When David Domster began looking at properties in a densely wooded section of Richmond’s south side, he had his mind set on an empty lot. Then a friend mentioned a long shot: a worn-out 1973 home that was going up for auction. Six days later, Domster signed the papers. “The place was a mess [but I] instantly saw the vision of what it could be,” he recalls.
The house clings to a triangular site with a steep change in grade, only a stone’s throw from one of the city’s most popular riverfront parks. The location was ideal but the house was in disrepair. Tom Duke, an interior designer and principal at Richmond-based Evolve Architecture, joined the project and he and his client set to work creating a conceptual plan for the home.
“David is a dream client. He was able to envision the transformation of what would become his new home,” says Duke. The design’s early development centered around an open plan that would be flexible for entertaining. “I was seeking something different, something clean and contemporary, yet warm,” says the homeowner.
Once a conceptual plan had been established, the search for an architect began. Dave Johannas of Johannas Design Group landed the commission after hosting a charette in the house. “The design process went smoothly,” says Johannas. “In terms of what he wanted, the client was really well organized.”
Many of the home’s larger architectural alterations were subtractive. Spaces were opened to provide a continuous living/dining area that can spill into an adjacent study for larger events. Wide panes of glass rise from the floor to a steeply pitched ceiling, culminating in a strip of clerestory windows. The space is bathed in soft, natural light.
Throughout the house there was a conscious effort to bring the outside in wherever possible. “This was the only space without natural light when we started,” recalls Domster, motioning to the bathroom off the living area. “We brought it in with natural light tubing.”
The home’s additions are just as transformative. “We tried to have an impact on the façade,” Johannas says of new sections of cypress-clad wall. “We did a whole lot of reconfiguration to make a nicer entrance. It was an attempt to soften the front and make the arrival more dramatic.” A winding slate retaining wall laid by sculptor James Robertson leads to the covered entryway.
The cypress wall that frames the entry also encloses a private outdoor shower and garden, accessible from the master suite. “It’s wonderful to walk into,” Johannas says. “The access out to the garden was really important. There is something sensual about being able to go outside and still be attached to a really private space.”
A broad deck arcs out from the rear living space; below, the slope falls away making the deck feel suspended in the treetops. A stair leads down to another spacious deck, this one pre-existing.
The master bedroom was demolished and completely redesigned. The roof was entirely too low, explains Duke, so it didn’t make sense to keep it. The update is spacious, with a fireplace and sitting area. Another softening curve leads into the master bath and an immaculate dressing room whose focal point is a Swarovski crystal chandelier.
The kitchen has been customized from the ground up. Bespoke maple casework surrounds the space on three sides and forms the island, which serves as a buffer to the living/dining area. The room is a lesson in pure use of materials, which was important to Duke. “We didn’t want another material just for material’s sake,” he says. “The granite you see in the island is what you see in the foyer.”
A major goal of the design was a sensitive lighting system. Soft, even light is distributed by an array of ceiling-recessed fixtures, some of which conform to the exact pitch of the roof plane. For example, indirect lighting in the kitchen above the casework creates a consistent wash of light even as the roof plane pitches. Lighting in the back of the cabinetry sends a warm glow through reeded-glass door panels, which crop up in doorways throughout the house.
After all of the work, David Domster continues to add to the design—but in his fifth year in the house, it’s obvious he is settled. “We wanted a contemporary space that was both honest and comfortable” observes Duke. “We achieved that.”
Don O’Keefe is a writer and designer based in Richmond, Virginia. Tony Giammarino is a Richmond-based photographer.
ARCHITECTURE: DAVID JOHANNAS, AIA, Johannas Design Group, Richmond, Virginia. INTERIOR DESIGN: TOM DUKE, IIDA, LEED AP, Evolve Architecture, Richmond, Virginia. CONTRACTOR: MONUMENT CONSTRUCTION, LLC, Richmond, Virginia.