Labor of Passion

On Saturday, August 18th, 2018, I woke up to this article in The Charlotte's Observer Home & Design Section. The coffee was cold by the time I was done parsing every word. Many thanks to Taylor Arnold for the great write up:

wittehaus charlotte observer

>> Labor of Passion

Toby Witte wins 2018 Matsumoto prize for the design of his family's Charlotte Home

Architectural designer Toby Witte is no stranger to building contemporary homes in Charlotte, so when his wife came across an undeveloped wooded property in 2015, they knew it was the ideal spot to build a custom house for their own family.

Witte designed, financed and planned the project himself, and after just seven months of construction, the couple was able to move into their home in February of 2017. With 1,710 square feet of living space, the residence was a perfect fit for their family of five. Little did they know that their dream home would catch the attention of North Carolina Modernist Houses as well.

Born in Peru and brought up in Germany, Witte draws from a rich international background in his approach to design. As owner of Wittehaus, he designs and builds artful, modern homes that have been featured in a number of publications including Architectural Record, The New York Times and the May 2, 2015 issue of home|design. So when it came to building his own house, no detail got overlooked. "Having carefully designed each part of the home and researched all building products, fixtures, and finishes, it made the construction a fun and easy seven months." he says. "I was keenly aware of the cost associated with the labor and materials, and I knew the space that would be appropriate for our family life."

Witte says one of his main prerogatives was to create the smallest possible house for his family, while still making it feel spacious. "I laid out the first floor as an open studio space where the functions overlap, allowing the spaces to lend square feet to each other," he explains. Even the master bedroom area is separated from the living room by only a set of floor-to-ceiling sliding panels, providing privacy at night and more space and sight lines during the day. "I made use of extending sight lines by providing lots of high windows throughout the house," he adds. "Carefully placed, they draw one's gaze out into the wooded lot, extending the sense of space to the exterior."

Another component Witte introduced was a single 8-foot-tall freestanding brick wall. "It starts on the outside, then guides you in at the entry, and follows through the entire house,"  he says. "it became the organizing element of the home. In the downstairs it allows the spaces to pinwheel around it with an increasing sense of privacy." Upstairs, their three daughters' bedrooms pinwheel around it as well. "It created the opportunity to have large floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides of each room, as well as sight lines to each other, providing the sisters a sense of each other."

His material palette included North Carolina brick, polished and sealed concrete floors, rusted, clear-coated, and powder coated steel, weathered 300-year-old North Carolina log beams, aluminum window frames, frosted glass sliding panels and a potpourri of vibrant colors throughout. And while the seven month project was a fairly smooth ride, Witte's biggest concern was simply containing his design fervor. "I was afraid to end up with a house unaffordable or too expensive to build," he says. "I had to keep my excitement in check enough to make the house happen, yet let it reign free where I could to end up with a fun, beautiful and exquisite home."

In total, the house has four bedrooms and two baths, and it succeeds in feeling spacious and grand while being efficient and small in actual size. "To make the feat work, I also introduced several built-in storage spaces and closets, as well as niches for shelves and hooks." Witte says. "While it led to a distinctly modern look I was striving to create open, yet cozy integrative spaces, rich with material texture, groundedness, sunlight and the play of shade and shadows."

The result is an efficient, spacious home that earned Witte the 3rd People's Choice Award of the Matsumoto Prize. The design competition, held at McConnell Studios this past July, features $3,500 in awards, a blue-ribbon jury of internationally known architects, critics, and designers, and online public voting. "It is the most sought after and prestigious award for modern residential architecture in North Carolina," Witte says. "This year six awards were given, three by a jury of peers and three by public vote. To me it is an incredible honor to be awarded the Matsumoto Prize and an immeasurable boost and affirmation fort the work I do. It's a labor of passion that is refueled by this award for years to come."

With this award in the bag, Witte still says the best part of this entire process was the moment his family moved into their new home. "Seeing them overwhelmed with joy and happiness was breathtaking," he says. "They did not stop smiling for days. And a year in, living in our home, it still feels like a vacation every single day. It is a glove-fit house with spaces enveloping us with a warm sense of home and comfort, ease and happiness." <<