There are times when location is everything. In the case of a 1980s contemporary, its setting on a winding, rural road in Great Falls, Virginia, overlooking a picturesque pond was a major selling point. The owners, a couple who operate a non-profit from home for families in crisis, loved their quiet, bucolic surroundings. Their outdated house, however, needed help. It did not reflect their taste, and more important, did not take advantage of the natural beauty around it. After purchasing the home in 2003, they began refurbishing bathrooms and making minor changes with the help of interior designer Mary Galloway. But the real transformation occurred in 2009 when the time came for a structural renovation.
It all started with the old cedar siding. The vertical panels cladding the house had fallen victim to the weather and required a lot of maintenance. “We thought about replacing them but decided to do something different,” the wife recalls. One exterior change soon snowballed into others. The owners had also decided to renovate the kitchen into a more functional space with their own spare, modern aesthetic.
On Galloway’s recommendation, they called on Wnuk Spurlock Architects for help, as principal Steven Spurlock expresses it, “transforming the existing structure to be more engaging and responsive to the site and the clients’ needs.” Ultimately, the project would encompass re-siding the house with geometric panels of low-maintenance fiber-cement to modernize the home’s look; adding a sheltering structure at the front entrance; opening the rear elevation to the backyard and its views; creating an outdoor living space where the owners could enjoy their surroundings; and designing a functional new kitchen.
“The house is composed of three elements,” Spurlock explains. “It’s a center volume that hyphenates two flanking volumes.” The living room occupies the hyphen, one volume houses the bedrooms and the other houses the kitchen and dining room. A lower-level rec room also accesses the backyard.
Galloway collaborated with Spurlock on a plan to open the kitchen up to the back. “I knew the clients loved the outdoors and I wanted to give them more of a connection between indoor and outdoor spaces,” she recalls. “The concept was that the kitchen would have this exterior deck that was a continuation of it, that just seemed to flow.”
Because the house is situated on a slope, the main level is elevated at the back while the front is at ground level. Prior to the renovation, the kitchen opened to a small deck made of pressure-treated wood. Spurlock rebuilt it out of îpe, expanding it to border the living room as well as the kitchen. A wall of floor-to-ceiling glass doors and panels, all framed in stainless steel, now flanks the kitchen and living room; the doors lead out to the deck. Spurlock also added a door to the deck from the ground-level master bedroom, and inserted three structural glass panels into the floor of the deck to admit light below.
Playing off the idea of connecting the structure to nature, the architect and his team designed what he describes as “a freestanding, tree-like canopy above the front entry,” made of galvanized structural steel and frosted acrylic glass. On the deck, they used clear glass railings with “tree-like” painted-steel supports. The glass railings, which replaced a solid stair partition, allow an uninterrupted view of the pond. To unite the home’s interior and exterior elements, the same glass and steel railing now lines the stairway to the basement rec room.
While Spurlock was creating an outdoor living space for his clients, Galloway was designing a kitchen that would embrace it. She replaced two small windows facing the back—and a wall that held the refrigerator—with a wide, ceiling-height sliding window, then extended the same counter outside the window to create a bar where, when the windows are open, visitors can sit outside and still be connected to the kitchen.
When it came to the décor, Galloway went in an entirely different direction, moving decisively from natural to man-made. She and the owners had originally met at a club for Porsche enthusiasts. Taking cues from her clients’ beloved collection of four Porsches, Galloway chose high-gloss custom cabinetry to mimic the sheen of an automobile, and installed a textured stainless-steel backsplash that echoes the Porsche’s lines. Even the Zephyr hood opens like a racing car door. “It was sort of tongue-in-cheek,” Galloway says. “I wanted to keep it sleek.”
Quartzite counters top the peripheral cabinets and deck bar. The island counter of poured concrete combines embedded, recycled glass and ammonites in some parts with plain, tinted concrete in others. Curved lines between the expanses of concrete pick up curves in the lines of the plantation-grown hardwood floor. These lines extend to the deck and pull all the elements together.
According to the husband, the success of the project came from a real meeting of the minds. Spurlock and his team “were good at listening to what we wanted,” he observes. “Then they’d bring back ideas. All we had to do was tweak them and we were there.”
Photographer Steven Paul Whitsitt is based Durham, North Carolina.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: STEVEN L. SPURLOCK, FAIA, LEED AP; MARCY GIANNUNZIO, AIA, LEED AP, Wnuk Spurlock Architecture, Washington, DC. CONTRACTOR: CARRMICHAEL CONSTRUCTION, Fairfax, Virginia. KITCHEN & INTERIOR DESIGN: MARY M. GALLOWAY, ASID, NCIDQ, Onesta Design LLC, Alexandria, Virginia.