REAL LUXURY - What a Luxury Home Should Be
A sure way to stir up a heated discussion is to ask for the meaning of Luxury Homes. We venture to analyse it as such : the true meaning of the term Luxury Homes lies in the way the houses are designed and constructed. A luxury home can be fairly small, without a pool or tennis court, lacking any high-tech amenities and occasionally even without much land. However, a custom-built luxury home must have lineage, pedigree and prestige. These attributes come from the design which takes into consideration all the references to the well-documented residential properties of high value such as those found in the Marais in Paris, Mayfair, Belgravia and Fifth Avenue's Museum Mile. Not only must a custom-built luxury home entail the work of the finest craftsmen available in the locale where the house is built, it also should include the following essential ingredients :
THE RIGHT ROOF
Slate, copper and cedar shingles are the three types of roofing by choice of the custom builder, with slate being the most expensive and prestigious. Imitation slate and cedar made of recycled rubber have a long way to go yet before being accepted in the high-end. Slate tiles, done the French way, do not use hip caps. The crisp, crease-like hips are mitered. The best slate roofs are tall, steep, hipped and well-constructed. Roofs that are plain should be furnished with dormers, real or ornamental. Otherwise even the best slate roof will appear mundane. Detailing dormers is an art and certainly not arbitrary. The dormers are a coherent part of the overall design of the façade. The image to the right shows dormers in a cedar roof which gives the design a French provincial flair, a Po Ku project.
Shown on the left is a slate hip roof our firm has built for our Forest Glen client. Note the slate tiles are mitered along the hips giving them a crisp and precise appearance. The large eyebrow is roofed with lead-coated copper. The image to the right is the roof of our May street project. It is standing-seam copper weathered to a burnished bronze finish. Dormers and cupola set the tone of the design emulating London's Pall Mall architecture of the 1800s.
The above image shows a group of very elegant slate roofs over the Hôtel Carnavalet in Paris built in 1880. Note the hips are mitered and have a tailored look. The dormers are necessary to break up the monotony of the plain surfaces and add the French flavor to the architecture. Plain charcoal gray slate tiles reinforce the low-key elegance - unlike roofs with multi-colored tiles that look like quilt work in our suburbs. Hôtel Carnavalet was designed by architect François Mansart whose work can still be seen in the Marais district of Paris.
Another elegant slate roof shown above is that of the Neue Museum on Museum Mile in New York. The dormers merge with the stone wall below them forming an integral part of the façade. The Neue Museum is of the French Beaux-Arts style of the 1900s. Note that the top of the roof is flat. So the slate roof is just the mansard - named after the architect François Mansart of 17th century France. The current value of this building which was originally a house once owned by the founder of Estee Lauder, is about ninety million dollars.
On top are three different man-made roof tiles emulating traditional material. Upper left is the synthetic slate with the hip caps mentioned previously. Even with the irregularities molded in these tiles, the lack of sharpness and unsavory sheen give them away as fakes. Upper right are synthetic clay tiles made of cement. On the bottom are synthetic cedar shakes made from recycled rubber with a permanent brown color.
PEDIGREE etched in stone
Walking down Upper Brook Street in London (upper left) and 78th Street towards 5th in New York (upper right), one can’t help but marvel at the similarity of the two places : the houses look almost the same and even the prices of the houses are in the same stratospheric bracket. An Upper Brook Street address would cost you ninety million pounds, whereas one on 78th near 5th (Museum Mile) would cost the same in US dollars - the current value of these fairly modest looking luxury homes compared to the suburban variety by the same name. So how is it that the houses being 3400 miles away from each other and a century apart in their conception time, can be so similar? The answer can be found in the book that was written six hundred years ago by a Florentine architect called Leon Battista Alberti.
Classical architecture is all about stonework. The pedigree of the stonework comes from following the guidelines, rules and directions set down by the ancient Greek, Roman and Renaissance architects. Modern designers usually find it unpalatable to follow these dead architects' dogmas. For those who find pleasure in classical architecture, reading the volumes written by Vitruvius (Roman Empire), Alberti (Renaissance) and Palladio (Renaissance) is a joy and a breeze because the volumes are fairly thin and have been translated to English many years ago.
Simply put, Classical architecture is modular. Like Ikea furniture, parts can be combined and taken apart. Starting from the ground up, each level has a name, a standard set of components and relative size to other levels. There are lots of variation for each level. Even the sizes and dimensions can be adjusted to suit the project. As long as the basic rules are adhered to, the outcome will always be the same : Classical Architecture. And that's all it takes : abide by the rules. But too many designers and architects would prefer to make up their own rules.
