Designer’s Notebook: Inspirational Composition

Rochman Design-Build creates a bright and stimulating writer’s studio for a homeowner above the existing garage.

by Emily Blackburn

A steady increase in demand for home offices and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) has been noted by remodelers across the country, as more people work from home and have multiple generations living together in single-family houses.  

At Rochman Design-Build, we find that each of these outbuilding projects have a specific focus—some on accessibility, some on office/research/writing work, and some on entertainment. This award-winning project of ours focused on creating a bright and inspiring writing studio space for the homeowner, an author, above his existing garage. 

It was designed by Mary Horst and Horst Buchanan Architects, whom this homeowner had worked with on a previous custom residence. This project involved a home originally built in 1929 with an addition and a garage built in 1980. The task was to bring a fresh design aesthetic to the home and garage and tie them together architecturally.  

The garage was designed and built as a lovely jewel piece. The first task was to get all the utilities trenched between the studio and the house for gas, water, sewer and electrical. 

As we discovered the sewer line was to be lower than the sewer line in the street, a grinder and pump was installed in the system to raise the sewer line high enough to tie into the main house lines. Electrical and gas were brought into a mechanical room, and a gas-fired furnace with air conditioning was selected for the HVAC in the studio.

While the existing garage had a walk-up attic, the layout needed to change. We converted the three-car garage into a two-car garage and used the extra space for an interior staircase, a music room, and an entry area on the first floor. 

The upstairs had limited daylight and headroom because of the gable roofs, so a dormer was added along with several skylights. These two new elements—an entry door and bathroom dormer—were topped with standing seam copper roofing to mimic the traditional materials on the main house, along with new Marvin windows.

ADUs have different rules in different jurisdictions, and in Ann Arbor they have been changing a lot in recent years as our town tries to promote denser living in single-family neighborhoods. When this was designed and built, we could have either a bathroom or a kitchenette, not both. So, a bathroom was selected to complement the office/studio.  

The dormer over the bathroom allowed for headroom as well as bringing in more daylight. We added three skylights in the roof, located right over the writer’s desk area, to give the feeling of more height, but mainly for copious amounts of daylight. Custom designed and crafted woodworking fills the spaces and adds to the inspirational feel.  

The multiple curves of the desk bring a softening to the angular lines of the vaulted ceiling, and the warm wood colors adds warmth to the soft edges. We chose maple and beech for the woods, as they have a beautiful contrast in color with clear finishes. 

While the results are gorgeous, we would not choose the beech again; it was difficult to find and very difficult to work with. The woodwork includes a round desk and privacy screen, storage cabinets, open bookcases, and wood countertops.

Careful attention was needed for sound and heating within this small building. The five areas that needed to be acoustically isolated were the writing studio, bathroom, music room, garage, and mechanical room. 

Double framing of the first-floor ceiling and some second-floor walls, along with spray foam insulation, helps to keep sound from traveling, and care was taken in the ductwork layout to limit sound transmission.

Delicate details were carefully designed and built. A bare wire lighting system was specified and held up close to the ceiling ridges by the grace of latticed arches at multiple locations, drawing your eye up to the ceiling with delight. 

The space is enlivened by the interplay between the angles of the main structure and the soft curves in the finishes: a curved intersection between the maple hardwood floor and the carpet; the curved lattice arches that flow into the ceiling; a tapered, curved furniture leg holding up a curved countertop; and the full-circle desktop holding the computer monitor stand.  

The highly customized desk allows for the author to write while in a semi-reclined position. This curvilinear desk has a very low main top and side tables fitted for his reclining chair and pole mounted computer monitor.

Carefully selected paint colors, both inside and outside, enrich the spaces. There is so much to enjoy visually, and it is so comfortable to sit in this lovely space for a long length of time. QR

Master Design Awards 2021
Detached Structure  |  Bronze

Company Information
Rochman Design-Build
Ann Arbor, Mich.
rochmandesignbuild.com

Horst Buchanan Architects
Jamaica Plain, Mass.
horstbuchanan.com

Project Information
Location: Ann Arbor, Mich.
Square footage: 780
Project cost: $245,000

Product Information
Sink: Duravit
Lavatory faucet: Graff
Toilet: Toto
Toilet seat: Toto
Cable rail system: Tech
Wall lantern: B-K Lighting
Floor tile: Flaviker
Wall tile: Syzygy
Door hardware: Baldwin
Skylights: Velux
Exterior siding: James Hardie
Windows: Marvin

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