ANGELS IN THE ATTIC
Family Finds Balance Between Home and Work Through Innovative ArchitectureBy Katricia Lang | Photos by Gary Zvonkovic
The Adams family is inextricably linked to architecture. Joseph Houston Adams, A.I.A., a self-described farm boy from Muleshoe, Texas, says he and his wife, a sophisticated townie from Princeton, New Jersey, met as graduate students in Philadelphia, brought together by their love of architecture. So, it’s only natural that their home reflects both work and family.
But work-family balance, a misnomer to say the least, is a tightrope walk.
“What do you do when you love both?” asks Joe Adams, co-owner of Adams Architects with his wife, Gail Hood Adams. Their home was their way of working through the dilemma, says Adams and, in the end, he thinks they were successful. They were both present when their three girls returned home from school. Class projects were done on the studio floor. Theirs was the “cool” house to his daughters’ classmates and a second home to their daughters’ friends.
The cable that links home and the Adams Architects work studio, a room fit for a pair of architects that can sustain creative chaos, became a second-floor deck that does quadruple duty. More concretely, it’s an outdoor living space and a walkway that also provides shade for covered parking. Metaphorically, it is a bridge that both connects and separates the business and home spheres.
However, as unyielding as the materials that constitute the bridge between the residence and studio are, work and family intermixed. Just as class projects were brought to the work studio, so were work projects brought to the dinner table. “Good parents are artists and artistic license has to be granted even in parenthood,” says Adams.
Family art proliferates around the house. The living room features a large monochromatic floral by Gail Adams and the third story children’s room features a freeform sculpture by their youngest daughter.
The family attitude toward art is no more apparent than in the third story children’s room. “We wanted to make [the room] capture the essence of childhood and young adulthood,” says Adams.
The architect team built three alcoves in a single large room: one for each of their children to claim and create as their own territory. Adams thinks this configuration is why his daughters bonded so completely and why they’re able to keep their strong bonds when living on opposite coasts.
The Adamses wanted the children’s room to have a sense of free-spiritedness, imagination, and whimsy. A structural element that supports this aura is something simple: an air-conditioning duct that circles the room like a crown. They then added angel wings to each girl’s side. This spurred the nickname “angels in the attic” for the girls and the room.
“Three little angels (that weren’t always angelic),” he says with a laugh. “We built them this place they can always retreat to.”
They also showered the children’s room in natural light, as they did the work studio. In graduate school, the Adamses studied at the feet of Louis I. Kahn, the designer of the original Kimbell Art Museum building, renowned for his mastery of natural light.
“[Kahn] understood that Texas light needs to be tamed for artistic purposes,” says Adams. Under Kahn’s tutelage, the Adamses began to think of the sun as material to be sculpted, carved, sliced even. “We sliced the sun up for the benefit of our children.”
While the children’s room opened up a world of possibility, the circular walled garden on the ground floor serves as an anchor. The Adamses conceived of the circular garden as another place, this one outdoors, to bring the family together. Here they would meet for dinner and after school conversations.
On a practical level, the garden adds privacy and security in the urban city where the house lies. But more than that, the garden acts as a centrifugal force, says Adams, drawing family to its center. As children grow up in families, they spin outward, he explains, and this space brings them back to the orbit of their loved ones. It’s a far out, but accurate, representation of the garden. The most recent family reunion was held in that very place.
“We believe in the power of architecture and the formative nature of space,” says Adams. “And we thought if our kids can grow up in this charged, purposed space — not just your miscellaneous bedroom, but one with a special purpose, a hierarchy to it and natural light — they would benefit spiritually and psychologically. Architecture can feed you and give you a consciousness of where you are under the sun.”
Gail Hood Adams
Joseph Houston Adams, A.I.A.