Portfolio- The Gift of Light

Portfolio- The Gift of Light

On an Arlington, Virginia, cul de sac, a 1947 stone-fronted cottage nestles on a rolling, picturesque sweep of land. Home to artist Suzanne Yurdin and her husband David Bell, it’s a light-filled house with views of the gardens all around and a contemporary edge that blends seamlessly with its traditional architecture.

The house didn’t always look this good. When Yurdin and Bell moved in it was very dark and the kitchen—a focal point of any home—had been closed off from the outdoors by a dining room and family room addition completed by the previous owners. Yurdin recalls wondering, “If I bought this place for the yard, why can’t I see it?” As an artist, she placed a premium on natural light for other reasons as well: Her home was to be both her studio and gallery. 

Yurdin and Bell contacted Annandale, Virginia-based design-build firm Fisher Group, LLC, soon after they moved in, ready to renovate. They charged principal Peggy Fisher with several goals: to improve access to the outdoors, to create a sense of openness within and to leave enough wall space to display Yurdin’s large, colorful abstract paintings. “We looked for ways to create a gallery,” the artist says, “but we ended up deciding the house itself should function that way.”

Fisher accomplished the renovation without changing the home’s footprint. “Suzanne had told me she didn’t want a bigger house, she wanted a better one,” the designer says. She began by moving the kitchen into the infrequently used dining room addition, located next to the family room at the back of the house. Since the family room provided much-needed access to the backyard and an abundance of natural light, Fisher removed the wall between it and the new kitchen, creating a bright, airy combination kitchen/family room space. Pre-existing skylights pour light into the kitchen area, while the vaulted ceiling in the family room area imparts a sense of expansiveness. Mullioned windows were replaced with more contemporary ones to provide an unobstructed view of the gardens beyond. 

An interior wall was shifted about two feet to accommodate a wet bar/garage entry adjacent to the kitchen. A full bath, which was seldom used, was converted into a powder room, and a convenient laundry room—outfitted with reclaimed cherry cabinetry from the former kitchen—was created with borrowed space from the original bathroom and side entry. In a corner of the family room, the wall separating the breakfast nook was removed, creating a charming, curved niche flanked by windows.

Alterations were also made in the front of the house, which had the layout of a center hall Colonial with the living room on one side, dining room on the other and stairs in between. What was missing was a foyer. “We took the stairwell wall down on the dining room side to open up the entry,” Fisher says. They also replaced the traditional wood banister with a more contemporary one of wrought iron. The previous owners had used the home’s original dining room as a study, but Fisher reinstituted its function as a dining room.
Yurdin had charged her with finding a place of honor for the family’s most valuable heirloom: a late-17th-century French commode. The designer placed it along the wall separating the dining room from the family room/kitchen. To connect the spaces, she also installed a tall, narrow inside window on the wall beside the chest; the juxtaposition of the two offers an interesting contrast between eras.

Fisher chose simple lines and modern, organic finishes throughout the renovated space. Sleek, dark-stained alder wood cabinetry, stainless-steel GE Monogram appliances and a metallic backsplash lend the kitchen a contemporary look while slate flooring and Gold & Silver granite countertops in the kitchen, wet bar and powder room unify the spaces. The original oak floors remain, but have been stained dark throughout. Fisher added recessed lighting, as she describes it, “to suit the rooms’ views” as well as the artist’s paintings.

Earth tones and neutral paint colors create the backdrop Yurdin wanted for her home gallery. Wall space for her dramatic canvases abounds, just as she had hoped it would. Her studio currently occupies the home’s original living room; untouched by the renovation, it remains somewhat light-challenged. According to Yurdin, however, that’s a project for the future. For now, she and her husband are thrilled with their new interiors. “There’s not a bad view anywhere,” Yurdin says. “It really feels like my home now.”
Photographer Lydia Cutter is based in McLean, Virginia.RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: Peggy Fisher, Fisher Group, LLC, Annandale, Virginia. CONTRACTOR: Thomas Topp, Topp Designs, Inc., Fairfax, Virginia.