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An Architect’s Phoenix Dream Home Reflects a Lifelong Passion for Sustainability

In the main living area of Erik and Shelley Koss’s Phoenix home, a variety of complementary finishes and textures harmonize. Walnut cabinets in the kitchen extend all the way to the vaulted ceiling, framing the subtly textured 3D tiles that cover the wall behind the stove. Underscored by an exposed concrete slab floor, midcentury modern-inspired furnishings, including a custom end table made from reclaimed local barnwood, maintain a low profile that contrasts with the ceiling height.

An energy-efficient abode celebrates the balance between aesthetics and mechanics.

By Carly Scholl | Photography by Roehner + Ryan

When observing Erik and Shelley Koss’ uptown Phoenix home, certain influences—such as the couple’s Midwestern roots and the neighborhood’s agricultural history—seem obvious. Named “2 Barns” for the pair of perpendicular masses that make up the main house, the architecture denotes a bucolic frame of reference. However, when studied a bit further, less obvious sources of inspiration float to the surface: Erik’s trips to Norway as a teenager to visit his architect/sheep farmer uncle; Shelley’s passion for quilting; and the couple’s devotion to efficiency and environmental sustainability.

“I’m originally from Kent, Ohio,” Shelley explains. “My grandparents owned a barn where they kept all kinds of livestock, and I loved going out there every Sunday with my dad. I’ve always been attracted to more rural areas. When Erik and I found this lot, there was a goat farm on one side and a sheep farm on the other. I was instantly drawn to it.”

After nearly 20 years of browsing around the Valley for their next home, the Kosses stumbled upon a plot of land that fit their wish list: plenty of space for outdoor activity and located in a neighborhood that felt a bit more pastoral. “Before this home, we’d been living in a midcentury modern house that we renovated near Piestewa Peak,” notes Shelley. “It was pure desert up there, but we gravitated toward the uptown area because it reminded us more of the Midwest.”

Erik, a locally based architect, saw the opportunity to build a dream home. “This property used to be a citrus, cotton and alfalfa farm,” he says. “We had the idea that we should do something that spoke of the history of this place.” From there, the concept of “2 Barns” was born, and the couple set out to build something not only beautiful, but also environmentally responsible.

“I wanted a high-performance home that fit our lifestyle and had a unique aesthetic, but that didn’t break the bank,” Erik says of his initial vision. Shelley readily agreed. “I’m a CPA, so budget meant everything to me. I think the most challenging part of this project for Erik might’ve been me,” she laughs. “It’s a really hard thing for an architect to adjust to when it comes to building their own home. It’s easy to do something special on a massive budget, but when you have a smaller budget, you have to really use your imagination. But once he figured it out, it completely flowed from there.”

1. Keeping the home’s footprint relatively small allowed for plenty of room in the backyard for Shelley’s dog agility training. Each gable of the house features 3D rainscreen panels inspired by another one of Shelley’s favorite pastimes. “I’m a big quilter and that influenced a lot of our tile choices,” she says. “I joke that because I couldn’t stop quilting fabric, I quilted my house.” 2. Boldly intersected by a black linear fireplace, the floating walnut entertainment wall provides a grounding visual interest in the great room. 3. “A lot of our pieces are made from leftovers and scraps from different projects,” explains Erik of the low-waste furnishings found throughout the home. At the foot of the bed in the master suite sits a bench made from recycled wood from the construction process. “If there are any high-quality materials that we’d hate to see get thrown out, such as fixed steel plates or solid walnut, I just would think of ways to use them. We either gave away or recycled so much of these materials. I was amazed at how little actual trash we had.”

