Joel Beals is a designer at Giraffe, and he’s also a customer. He and his wife Patricia just completed a home build in Ann Arbor’s Water Hill neighborhood. This dynamic new home replaces a 1950s one-story bungalow of less than 800 square feet. It had a simple, functional construction with the hallmark elements of short ceilings, small windows, shutters, and vinyl siding—an aesthetic contrary to Joel and Patricia’s modern and minimalist design style.


To realize the home of their dreams, Joel and Patricia collaborated with Giraffe to design and build a bold, modern three-story house on the same footprint as the original. This inspiring home was reinvented from the very foundation up, transforming a dated and constrained footprint into a striking, modern, and surprisingly spacious sanctuary. 


Making the Most of Minimal Space

With an original footprint of just 760 square feet and a tiny lot that discouraged expanding the floorplan, Joel and Patricia embraced the inherent constraints to design a stunningly airy home. The challenge was a delight for the Bealses, who are heavily influenced by modern European and minimalist aesthetics.  

“In Europe, you don’t find big mansions. They don’t exist, space is such a premium there,” Patricia said. “The land they have is smaller, so they maximize whatever square footage they have.”

To create a greater sense of space, they raised the ceiling on the first floor to nine feet, and the two bedrooms at the back of the house have vaulted ceilings. Large windows throughout the home flood the house with light and open up the small spaces to the outdoors. 

The result is a surprisingly open home that feels spacious and bright, proving that innovative design can transform small spaces.


Bringing the Outdoors In


Beals porch

The Beals home seamlessly marries a minimalistic approach with the family’s love of the outdoors. While the walls and furnishings of the home are strictly monochromatic, hardwood floors and the green outdoors provide a splash of warm color and bring the outdoors inside. “We wanted natural elements to contrast with the sharp lines,” Joel said.

The cantilever-inspired back porch is designed as an extension of the first floor, continuing the lines and the flooring of the interior through a glass wall and out to the semi-enclosed deck. The effect creates a unique blend of interior and outdoor space. Sunlight spills through the green trees and onto the deck and the family space in the morning. “I can go out onto the porch and have a morning coffee,” Patricia said. “It’s nice and quiet.”

The entire third floor, infused with natural light, is open studio space to work and to nurture the creative spirit in themselves and their children. Their son, John, says he loves the third floor, because you can see the football stadium from there.

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An Intimate Family Space

While large windows and an open concept incorporate the outdoors, the Beals home adeptly creates a private, intimate sanctuary for the family. 

Vertical slats on the porch are angled at 45 degrees to create privacy from neighbors. This provides an uninterrupted view of the outdoors from inside the house, while it maintains a sense of privacy on the porch itself.

Intentionally placed windows provide all the benefits of outdoor lighting without compromising any privacy. The largest windows are on the back of the house, and the bathroom windows on the second floor are located high enough to allow abundant light and privacy. 

Thoughtfully designed bedrooms have space for sleeping and personal quiet time. “People complain sometimes about having a big house, that you never see anyone,” Patricia said. “Everyone disappears into some corner of the house. We won’t have that issue because it’s a smaller space.”

Joel and Patricia decided to eliminate a dining room from the design and instead built an eat-in kitchen/dining room/craft area, which flows into the living space. These two areas become the gathering space for the family and social gatherings like book clubs or intimate dinners with friends. 

Related reading: Should You Build or Renovate Your Ann Arbor Home?

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