The land has been in Kathryn Giampietro’s family for more than a century. Tucked between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge mountain ranges in Churchville, Virginia, the rolling hills are where her great-grandparents put down roots, and it’s where the clan still gathers annually for a reunion. Given those long ties, Kathryn and her husband, Fred, acted quickly when a cousin decided to sell 150 acres of the larger family plot. They then set out to craft a weekend retreat worthy of this pristine parcel.
“Our goal was to build something that would relate to the land and environment, that would be respectful,” reveals Kathryn, a musician. “We didn’t want the house to feel out of place.”
The Giampietro enlisted architect Jim Burton to translate their vision. “Jim was on the same wavelength as we were,” says Fred, who owns an art gallery in the couple’s hometown of New Haven, Connecticut. “We had an overall idea of what we wanted to accomplish. Jim got it.”
Burton conjured a modern house to fit the knoll-top site—christened Elk Run Ridge—and surrounding farmland. Natural materials, mainly cedar, and fieldstone, combine with large expanses of glass; the home’s shed-style roof is common to the region. “It’s a modern design, but it has some vernacular qualities,” notes Burton. “The structure looks like an agrarian shed from a distance.”
The shape gradually unfolds. Its linear design starts low on the western end with a welcoming scale along the entry courtyard, bordered by the stone-constructed master bedroom. Then, the structure slopes up to two stories on the opposite end. “We broke down the massing a bit,” says the architect. “It’s very friendly.”
The elongated, east-west approach not only marries house and land but also sustains the couple’s lifestyle. The empty nesters needed ample space to host large family dinners. They also wanted separate, turnkey quarters for weekend guests, who often include their grown son and his family.
Burton’s bifurcated design evolved from there. A common roof and breezeway unite the home’s two volumes. In the main portion, the central great room and kitchen link to the master-bedroom suite via a core that conceals a pantry and powder room. The two-story guest quarters opposite include a multi-tasking space with a kitchenette and Murphy bed on the first level, two bedrooms upstairs—accessed by a spiral staircase off the breezeway—and one guest room downstairs.
The views also informed the design. Both ends angle slightly north to expose the panorama from the courtyard while highlighting the family’s connection to the land. “The house intentionally bends out of the way to reveal the landscape,” explains Burton. “As you approach, the bend reveals the distant pavilion where the annual family reunion takes place.”
Walls of windows and a pair of sliding glass doors, one apiece on the north and south sides, “connect the living space visually and functionally to the porches and landscape,” says the architect. “The clients wanted an open plan with a strong inside-outside relationship. The magic really happens when you open the giant sliding doors and people can filter in and out.”
The energy-efficient layout, adds Burton, also “takes in passive solar qualities from the south.” Other design elements bow to the heat and humidity of western Virginia’s climate. The high ceilings and breezeway provide ventilation, while wraparound porches and a screened porch offer shade. “We used regional design techniques,” explains Burton. “It’s not a sentimental re-creation. It’s functional. There are some physics that have evolved over hundreds of years that we respect.”
Showcasing the artistry of local craftsmen also “roots the design to place,” says Burton, who dubbed Walter Wittmann of Staunton-based Helvetica Designs “MVP on Craft” after seeing the hand-carved front door and steam-formed basket-weave core walls he created for the house.
Such artisanal elements, made from the highest quality woods, balance the more rustic fieldstone fireplace and eco-friendly, glue-laminated fir ceiling. “I wanted the house to have an heirloom quality, a refinement—to be constructed like a fine cabinet,” says Fred Giampietro. “It boils down to creating a timeless aesthetic.”
To that end, the couple filled the spaces with naturalistic George Nakashima furniture. “We had a couple of pieces by [the late] Nakashima, and commissioned the studio his daughter, Mira, took over to make the rest,” reveals Fred. The dining table and chairs, as well as the kitchen’s black-walnut shelves, are among the commissioned works. In the master bedroom, father-daughter pieces sit in conversation: Two chairs, crafted by the elder Nakashima and purchased at an Andy Warhol estate auction, flank a new, maple-burl-topped table. Interior designer Michelle Timberlake of Carter + Burton assisted with furniture layout and lighting selections.
The Giampietro pilgrimage monthly to the Shenandoah Valley, where the area’s natural beauty offers a welcome respite. “When we drive in here, our blood pressures drop and we go into relaxation mode,” says Kathryn. “Our lives in New Haven are pretty busy, so it’s wonderful to be here and just watch the cows graze.”
Architecture: Jim Burton, AIA; interior design: Michelle Timberlake, Carter + Burton Architecture PLC, Berryville, Virginia. Kitchen Design: Christine Ingraham, Fletcher Cameron Design, New Haven, Connecticut. Builder: Community Builders, Staunton, Virginia. Landscape Design: Gregg Bleam, ASLA, Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect, Charlottesville, Virginia.
Windows: durathermwindow.com. Spiral Stair: duvinage.com. Front Door & Core Walls: helveticadesigns.com. Concrete Floors, grill center and bath fixtures: Richard Lew, Frederick County, Virginia.
Console, coffee table: Black walnut through nakashimawoodworker.com. Rug: josephcarinicarpets.com. Armchairs: Brazilian Jacaranda and leather circa the 1950s, owners’ collection.
Dining Table, Chairs, Long Bench, Small Table: nakashimawoodworker.com. Light Fixture over Table: daviddimperio.com.
Cabinetry: Sustainable aniline-dyed wood veneer by TABU through fletchercamerondesign.com. Open Shelving: Book-matched black walnut by nakashimawoodworker.com. Countertops: Burnished stainless steel. Resin Backsplash: 3-form.com. Stools: nakashimawoodworker.com. Hood Design: Jim Burton. Hood Fabrication: abbaka.com.
Bench: Walnut and brass by Hugh Acton. Rug: josephcarinicarpets.com. Braided Rug: Shaker, circa 1890 through riccomaresca.com. Chairs & Occasional Table: nakashimawoodworker.com. Photography: Vintage, circa 1900. Dress Form: Antique, circa 1880 through Worthington Hardware (724-297-5701).