Hufft Home Gallery: August 2006 “The Line Home”
By Gregory Holman
Explore a contemporary house by a 29-year-old Springfield native—who is now a New York architect.
“This is all you need to build a house”
A local contemporary house by a 29-year-old Springfield native who’s now a New York architect.
The Hufft home is known as the Line House because it was designed along a simple axis.
This view of the main portion of the house shows the master suite, which is connected to the lower level with its floor-to-ceiling windows by a spiral outdoor stair.
The floor tile in the great room won designer Matthew a 2006 international design award from Ceramic Tiles of Italy.
The great room includes the kitchen and dining space.
It’s full of brushed metal and furniture that embodies the sleekness of contemporary design, without going overboard toward the chilly part of the modern spectrum.
A lower-level guest bedroom done entirely in red and white looks like a young professional’s urban loft.
A line is all you need. Not a squiggly one. Ultimately, that’s it. Practically speaking, you need some other things: A nice big woodsy lot on a hillside southeast of Springfield, in cul-de-sac-land. Plenty of financial muscle (orthopedic surgery can be a very good living). More importantly, you need a 25-year-old son who’s an architect. One trained at KU in Lawrence, Kansas. And Columbia University in New York. One who snagged one of the most prestigious fellowships in the field-the first KU graduate ever to do so. One who counts Asian art and Mies Van Der Rohe among his influences. One who worked for Bernard Tschumi and Stanley Tigerman in New York. One who knows what he’s doing. Or hoped he knew what he was doing. Or at least was willing to give it a shot. Could you design an 8,000-square-foot house for your parents? Springfield native Matthew Edwin Hufft, now 29, found out that he could. And he did. And now his parents, Diane and Bob Hufft, live in the Line House, designed by hufft:projects, a New York architecture firm. And it is one of the most astonishing contemporary houses that exist anywhere in the United States, but most especially in TuscanFrenchcountryland Springfield.
There are probably no more than 10 houses in metropolitan Springfield adorned with proper names. This is one of them, named the Line House because the house and its outbuildings are arranged along one unbending axis. That axis is called simply the Line.
Arriving at the Line House is not intimidating. For a building that’s done in a style that mixes an Asian roofline with the concrete of more stark buildings, it is remarkably comfortable. The site has a lot to do with this. If the Line House were set at the top of a Table Rock Lake bluff, it might be more austere. It has dark textured-concrete walls and bands of glass. Used in different combinations or contexts (think professional-office strip on North Glenstone Avenue), these elements would be sprawl-style ugly. But the site is cradled by trees and downhill slopes.
The line is simple. It runs northwest to southeast. It starts with the Huffts’ library, Dr. Bob Hufft’s library. Matthew’s drawing shows the line at its start, hooked into a letter L-L is for Library, but that’s just a coincidence-that slides up, almost into a squared-off U-shape, before it quits and slices off southeast, in a ray that continues about halfway through the whole structure. Then it pokes out to the southwest, in the middle of the southwest wall of the main house. When translated from form into matter, the offshoot is made of concrete and Western cedar from the Bear Creek Lumber company in Washington state. Then the line resumes its southeast course toward another outbuilding: the shop. You guessed it: The shop is another lair for Bob. The main house, especially the great room with the kitchen, is a bit more about Diane.
Matthew met me when I came by last winter, waiting outdoors in the November chill, just to the left of that jutting southwest offshoot of the Line. He looks like someone who could be a Springfield native, owing to his all-American football-player features. Dressed in a white cable-knit sweater, he looks like someone who might plausibly work in so-chic-it-hurts SoHo, Borough of Manhattan, New York, New York, where he lives with his wife, Jessie. Matthew explains that the concrete-and-cedar screen divides the public “vehicle courtyard” (maybe what you’re trained to call a parking lot after you go to architecture school) from the private drive and garage used by the Huffts.
Next stop: Inside the house. The doors make a chanting noise when you enter, and the foyer is lovely, with a white-glass chandelier like an angular artichoke. As foyers for 8,000-square-foot houses go, it’s built at a height for normal people, like much of the Line House. It’s welcoming.
