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2012 - Summer Issue
Casas Bonitas
Feature Home
Article: Jasmine Evaristo
Photos: Bill Faulkner
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Nestled within a cul-de-sac on the eastside of Las Cruces, the Rhodes' home is a striking detail in a portrait of adobe landscape – contemporary, stark white with forest green accents; sharp, clean lines. Stephenne notes the exteriors were carefully chosen. "Empty space is as much a part of the design philosophy in which objects are to balance each other within the three dimensional universe," she says. Formality intermixed with plants selected by shape and strategically planted, give a splash of informal color to offset the feeling of starkness without destroying its simplistic tone. "Unencumbered space is a design theme," she says. This house is a revised commitment to the purity of form and function, "Simple lines, sharp interfaces, no excuses."

    Steve Jobs saluted those who dared to be "round pegs in square holes," and physicist/engineer Stephenne Rhodes has embraced her brand of brain to create a home that could be pioneering the future of home design and architecture.

Architect & Interior Design:
Stephenne Rhodes

Vickie Hughes

Countertops & Flooring:
Ceramic Tile &
Natural Stone


Pella Windows & Doors

Nancy DeLouise

Endless Pools
Stepping inside the three-year remodel, the ambiance is vibrant and contemporary with pops of rich color – affectionately referred to as "Lego colors." From the foyer, the eye line follows a sinuous hallway towards the back end of the house, elongating the space and the open floor plan. A vision begins to manifest: the architectural design feels seamless. Throughout the home, wall surfaces are finished in both high-gloss and matted Venetian plaster; and various shapes and sizes of glass blocks. Custom colors and wall surfaces were meticulously selected to enhance the play of light at different times of the day, reflective light falling from one surface to another – dramatizing spaces.

The kitchen was the catalyst that set into motion Stephenne's experimental process. She was inspired by the "father of algorithm analysis," Donald Knuth, who spearheaded studies using computers to solve math problems. She followed suit in her kitchen remodel and, with her proverbial light bulb glowing, she conceived an experiment to find solutions to home design, honoring functionality.

For Stephenne, a value for minimalist design and lifestyle also means keeping personal energy consumption to a minimum. And this is where her creativity takes flight, integrating solar and geothermal energy. "In New Mexico, the sun is an obvious free energy resource, but care is needed not to overstate its availability as we can have several very cloudy days in a row," she says. She opted to use solar panels, which heat water, as opposed to PV arrays, which produce electricity. The solar panels have the advantage of capturing much more energy for a given surface area, and the technology is better established.

To get the highest value from the sun's energy, heat storage is paramount; and because of its high thermal capacity, water is an excellent storage source. Enter her natatorium, complete with a four-feet deep Endless Pool. The pool was not a part of the original design, but when discussions for the heating system arose, the idea for the pool clicked. "Its primary function is to be a heat source for the heating system," she says. The heart of the system is a small water-to-water heat pump that efficiently moves heat from a colder body to a hotter one. The water in the tank is heated by fluid pumped through the solar panels. This provides all the hot water supply for the home, and the surplus is cached in the pool.

In winter, the house is heated by water passing through pipes embedded in the concrete floors (radiant heating). The heat pump transfers energy from water flowing through the pipes, or from the pool, and heats the water circulating in the floors. This warms the concrete slabs, radiating warmth into living areas. In summer, the heat pump is reversed, and cools the water flowing through the floors, heating the pool. This is the radiant cooling of the home. When the pool grows uncomfortably hot, the excess heat is discarded back into the ground.

It's mindboggling to imagine that all this ebb and flow is happening beneath the charming natatorium. The main deck of the pool is made in custom-formed travertine, resting on rectangular, glass block walls with internal light fixtures. The surrounding plants yield a tropical atmosphere, and captures evaporated pool water, enhancing the home's heat absorption.

Descend 14 feet underground down a winding staircase into the media room. With matted velvet walls and deep, purple carpeting, the room is meant to simulate the inside of a jewelry box. "The primary aim in the media room was to ensure acoustic purity," she says. This was achieved with Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) construction of high mass walls and ceilings. The projector screen uses a special paint from Goo applied directly to the wall, giving a very white, smooth and reflective surface. In synergy with a cutting-edge surround sound and projector system, the media room stands to rival that of the movie theater experience. Cool feature: all of the media equipment is controlled by an app on Apple iTouch and iPhone using the home's Ethernet service.

What makes this home a yardstick of innovation is its control system, and the brainpower behind it. Feet away from the media room is the nerve center housing a small computer containing a chip that controls all networks and external devices – the media equipment, the pool heating system…the house is fully network enabled. Stephenne explains that her husband built the computer system while she programmed it, using a simplified version of C++ language. Assembled with just $300 worth of recycled computer hardware bought on eBay, the computer is able to synchronize its internal clocks from the Internet and scan weather forecasts. Electronic thermometers measure various temperatures, and electronic switches control pumps and valves. It also hosts a website that provides continuous updates of the system's status available to any computer on the house network.

Acting as both the architect and interior designer, Stephenne subcontracted the construction for the remodel. Like all good engineering, she explains the methods and techniques approached were trial and error, "Nothing like building something to learn what doesn't work." And having yet to see anyone use solar and geothermal technologies this way, she says, "I never thought that at 62, I'd still be inventing things." ///
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