Case Study: 530 House by PLaN Architecture
There’s no mistaking the 530 House from the road. For neighborhood kids and pizza delivery drivers, the wall-size street number is its defining feature, stenciled strikingly on a white panel inside the glass foyer. But that’s probably its least compelling aspect. Designed by Nathan Kalaher, AIA, and his wife and business partner Lisa Kalaher, AIA, for themselves and their two young sons, the house has gorgeous views of the Missouri River. “It feels like the land is with you as you move through the house,” Nathan says.
When the couple bought the riverfront lot in 2008, it was positively bucolic with a woods and prairie. But an asset can also be a threat, and in 2011, a greater than 500-year flood wiped the slate clean. Luckily the house existed only on paper at that point, but the event forced a redesign when the land was built up as part of a flood control project. The exposed site was now on a levy, and there were no trees to provide privacy.
Located in a South Dakota suburb about 5 miles from Sioux City, Iowa, the lot has views of agricultural lands across the Missouri River and an alluvial plain to the south; to the east and west are other homes, and a woods is on the north.
Although code allows homeowners to build at the 100-year-flood mark, the couple wasn’t taking any chances. They brought in an earthwork crew to raise the lot 8 feet above street elevation on a gradual slope. That puts the house about 20 feet above the river’s normal level. It also seemed wise to forgo a basement that could fill with water. “That is not typical where we live because of storms,” Nathan says. “In some ways the house is detached from the site, sitting fully on top as opposed to engaging it, which also poses a potential threat during weather events.” That base is covered too, though, with a concrete storm shelter tucked under the master bedroom deck.
A program of competing needs continued to drive the design. Topping the list was a desire for dedicated family and guest spaces. “We’re a social family; we like a lot of connectivity and contact, and Lisa has a lot of siblings; we knew we’d have a fair amount of company,” Nathan says. Sectionally, the plan provides for separate but connected living spaces, each with direct access to the outdoors, and the three-dimensional volumes reflect that organization. The geometric house is composed as a main two-story cube clad in western red cedar, and an interlocking one-story cube for guests. Pulling the concrete-walled guest volume forward made possible a raised plinth at the house’s front entryway and void for a guest patio in back. “There’s not a lot of juxtaposition of form, but where there is, it provides privacy here and there,” he says.
Visitors enter the front door, step around the house number, which screens the public zone from the street, and enter a two-story communal space containing the kitchen, dining table, and living room. Around a corner is the guest suite, which houses a reading room, bedroom, and bath. Upstairs in the two-story volume, a family/playroom overlooks the public spaces below, with three bedrooms behind it.
“The two-story space, which has a lot of glass, is where all the family and gathering areas are,” Nathan says. “Whenever we have company, we meet at the dining table in the kitchen, almost like a bed-and-breakfast, and disperse to living areas as we wish, each of us doing our own thing.” And if the couple thinks far enough into the future, they can envision using the guest quarters as a master suite for one-story living. “It’s possible that when we’re significantly older, we might hop down the stairs for accessibility,” he says.
Transparency and opacity are another play in contrasts. The glassy parts of the house reflect communal spaces—kitchen, living room, family room, and reading room—and face south toward the river and agricultural land beyond, while the knotty cedar‑clad exterior walls enclose the more private areas. “From inside you can’t see other houses,” Nathan says. “There is the sense that it could be 50 miles from the nearest town.”
Knots and especially natural weathering are part of cedar’s charm, marking the seasons in grayscale. But in this case the wood was stained black to even out the aging process. Given the site’s exposure and harsh weather, the different façades likely would have grayed out unevenly, the architect says. Meanwhile, the concrete walls of the opposing guest “wing”—completed a year after the family moved in—were formed with knotty plywood sheets, a variation on a theme.
Contrasts continue inside the house, with its light and dark walls and machined and rough surfaces. The exterior’s dark cedar paneling reappears inside, where it intersects with planes of white-painted Sheetrock for showcasing the family’s art collection. And some structural members—like the steel beam in the main living area—were left exposed.
“Instead of painting warm colors, we try to get that from the material itself,” Nathan says. “The floors are hickory, and we used a comparable color panel in the white Poggenpohl kitchen. It’s important to constantly remind ourselves that there’s an inside and outside and we’re connected to both.” Lit wall niches are meant for swapping out art or everyday objects—expressing whatever family members are interested in at the moment, whether it’s amber-colored whiskey bottles, books, or a row of tiny Christmas trees. “The kids took a turn, too,” Nathan says.
Although the rectilinear building was straightforward to build, the fit-out required deft work. With no soffits or offsets for mechanical and plumbing chases, it took a lot of construction pre-planning to execute the interior’s clean lines. “We didn’t have a lot of vertical spaces to go with the infrastructure, so we had to use an insulated PVC ductwork system underground,” says contractor Steve Nelson. “It will last 50 to 60 years at least and is impenetrable to soils and freeze conditions.” Floor trusses were predesigned with chases to get heating and cooling to the second floor. And door installs had to be perfect, since the trimless finish required that they be on the same plane as the Sheetrock. “It took a lot of skilled labor to get everything to flow through the house,” Steve says, “but it was rewarding when done—a fun project with great people.”
About that enormous house number—an artist drew it with a stencil, lining up the vertical breaks in the digits with the mullions on the entry windows. For this social family, it’s fitting that the house is famously easy to find, and that the community claims it. It was the neighborhood kids who gave the 530 House its name, and “we even received a thank-you note once from a delivery guy,” Nathan says.
Plans and Drawings
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
ARCHITECT: Nathan Kalaher, AIA, and Lisa Kalaher, AIA, PLaN Architecture, Sioux City, Iowa
BUILDER: Steve Nelson, Nelson Construction & Development, Des Moines, Iowa
PROJECT SIZE: 4,100 square feet
SITE SIZE: 1.2 acres
CONSTRUCTION COST: Withheld
PHOTOGRAPHER: Cameron Campbell, Integrated Studio
CABINETRY: Poggenpohl (kitchen), Crystal Cabinetry
COUNTERTOP: Wilsonart Quartz
ENTRY DOORS/WINDOW WALL SYSTEMS: Kawneer
FAUCETS: Danze, Delta Vero
FLOORING: Mannington Madison Hickory Collection
GARAGE DOOR: Inco
HVAC SYSTEMS: Lennox
KITCHEN APPLIANCES: Bosch
PAINTS/STAINS: Sherwin-Williams (interior and exterior)
ROOFING: Mule-Hide Products Co.
STRUCTURAL GLASS: Cardinal Glass
WINDOWS: Gerkin Window & Doors, Rhino (bedrooms)
WINE FRIDGE: GE Monogram