Article No: 250

2009-02-02 17:05:36
Old World Tuscan Meets Modern Efficiency & Strength
By: Steve Habel

If the design and building of a custom home can be considered a book, the construction of the Lewis’ concrete home would have to be regarded as a series. Located in a bedroom community of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the Lewis’ story is one of many discoveries and changes based on what the owners’ first wanted and the amazing results born of adaptation and circumstance.

One thing held constant throughout the construction of the home of Mike Lewis and his wife, Alana St. Claire-Lewis: this home was going to be one of concrete construction. The adherence to that tenet has produced a residence of uncommon beauty that is both energy-efficient and as solid as the hillside into which it is built.

This magnificently designed concrete home has over 11,000-square feet of living space and more than 25 rooms and is not only superior in its energy conservation, but also unique in its style. Its design and arches evoke a Tuscan, Old World feel. The stained concrete floors add to the overall design and allow the home to remain simple yet casually elegant.

Lewis, a petroleum geologist by trade, designed the house himself using AutoCAD and was careful to compartmentalize the house for structural integrity so that the walls were not only aesthetically correct, but provided structure strength all the way to the roof.

“I know firsthand how hard energy sources like oil and gas are to find, and as a result, I am very energy conscious,” Lewis says. “Energy preservation is the first reason I elected to build a concrete home. I used to build houses using wood in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I am painfully aware of the huge wastes from conventional wood-frame construction.”

“This home just stays the same temperature all the time,” Lewis adds. “No drafts, no cold floors and walls... just constant, boring, energy-efficient temperature.”

Strength is a second reason for Lewis’ choice to use concrete. “I was involved in the cleanup activities from the tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma several years ago, in which even the street surface and grass were ripped from the ground,” he says. “Those wooden homes were leveled, with two-by-fours transformed from supporting entities to debris and even weapons of destruction.”
“This concrete home doesn’t burn, is not susceptible to being eaten by insects, is dust free, and does not decay, so it is very low in allergens – and I have allergies,” Lewis continued. “It is very quiet and very comfortable, and is easy to maintain.”

During the construction of the home the original builder quit and left Lewis in a pinch, but he eventually partnered with Alan Hoffman, an ICF builder in the Dallas area after meeting Hoffman at an interior designer meeting. Hoffman, who has been building with ICFs exclusively for 14 years, overcame many problems left by the former general contractor and finished the home’s construction.

The house consists of basically six vertical compartments, with a pier-and-beam foundation. The soils in Forney, which is east of Dallas, are predominantly clay, which heaves up and down with the moisture content. “Given that situation, a slab foundation for a house this size was out of the question,” Lewis says. “We sank more than 85 piers to depths of 30 feet into gray clay. The beams are massive concrete and steel, all connected to the piers with rebar, with a three- to five-foot crawl space beneath.”

For added stability, the Lewis house was cut into the hill about 15 feet, with the front of the bottom floor being underground with a walk-out basement in the back.

The windows and doors are all highly rated for impact resistance and energy efficiency. “This concrete home can withstand winds of more than 250-miles per hour before the windows and shingles are affected,” Lewis says. “Even then, the structure will remain sound, and the occupants will be secure inside.”

“I even have a ‘safer room’ in the house, which is buried into the hillside and concrete on all sides,” Lewis adds. “That room could probably withstand a mortar attack on the house–although I don’t really want to find out if it would.”

The underground portion of the house was coated with a blue waterproofing material to keep moisture out. Outside of that, for a distance of six feet, ground-up automobile tires were placed in netted bags to create a barrier in which any moisture would drop to the drains in the crawl space below the house before getting to the walls.

“The idea is that any water that does get that far will immediately drain through this highly porous and permeable material,” Lewis says. “Tires do not degrade, so are considered an excellent permanent barrier.”

The exterior foam was covered with FossilCrete, a concrete product that sticks fairly well to the foam. It was stamped with a large stone block imprint. This was fairly successful. However, the product was not applied correctly and as a result, it pulled off in a few places and cracked in almost all the faux mortar joints. This required several layers of a sealant to be applied to prevent water from going through the cracks, soaking the foam and working its way into the house at the window and door openings. “This was a big problem and could have been avoided with proper installation,” Lewis says.

The FossilCrete was then expertly stained by Advanced Surfacing Industries, a Dallas-based firm that combines science and art to produce the most durable and beautiful surfacing systems available. “We combined and used a fabulous mixture to give the home the appearance of real stone,” say John Mattox, Advanced Surfacing Industries’ owner and founder.

“Artistically, their work was fantastic,” Lewis says of Advanced Surfacing Industries. “The cost of the FossilCrete, its application, staining, and sealing ended up being many times the cost of real stone, and in hindsight, it would have been better for many reasons to have used real stone instead. However, they did make the home it is today, and the company is responsible for making it beautiful.”

The magnificent entrance of the Lewis’ Forney residence features audacious iron doors and gives you the feel of not only the quality, but the bold sense of style. The residence has nine covered patios and a distinctive floor plan. The lower-level game room and guest rooms are underground on the front of the house, open to the back, and sit aside a Zen garden and a future wine grotto. The upper-floor bedroom suites – which include the ultimate master suite of over 700-square feet that features a granite fireplace and sitting area – overlook the ranch’s vast acreage of trees.

The master suite also sports a 450-square foot closet with a built-in island dresser, coffee bar, and desk and includes the superb master bath with its copper slate, featuring dual showers with copper hardware, a beautiful curved terrazzo ceiling, dual Roman Jacuzzi tubs, and his and her separate vanities that lead to an open patio.

A hallway leads to the additional two bedrooms and an upstairs laundry room with access to the elevator leading to the remaining bottom floors. The main living areas of the kitchen and living room (or as the Lewises call it, the piano room), are complete with views of the treed acreage and pool including the patio leading off the dining area and Mr. Lewis’ study.

“Our favorite part of the home is the piano room,” St. Claire-Lewis says. “To listen to Michael play the piano and sip wine by the oversized Tuscan granite fireplace overlooking the expanse of the ranch makes for a magnificent evening.” The one-of-a-kind fireplace in the piano room accompanies bookshelves of glass and a view of the wooded acreage. The piano room’s concrete stained, rugged, and extra-wide stairways leading to the many floors give the residence its old world charm.

The kitchen has oceans of granite, including an 18-foot island complete with double stainless steel dishwashers, a big food prep sink and a granite snack bar to accommodate entertaining. The family room or den is immediately off the kitchen and the formal dining area with a unique ceiling and arches.

The expansive three-story house is heated with a trio of separate furnaces – one for each floor, far less than would have been required for a wood-frame house. “The units don’t seem to ever be running and when they do, they are only in low power mode,” Lewis says. There is nothing like concrete to combine luxury, fuel-efficency, and strength.