PO KU DESIGN BUILD - CLASSICALLY STYLED PROJECTS
The following image gallery shows three projects our firm has designed and built that follow the principles of classical architecture. From left to right : The Forest Glen Project, The May Street Project and the Dunvegan Road Project - all are authentic classical luxury homes.
french WINDOWS, french DOORS & METALWORK
Nothing reveals the authenticity of luxury homes more than their windows and doors. The image on the right shows the façade of a 1720 French Baroque building. The luxury of the design was first of all determined by the great ceiling height on both levels. Without the necessary height, French doors could never be in the proportions as shown. The main floor height was about fifteen feet and the second floor height was twelve feet. The doors themselves were a luxury due to the fact that the frames were extremely narrow (2-1/4" wide) but deep, ruling out the use of soft woods such as pine and cedar. More often the doors were made of mahogany, European oak, walnut, etc. Due to the very narrow vertical frames, standard lock and deadbolt could not be used on these doors, hence, a special surface bolt that was as tall as the door itself but tastefully designed would have to be used on the inside of the doors. Closely placed, tall and narrow French doors and windows had graced the interiors of classical buildings by providing a very special quality of natural light which was often rhapsodized by writers and painters. On the outside, carved stone surrounds, metal railings and window guards always complemented the windows or doors.
Above picture is a set of standard North American made French doors. The vertical frame is standard 4" wide and the door is 1-3/4" thick and made of pine. Maximum door height is 7'. French doors with narrow frame and as tall as fifteen feet can be custom made. However, any ambitious woodworker would want to try their hand on large French doors but only a very rare few actually have the knowledge and expertise to make them.
Shown above is a balcony railing in Paris. There are two main types of railing, thin profiled and heavy profiled. This one shown is the thin profiled kind which was designed to be light and airy like filigree with scrolls and flourishes in an exuberant way. Designs were usually sketched out by the architect first and refined to exact drawings with dimensions and specification. The skilled blacksmith would simply make a full-size drawing and overlay the metal parts right on top of the drawing.
Another balcony railing in Paris but one of the heavy kind. The lines are fewer but more powerful. In North America, metal contractors prefer the thin kind of railing because they are easier to make with modern equipment. But the thin kind done with skimpy patterns simply looks cheap. Heavy patterns may involve steel bars up to 1"x3" in cross-section which are extremely heavy and difficult to bend, let alone shape to the curvatures desired.
EXAMPLES OF WINDOWS, DOORS & METALWORK BY PO KU DESIGN BUILD
Above left, wrought iron front door grilles were designed by Po Ku and handmade by Oscar Barcos from Uruguay who specialized in custom metal work. The design was furnished by Po Ku with precise measurements to fit the custom made mahogany French doors manufactured by Tradewood of St. Catherines. Above middle is a picture of the balcony railing over the front entrance and a window guard of the Forest Glen project. Above right shows a perforated door grille for the May Street project. The grille was laser cut from a sheet of 3/8" aluminum from a .DWG file furnished by Po Ku. Then each perforation was hand filed to smoothness.
Above shown is a set of twelve-foot tall motorized window blinds for our Four Seasons project. Our firm had asked to install tracks on the window frames but the condo management refused our request. The electronics and controls provided by the builder were inadequate for the height and weight of the blinds. Not a single name-brand could do the job. Po Ku designed the system and had it custom made by a bespoke firm specializing in window coverings for museums and art galleries. Not only had the firm to bring in specialized motors for the project, the programming had to be done just for the job.
Window blinds in the Art Institute of Chicago designed by Richard Rogers - note the blinds run along parallel lines of cable hooked to fixed stainless steel rods on both sides of the blinds. The motors were concealed above the ceiling on top. The operation was smooth and quiet. Ceiling height was about 16'. For condo suites with very high ceiling, the same should be done and an inside frame may have to be constructed to avoid nailing to the window mullions. Since this is a high budget item, cost must be factored into the budget from the very beginning. Without blinds, the suites would have been unlivable.
Glass is used more and more in upscale projects as a luxury element and a showcase for the most up-to-the-minute technology. The above image shows the Smart Glass doors we installed for our client in the Four Seasons. Guests arrived in one of the elevators already announced by the front desk below. When the elevator door open and the guest rang the door bell, the smart glass door would turn from opaque white to transparent, revealing the grand foyer and the panoramic view of the city beyond. The wow factor never failed to surprise and impress.