For a Musician and His Partner, Pianoforte House Brings Harmony into the Home

Taking cues from the organ, the piano, and the language of music, Tomecek Studio Architecture designed a home in tune with itself.

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Pianoforte House in Denver was designed by Tomecek Studio Architecture for a musician client. Courtesy Chris Reilmann

Designed by Tomecek Studio Architecture, the Pianoforte house in Denver may be an exercise in the efficient use of space and a plan for aging-in-place but, almost audibly, it is also deeply inspired by the music of keyed instruments. This is because the owner, who lives in the house with his partner, has a passion for playing the piano and organ.

In Italian, pianoforte is a musical term referring to variations in volume. The concept was applied in andante fashion; there is nothing precipitato or cacophonous here, no piano keyboard stair treads or Phantom of the Opera props. Architect Brad Tomecek translated music into architectural elements, associating loudness with “masculine” forms—solidity, opacity, fortification—while associating pianissimo softness with “feminine” qualities like translucence, the ephemeral play of light and the corresponding physical softness of, say, textiles. “The project massing is very masculine due to the site’s response to a busy road to the south and the desire to create ample, serene space in the backyard for gardening. The house [has] an L-shaped plan that coddles and protects the rear yard,” Tomecek explains.

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Courtesy Chris Reilmann

These harder, more sheltering elements are softened by southern light that enters the kitchen from a horizontal clerestory window as well as eastern light that filters through graphically perforated vertical brise soleils at the front of the house and sheer curtains that swathe the double-height living room. The client, who plays the organ at weekly services, has placed a working set of organ pipes around the fireplace enclosure. It was the openings at the top of these pipes that are repeated to create the pattern cut into the perforated screens that filter light—and shifting filigrees of shadow—into the house.

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Seen from the street, the angle of the roofline recalls the profile of a grand piano, much like the one that anchors the airy, high-ceilinged, and generously glazed living room like a sculpture. Actually, the glissando of the roofline had a more practical than conceptual provenance: The west side of the building was limited to a single story by code. “The angle was an attempt to give continuity and flow to the massing,” Tomecek says.

Inside and out, the opposition between loud and soft is also articulated through the color scheme. The house features a strong contrast between white and black materials: ebony and ivory. This detail is most conspicuous on the facades, in the kitchen, and on the stairs and bridge, where—without intending to—the square metal bar stock railings recall the wires inside a piano that, by vibrating, create music.

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