Article No: 135

2006-05-02 14:20:10
A Dream Come True
By: Concrete Homes


Nearly 15 years ago, Ron and Janice Ohmes bought a piece of property on the shoreline of the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. The Lake of the Ozarks was built in the midst of the Great Depression under the direction of Union Electric Co., constructed primarily to provide power to the St. Louis area.

The Ohmeses were looking ahead. Located approximately 175 miles from St. Louis and 165 miles from Kansas City, the Lake of the Ozarks provided the perfect backdrop for their home. What could be better? It had expansive forests, rolling hills and more than 1,300 miles of shoreline providing magnificent views of this manmade masterpiece. Now all they needed was to capture the beauty of this landscape in another manmade creation - their home.

As in most projects, design began with programming. Because a home is such a personal space, it was only fitting that the Ohmeses provided the architect with their requirements for a perfect retreat.

"(The Ohmeses) brought me a list of spaces that they wanted to include in their home," said Darren Stross, project architect from Lepique and Orne Architects, Inc. "They also gave me a rough diagram showing important spatial relationships."

The design went from there, and concrete masonry was the material of choice. The house was to serve a dual purpose: It was to be a home for the Ohmeses and a vacation retreat for their growing family and close friends. The two-story structure, then, is almost two homes in one. The lower level became the residence exclusively for the Ohmeses, and the upper level became a guest retreat. Each level has a separate entrance and access to the several shared spaces, such as the laundry area and mudroom.

The design was influenced by the prairie-style architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, evident in the roofline as well as in the materials and organic building form. The sandstone-colored concrete masonry units blend with the natural stone onsite. The block was installed in a random ashlar pattern, creating a look similar to stone. The walls of the house were constructed from a 6-inch loadbearing concrete masonry unit with a split-face block veneer.

"A lot of reinforcement was used in the construction of this house," said Robert Heitkamp Sr. of Heitkamp Masonry. "There were approximately 10 to 15 different shapes used on the exterior of the home to create the random pattern. All of the blocks were made at the same time to ensure a color match, so you pretty much had to know in advance how much block in each shape was needed."

He considered the building in areas of 32 square feet and determined the amount of each shape needed for each area. It was like assembling a puzzle. "Once you are used to laying block, you get used to it; you just know what you need," he said.

The structures, encompassing more than 7,000 square feet, were built onsite in two phases: the garage, followed by the main house. There was an existing house, cabana and carport onsite prior to the beginning of construction. Portions of the cabana and carport were reused when constructing the new garage, which contains separate living accommodations as well as an indoor parking area. (In fact, the Ohmeses were able to live in the new garage after the existing house was demolished and while the main house was under construction.) Although a separate structure, the garage design is the same as that of the house in style and material. The garage steps down the hill to a masonry retaining wall that ties it back to the main house.

Block retaining walls were used onsite for landscaping. The segmental retaining wall system allowed the walls to be constructed without mortar or concrete footings. Instead, the concrete masonry units, produced in a color to match the house, were stacked on a shallow granular leveling pad. Installation in this fashion is easy and economical. The walls are durable and structurally sturdy, and they are able to withstand minor earth movement and settling.

To heat and cool the house, a geothermal system was installed. The system uses a technology that relies on the earth's natural thermal energy; when it was installed, it was run through a well onsite. It was then taken through a cave that had filled with water after the lake was built, and then into the lake, approximately 30 feet deep. The temperature at this depth remains constant at about 50 to 52 degrees. Along with the natural thermal properties of the masonry, this system makes the home very energy-efficient.

"The Ohmeses wanted green architecture," Stross said. Windows with southern exposure were used to bring heat into the house; overhangs provided shade; and access was provided for natural ventilation. "It is a good example of passive solar heating," he added. All of the windows in the house were built with double-paned glass, which also provides energy savings. Glass block was used in many of the private areas, as well as in the pool area.

Masonry on the exterior of the structures and in the construction of the retaining walls was not its only use in this project. More than 4,000 square feet of paving was installed throughout the site. The paving was designed by the Ohmeses in conjunction with Bill Mersman, president of Res Com Inc. in St. Louis. The interlocking concrete pavers, produced in earth tones, were installed in a Venetian parquet pattern. On the patio, the pavers were installed over a 4-inch-thick concrete slab. In the driveway area and on the walk, they were installed over an 8-inch-thick rock base. The pavers were also installed on the steps onsite.

"We did a lot of step work between the segmental retaining walls," Mersman said. The steps were poured with a form, and the pavers were overlayed on top of the concrete, he said. "These types of concrete pavers are the best material to use," he said. "They outlast the traditional poured concrete sidewalks, and aesthetically, you could not select a better product. The color selection is unlimited, and you can't get the same look from colored concrete.

"There is a lot of ground shifting in our climate; these pavers allow for the shifting without cracking. Replacing a paver, in case of a problem, is much simpler as well. One paver can be removed and replaced and still blend with the existing pavers. The home was well-designed, and a perfect product was used. The color blended well with the surroundings. Everyone should do it this way."

The house illustrates the versatility of concrete masonry with its varied use in the project. Concrete masonry was an exterior finish as well as an interior one. For example, a ledge-style cultured stone was used in sheathing the fireplace. Burnished block was used to finish the exercise and pool room adjacent to the master suite. Concrete masonry units were even used as part of the foundation at the fireplace, according to Heitkamp.

The Ohmeses' vision was to build something that would last a long time. The durability of the material will allow that to happen. "Concrete masonry allowed for the use of materials that gave the home greater integrity than other building materials," Stross said.

The final result captured the tremendous views of the site. Because the concrete masonry was used in a way respectful of its surroundings, it allowed the house itself to become a breathtaking sight. "The house is a work of art. There are only one or two like it in the country," Heitkamp said.

Stoss agrees. "It was a pleasure, honor and challenge to create a very wonderful building while fulfilling a client's dreams," he said. "The project was auspicious, but not overwhelming to the environment."

Ohmes was able to capture that feeling in much simpler terms. "It is a dream come true," he said.

This article and photography is reprinted with permission from Concrete Masonry Designs, courtesy of the National Concrete Masonry Association.