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Break from tradition from Home & Architectural Trends volume 2201
In a region best known for country estates and traditional architecture, the small community of Glen Echo, Maryland, stands as an enclave of modern design. Most of the area homes were built between the 1940s and 1960s, and reflect the mid-century modern aesthetic of post-WWII America.
This house, designed by noted Virginia architect Robert M Gurney, is one of the latest additions to the community, and brings the town's catalog of contemporary architecture strongly into the 21st century.
Gurney says Glen Echo is not typical of most Washington-area suburbs.
"I sometimes feel this city is too rooted in tradition," he says, "but fortunately, the people who live in these houses have a real fondness for modern architecture."
The rural setting is a steeply sloped lot, surrounded by trees and a view of the Potomac river. An existing house and driveway served as the orientation point for the new structure.
The massing of the design and many of the structural elements are a response to the natural surroundings.
"The project became about how to create a modern house in the woods, " says Gurney.
He chose to use form and materials to distinguish the external volumes.
A double-height ellipse, covered with lead-coated copper, contains the entryway and staircase. The vertical slot window and skylight allow natural light to pour into the space. The ellipse intersects the triangular and rectangular volumes that comprise the main living areas.
Public rooms are located in a striking, glass-enclosed space. A butterfly roof echoes the slope of the hillside, while walls of glass take advantage of the natural light, river view, and ever-changing foliage of the wooded site.
The apex of the triangle seems to cantilever out over the hillside.
"I wanted the point of the living room to feel like it was floating in the trees," says Gurney. "The downward slope of the lot contributes to this effect."
A rectangular volume that has been clad in vertical mahogany siding is a remnant of the original structure, and houses the bedroom suites, home gym and study.
Gurney says he wanted to juxtapose the wide-open feeling of the public areas with a more inward-looking focus in the private rooms.
Inside, separate living spaces are again defined by use of texture and materials. Brazilian cherry floors throughout the open-plan public area contrast with the rough surface of a board-formed concrete fireplace and smooth glass walls.
The main living room and adjoining dining area are situated to take full advantage of the surrounding woodland and river views. The walls of glass are left bare to enhance the open feel.
The adjacent kitchen features a large island and a glass-topped bar for informal seating. Most of the kitchen cabinets are mahogany, but ash was chosen to highlight two sets of wall cupboards, and also for the flooring. Stainless steel, glass and granite surfaces echo the smooth texture of the glass walls.
Stainless steel appliances complete the contemporary design of the kitchen.
On the basement level, below the living area, is an 8-seat home theater and adjoining bathroom.
A more intimate atmosphere is created in the upstairs rooms. Two guest bedrooms each have an en-suite bath, and the master suite features an outside terrace and adjoining study.
The importance of capturing natural light extends into these rooms, too. But to maintain a more intimate atmosphere, the architect punctures the exterior walls with smaller window openings.
Gurney says the play of light and texture throughout the house is inspired by the changing seasons. With a dynamic environment to compose within, he feels it is essential not to bring preconceived ideas to the design process.
"I always start with thespatial requirements and lifestyle considerations," says the architect. "The structure evolves from these two factors, and the environmental features of the site."
This remodeled house is comprised of three main volumes, defined by form and material. The architect uses natural light and juxtaposition of color and texture as the main theme of his design.
Robert M Gurney, FAIA, and Claire Andreas (Alexandria, VA),
MT Puskar Construction Company
Home theater and audio
Dennis Erskine, Design Cinema Privee
Vertical mahogany wood siding, UnaClad corrugated galvalume siding
Lightolier, Artemide, Task, Stonco, Access Bega, Progress
Blue pearl granite from StoneSource, stainless steel from Custom Metals of Virginia
Cooktop and ventilation
Bath and basins
Burger's Custom Cabinetry
Bathroom faucet, shower fittings and accessories
Photography by Anice Hoachlander