Spare + Serene MARCH/APRIL 2010
According to one of the homeowners, it all started in 1989 when her husband wanted a work shed. What ensued was a 20-year-long project during which architect Mark McInturff, FAIA, transformed their dark 1961 Georgian-style home into an open, light-filled modern masterpiece. While it did take two decades, in the fourth and final phase the client and his wife finally got their work shed—plus a few extras including a meditation room, greenhouse, poolhouse, media room and massage room.
During the 20-year span, the owners’ children grew from toddlers to young adults while their house deviated very little from the original, 3-D model McInturff created in the late ’80s. “What we got was shockingly similar in layout to what we actually planned,” McInturff says, reflecting on the project, which doubled the size of the 5,000-square-foot home set on two wooded acres in Potomac.
First, he and his team designed a new garage with a study space above it on the east side of the home; the former garage became a family room while a patio was enclosed to create a sunroom. Then they designed the pool house. “In 2006, we leapt to the other end of the building and did the master suite pavilion, almost a separate building,” says McInturff. “We left the center untouched—until 2008.”
Throughout the project, McInturff honed in on a “spareness in detailing” to reflect his client’s fascination with Asian design. Natural wood, limestone floors and slatted screens handcrafted from Douglas fir subtly delineate transitions from one room to another. “The screens give a layered effect where you see through them but they also define space, creating the ability to have a big space and a little space at the same time,” McInturff explains. “We were trying to get the whole house to speak in one voice. The wife has a strong interest, intellectual and otherwise, in Asia. So there’s a feeling that goes with that. A sense of mystery. Calmness. Serenity.”
For McInturff, the master suite, which encompasses three levels and took nearly two years to build, was the most challenging part of the four-phase project. From the home’s main foyer, a greenhouse leads to this pavilion housing a massage room, steam room and gym on the lower level; a bedroom and bathroom on the main level; and a serene meditation room on the top level. A centerpiece in the pavilion is the two-ton solid limestone bathtub that the homeowners found in London.
The design’s minimalist approach is expressed beautifully in the master bedroom, which has “a Swiss watch quality,” McInturff says. “Everything is visible. There is nowhere to hide mistakes. Every board had to be to the highest par.” The bed, side tables and backboard were designed to offset the 16-foot ceiling, and “bring the room down,” says McInturff, “creating a cozy, defined space in a room with quite a high ceiling.”
By 2008, the homeowners were ready to tackle the untouched middle section of the house. They wanted to blend the formal and informal spaces—including the living room, dining room, library, family room and kitchen—into a seamless and cohesive whole. McInturff and his team created a new foyer topped by a soaring skylight and removed the walls dividing the living spaces to create a sense of openness. Transitions between rooms are gracefully defined by wooden screens, which echo the motif established in the bedroom pavilion.
The homeowners turned to designer Guillaume de Decker of Roche Bobois to help them furnish the living room, library, family room and sunroom. de Decker proposed a comfortable yet elegant combination of low, unimposing pieces that would complement the modern architecture and create comfortable environments for entertaining.
In the family room, de Decker divided the space into “a TV zone and a zone turned to the outside where one could enjoy nature while having a cup of tea,” he says. “The harmony of colors ties the two sections together and makes them look like they belong with each other. The space is not overcrowded and still very inviting for larger crowds.”
It’s hard for McInturff to step away from this two-decade-long project and he leaves a part of himself in the home. “All the projects I do are modern or contemporary in spirit, but they are all very different because I work for different people and I feed off of what their lives are about,” he says. “A number of times I have worked with a client over many years and then the last thing you do is the final brush stroke.”
Freelance writer Cari Shane Parven, a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, is author of Finding Friendship at Forty.
ARCHITECTURE: Mark McInturff, FAIA, McInturff Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: Guillaume de Decker, Roche Bobois, Washington, DC. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: Ron Isinghood, Timber Ridge Builders. BEDROOM PAVILION, PROJECT ARCHITECT: David Mogensen, McInturff Architects.