In his manifesto for the Bauhaus just a decade short of a century ago, architect Walter Gropius stated, “The ultimate aim of all visual arts is the building!” Later, his successor, Mies van der Rohe is said to have coined the phrase, “Less is more.” Less is most definitely more in this home-as-art designed by architect David Jameson for Steve Calem, president of Capital Funding Group, and Sandra Rubin, a physician. The couple and their two children live large in their minimalist home located in the Edgemoor neighborhood of Bethesda. Jameson designed a thoughtful home—a home that fits into the neighborhood; a home that is full of light, architectural detailing and visual harmony, implementing all the elements of visual art; a home that focuses on the daily routine and well-being of his clients.
Explaining how he integrates this modern house into its neighborhood, Jameson compares his design to the more traditional homes on the block, those built in the late ’30s and early ’40s. “This is the standard Bethesda-Chevy Chase face of a house, just recreated and reinvented in glass and stucco,” he says. “Behind that, you have the layering of the stone cube.” Preserving only the basement walls of this colonial-style brick home during construction, Jameson dug out the floor and underpinned it for higher ceilings. To maintain the scale of the neighborhood as he built upward, he maintained an eave line consistent with older homes on the block. In place of an attic within a steep roof, he topped his flat roof with a glass cube.
Most of the homes on the block have four or five steps leading to the front porch or stoop. Jameson took the dirt from his dig and deposited it in the front of the house, just behind a new stone retaining wall. Now, two steps lead up from the front sidewalk to a floating “bridge” of Pennsylvania bluestone in a thermal finish. Then, one more step rises to the front door.
This house is an exercise in proportion, scale and line, a melding of art and architecture. The rectilinear outline of glass, stucco and steel gives way to stone, each block precisely cut with no evidence of mortar. The center mullions on the first level bisect the center pane of glass on the second. The front door, a geometric assemblage of stainless steel, teak and translucent Lexan, has become a Jameson signature in many of his homes.
The interior spaces flow with one opening to another: to the right of the foyer is the music room; on the left is Calem’s office, the only room on this floor other than the powder room that can be completely closed. Beyond, the living room connects to the kitchen. From the living room, there is a visual link to the children’s rooms on the second floor; everyone is connected and yet there is privacy and individual space. Conversation flows effortlessly in the living room or kitchen even as daughter Arielle, nine, practices on the piano or son Nathan, 11, strums his guitar in the music room. The four-story steel staircase with cherry treads and an aluminum rail dramatically links the spaces vertically as the diagonal it creates adds a delightful tension to the controlled geometry of the design. Quarter-inch steel rods are spaced at just an inch and a quarter apart for a lyrical quality—walking past them, they appear to move, a subtle tribute to a family who appreciates music.
Viewed from the living room, a bridge threads through an opening leading to the master suite. This link to the children’s bedrooms involved a level of detail in planning and craftsmanship that sets this home apart. Cherry floorboards fit perfectly with no fill-ins or piecing together, a tribute to the pairing of fine craftsmanship with architecture.
One wall of the living room is paneled in African ribbon-mahogany cabinetry. A floating acoustical ceiling of mahogany blocks is encircled by a frame of clear glass. This glass is the floor of the third level, essentially a moat substantial enough to be walked on as light filters down two stories.
There are no baseboards in this home; drywall meets the floor flawlessly. At one point in the construction, Calem recalls his wife’s concern about the small number of workmen hanging drywall. He recalls responding that few installers can manage this level of precision work.
These white walls become a canvas for streams of light and shadows, prisms of color. “Sometimes I see a beam of light and then I see a tree reflected on the wall. Nature makes art inside the house,” says an appreciative Rubin.
For her, the concept of integrating the outside to the inside was fundamental. “I grew up with a lot of space and light,” the Argentinean-born Rubin notes. In planning this home she became interested in “the effect of space on people and how people react to space. When I am in this house, I am really happy.” For this family, their home nourishes the spirit while fostering day-to-day livability. Furnishings are minimal—no need for armoires, china cabinets, chests and bookcases. Storage is built into the house. “David did a really good job in organizing us and making places for different things,” Calem notes. An abundance of cabinetry hides behind the wall of mahogany in the living room. As Calem opens one cabinet filled with DVDs, he explains, “We don’t have them alphabetized. We are not the most organized people, but we know the general places for things to go and there is plenty of room.”
Off the foyer, in a hallway to the powder room, Jameson created four closets for coats, shoes or boots, one for each member of the family, again sheathed in mahogany. The same is true for one wall in the dining room where built-ins store china, glassware and even wine. Only under careful examination are the handles discernable. Jameson designed the dining table himself out of end-blocks of Douglas fir encased in bronze. In the kitchen and breakfast area, aluminum cabinets contain aluminized glass inserts. Storage is everywhere, from the deep drawers in the lower cabinets and island that house coffee pots and small appliances to the pantries opposite the eating area. A deep sink makes it possible to hide dirty cups and bowls until they get loaded into the dishwasher.
In Calem’s office, the desk is surrounded on two sides by anigre cabinets, a bit more decorative than the African ribbon mahogany used throughout the house. “Most people’s books are not beautiful, so we start with the idea to create this calm environment and I think it works,” explains Jameson. Electronic and technical equipment are out of sight along with notebooks, manuals and books. Shades are mounted inside slivers cut into the ceiling. “You can see out but nobody can see in,” explains Jameson. At night, the moon shines through the shades. “It is absolutely beautiful,” Calem says. “When we wake up in the morning, I push the button next to the bed for the shades to go up. How can you wake up and have a bad day when you see all of this beautiful foliage?”
The family room and guest room are located in the glass box atop the two main floors. After dinner, the family usually heads upstairs. “It’s a private area where we spend time with our kids winding down,” says Calem. The main room opens to a roof deck. In the back yard, a two-story outdoor room with one stucco wall for privacy is linked to one wall of the house, the ceiling pierced by a rectangular skylight. The space is an assemblage of mass and voids in precise proportion and scale, a geometric sculpture. When Calem’s 50th birthday party was held in the yard, everyone scooted undercover during a short drizzle. On another occasion, a movie screen was set up in the back yard for a film night with neighbors and friends. An invitation to this year’s movie night is one of the hottest tickets on the neighborhood social scene.
In the summer, they have all slept out on the roof deck under the stars. At the end of the day, this is a lived-in house—a minimalist space where its residents are living large.
Contributing editor Barbara Karth is based in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Paul Warchol is a photographer in New York City.
ARCHITECTURE: David Jameson, FAIA, David Jameson Architect, Alexandria, Virginia. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Madden Corporation, Rockville, Maryland. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: Gregg Bleam, Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect, Charlottesville, Virginia