Matthew turns into a hallway just to the left of the foyer. “One of the things that was important to me was that you see art in front of you everywhere you look,” he says, and he gestures to some Asian artifacts just inside. The curved, Eastern forms mark a contrast to all the angles and planes of the Line House. Diane is waiting in the great room. In the background, there is some kind of pan-African instrumental music playing. The room unites the living, dining and kitchen space, with a dramatic glass wall to the northeast. The dining room is cantilevered out toward the north, into space, so that the views are right up near the trees. The glass goes practically from floor to ceiling, so it’s one of those outdoor-indoor spaces beloved by contemporary architects, with dining tables both inside and out, arranged in symmetry.
Diane observes that she thinks modern furniture should look sleek, but that she and Bob thought the height of their furniture in the great room was very important: It couldn’t be too low. The 62-year-old wife and 66-year-old husband aren’t gymnasts. She notes that the 3-D computer-animation software Matthew used to design the house allowed them to preview the exact sofas they were thinking of choosing. The result? Comfort for all. Diane recalls her husband’s 90-year-old uncle who spent a recent holiday happily sitting in a B & B Italia chair, gazing out the windows.
The kitchen, Matthew continued, is one of the things visitors really talk about. It contains cabinets from Dornbracht, a design firm based in Iserlohn, Germany. The cabinets in most people’s houses have long-edge hinges, opening on the right or left vertical side. Not so at the Hufft house. These are turned the other way round, with little garage-door-like coverings. They gleam with a silver-matte finish. And they’re a perfect match for Diane’s way of doing things in her kitchen (believe it, it’s her kitchen): There’s a compartment for everything. Everything is tidy. Nearby is a utility room with a computer, washer, dryer, cabinets, and skylights. It’s white, pristine, almost empty. Easy to keep clean.
In fact, Diane confides, she does have a cleaning woman who comes regularly to help look after the house, but she cleans the kitchen herself, to her extremely exacting standards. “I’m a bit of a fanatic about that,” she concedes. She’s not kidding: Diane also has been known to bleach the pavers in the vehicle courtyard. Nearby, the coat closets in the living area of the great room match the Dornbracht cabinets almost exactly-the key difference being that the closets were made under the direction of Chuck Askings, of Enchanted Woodworks. In Rogersville.
Matthew goes into the hallway that leads northwest. It’s the gallery hall-with a glass wall on one side and the concrete and split-block form of the Line making up the other side. Lined with art, the gallery hall has a fireplace visible at one end. If it’s not art, it’s something visual at all times. Visitors notice, along the Line, that paintings hang on the wall, but they seem to hang from nothing. There’s a track hanging system that allows paintings to be supported without drilling holes. In this place, holes in the wall would be brutal, crude.
The first door off the gallery hall leads into the master suite. The door is in the same mahogany pattern as the front door of the house, and slides rather than hinges. Inside, there is some art, including an actual print signed by American artist Robert Rauchenberg-as good as anything in Andy Williams’s modernist collections. That’s one thing visitors notice, but then their eyes are glued to the wall behind the bed, done entirely in panels of leather.
It’s at this point that Diane, who accompanies Matthew on this visitor tour, says something remarkable. “We were so unfamiliar with anything contemporary,” she says. Until Matthew designed and built this house. “It was a team effort,” Matthew is quick to say. It’s interesting to watch him as he talks to his mom or when he gives me a tour. Often people associate architects with chilly, remote figures like Frank Lloyd Wright or absurd ones like Daniel Libeskind; Matthew seems to be more of a people-skills kind of guy, always the gracious host.
Beside the bed-Bob’s side-there’s a shapely contemporary lamp that’s paired with an ancient alarm clock (whisked away by the Huffts for the sake of the picture above). The master suite contains furnishings done in Diane’s favorite wood: winge, from western Africa. The wood is only sealed and varnished. No adornment other than the essence of what it is. The bathroom in the master suite is similar.
Via French doors, the master suite opens out to a terrace. There’s teak furniture and three huge red rectangular umbrellas. Stepping outside, Matthew explains that keeping up the teak outdoor furniture requires that it be re-sealed every six months or so, or else the wood tends to go gray. Below and to the left of the master suite and deck is an unusual courtyard made of a grid of concrete pieces that were precision-cut with a water saw. In the spaces between them, green grass grows. You can see some of the landscaping here, just of a few of the 300 trees and shrubs the Huffts planted.
