This home is set within a 2.5-acre woodland site and overlooks a freshwater lake just outside of Grand Rapids. The home, designed by Steve Rugo of Rugo Raff Architects, was situated to maximize views of the lake and to gradually transition into the 40-foot slope that unfurled from its base. Access to the water, however, was stunted because of this steep incline. Construction had additionally stripped away some nearby woodland, increasing the risk of erosion and even further illustrating the need for a strong foundation.

The transition from home to lake needed to be smooth. The design team feared that due to the building’s horizontal profile and rugged masonry, it would appear “propped up,” an unsettling separation between architecture and landscape resulting.

To some, a single straight staircase might seem like the obvious solution, but our team saw merit in continuing the rhythm already initiated by the architecture, imagining the effect that a zigzag of landings would have on the eye. Ascending and descending the stairs would become an event in and of itself with brief built-in pauses made possible by cantilevered landings.

Before

After

Redbud branches, blossoms, and foliage weave a lacy, year-round screen for excursions uphill and down. Material consistency throughout the site helps to reinforce spatial links; throughout the entry courtyard, Hoerr Schaudt used Colorado moss rock and limestone to create a series of low walls that reiterate the horizontality of the architecture, their right angles softened by a meadowlike groundcover. The courtyard’s fountains use recycled water to drown out noisy utility equipment.

The masonry used throughout the project makes its first appearance in the walls along the public road. The sinuous bars of a custom steel gate conjure up forest shadows as well as rippling water and campfire smoke.