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COMFORT ZONE | Smart Designs for Pleasure and Planet

Mood Lighting

By Marie Morelli

"Because this house is a big, open space, the wood floors are very, very resonant," John Miranda says. "No matter how I feel, the floors make me feel good."

John Miranda calls it "my house made of gray Swiss cheese." He's referring to the signature feature of the Live Work Home in Syracuse, New York: a facade punched with holes.

The perforated screen has a hangar door that can be opened to maximize natural light. That light was a priority for Manhattan-based architect Richard Cook, of Cook + Fox, who had experienced firsthand upstate New York's long, dreary winters when he was a college student. Light bathes the space even on snowy days, pouring in through a dozen rooftop light tubes and the west-facing windows and glass doors. "That did take some getting used to," says John's wife, Kathy Miranda, a teacher of movement.

"I always had a sense that space affects your mood, your posture, your breathing . . . that light elevates you," Kathy Miranda says. "And it has."

"When you go for a nap or go to bed early, it's still bright."

When the screen is closed—signaling "privacy, please"—sunlight is filtered as if through a canopy of trees. "As the sun moves across the sky, light comes in differently," says John, a renewable-energy consultant. Cook designed the screen as an expression of biophilia—our instinctive attraction to the natural world.

Cook's was one of three designs chosen in a Syracuse University-led competition to build affordable, sustainable homes in a neighborhood undergoing revitalization. The 1,400-square-foot, two-bedroom home's long, narrow design recalls the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) longhouse, and its flat roof mimics those of nearby commercial buildings. Inside, movable partitions separate the living-dining space from the bedroom, and the bedroom from Kathy's office. The Mirandas can reconfigure the space as needed.

The LEED Platinum house was built with energy-efficient structural insulated panels, radiant floor heating, and a heat-recovery ventilator. It also incorporates older pieces of the neighborhood: The kitchen cabinets were crafted from lumber reclaimed from a nearby warehouse, and the southern yellow pine floorboards were engineered by a local craftsman using wood salvaged from the old house that was deconstructed to make room for this one. Each footfall resonates in the tall, open space. When asked to name his favorite features, John answers, "Singing floors and 10-foot ceilings."

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