Upon leaving the master bedroom and going further down the gallery hall, Matthew and Diane note that Diane and Bob used to live in a 6,500-square-foot house. It was different than the current one-“extremely traditional,” says Diane-and they thought they would downsize when they built their next home. Between houses, they did so, living in a 500-square-foot duplex.
Down the gallery hall and a short walk outside (along the Line, naturally), there’s the library. It’s a man’s world. Bob loves books, so the room has floor-to-ceiling shelves. It also has stuffed elk and antelope, and Hummel figurines (Bob collects them), sliding ladders along the bookshelves and a wall covered with shelves bearing ducks (25 ducks, of which 21 are wooden decoys and four are real ducks, stuffed). There is clubby leather furniture, though a organic-form white lamp and glass-topped coffee table leaven things up.
It’s built with walnut posts and beams-all pegged; no nails-cut from a rural property owned by the Huffts. The beams were hand-crafted by local Amish people, who raised the building’s bare structure in just one day. The ability of southwest Missouri Amish to shimmy up and down poles is apparently a sight to behold, if Diane’s account is any guide.
The library has a staircase leading down to a guest bedroom. Appointed with a walnut platform for the bed and some built-in drawers, this room is essentially detached from the main house. It’s easy to get outside to the concrete terrace visible from the deck and the master suite upstairs. The Line is visible here, too: Now it’s back outdoors, made of concrete going below grade. There’s an outdoor staircase leading up to the main house. It’s made of dark steel with no vertical supports, seeming to float on the air.
On two sides, the lower level has a series of 10 floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors. Beyond, a white rock garden extends out from the wall of the house. This area is shaded by the upstairs deck and faces north, so it doesn’t receive much direct sunlight, yet the white stone reflects natural light through the lower level’s windows and into the rooms inside-which include a fitness room and two guest rooms filled with quirky things that catch the eye: translucent Benton blinds, palm wood, a lamp like something out of the MudLounge.
Just outside, and up a short staircase, it’s time to visit the shop, Bob’s other lair. It’s built with Washington state Douglas fir, in a post-and-beam form not unlike the library. In order to preserve that time-honored shape, Matthew and Bob hit on the idea of using hangar doors, airport-style, instead of garage doors.
All told, the Line House is an amazing place. It takes an hour and a half to tour. At the end of a morning tour, it seems to be Diane’s custom to serve coffee on the kitchen island in the great room. When serving, Diane brings out leather placemats for the cups, so that there are no drink-sweat rings on the island’s smooth metal surface. A visitor can see the Huffts have certain things in common across generations. When they move their cups from place to place and leave little drink-sweat rings on their leather placemats, both Diane and Matthew meticulously rub out any remaining moisture with one or two fingers: precise cleanliness, an economy of motion. Perhaps it’s the same personality quirk that causes Diane to clean her own kitchen rather than letting the cleaning helper do it, or that causes Matthew to design a house where everything is pretty much flush or perpendicular, even the baseboards. All straight lines.
Matthew and Diane recall that it took a while to design and build the house: More than two years. And it took a lot of experimentation. Diane and Matthew recount how they looked for a builder capable of great flexibility and patience and settled on Gary Herman as general contractor. Partly because of the Hufft house, Herman has gained a local reputation for being flexible enough to do contemporary houses.
“We had no idea Matthew had all these visions,” Diane says, but she and Bob were in on the ground floor. Diane decided that she would decorate the house herself, rather than working with decorators, as she had in the past. Matthew looked at it as an opportunity for the beginning of his career: “I was grateful to my parents for giving it to me.” Since he’s designed the house, he’s featured it in a whole host of slick marketing materials put out by hufft:projects and is now at work on several new projects. He thinks Springfield may be ready for more contemporary architecture, as more people who are about 30 years old today become affluent enough to afford it. In some ways, he says, it’s more enjoyable working here than back east. “In New York,” he says, “you’re lucky to ever break a foundation in your whole life.”
View more photos of: The Line Home