Hard-edged contemporary architecture is rarely kid-friendly, but a Modernist house in the Baltimore suburb of Lutherville proves otherwise. The homeowners and their three young children enjoy the openness of this light-filled dwelling where banks of windows allow for parental supervision of outdoor activities and plenty of storage keeps toys out of sight. “This is a happy house,” says the wife, a physician who works at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “We use every bit of it.”
The main level has no formal living or dining rooms, but a glass-lined, multi-purpose space offers clear views of the front lawn and swimming pool at the back. The kitchen, dining table and living area occupy this big, open area where the family spends most of its time. “The design is inspired by a loft,” says the husband, who works in the financial industry. “We can be making lunch or dinner and still see the kids swimming in the pool or playing soccer on the lawn.”
The couple decided to build the house after finding a generous lot that provided a more suitable children’s play area than the steeply sloping terrain of their previous home, a 1960s rancher in nearby Ruxton. “We wanted a big, flat yard and a home that was open and airy,” says the wife. “Traditional houses make me feel claustrophobic. I can’t stand clutter and knick-knacks.”
A shared interest in contemporary architecture led the couple to check out the custom homes of Merry-Go-Round Farm, the upscale Potomac development, and hire the architect responsible for some of its most modern designs, Bethesda-based Mark McInturff. “He was the only architect we talked to,” says the husband. “We liked that his work is so clean and bright.”
McInturff tailored the house to family life by concentrating on flowing spaces used on a regular basis by both parents and children. “Their kids aren’t relegated to a play room in the basement, but are active throughout the house,” he says. “That meant the design had to be robust and anti-precious.”
Long and narrow to capture sunlight and views, the home is simply organized to allow for transparency and togetherness. The open kitchen and living/dining space dominate the ground level while second-floor bedroom suites are clustered at the front of the house and connected by a single hallway illuminated by skylights and clerestory windows.
Given the neighborhood’s strict design rules, McInturff drew on local agricultural history to treat the house like a barn with a pitched roof. He transformed that simple shape into a more sophisticated design through variegated building materials applied to define each part of the house.
The standing-seam zinc roofing extends to the upper-story walls “like a cloak or a metal jacket,” the architect says. Slatted wooden panels suggesting shutters are interspersed among the windows to express a rhythmic pattern. Walls of cast-stone blocks anchor the base of the building and extend inside to create a sense of permanence. Stucco clads the ends of the house, screened porch and garage to establish the crisp planes associated with modern architecture.
Set back from the street to create a generous front yard, the house is accessed from a driveway at one side leading to the garages and entrance. The front door opens to a hallway extending to the dining/living space and staircase. In developing the entrance sequence, McInturff and project designer Colleen Gove Healy considered every detail of the family’s routine, from stowing the kids’ backpacks in the mudroom to hanging up mom’s lab coats.
The couple enjoys casually entertaining family and friends, and makes use of two kitchen islands for food preparation and buffets. “We can have 14 people around the dining table and everyone has their own space,” says the wife. Overnight guests stay in a bedroom suite tucked into a corner of the main level and a second-floor study with a sleeper sofa.
For the kids, dedicated play areas are integrated into rooms throughout the house. Spaces for toys and games are part of the basement and a section of the kitchen originally envisioned as a breakfast nook. On the upper floor, the corridor is widened to allow for a kids’ zone that can be transformed into a library or a home office as they grow older.
Storage is incorporated into walls for hiding clutter and finishes are sleek but sturdy. “Because of the three small children occupying this house, we focused on detailing that looks delicate but is durable,” says Healy. “Built-ins appear to hover above the floor but are secured to the ground with hidden steel supports underneath.”
Contractor Design Alternatives ensured that every one of these architectural details was accurately translated into reality. “The house we built looks almost exactly like Mark’s first sketch,” says the husband. “We couldn’t be happier with the results.”
Frequent contributor Deborah K. Dietsch is based in Washington, DC. Julia Heine is a photographer and designer with McInturff Architects in Bethesda, Maryland.
ARCHITECTURE: MARK MCINTURFF, FAIA, principal, and COLLEEN GOVE HEALY, project designer, McInturff Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. INTERIORS: JULIA HEINE, McInturff Architects. BUILDER: MIKE BOWERS, principal, and JIM HEAGY, project manager, Design Alternatives, Hunt Valley, Maryland.