Modern Counterpoint

Architect Mark McInturff takes a novel approach renovating a home while respecting its architectural past

Marriage can send a couple scurrying for new digs to start afresh. After tying the knot, a Baltimore businessman and his wife did the next best thing: they remodeled and expanded his bachelor pad into a spacious setting for family life. “We wanted to stay in this area because it’s so convenient,” says the husband of the leafy suburban neighborhood where he first settled in the late 1980s.

Another reason for staying put, the couple explains, is the striking modernist architecture of the original home. “It’s kind of a Richard Meier knock-off,” the husband says. Designed by Baltimore architect Paul Marks, the taut, wood-sheathed cube clearly reflects the influence of Meier, a New York architect known for planar buildings inspired by the work of Swiss-French master Le Corbusier.

Though architecturally distinguished, the home felt too small for the couple, who are now parents of a two-year-old boy. “We wanted more space for a family room, kids’ rooms and entertaining,” says the wife. “At the same time, we didn’t want something overwhelming. We wanted to preserve a lot of the evergreen trees that were already here.”

“We respected it, but didn’t want to make it a relic,” Mark McInturff says of the existing structure. “It still had a viable language that we could use.”

After interviewing about a dozen architects, the pair decided on Mark McInturff of Bethesda, whose contemporary designs include the award-winning Woolly Mammoth Theatre in downtown Washington. “We just clicked with him,” says the husband, who closely supervised the two-year construction project. “Mark said, ‘Let’s have fun,’ and we did.”

McInturff proceeded to expand the small dwelling with a sizable modernist addition that both respects and counters its Meier-esque architecture. “We respected it, but didn’t want to make it a relic,” he says of the existing structure. “It still had a viable language that we could use.” The architect treated the original house as a starting point, preserving its double-height living space, second-story bedrooms and bridge leading to the front door. He then mirrored its boxy architecture of wood-sheathed walls, large windows and flat roofs in two new wings: one occupied by a family room and bedrooms, the other by a garage.

In between these wood-clad sections are glassier structures that house the kitchen, dining area, and utility spaces. They double as corridors and rooms, and frame views of the outdoors, including a newly installed swimming pool and deck in the rear yard. Within these connecting spaces, the combination of windows, dark-painted walls, white vertical bars and horizontal roof lines creates the lightweight, open feeling of a tree house. 

The architect compares his pairing of wooden boxes and glassy, linking “hyphens” to skin and bones, a counterpoint of solid surface and lacy, open framework that breaks up the expanse of the new five-bedroom house.

“It’s a looser composition than a lot of our other work,” says McInturff. “It’s appropriate because it integrates the building into the site.” Extending to the south and east of the original house, the addition conforms to setback restrictions on the one-and-a-half-acre property and the couple’s desire to preserve the wooded setting.

From the front hall of the original house, the newly expanded kitchen, with its pantry and breakfast nook preserved, connects old with new. “We call this Long Island,” the husband jokes about the super-sized work surface stretching down the center of the galley-style room. Most of the cabinets are positioned below the granite-covered countertops to maintain unobstructed views from the tall windows that line both sides of the space.

From the kitchen, the glassy addition opens into a double-height dining space in full view of the backyard pool. Both spaces are united by floors of Italian limestone, also applied in hallways throughout the house. At one end of the dining area, a metal-banded wall finished in yellow Venetian plaster shields the staircase leading up to the master suite.

Occupying the center of the dining space, much like the island in the kitchen, is an antique pine table long enough to seat 12 on leather chairs for informal meals shared by family and friends. “We were originally looking at glass tops when our designer suggested this farm table,” says the husband. “We were thinking ‘Hee-Haw,’ until we saw it and how much it warms up space.”

In selecting the furnishings, the couple consulted Baltimore interior designer Patrick Sutton, who recommended streamlined but comfortable pieces. Next, to the dining space, the family room is sunken one step down and arranged with a low-slung, mohair sofa and armchairs by French designer Christian Liagre for Holly Hunt. Built-in shelving for television and stereo equipment lines one wall, adding the richness of reddish-brown African mahogany to the pared-down space.

