Front and Center

A dramatic renovation redefines a cramped ranch-style home into a modern masterpiece full of space and light


Architect Jim Burton’s plan transformed the nondescript rambler
into a modern marvel. The addition is canopied by a butterfly roof
that slants gently above a wall of massive, front-facing sliding
glass doors that overlook Lake Barcroft.

New would argue that an addition is among the most effective ways to transform a home from the outside in. In most cases, however, the metamorphosis occurs in the back of the property with little or no impact on the façade. Not so a recent addition in Lake Barcroft, Virginia, which transformed a nondescript rambler into a modern marvel with construction that took shape, literally, right in the front yard.

The addition of a kitchen and dining pavilion was just the recipe for the homeowners, who were looking as much for a structural facelift as they were a larger place to gather with family and friends. “They wanted to completely change the way the house looked. They wanted something unique to boost the curb appeal,” says Brian Bielski, principal at Alexandria-based Bielski Design Build, who constructed the addition based on a design by architect Jim Burton, managing partner of Carter + Burton Architecture of Berryville, Virginia.

The original plans were dramatic, and the project only became more so as it evolved. Not only was the one-story 1950s ranch house to get a forward-jutting complement, but the new space was to be defined by walls set at a six-degree angle from the original home that would infuse the house with a modern aesthetic and virtually erase its rectangular elevation.

“With the existing house being ranch-style, they had a lot of small rooms that were very chopped up,” says Burton. “There was a very small entry hall, and I stopped by once and saw that in the kitchen they were using a drawer pulled out with a cutting board on top for counter space. With a modern plan that defines the living, kitchen and dining area all in one, it feels spacious but each [space] functions very well on its own.” Aside from the new construction, the design called for gutting the existing first-floor space and turning the previous kitchen and living room into a great room.

Burton’s plan also co-mingles indoors and out. With the community’s cherished lake right across the street, it worked out beautifully that the addition was to be at the front of the house. “The owners wanted a cone of vision that opened toward the lake, so the angles flair out and get wider,” notes Burton of the trapezoidal shape and abundance of windows. He created a passive solar design in the placement of windows and roof overhangs that not only accentuates the views but provides additional warmth in the winter and heat relief in warmer months.

Adding further visual interest, the addition is canopied by a butterfly roof that slants gently above a wall of massive, front-facing sliding glass doors. Rather than using standard wood framing for the roof, the plans called for structural insulated panels that were cut on site and mounted in place over a steel beam with a crane. “You get a better insulating quality with these panels than a conventionally framed roof,” says Bielski, who received a 2006 Contractor of the Year award from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) for this project.

The unique configuration of the roof was an aesthetic and environmental pleaser, but posed a new structural conundrum. “Because of its shape, this roof dumps a lot of water in one spot,” Bielski says. “So we had to fabricate a huge stainless-steel drain that comes down the side of house.”

Other details were also tweaked during construction. For example, while the original plans called for the new exterior walls to be composed of poured concrete, Bielski instead recommended using a colored plaster finish that would allow for deeper color penetration and be more cost-effective. Once the decision was made, both builder and client realized it would give the home a more finished look to also plaster over the remaining walls at the side of the façade that were not part of the addition.

“The original design didn’t call for changing the siding on the rest of the house, but since we were doing the addition in [colored plaster] we thought it also made sense to change the other walls of the original house so they and the addition would go together,” he says. On the finished house, front-facing walls coated in saturated matte black paint offset the house beautifully from the surrounding greenery.

The homeowners hired Boston- and Washington-based landscape design firm Zen Associates to upgrade the property’s exterior. A new patio created from flagstone cut in rectangles and set vertically beckons visitors toward the house from the front yard. At the far end, the patio abuts a set of aggregate concrete steps that spans the width of the entire addition. Off to the side, a four-by-eight-foot stainless steel door hints at the unique interior within.

“That was interesting,” Bielski says. “It came as a huge slab that weighs about 400pounds so it was not like hanging your typical door from Home Depot. We had to fabricate the weather stripping and find a way to hang it securely.”

The modern touches don’t stop with the exterior. Inside the 11-by-25-foot addition, a mix of natural materials—stone, wood, steel and glass—and clean architectural lines provide a cool, serene ambience. A custom bench and storage area offer ample space to stow away shoes and coats near the new entrance, leaving the kitchen and dining area open and uncluttered.

In the kitchen, a mix of granite and stainless-steel countertops complements the wood floors and maple cabinets from Jack Rosen Custom Kitchens. The centerpiece of the space is the large, notably asymmetrical island, which is perfect for serving a large group or gathering family for informal meals. The custom bank of maple cabinets and display cubes that open to the dining area are a modern meld of form and function, providing eye-catching display space as well as open storage.

The kitchen and dining areas also house a mix of ambient lighting, employing xenon, halogen and compact fluorescent lighting. Lights were also hung from the underside of the roof’s prominent steel beam, which Bielski left exposed to dramatically run the length of the dining space. Part of the beam was stuccoed to match the exterior walls.

Noting that “you could never have two [additions] like this one,” Bielski says advance planning and the gift of flexibility are what keeps his work enjoyable and, generally, low-tension. “The main lesson we learn as contractors is how to avoid conflict,” he says. “We focus on how to deal with people and work through situations as they come up.”

This philosophy worked like a charm in Lake Barcroft, where the homeowners collaborated on many of the details as their dream addition came to life. “They wanted what they wanted, and we worked together as we went along,” Bielski says.

Among sundry “add-ons” that came to the fore during the renovation are panels of Crush—an eco-friendly resin by 3form containing recycled glass—-that cover the kitchen backsplash and the slanted, tongue-in-groove cedar ceiling over the dining space. “That wood is Japanese temple-grade cedar, shipped in from Washington state,” Bielski recalls. “But that’s what they wanted, and they were willing to wait for it.”

Writer Catherine Applefeld Olson is based in Alexandria, Virginia. Greg Hadley is a photographer in Fairfax, Virginia.


A four-foot-wide stainless-steel door now welcomes visitors
into the space.


A new patio created from flagstone cut in rectangles and set
vertically beckons visitors toward the house from the front yard.
At the far end, the patio abuts a set of aggregate concrete steps
that spans the width of the entire addition.

The roof’s prominent steel beam was left exposed to dramatically
run the length of the dining space.


The custom bank of maple cabinets and display cubes that open to
the dining area are a modern meld of form and function, providing
eye-catching display space as well as open storage. In the kitchen,
a mix of granite and stainless-steel countertops complements the wood
floors and maple cabinets from Jack Rosen Custom Kitchens.


Among sundry “add-ons” that came to the fore during the renovation
are the panels of Crush—an eco-friendly resin by 3form containing
recycled glass—that cover the kitchen backsplash and the slanted,
tongue-in-groove cedar ceiling over the dining space. “That wood is
Japanese temple-grade cedar, shipped in from Washington state,”
Bielski recalls. “But that’s what they wanted, and they were willing
to wait for it.”


A ceiling element reveals a ghost of the existing ceiling structure
while providing artificial light from the attic. The monitor is also
covered with the ecoresin Crush.