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Designed as a series of interlocking cubes, this U-shaped house wraps around a private courtyard


Good design is often about lateral thinking – taking the germ of an idea and developing it so it fulfils and even exceeds client expectations. It's a process that can be long and involved, but for the architect of this house, the basic concept was developed in just two weeks.

Matt and Jennifer Liotta of Atlanta, the owners of the property, invited four architects to present concepts for a house to sit on a long, narrow site. Despite a short time frame, architect Bryan Russell of Dencity LLC was awarded the contract for his design, which detailed a U-shaped house that wrapped around a large outdoor courtyard.

"The courtyard won us over," says Matt Liotta. "It gives us a large additional living room that is ideal for entertaining and fits with our informal lifestyle."

Russell says the courtyard also meets the owners' need for privacy. Similarly, elevating the main floor of the three-level house above the street makes it more private. With a fully glazed double-height living room, the house has not turned its back to the street, however. The corner windows are oriented to a picturesque park diagonally opposite the house.

"Effectively, the front facade comprises two intersecting cubes – a glass box that sits inside a larger white stucco box," says Russell. "The entry, which has an aluminum canopy that extends inside, is a separate element."


Russell says sustainable design principles also influenced the design – the house has been awarded LEED Silver Status.

"The orientation of the house ensures there is minimal heat gain from the sun. The large windows face north. There are smaller windows and large overhangs on the south side."

Russell says restrictions regarding maximum site coverage were another influence. The courtyard and cantilevered elements were a way to gain extra floor space within these boundaries.

While the cantilevered sections appear to pop out from the box-like volume of the house, other elements, such as the courtyard, appear to be carved out from the cube.

"This treatment continues on the inside," says Russell. "The kitchen, for example, appears scoured out from a wood box, and shelves and niches are also carved out from the flat plane on the other side of this cube."

Russell says inserting the kitchen within the wenge wood cube creates an intimate space, but the open design means a close connection is maintained with the living room.

"The two cubes communicate with each other, but the kitchen doesn't overwhelm the living area."

Kitchen designer Matthew D Rao of Rao Design Studio, says the kitchen was designed not to make a bold statement, but to support the architecture of the overall space. For this reason, the SieMatic cabinets appear as a plain wall, and ovens are positioned on a side wall so they can't be seen from the living area. Energy-efficient fluorescent lighting is recessed around the suspended wood ceiling.

Transparency is not restricted to the kitchen and living area. Glass walls ensure the courtyard and the wooded outlook are visible from many rooms in the house. The glazing also means there is a close visual connection between rooms, with no sense of isolation.

Interior designer Michael Habachy says furnishings were chosen with the owners' love of casual entertaining in mind. They were also chosen for their sustainability, with materials sourced locally.

"Although the owners love minimalism, it was important to introduce warmth and visual depth to the interior," Habachy says. "The wenge wood, custom-designed furniture, and a color palette of warm gray, brown and white, with orange accents help achieve this."

First published date: 20 July 2010

Credit List

Architect Bryan Russell, Dencity LLC (Atlanta)
Interior and bathroom designer Michael Habachy, Habachy Designs, Inc
Kitchen designer Matthew D Rao, Rao Design Studio
Kitchen manufacturer SieMatic
Builder Cablik Enterprises
Structural engineer Aries, Inc
Siding White stucco with smooth marbleized finish
Roofing Sheffield CoolR metal roofing in Dark Bronze; installed by Howe Roofs
Doors and windows Thermal storefront from Arch Aluminum Window & Glass Company; Clear Comfort glass from AGC Flat Glass North America
Flooring Ergon engineered stone porcelain tile; Green Tech Series bamboo with Dark Espresso stain
Wallcoverings Sanfoot dark wenge veneer from Genesis
Paints and varnishes C2 LoVo paint
Lighting Lade-Danlar Lighting
Heating Trane
Sofa, dining table and coffee table Custom designed by Michael Habachy
Blinds Lutron
Outdoor furniture Dedon; Kolo Collection by Greg Morgan
Cabinetry SieMatic Magnolia White laminate
Countertops Steel gray polished granite from SieMatic Stone Design
Kitchen faucets Dornbracht Elio
Sink Franke
Oven, cooktop, coffee machine, refrigerator and dishwasher Miele
Ventilation Faber Inca Pro 38
Refrigerator drawers, wine storage units and ice machine Sub-Zero
Master bedroom furniture Room & Board