Architect Randall Mars and interior designer Dolly Howarth gave this McLean home a new lease on life. © ANICE HOACHLANDER
Silver quartzite and marble surround the fireplace in the living room. © ANICE HOACHLANDER
A photograph by Angie Seckinger on the wall in the dining room reinforces designer Dolly Howarth’s color scheme. © ANGIE SECKINGER
The light-filled breakfast room is the only addition to the home’s original footprint. © ANGIE SECKINGER
The design team retained the home’s original cherry floors in the master bedroom. © ANGIE SECKINGER

ORGANIC MODERN

A design team updates a 1970s contemporary with a material palette inspired by nature

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2009

There’s modern as in the aesthetic of detached cool. And then there’s Kathy Viola’s renovated home in McLean. While the former can feel a bit sterile, the latter is decidedly not. A realization of the combined vision of Viola, architect Randall Mars and interior designer Dolly Howarth, the home melds natural elements, warm tones and tactile materials. It’s a style that Howarth calls “organic modern.”

The single mom of an eight-year-old, Viola sought a change from the traditional style of her former residence. She found it in the ’70s contemporary situated on a magnificent wooded property. But, typical of its time period, the house was encased inside and out in dark vertical wood paneling and dotted with small windows. She enlisted Mars and Howarth to bring the home into the new millennium while creating spaces that were innately warm and livable.

The update was dramatic yet thoughtful. Mars opened the house up, creating a rear exterior wall of glass. He also surrounded the base of the house in local fieldstone, stained the existing siding charcoal gray, and added a new metal roof. But Mars retained many original features, such as the cherry floors on the main level.

“What keeps it warm, in part, is that we kept the old cherry floors,” says Mars. “And the new materials we used, like slate, have a warmth to them. We also used different woods in different locations. There is no area that’s just white walls with white ceilings.”

The overriding result is one of comfort and openness, accentuated by sweeping panoramic views from many of the common rooms. “It’s like living in a tree house,” Viola says. “People come here and they don’t want to leave.”

Although he rendered the house essentially unrecognizable from its former self, the only square footage Mars added was a 10-by-10-foot breakfast room. This makes the new home not only a glorious example of a renovation, but an eco-friendly one, too.

“What I love about this house is that it’s not huge,” Mars says. “I like the scale; it has character you can relate to. It’s not one of those houses with a study you may walk into every two months. We are using all the space.”

Making sure the interiors functioned beautifully was a top priority for Howarth, whom Viola hired early in the design phase. Howarth helped her client incorporate new, modern elements with time-cherished pieces that she was loathe to leave behind.

“I tend toward modern, but I love to mix styles,” Howarth says. “Any one style by itself is very stifling.” The interplay of old and new adds layers of interest and accessibility. In the dining room, a dramatic crystal chandelier by Ochre presides over a circa-1750 cherry dining table, surrounded by leather Parsons chairs. Howarth and Mars also designed with both sophisticated and youthful house guests in mind. A wall of clean-lined millwork in the living room slides back to reveal not only a flat-screen TV, but shelves of toys as well.

Color was also carefully considered. “Blue was the only color Kathy consistently seemed to like, and you don’t see a lot of it in modern homes,” Howarth says. Thanks to a bit of serendipity, the palette came together when the designer discovered a botanical photograph by Maryland-based Angie Seckinger that incorporates many of the desired gray and taupe tones on a soft blue background. The photograph “pulled together all the colors I was using and became a focal point for the first level of the home,” Howarth says.

Those same tones extend into the kitchen, which is defined by a marble-topped rectangular island and a mosaic backsplash that echoes many of the shades found throughout the home. A Tulip Table designed by Eero Saarinen with a Calcutta gold marble top is centered in the breakfast room, surrounded by side chairs upholstered in blue-toned Kravet Crypton fabric, which feels luxurious but can take its share of spilled milk.

Both Mars and Howarth were careful not to over-furnish the glass-enclosed breakfast room but let the vista set the mood. “We wanted to flood the kitchen in light all day long. It’s just this wonderful little room completely enclosed in glass,” Mars says.

With so much focus on the home’s exterior views, Mars also recast and extended a deck that now wraps behind the living and dining rooms and connects by a fanciful bridge to a smaller porch off the first-level master suite.

“While it’s nice to create an interior space that takes advantage of the views, it’s even nicer to be amongst it,” he says.

Catherine Applefeld Olson is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Virginia.

ARCHITECTURE: Randall Mars, AIA, Randall Mars Architects, McLean, Virginia. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: J. L. Albrittain, Arlington, VA. INTERIOR DESIGN: Dolly Howarth, Howarth Designs LLC, Arlington, VA.