Photography: Ken Wyner

Architecture + Custom Building: Case Study

Fresh Start: Robert Wilkoff designs an energy-efficient contemporary in a neighborhood of older homes

After many years and two renovations, a Chevy Chase couple was still not satisfied with their home. With its low ceilings, the space felt claustrophobic, while poorly planned additions resulted in convoluted traffic flow. The couple contacted Robert Wilkoff of Archaeon Architects with the idea of renovating yet again—but eventually came to the conclusion that what they really wanted was a whole new house. “It would have been a struggle to get it to work,” Wilkoff says. By building anew, they were able to avoid the constraints imposed by the original structure.

Wilkoff and his team arrived at a modern design, dictated by the couple’s desire for open spaces, high ceilings and energy efficiency. Yet the home still feels like it belongs in the circa-1930s neighborhood. Inside, a center-hall layout places the formal living and dining rooms on one side of the entry and a home office on the other. Straight back past a cable-railed, open stairwell, a sleek, open-plan kitchen/family room beckons. The entry’s ceiling soars to the top floor, while a tower of windows at the back sounds a contemporary note.

Throughout the house, Wilkoff incorporated sustainable methods and materials: Cultured, synthetic stone walls collect sunlight; geothermal and radiant floor systems provide heat; and extra-thick walls cover high-density insulation. In the basement—complete with a wine cellar, workout room and media room—a 30-foot greenhouse acts as a passive solar
collector that warms the space.

ARCHITECTURE: ROBERT WILKOFF, B.Arch, NCARB, principal, and DAVID LyJORDAN, RA, associate architect, Archaeon Architects, Cabin John, Maryland. CONTRACTOR: Brown Construction, Rockville, Maryland. PHOTOGRAPHY: KENNETH M. WYNER.

ROBERT WILKOFF’S TRADE SECRETS:

  • When building a new home, consider the views. All homes should have vistas when you walk in, to draw you into the space.
  • Incorporate as much natural light at possible. People respond to interior and exterior light.
  • When it comes to investing in sustainable building methods, do the easy things first. Spend more upfront on insulation, which will pay in dividends right away and will not break the bank.
  • Figure out early how you want spaces to relate to each other. How open do you want them? How defined? An educated consumer is the best client. Put together a scrapbook, explain what you want. Our Chevy Chase clients did research during the process and communicated beautifully. They got the house they wanted.