2021 RDAA | Custom Urban House | Flex House | Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Johnsen Schmaling likes to work the in-between zones. For its rural buildings, that means the area between forest and pasture, wild and cultivated. And for their urban structures, such as Flex House, the architects find richness in the transition between residential and commercial areas.

Designed for a builder/developer for her own use, Flex House slots between a low-rise apartment building and a retail store and small parking lot. It has an upside-down floor plan with living space on the top floor, bedrooms on the second level, and flex space and garage on the street level. The owner, who has collaborated with the firm on a number of award-winning projects, will use the ground level as her office.

“We have loved working together,” says Sebastian. “We’ve been allowed to do quite a bit of architecture on a budget. Our entire lives revolve around making things thin—getting the thinnest possible separation between materials.” It’s a quest not all builders can deliver on, but this one does.

At first sight of this house, the larger contrasts catch the eye—the muscular panels of raw steel and the fine grain wood cladding. Moving around the building, one perceives the play of solids and voids and the trellising like “tendons,” as Sebastian puts it, that knits them together. Even closer examination reveals slender slivers of steel tracing key elements like a connective membrane—a thin steel line that elevates everything.



Custom Urban House

Johnsen Schmaling Architects
Flex House
Sacramento, California

Project Credits

Architect: Brian Johnsen, AIA, and Sebastian Schmaling, AIA, principals in charge; P.J. Murrill, Ben Penlesky, and Andrew Cesarz, project team, Johnsen Schmaling Architects, Milwaukee

Builder: Indie Capital Constructors, Sacramento, California

Interior Designer/Landscape Architect: Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Project Size: 3,900 square feet

Site Size: .065 acre

Photography: Justin Lee Lopez

Key Products

Architectural Railing: C.R. Laurence

Cabinetry: Ikea

Cladding: Cleveland Black Oxide steel panels

Countertops: Silestone

Entry Doors/Windows: Sierra Pacific

Faucets/Sinks/Toilets: Kohler

Garage Doors: Clopay

HVAC: Trane

Kitchen Appliances: Samsung

Lighting: WAC, Halo, DMF, Artemide

Passage Doors: Inox

Roofing/Insulation/Housewrap: Owens Corning

Tile: Iris Ceramica

Ventilation: Panasonic

Washer/Dryer: Miele


Plans and Drawings


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