Author Boyce Thompson (seated) with architects Robert Gurney, Stephen Muse, Richard Williams and Mark McInturff at Politics and Prose. © Bob Narod
The book features the renovation of a Hugh Newell Jacobsen home by Richard Williams, whose work also graces its cover.
A project by Robert Gurney illustrates the concept of open living space. © Anice Hoachlander
Open beams support the deck of a Takoma Park home renovated by Mark McInturff. © Julia Heine
Stephen Muse bathed interiors of a new Bethesda home with light. © Maxwell MacKenzie

Staying Power

Deliberations on the anatomy of a great home

As founding editor of Residential Architect magazine, Boyce Thompson has plenty to say about what constitutes a great house. So much, in fact, that he has assembled his thoughts into a book, Anatomy of a Great Home: What America’s Most Celebrated Houses Tell Us about the Way We Want to Live (Schiffer Publishing; 2018).

To illustrate his ideas, Bethesda-based Thompson sought out not sprawling, ornate manses but “smaller, attainable” abodes. In short, he says, “houses that you could imagine living in, with family-friendly floor plans.”

Out of the 50-plus homes spotlighted in the insightful volume, nine are in the Washington, DC, region. The four local architects who designed them, Robert Gurney, Mark McInturff, Stephen Muse and Richard Williams, joined Thompson for a panel discussion at DC’s Politics and Prose bookstore in November.

The speakers all agreed that today’s architects strive to celebrate a site, blur lines between interior and exterior spaces and create open, light-filled rooms. They also stressed the importance of building with sustainable materials. “Maybe 15 years ago there was an excuse not to do it, but today, information is available and the price is pretty neutral,” Thompson asserted.

The author championed architects who conserve resources by designing simple forms, then splurge on “killer details” such as custom fireplaces and window walls. “Why not spend your money where you can enjoy it most?” he asked.

Another hot topic was longevity. Thompson questioned the conventional assumption that consumers must have a different home for every stage of their lives. “Why can’t you have one house where all of that is thought of in advance?” he reflected. “A great house needs to work for your family both today and in the future.”