The road to builder Mark Turner’s Fauquier County weekend home wends through a valley dotted with farms and pastures. A visitor comes face to face with grazing cows at the exact same moment that cellular and GPS service drop—and the workday slows to a molasses pace. This is remote, off-the-grid country.
Which is precisely why Turner chose this spot to build his retreat dubbed the One Nest Project. Set on 11 pristine acres, One Nest enjoys prime views of the valley and rolling hills. A riff on classic Virginia barn-and-silo design, the house makes dual impressions: A rigorous design program with cutting-edge materials meets a lovingly rendered nod to nostalgia.
The interior, with its vaulted great room, abundant windows and crisp, clean detailing, upends the notion of a quaint cabin in the woods. A hearth made of local stone forms an axis with a glass-enclosed spiral stair and the “silo” tower. Long, diagonal views make the home feel much larger than its 1,000 square feet.
“The scale was really important to us,” says Turner, who grew up on a ranch in Wyoming. “We have a bigger home in Falls Church but our family enjoys it more out here, with the light and the uniqueness of the space.”
When the Turners visit One Nest, they power off TV, cell phones and iPads. “The idea is to get out here with a bunch of people, good food and conversation,” Turner says. “The entertainment is hopefully to be with each other.”
The founder and president of Green-Spur, Inc., who built the award-winning Carbon Neutral showhouse in McLean in 2009, Turner was not just looking for a weekend retreat when he conceived One Nest. This man has a mission: to build a simple home in tune with the local vernacular that will tread lightly on the land and be stronger, more energy efficient, less expensive and faster to build than a conventional house. Ultimately, he hopes, it will spark change in the way houses are built on a grander scale.
“If you can build a product in less time that requires less maintenance, that’s cheaper, faster and better, with more soul, why wouldn’t people do it?” he insists. “I built the house because I really believe in the idea. You can’t change people by just talking; you have to have a physical product you can touch and feel.”
Turner hired DC architect David Bagnoli, who is well versed in sustainable design, to help bring his vision to fruition. Despite its simple profile, One Nest employs a number of “radical” building technologies, according to Turner. Crafted from modular components including structural insulated panels (SIPs) and a steel chassis created on site, it required no foundation and contains 85 percent less concrete than a typical dwelling. But its “secret sauce,” Turner explains, is the magnesium oxide wallboards cladding the house, which eliminate the need for exterior siding and interior drywall. These panels are extremely durable, well insulated and fire- and water-resistant.
“I wanted to try to build a house in a hundred days—which we did—for about 40 percent of the cost, and use materials that don’t require a lot of maintenance,” says Turner, pointing out long-lasting galvanized steel decks, concrete pavers and Corten siding on a walk around the exterior. “We want to flip things on their head and use materials that make a whole lot more sense. When you come out for a weekend you shouldn’t have to work on your home all the time.”
By designing a highly vertical structure, Bagnoli kept circulation space at a minimum. A three-story, glass-enclosed spiral staircase leads from the ground level to the master suite, which floats above the family room. On the third level you reach a guest room and a ladder up to the loft where the Turners’ kids bunk in the top of the tower. “We tried to make every inch of it as efficient as a yacht,” says the architect. “The long, diagonal views and the dramatic height make it feel a lot more spacious.”
Since its completion in May, Turner has taken dozens of friends, family members, realtors, journalists and building professionals through the house, “getting on my soapbox,” as he describes it, to challenge outdated building methods. He hopes that One Nest will serve as a catalyst for smarter, more sustainable building in Virginia and farther afield.
Based on its model, similar homes built with modular components and systems could be “flat-packed and sent to a number of places where they would be applicable,” says Bagnoli, “whether it’s Virginia, or Haiti or China or who knows where.”
In his kitchen arranging a cheese plate on honed granite countertops before a dozen realtors descend on his peaceful retreat for a tour, Turner concludes, “It bums me out to see huge chunks of land being carved up without much creativity or thought. I’ve got a lot of my soul invested in this one. It’s just one house and it probably won’t change the world. But hopefully it will start a conversation.”
Photographer Paul Burk is based in Baltimore.