In this case, XO doesn’t stand for hugs and kisses. Rather, XO House—which Jason Logan and Matt Johnson of LOJO in Houston designed for Logan, his wife, and his wife’s father, who had dementia—references the house’s two plans: The ground floor is an X, the upstairs an O.
“Matt and I like to work with typologies,” Logan said. “The last house we designed for me and my wife was a dogtrot. Here on this site, the typology we had in mind was the courtyard of the Roman domus, specifically the compluvium.”
Situated on a tight corner lot in a sliver of Houston between the Woodland Heights Historic District and the Near Northside, XO House responds to its context while setting a new precedent. The two-story structure’s corners are carved away at the ground floor, opening space for two carports, a pedestrian entrance to the courtyard secured by a perforated steel gate (the perforations are a gradient of Xs and Os), and a small back patio. The enclosed spaces on the ground level include the in-law apartment (a generous one-bedroom setup), an office with full-height windows overlooking the courtyard, and the entryway to the main living space upstairs.
The main living space features a kitchen, a living/dining room, a primary bedroom with an en suite bathroom, a guest room, a powder room, and a utilities closet, all wrapped around the courtyard and cantilevered over the vacated corners below. The interior is spare, and the materials are kept to a minimum: just drywall, white oak floors, and yards and yards of white oak millwork cabinetry and shelving. To obviate the need for drawer pulls, Logan drew a curving millwork detail for the opening and closing of the cabinetry. Logan, who professes to not like doors, kept the bedroom and adjoining bathroom almost entirely free of them. Instead, the spaces flow one into another. The exceptions are the utilities closet and powder room, and, more choicely, the guest room, which can be enclosed by a secret door that swings 180 degrees from its concealment in the hallway’s millwork to shut off this space should it be occupied by a visitor.
Throughout the home, windows are carefully placed to frame specific views. By carving away at the volume, the architects opened a corner window in the bedroom, which is on the north of the site, looking south across the side of the house toward downtown. A window on the floor of the living room allows easy views into the courtyard below. A full-height window in the kitchen looks across the gabled rooftops of the neighboring bungalows to the west. Glass walls on the south face are pulled back from the perimeter, shading the glass, opening space for an exterior balcony and freeing the architect from the task of detailing a window around the cross bracing of the steel cantilever (the structure is a hybrid of steel and wood framing).
Located near White Oak Bayou in the 500- year floodplain (though the site did not flood during Hurricane Harvey), XO House takes water seriously. The compluvium of the roof is functional, though rather than directing water into an impluvium it feeds large gutters and downspouts that lead to a 2,500-gallon underground cistern to keep stormwater on-site. The foundation is also raised two feet above grade as an anti-flooding measure. Additional sustainability measures include seven 300- foot geothermal wells that offset heating and cooling loads, and the roof has room for a 28-panel solar array that, when set up, could take the house completely off the grid.
Clad in dark gray corrugated metal panels and larch boards that accentuate the project’s carved volumetric qualities, the house is at once assertively modern while not trying to stand out too much in this neighborhood of early 20th-century bungalows.