A Modern Poet of Verticality

Places / January 26, 2010

Mike Rantilla looked for three years to find the right site for the home he wanted to design for himself in suburban Raleigh.

“There were restrictions and hindrances to a modern building,” he said. “I probably looked at 50 lots, and got close on five of them. But then I would have had to do brick, or siding.”

Instead he found a subdivision near N.C. State that welcomed his design for a 2,500 square foot cantilevered home, one that eventually would receive a 2009 Merit Award from AIA NC. It’s sited on a lot with a creek, and he took full advantage of that. “I could have built 150 feet back, like others here,” he said. “But I got a variance and saved trees. I had to take down ten, but I saved hundreds.”

The lot’s only three-quarters of an acre. To get 2,000 heated square feet out of the home there, he had to go up three levels, stacking boxes atop one another. Entry is on the middle level, with an expansive view toward the treetops from the kitchen and deck there. To enter that level, Rantilla hired a structural engineer to develop a bridge/driveway with 24-inch steel beams and concrete abutment – since it’s 20 feet off the ground. The garage opens with an airplane hangar door – a 4,000-lb. affair made by Schweis.

He designed the home so that its materials lighten in color and makeup as a visitor ascends up into the trees and beyond. There’s dark, earthy zinc at the bottom, then a wood and metal band, and finally a top that’s aluminum, reflective of the sky.

Stairs inside mimic that heavier to lighter scheme, with plate aluminum above giving way to solid maple on the second floor. The first floor’s stairs are ebony. “There’s a poetry of verticality,” Rantilla said.

He designed it in three months, and built it in eleven, finishing it in October 2008.

“I did the general contracting,” Rantilla said. “Not out of choice, but because I couldn’t afford the builders. In retrospect, it was a lot of fun, but it was incredibly stressful.”

Still, the finished product settles into its site, and into nature, with ease.

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Michael Welton

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