Sounds of banging hammers and buzzing saws greet this visitor to Phillips Park, a 46-lot development taking shape off Foxhall Road in DC. Most of the luxury homes planned for this former estate of philanthropists Marjorie and Duncan Phillips are under construction or have yet to break ground. So discovering the house completed by interior designer Skip Sroka and his partner of 21 years John Kammeier, a fashion executive, comes as a pleasant surprise.
Their two-story home is only the fourth to be occupied in Phillips Park and its simple design could well serve as a model for the community. Sitting comfortably on the lot, the H-shaped dwelling is arranged with a forecourt and a patio set between side wings. “We didn’t want a pretentious house, but one that blended into the background,” says Sroka. “We call it our ‘new old house.’”
The traditional design was created by architect Anne Decker, who previously collaborated with Sroka on several projects. “I admired the restrained dignity of her exteriors and felt comfortable in the quiet proportions of her rooms,” he says.
Decker responded to the site by combining elements inspired by older homes in the surrounding area. “Skip wanted a house that spoke to the neighborhood so we used the simple roof lines and predominant materials—brick, stone and slate—of those houses,” she explains.
The architecture also embraces the green building trend through environmentally friendly materials and systems. Synthetic slate made of recycled rubber and plastic covers its hipped roofs; sprayed-on foam insulates the walls; and geothermal energy from deep within the ground heats and cools the rooms.
Sroka, in turn, worked with Decker and project architect David Benton to ensure a seamless integration between exteriors and interiors. He detailed the front door and its neoclassical setting before moving indoors to complete the décor. “There was a good team effort on the project,” says Decker. “Skip is amazing at making decisions very quickly.”
For Sroka and Kammeier, the design process was made easier by their experience in renovating a 1940s residence in the nearby Kent neighborhood. That effort was undertaken only a few years before they purchased the Phillips Park parcel in 2006. “We thought that was our ‘forever’ house,” recalls Sroka of the remodeled Colonial once owned by newsman Edward R. Murrow (and featured in the September/October 2009 issue of Home & Design). “But buying this flat, deep lot allowed us to build a house with fewer levels and a pool.”
Inside the new house, Sroka integrated favorite features from his last home into a more efficient arrangement of rooms. Evident throughout are European influences filtered through his traditional-with-a-twist sensibility, as well as some experiments with geometric patterns. “My home is my design laboratory,” notes Sroka, whose meticulous detailing is particularly apparent in gracefully proportioned doorways and wall paneling.
Just off the foyer, the library is lined in alder wood and faux leather to conceal pull-out desks and cabinets cleverly hidden behind the paneling. Most of the furnishings, including a durable chenille sofa, are recycled from the couple’s previous house.
The cozy space opens to the most dramatic room in the house, a high-ceilinged living room centered on a baronial fireplace. Flanking the cast concrete mantelpiece are French doors opening to the patio and swimming pool. “When we had friends over in our old house, there was always a conundrum as to whether to use the living room or family room, so we eliminated one of them and simply have one big room,” explains Sroka.
Instead of buying new furniture, he removed the slipcovers from sofas and chairs to expose the light-colored upholstery and create an airy look. Greek key motifs on the mirror over the fireplace and a coffee table complement the geometric border in the rug. In one corner of the room, Baroque-inspired wall paneling opens to reveal a full bar with a sink, refrigerator and shelving. “We like to entertain in this room and it’s handy to have it built into the space,” says Kammeier.
The couple carved out a formal dining space between the living room and kitchen. Wallpapered in a Chinoiserie design, it centers on a blue-glass-accented chandelier purchased in Paris. Everyday meals are enjoyed in the spacious kitchen where built-in shelving displays Sroka’s collection of vintage McCoy pottery. Like the rest of the house, the practical space conveys a casual elegance through its oak floor, marble countertops and Art Deco chandelier.
A trellised, screened porch behind the kitchen provides another dining spot and a place to enjoy views of the backyard. District landscape designer Marion Oxford Dearth planted the garden with white-blossoming irises, azaleas and other species chosen for their light-reflective flowers. Grass growing between travertine pavers creates a graphic pattern of diagonal lines around the pool.
“This is my retreat on the weekends, a place to recharge my batteries,” says Kammeier, who works in New York and often travels to Milan for business. He and Sroka made sure their light-filled house offered plenty of places to unwind, including a soaking tub flanked by bookshelves in the master bathroom—an arrangement they also enjoyed in their previous house. An adjacent lounge provides a spot to watch TV, away from visiting friends and family who have their pick of three guest rooms, each with its own bathroom.
Since moving into the house last year, the couple has found its interconnected spaces better suited to their habits than any of their previous homes. “We love old houses, but don’t want the problems associated with them,” says Sroka. “We feel this house is a wonderful synthesis of beautiful things from the past for our lives now.”
Deborah K. Dietsch is a frequent contributor to Home & Design. Photographer Stacy Zarin Goldberg is based in Olney, Maryland.
ARCHITECTURE: ANNE Y. DECKER, AIA, design principal; DAVID BENTON, project architect; Anne Decker Architects, Bethesda, Maryland.
INTERIOR DESIGN: SKIP SROKA, ASID, Sroka Design Inc., Bethesda, Maryland. Landscape Design: MARION OXFORD DEARTH, Washington, DC. BUILDER: JIM GIBSON, Gibson Builders, Washington, DC.