Light Therapy

Almost like a giant mood ring, this new residence has exterior walls equipped with LED lighting that can change colors to match the desires of Dallas homeowners Jim and Lori Louis. The translucent, polycarbonate walls allow soft, natural light to fill the living space during the daylight hours, but at night the walls glow with different colors.

“The Louis’ can have fun with their house, changing the color scheme for holidays or whatever theme suits them,” Thad Reeves says. “For many homeowners the idea of hiring an architect to design their home seems unattainable. People often have the impression that architecture is reserved for large, expensive homes or flashy civic projects. But this home shows you can make great architecture and maintain a reasonable budget.”

Originally, the recent empty-nesters wanted to build two investment homes on a pair of typical 50-by-150-foot lots on an East Dallas street in a neighborhood of primarily 1940s homes. Both had backgrounds in architecture and had spent their careers in real estate so they understood the value of the design/build process. Eventually, they decided to build one of the homes for themselves, scaled to fit the neighborhood and with strong connections to the outdoors.

“We had many discussions regarding their ideal home before we began drawing, and the result is a light-filled solution that seems very simple from the exterior while packing a lot of rich detail and complexity into the interior,” Reeves says. “The polycarbonate panels are something we’ve used on a few projects as a way to provide a soft natural light. This is a way to develop a simple surface, not broken up by a lot of structure or window frames, while maximizing light and privacy. It insulates better thermal properties than insulated glass so it’s a very effective strategy.”

The polycarbonate panels were developed in Israel about 40 years ago as a greenhouse product and are intended to be used in an exterior application. The lights for the polycarbonate panels are adjusted by a DMX controller provided by the LED supplier, Solid Apollo. There’s an on/off switch, white setting, preset colors and a mixing wheel to provide customizability.

“They are very durable,” Reeves says. “We’ve had them in another project for about 12 years now and they look like the day we installed them. Being polycarbonate, they don’t yellow or become brittle like acrylic. The obvious pros over traditional wood siding are they won’t rot or need to be painted. One of the cons is that it doesn’t insulate as well as a traditional wall. However, the exterior panels have ridges that act as tiny prisms to reflect heat gain during the summer and retain heat during the winter. The interior panels are milky white, which helps soften the light.”

The clients wanted a single-story house that would allow them to age in place. The site strategy was to develop a series of outdoor spaces — entry court, main courtyard and backyard. But there wasn’t enough real estate to develop a real courtyard house. A U-shape was used to create a semi-courtyard. Because the house backs up to the DART Line and the White Rock Lake Trail, the only access to the site is from the street, which required the garage to be located at the front of the house. The garage was used to help define the entry courtyard. The longest section of the house runs the length of the site and has two wings that extend to the east. The adjacent home to the east responds to the courtyard.

“The site really dictated the plan,” Reeves says. “We chose not to avoid the garage as a prominent feature and oriented it onto the street. We felt it was important to develop the courtyard as a transition from the street/driveway to the front door. The Louis’ best friends bought the lot next door so we also wanted to set up a spatial dialogue between the two structures since they spend a lot of time going back and forth to each other’s houses. The fence actually opens up to connect the two properties.”

The wing closest to the street contains the butler’s pantry, kitchen and living area. The kitchen and living areas are partitioned by a free-standing, steel-and-wood entertainment center. The television sits inside the center and swivels to face the living room, kitchen or dining room. The living room has a north-facing wall of polycarbonate, providing diffused lighting throughout the day. The connecting section between the living/kitchen wing and the master bedroom wing contains two small bedrooms, a Jack and Jill bath, powder room and laundry room. The master bedroom wing was conceived as a box within a box. The central organizing element is a walnut-clad box that contains a small home office, closet, linen storage, bathroom and shower. The upper portion of the box is wrapped in polycarbonate to filter natural light from a series of skylights. 

“We were purposeful in customization, creating a modern but timeless space that would age with our clients,” Reeves says.  “The pivoting walnut and glass entry door nestles under a warm walnut canopy. We continued to use walnut throughout for cabinetry and window details and we created customized door pulls and lighting fixtures. Countertops are quartz. The concrete floors have a diamond ground finish resembling terrazzo. Lighting is a very important part of this home. We used the same translucent, polycarbonate panels in a hallway light monitor and bedrooms that we did for the front wall. The linear light fixture in the living room was also custom designed since we could not find a manufactured fixture to meet the required length or lighting specifications. When things like that come up, it reinforces our decision to practice as a design-build firm. As one entity you are able to solve those problems and implement them in a much more affordable way that still fits the design intent of the project.” 

Reeves describes the look as “farmhouse modern” with sleek, contemporary lines. “Traditional farmhouse design didn’t really inform the overall approach to the project other than starting with the simple forms of the gable roof,” Reeves says. “From there we edited the design by removing the eaves to simplify the massing. This is actually very much in contrast to how farmhouse design evolved as it’s generally based on pragmatic solutions. Removing the eaves complicates things from a performance standpoint — which a farmer would never do — but it made things more clear conceptually.” The closest tie-in to traditional farmhouse vernacular is actually the roof. The diamond-shaped shingles recall old metal shingle roofs found on many structures.

“What made this project such a joy was the process,” Reeves says. “While the Louis’ had some overarching ideas, they worked closely with and trusted our team for the specific design solution, and their home is truly the result of a seamless client/architect process. Jim says that ‘it feels achievable, and shows that if you take time and energy and find the right partner, you don’t have to spend a lot to have an amazing house,’ and we couldn’t agree more.”


ARCHITECT   A.Gruppo Architects

214-316-6806  |