Nestled on a hidden hill rising from the banks of the Potomac sat the perfect three-acre riverfront lot. “When visiting different locations with the homeowners and their agent, we went out on a limb for this particular property,” says Patrick Cooke, reflecting on what became the site of the five-bedroom, 10,000-square-foot contemporary house he and business partner Neal Thomson designed. “It has direct river access and a 180-degree view of the water. We felt it was ideal for what the homeowners wanted to build—a modern, naturally lit home deeply connected to the landscape—and we told them this site was the one.”
Being forthright about their vision paid off for the young DC-area architects, who launched their boutique firm in 2012. But they found themselves facing a super-tight deadline. The homeowners—a young couple moving to the area with their rescue animals and intentions to start a family—wanted their child- and pet-friendly home built fast. (The property was purchased in late 2015 and the home completed in late 2017.)
“We knew that to pull off the timeline and complexity of this project, we would need a very strong team,” says Neal Thomson. Seasoned builders Ted Peterson and George Collins and interior designer Martha Vicas were enlisted pronto, and when construction was underway, landscape architect Joseph Richardson joined the team.
The final result is a modern, three-story home clad in Carderock stone and mahogany rainscreen siding, punctuated by expansive glass walls. Situated on the slope leading down to the river, its grounds are terraced by Carderock stone retaining walls. “The home slowly reveals itself after a lengthy drive down a forested hill,” explains Richardson, who designed the private approach, “The river clearing is literally the light at the end of the tunnel.”
A custom, laser-cut bronze outer door admits guests from the motor court into a vestibule leading to the glass-paneled front door. Beyond, the dramatic foyer is defined by a floating staircase of steel and glass with access to all three levels. A collaborative effort, the staircase was fabricated by Gutierrez Studios. “We worked with structural engineers at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger to design the most visually ‘light’ staircase possible,” notes Thomson. A sculptural fixture, the Bocci 21 chandelier, spans three stories with clusters of porcelain lights positioned at each floor.
The interiors have riveting water views and indoor-outdoor connectivity on each level. The public core of the home incorporates what the team calls the River Room. This two-story living space features glass window walls facing the river on one side and a basalt fireplace and TV wall sandwiched by rift-oak built-ins on the other. The River Room also opens onto an ipe deck intended for large-scale entertaining. “The house needed to live large for the homeowners’ social and philanthropic needs and small for their family life,” observes Vicas.
“One of our goals was to capture the scale and view of the landscape while creating intimate spaces for everyday living,” Cooke adds. “For example, the dining room is cozier than the River Room, as are the sheltering bedrooms upstairs. This includes the master, which connects to a private, glass-railed balcony.”
Furnishings throughout are minimal, clean-lined and proportioned to the scale of the rooms. “Everything had to be pet- and-family friendly and environmentally sound,” says Vicas. “The homeowners didn’t want a lot of pattern, but liked dark, rich colors. We used lots of velvet, Ultrasuede and leather for upholstery (practical for cats and dogs) and wool carpets that can be easily cleaned.”
The designer relied on textural contrast for interest, emphasizing smooth and rough surfaces through architectural materials like stone, wood and metal. For example, the cocktail table in the River Room was custom-made of petrified wood, with iron legs forged in a Brooklyn workshop and a thick glass top. Linear custom furnishings, including a pair of walnut-wrapped armchairs, sport upholstery in shades of smoky gray, slate blue and soft beige.
The lower-level recreation room has a brighter palette and a poolside vibe. A full bar features touch-latch white cabinetry against a backdrop of three-dimensional travertine tile from Ann Sacks. Teal pillows on the plush sectional echo the hues of the infinity pool set at the far edge of a bluestone patio just outside. A living wall adds fresh, organic texture to the space.
While the house was coming together, Richardson set about improving the surrounding property. He restored the overgrown, 100-foot environmental setback by the river to its original wetland state, while stabilizing eroded slopes and creeks. He also designed recreational spaces for the homeowners to enjoy, including the back lawn and tiered gardens with new plantings.
