the owners’ wish for a warm, rustic exterior. The subject of intense study, according to Scott, the cladding mixes two sizes of cedar boards in an 8-foot repeating pattern to create a unique carved look. “One of the boards is thicker and denser,” Scott says. “The wood has such character and grain that the variation is difficult to pick up on. In the end maybe we overthought it, but we wanted to make sure you couldn’t tell the pattern was replicated.”
All this attention to the skin produced more than just an appealing aesthetic effect. In his workshop, builder Tom Caruso coated the boards with a natural wood preservative mixed with a gray stain to get just the right color. It should last a long time without reapplication. “The product, called Lifetime, looks like seeds that you put in water,” he says. “We used the same process for Bass Pro cabins 10 to 12 years ago and it still looks pretty much the same.”
The Corten steel on the carport fascia was also pre-weathered by a local manufacturer so that rust wouldn’t drip onto the siding. The terrace edges are clad in Corten too, so as you move up through the landscape, “the carport is the final movement where that edge of terrace is lifted up,” Scott says.
By far, Tom’s greatest challenge came even before the house’s foundation was laid. After the septic system plan was approved, they discovered it needed to be bigger. To create the septic field, footings were dug in the ravine to build a 14-foot retaining wall on the edge of the cliff. “In the end, it’s the best thing that happened because they have a huge, terraced lawn that completes the hangout zone for them,” Scott says.
Unexpected or considered, the result of all these moves is a house with multiple points of access to the land and unobstructed views of the sparkling lake. Scott’s shaping of both structure and landscape gives the house a light and relaxed presence—exactly what a weekend house should be.
Plans and Drawings
Architect: Scott Miller, project architect, Hufft, Kansas City, Missouri
Builder: Tom Caruso, Masterpiece Builders, Branson, Missouri
Landscape Architect: PLAID Collaborative, Kansas City, Missouri
Structural Engineer: Stand-SEI, Overland, Kansas
Project size: 2,954 square feet
Site size: .57 acre
Construction cost: Withheld
Cabinetry Hardware: Schoolhouse
Ceiling fans: Big Ass Fans
Decking: Ipe, concrete
Entry Doors: Baldwin
Faucets: Graff, Kohler
Fireplace: Earthcore Industries
Flooring: 1’x 6’ oak
Icemaker: General Electric
Lighting: BEGA, Edge Lighting, USAI, Louis Poulsen
Sinks: Blanco, Kohler
Tub: Kaldewei, Kohler
Wine Refrigerator: Thermador