Architecture + Custom Building: Case Study

Natural Tapestry: A new eco-friendly home reflects its 1930s-era neighborhood

Hired to design a new home for a family of five in Maryland’s Brookmont neighborhood, architects Maria Casarella and Angela Yu of Cunningham | Quill faced a unique challenge: strike a balance between giving the owners the large house they desired and respecting the fabric of the surrounding 1930s-era bungalows. The landscape—described by Casarella as “a huge, soggy mess”—posed challenges of its own.

The architects developed a plan that would organize the home around a central staircase that brings light from the top floor to the basement. An informal layout, with no traditional dining room, includes an open living area and kitchen on the main level and four bedrooms upstairs.

A palette of stucco and stone with mahogany trim both indoors and out reflects the home’s natural setting. So as not to block the views, the garage was sheathed in mahogany slats, creating a light-filled space that doubles as a porch for casual gatherings.

With sustainability in mind, the architects positioned the house, its windows, and its low eaves to minimize solar heat gain and maximize daylight effects. Other eco-friendly features include geothermal heating and cooling and an LED lighting system. A series of vegetated swales resolved storm-water issues.

Bridging modern and Craftsman design, the completed house appropriately fits the neighborhood—and the owners are thrilled with the results. “With these good ingredients,” concludes Casarella, “it’s hard to mess up.”

Architecture: Maria Casarella, AIA, senior associate; Angela Yu, AIA, project architect, Cunningham | Quill Architects, Washington, DC. Furniture: Sarah Purdy, SPI Design, Alexandria, Virginia. Builder: Potomac Valley Builders, Bethesda, Maryland. Kitchen Cabinetry: Karen Hourigan, Kitchen and Bath Studios, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Robert Hruby, ASLA, Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. Photography: Anice Hoachlander.

Maria Casarella’s Trade secrets:

  • Trust the experience of the professionals you hire. You want an architect who has gone through the process with a high level of excellence in mind.
  • Have a house that’s easy to maintain. The basic stuff—insulation, windows that work properly, making sure that stormwater is managed correctly—goes a long way toward energy conservation.
  • The least revealing factor about a builder is the price. It doesn’t tell you anything about what it’s like to work with them or their ability to manage a project.
  • It’s misleading to look at images [of homes] and not realize how much thought is behind them. Architecture is not instantaneous. We are trained as generalized thinkers who put people together to make something. You want someone who really has that expertise.