Blog by Beebe Cline

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I'm Ready for My Close-Up: Beautiful Building Materials

It's hard to deny that Houzz is a great resource for finding inspiration in the small details, but photographs that literally hone in on the materials, textures and connections are pretty rare. So I've assembled a number of them here to see what is conveyed in these photos, and what can be learned from them.
We start with one of the most well documented projects on Houzz — the Quaker Bluff Residence in Vermont — and a backlit stone wall. The effect is certainly dramatic, but it is not something that can pulled off with any stone. For light to transmit through some stones — marble, for example — the material has to be cut so thin it loses its capacity to support itself. Onyx, on the other hand, is ideal for such an application, yielding its unique yellow-orange glow.
by Birdseye Design
A detail of polished stone is shown for a house in Hawaii. Think concrete, and something as colorful as this probably doesn't come to mind. Pigment can be added to the concrete mixture and used as a way to express the local context by mining the pigment in the area.
by glensung
Moving on to one of my favorite materials, Cor-Ten Steel, this close-up does a great job of showing the variation in color found in the material. A sandpaper-like texture can be gleaned from this photo, a sign of the oxidation that adds the coat of rust to the steel.
by Eggleston Farkas Architects  
This photo shows the meeting of this house on the land, in particular the three materials that make up this condition: the wall, the foundation, the ground. In this case we have wood panels, poured concrete and gravel. That the architect documented this detail means they considered this to be an important area, something they treated with simplicity and care.
by Klopf Architecture
Here we see three planes in a layered composition. Horizontal striations with random voids create a rhythmic and borderline chaotic effect. Nevertheless, the close-up reveals the craftsmanship to be quite high.
by Workshop/apd
This bathroom wall is found in the same residence as the previous photo. Again we can see an emphasis on horizontal rhythm and a certain randomness. The latter is achieved by composing three types of glass tile.
by Workshop/apd
The textured "pillows" of this limestone backsplash leads to both interesting shadows and a visual softening of a hard material.
by JacksonBuilt Custom Homes
A threshold between a living space and master suite is articulated here with "patinated aluminum shelves with a perforated spiderweb pattern." Each horizontal piece can be flipped to vary the pattern and the light entering the space. It's a custom installation that stands out from the minimal finishes it is layered upon.
by Workshop/apd
A fair number of the details in this ideabook are the product of NYC-based Workshop/apd, including this grille. The closely-spaced black rods allow light to pass through while obscuring one's view. In another project by the same architects ...
by Workshop/apd
... horizontal bars are used in a lobby renovation to spell out the building's address. The rectangular pieces are notched to create the "58." When the sun hits this elevation, light more readily moves through the notches to spell out the address on the lobby walls.
by Workshop/apd
One last project by Workshop/apd shows the coming together of three quite different materials: round glass tiles, what looks to be terrazzo, and wood slats. These materials comprise the walls and floor of a shower.
by Workshop/apd
Material considerations certainly extend outside. Squint at this pavement in a sideyard and one half is white and one half is black. But the white aggregate is found in both, uniting the two.
by Studio H Landscape Architecture
The coming together of different materials may not be as jarring outside as it can be inside, as is seen here with pavers, pebbles and plantings. The simple edging that holds the pebbles and separates them from the mulch is a very nice minimal detail.