Behind the family room, a hallway connects a pair of bedrooms, including one for the couple’s young son. It leads to a long, narrow utility room next to the garage where sporting equipment, including surfboards, skis and golf clubs, fills storage nooks. As in other parts of the house, this catch-all space functions as both a room and a hallway. A glass-framed bay at the end serves as a greenhouse for the wife’s orchid collection. It extends into the yard with full views of the Japanese-inspired landscaping and stone-lined, dry creek bed that surrounds the house.

Upstairs, the master bedroom is a private oasis but still connects to the rest of the house. Cut into one wall, an opening framed in the same African mahogany used in the family room looks down into the dining space. The bed is placed against a pale seafoam-colored wall, finished in Venetian plaster like the walls of the stairway outside the room. It faces built-in shelving, a corner banquette and a tall bank of windows with a door leading to a roof deck.

Behind the bedroom, his and hers walk-in closets open to a dressing area with built-in chests of drawers finished in Sycamore. Located between this space and the bedroom, the master bath is an airy retreat tiled in limestone with a whirlpool tub tucked under the corner windows.

At the opposite end of the house, the original living room still maintains its modernist formality, now enhanced by Asian touches. Arranged in front of the fireplace on a royal purple Tibetan rug are a purplish gray mohair sofa and antique Chinese deco chairs, purchased by the wife at a Baltimore antique show. In one corner is a grand piano. “It’s the one room no one goes into,” admits the wife. “But it’s good as an overflow space when we have parties.”

“We just clicked with him,” says the husband, who closely supervised the two-year construction project. “Mark said, ‘Let’s have fun,’ and we did.”

Pulled up to the corner windows are a stone table and 1960s Z-shaped chairs, all left over from the husband’s bachelor days. In this area of the house, the couple had the oak floorboards bleached several times to an almost ivory color to match the limestone flooring in the addition.

On the second floor of the old house, the original master bedroom once sat above the garage, which was demolished to make way for the new kitchen.

It was turned into a guest room, now accessible from the roof deck off the new master suite. Another bedroom, reached from a staircase off the living room, became the husband’s office with a coffee table made from a Chinese xylophone.

A part-time rock musician, the husband wanted a space where he and his friends could rehearse, record and hang out. McInturff, who has designed homes with an indoor basketball court and a pipe-organ room, complied with an acoustically isolated suite of rooms in the basement. “I like these functional challenges because they can really make a house unique,” the architect says. Now the husband can bang the drums to his heart’s content in a spacious, sound-proof room outfitted with a kitchenette, leather furniture, and a sleek-lined pool table.

Though their renovation project was extensive, the homeowners chose to live in the existing house during the nearly two years of construction. “We closed off the kitchen and made do with a hot plate, toaster oven, and coffee maker,” says the wife. “We also ate out a lot.” Despite the inconvenience, the couple says it was worth staying put to monitor the progress. “It gave us more time to make decisions, to really get what we wanted,” says the husband.

“When two people agree on the design,” adds the wife, “you know you’ll be able to live with it—and each other.

 



McInturff’s combination of windows, white vertical bars and
horizontal rooflines create the open feeling of a tree house.

 


From the front hall of the original house, the expanded kitchen
connects old with new.

 


From the kitchen, the glassy addition opens into a double-height
dining space with a full view of the backyard pool.

 


At one end of the dining area, a metal-banded wall finished in
yellow Venetian plaster shields the staircase leading up to the
master suite
.

 


The addition encompasses a glassy area housing the kitchen
and dining area and a new wood-clad master-bedroom wing.
A newly installed heated swimming pool and a deck made of
Brazilian ipe creates an outdoor environment perfect for entertaining.

 


In the master bedroom, an opening also framed in African
mahogany looks down into the dining space.

 


The master bath is an airy retreat tiled in limestone with a
whirlpool tub tucked under the corner windows.




Nearly all of the cabinets by Poliform are positioned below the
granite-covered countertops to maintain unobstructed views
from the tall windows that line both sides of the space.