“Given the site’s location on the Potomac, we felt a certain obligation not only to limit the impact of new construction, but to restore the natural areas surrounding the home to a better condition than we found them in,” says Richardson.
In this spirit, native grasses and wild flowers replaced invasive species like Kudzu in the wetland zone, while native cultivars—hydrangea, magnolia and winterberry, to name a few—grace the gardens.
“One unique thing about this project is that we could make bold choices,” Vicas notes. “The homeowners were willing to let us work with such interesting materials, and a spirit of open idea-generation always led to the best final product.”
Thomson agrees. “Modern homes aren’t forgiving; everything had to be perfect,” he explains. “Our team was instrumental in ensuring this. We never sacrificed quality or aesthetics.”
Architecture: Patrick Cooke, AIA, and Neal Thomson, AIA, Thomson & Cooke Architects, Washington, DC. Interior Design: Martha Vicas, M.S. Vicas Interiors, Washington, DC. Kitchen Design: KONST Union, Bethesda, Maryland. Contractor: Peterson and Collins, Inc., Bethesda, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Joseph Richardson, PLA, Joseph Richardson Landscape Architecture, Arlington, Virginia.
Sectional & Chair: gloster.com. Pillow Fabric: elitis.fr. Corner Table: westelm.com. Fire Table: brownjordanfires.com through americaneyewdc.net.
Light Fixture: bocci.ca through illuminc.com.
MAIN LIVING AREA
Sofa: Cusom. Sofa & Pillow Fabric: donghia.com. Tables Flanking Sofa: hollyhunt.com. Slipper Chairs: kerryjoycetextiles.com. Slipper Chair Fabric: hollyhunt.com. Custom Coffee Table Fabrication: withersandgrain.com. Wood-Enclosed Chairs & Fabric: hollyhunt.com. Round Glass-Topped Tables: charlestonforge.com. Console: Custom. Art: artregistrydc.com. Stone Fireplace Source: waterworks.com. Custom Rug: juliedasherrugs.com. Poufs by Fireplace: robertallendesign.com. Pouf Fabric: hollyhunt.com. Corner Chair: Vintage. Chair & Ottoman Fabric: hollyhunt.com. Paint: benjaminmoore.com
Cabinetry & Hood Design: konstsiematic.com. Round Bar Stools & End Stools: bolierco.com. Hood Fabrication: akmetalfab.com. Countertop & Backsplash: rbratti.com. Refrigerator & Stove: subzero-wolf.com. Appliance Source: abwappliances.com. Paint: benjaminmoore.com.
Table: bolierco.com. Chairs: davidedward.com. Custom Rug: juliedasherrugs.com. Art: artregistrydc.com. Wall Covering: phillipjeffries.com. Chandeliers: camerondesignhouse.com through illuminc.com.
Outdoor Dining Table: brownjordan.com. Chairs: danishdesignstore.com.
Kitchen Cabinets: konstsiematic.com. Countertops: caesarstoneus.com. Backsplash Tile: annsacks.com. Countertop & Backsplash Source: usgranitemarble.com. Stools: cb2.com. Art: artregistrydc.com. Sectional: Custom. Sectional & Ottoman Fabric: kravet.com. Pillow Fabric: pollackassociates.com and fabricut.com. Ottoman: lumifer.us. Klismos Chairs: hollyhunt.com. Chair Fabric: brentanofabrics.com. Custom Rug: juliedasherrugs.com. Ceiling Light Feature: flos.com through illuminc.com. Paint Color: benjaminmoore.com
Bed & Night Tables: withersandgrain.com. Bedding: legacylinens.com. Bedside Lights: et marset.com. Custom Rug: juliedasherrugs.com.
Drapery Fabric: hollyhunt.com. Drapery Fabrication: leangsinteriors.com. Paint Color: farrow-ball.com. Art: Greg Minah through artregistrydc.com.
Tub: waterworks.com. Slate Flooring & Pebble Wall Surface Source: mosaictileco.com. Shade Fabric: hollyhunt.com. Shade Fabrication: leangsinteriors.com.