Anchored by a desire for a downsized footprint and ample outdoor space for Shelley’s dog agility training, Erik’s design expertly embraces the new and the old. “I liked the idea of taking a classic form, such as a barn, and doing a modern interpretation,” he notes. The home features minimal overhangs, a rainscreen metal roof and siding and a glass walkway that connects the two separate structures. Additionally, 3D metal rainscreen panels featured on the gabled ends of the house were included as a nod to Shelley’s love of textile arts. “I’m a big quilter, and there’s a lot of that influence in our design choices, specifically these exterior walls and some of the interior tile,” she says. “The 3D forms create wonderful shadow play, which is exactly what thread does for fabric.”

“I liked the idea of taking a classic form, such as a barn, and doing a modern interpretation.”

—Erik Koss, architect

1. Inspired by the iconic silhouettes of farm buildings, the home is aptly named “2 Barns” for the two separate barn-shaped forms, which are connected by a glass walkway. Clad in metal skin siding and featuring no significant overhangs, the construction of the house allows continuous paths for exterior insulation, air flow, and air sealing—contributing to the home’s net-zero rating. Rusted steel gabion walls and minimalist desert landscaping add an industrial note to the front yard. 2. Recessed windows and a large trellis that extends over the patio keeps the southern-facing windows protected from the Arizona sun. Echoing the materials used on the gables, a 3D panel in striking turquoise anchors a cozy sitting area on the patio. 3. Sleek metal siding contrasts with rustic steel in gabion walls, fences and the patio trellis.

While aesthetics were undoubtedly important to the Kosses, their goal from the beginning was to make architectural and design choices that not only looked beautiful, but also functioned at the most efficient level possible. “Based on the materials we used, the siting and the mechanical systems in place, this is what we call a high-performance structure,” Erik explains. “And because of these choices, the house has a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index score of -28, meaning this residence produces more energy than it uses.”

In addition to essential architectural considerations—such as conducting “sun studies” to determine the best direction to site the house for seasonal exposure—Erik and his team integrated energy-efficient systems and designs to achieve a net-zero rating. “One thing that makes a big difference is the siding on the walls and roof called a rainscreen,” he says. “This metal siding floats off the exterior surface of the home about an inch. There’s a small gap at the bottom and a vent, which brings the hot summer air up and out so it doesn’t permeate the house. This makes a huge difference inside, where the natural temperature stays in the 70s even in the hottest months.”

Another mechanical implementation is an ERV (energy recovery ventilator), which Erik says is unfortunately not used often in Arizona. He explains that an ERV works with an HVAC system to precondition incoming air using the energy from exhausted air, whether from bathroom fans or kitchen vents. “Once the evenings turn cool, that ERV can slowly bring in the cool air from outside,” says Shelley. “I suffer from allergies and asthma, so while opening a door can be great for letting in a fresh breeze, it also brings in allergens. But with this system, the air is filtered so you don’t get this big pollen bomb when you want to cool things down.”

Sleek metal siding contrasts with rustic steel in gabion walls, fences and the patio trellis.

It seems every individual detail was considered and constructed to maximize efficiency and enjoyment of the Kosses’ new home. “Design choices, such as window placement, paint colors, flooring materials, solar panels, proper task lighting—they all can help make a home energy efficient,” Shelley says.

Though this project was far more personal than Erik’s other professional undertakings, the theme of efficiency follows the trajectory of a lifelong passion for environmental responsibility. “I knew I wanted to be an architect by the time I was in high school,” he recalls. “My uncle is an architect and sheep farmer in Norway and I went to visit him when I was a teenager. There was a University of the Nations near his town, and there were goats living on the roof who ate the grass growing up there. There was a whole ecosystem on the roof that utilized reused water and plant material. It was my first exposure to that kind of design.

“It was just my upbringing, too,” he continues. “My family never wasted anything. We found ways to repurpose and reuse everything. As I got into architecture, I realized that the high-end housing market is one of the worst culprits of waste and pollution. I knew I wanted my impact in this industry to be positive, so when it came to building my own dream home, we strove to make every choice as efficient as possible.”

Architect, Builder and Interior Design: Erik Koss, Koss design + build.
For more information, see Sources.


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