In life, making bold changes often means discarding the past. But in the dramatic transformation of a family home, architect Robert Gurney broke new ground while still preserving what his clients held near and dear.
The owners built their Potomac rambler from the ground up 30 years ago. But by today’s standards, its interiors felt dark and compartmentalized, its layout was inefficient and its builder-grade windows barely glimpsed the adjacent woodland. As Gurney recalls, “The owners were considering a move downtown, but their three grown children said, ‘Don’t sell the house.’”
A teardown was also out of the question. “We have so many memories here,” the executive and his wife told the architect. “We don’t want to do that.” In the end, they simply asked him to “freshen it up.”
The plan Gurney presented, and his clients approved, far exceeded cosmetic changes. With the exception of the three original children’s bedrooms in the front portion of the home, he gutted and reorganized the entire ground floor, taking his clients’ directive to “open it up” to the extreme.
“The challenge was how to provide a whole new environment, yet maintain enough of the existing house so they still have those memories,” the architect explains. “It was a balancing act.”
By adding three glass “boxes” onto the back of the house, he created lofty volumes and uninterrupted views of the woods. Rooms were reordered not only to celebrate the site but also to introduce a functional floor plan that reflects the owners’ lifestyle.
The drama unfolds on arrival. In the foyer, guests enter an open living area where 14-foot-high ceilings and full-height windows reveal the scenery beyond. “I wanted the space to explode, to open up when someone comes in,” says Gurney. A light-filled dining room to the left of the foyer replaced a former study. Once isolated, the kitchen now plays a starring role with open access to the great room and the glass-enclosed breakfast area, which was previously sequestered in an octagonal, ’80s-style pavilion.
Strong horizontal axes bring clarity to the floor plan. The reconfigured master suite was shifted from the center to the back of the house for better views. From their bedroom, the owners walk straight through the living room and kitchen to their new home office. To create this space, Gurney moved the garage forward and extended the back of the home by 12 feet—the only addition he made to the original footprint.
Though the floor plan appears simple, orchestrating it was anything but, says Gurney. “It becomes a jigsaw puzzle—the program and light, the relationship with spaces and putting it all together.
“I set it up to be more user-friendly, so their daily use of the house was greatly enhanced,” Gurney continues. “The owners work in the study and live in the master bedroom, so that’s their ‘everyday’ space. The front of the house that they don’t really use is sort of its own wing now.” Besides a fresh coat of paint, the original bedrooms in this wing—which now host visiting children and grandchildren—and the home’s lower level remain untouched.
Landscape architect Kevin Campion designed simple, understated front and back gardens that relate to the architecture. Plantings help define the new entry while the undulating lawn in the backyard echoes the lines of Gurney’s glass volumes.
To furnish the renovated spaces, the owners hired interior designer Therese Baron Gurney. She frequently collaborates with the architect, who is also her husband. “As with almost all of our projects, it was my goal to create bases for function within Bob’s open plan,” she explains.
Baron Gurney complemented the architecture with clean-lined furniture in flexible, carefully conceived arrangements. In the great room, the clients can comfortably lounge on the sectional near the TV when they’re home alone, but the adjacent sofa and swivel chairs accommodate guests when they entertain.
Baron Gurney’s serene color palette took its cues from her clients, whose favorite shade is green. “I chose things that accentuated green, such as the custom wool rug in the great room that combines evergreen and eggplant,” she says. “But in general, we created pops of color on neutral palettes that are rich in texture.”
The organic, pared-down material palettes that the architect and designer selected embody a “less is more” mentality. Details, though spare, were carefully considered and painstakingly implemented by the builder, Added Dimensions, from the floating fireplace ledge fashioned from lava stone to the quarter-inch reveal that takes the place of traditional base molding throughout the project. “We work really hard to make details go away. It’s not about molding—it’s about the space and materials and light,” says Robert Gurney. “Added Dimensions pulled it off really well.”
The clients—and their children—love the bold new personality of their long-time residence. “It has definitely changed the way they live and work in the house,” concludes the architect. And best of all, it still feels like home.
Anice Hoachlander is a principal of Hoachlander Davis Photography in DC.
ARCHITECTURE: ROBERT M. GURNEY, FAIA, principal; CLAIRE L. ANDREAS and KARA R. McHONE, project architects, Robert M. Gurney, FAIA Architect, Washington, DC. INTERIOR DESIGN: THERESE BARON GURNEY, ASID, Baron Gurney Interiors, Washington, DC. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: KEVIN CAMPION, ASLA, principal; Meredith Forney Beach, project manager, Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. CONTRACTOR: Added Dimensions, Takoma Park, Maryland.