Home & Design

A steel portico graces a refreshed façade that respects the traditional neighborhood. Photo: Anice Hoachlander

The stair tower forms the centerpiece of the revamped house. Photo: Anice Hoachlander

In the library, a Holly Hunt swivel chair beckons beside an occasional table from Furniture From Scandinavia. Photo: Jennifer Hughes

Designer Kate Ballou chose clean-lined, functional furnishings in pale hues and natural fabrics for the library. Photo: Jennifer Hughes

In the living room, McInturff hung Moooi’s Heracleum II Suspended ceiling fixture above the seating enclave. A two-sided fireplace is set in a basalt surround. Photo: Jennifer Hughes

In the new glass-walled sunroom, a Danish leather bench takes in the views. Photo: Jennifer Hughes

An Eames Lounge Chair from Design Within Reach also occupies the sunroom. Photo: Jennifer Hughes

Rounded forms define the reimagined stair tower with an ocular skylight; curved, oak-paneled railings; and cascading chandelier. Photo: Anice Hoachlander

Lila Fendrick echoed the architectural theme with a similarly curved terrace wall. Photo: Jennifer Hughes

A water feature borders the bluestone terrace. Photo: Anice Hoachlander

A screen embedded in the mahogany frame of a new dining porch maintains a sense of openness. Photo: Jennifer Hughes

The streamlined kitchen is dominated by an 18-foot-long quartz island. Furniture-quality oak cabinets incorporate a Wolf cooktop. Photo: Anice Hoachlander

Viewed from the back garden, McInturff Architects’ latest masterwork offers only a hint of the dwelling’s Georgian heritage. Photo: Anice Hoachlander

Shaft of Light

A design team reimagines a Georgian residence in Northwest DC with sun-filled rooms and bold, Modernist flair

It may seem counterintuitive that a thoroughly modern house would draw its defining architectural element from an 18th-century tradition. But that’s how Mark McInturff describes the boldly rebuilt stair hall at the core of a whole-house reinvention he recently completed in Northwest Washington.

“It’s a stair tower,” says the Bethesda architect. Describing his take on a classic center-hall Colonial, he reaches all the way back to George Washington’s home on the Potomac to explain his inspiration. “If you do a center hall right—like at Mount Vernon—when you come in the front, you can see straight through to the back.”

And so, out went the rear wall. In came expanses of glass, an ocular skylight and the floating treads, suspended landings and sinuous steel railing clad in steam-bent oak that transformed a conventional stair hall into a brilliant shaft of light.

The corner property benefitted from a double lot that made it desirable for an active household with two young children. The owner, a businessman, had not envisioned a work of modern architecture; having recently moved from a co-op, his intention was simply to refresh the interior with help from James Loveless of JWL Woodworking, with whom he’d collaborated on his previous residence. Once walls began to come down, however, the need for a master plan became clear. Eager for a layout that wasn’t “all chopped up,” the owner turned to McInturff Architects with the directive, he says, that “it was also important for the house to fit into the neighborhood.”

McInturff quickly devised a plan that would accomplish both goals, working closely with Colleen Healey, then a principal at his firm. “We didn’t just blow the walls out, we connected the spaces,” says Healey, who has since launched her own practice in DC.
The three-story, 5,417-square-foot Georgian manse came with seven bedrooms and five baths. A porch with a retractable screen was added off the dining room. Back stairs were removed, enlarging a kitchen redesigned by McInturff. Upstairs, two bedrooms became an owners’ bath and dressing room. Two third-floor rooms were enlivened by white oak ceiling panels. A studio over the garage was equipped with a bath and a kitchenette and the lower level was excavated to create a recreation room, laundry and sauna.

Facing the street, the home retains tradition with Palladian detailing and cornice molding—but the spirit is modern. Red brick is now painted Bauhaus white. Windows are de-shuttered and outlined in charcoal. A columned portico has morphed into angular steel, framing a mahogany front door with an asymmetric sidelite. Roof shingles have given way to the industrial chic of standing-seam metal. “We try to be very well-mannered from the street,” says McInturff. “What we’re looking for is not a collision but a weaving of elements.”

The radical transformation emerges fully in the back garden, where the façade thrills with angles and curves in glass, metal, mahogany and a smidgen of Georgian brick. The goal is simple: “People live differently now,” the architect affirms. “They want to open their houses to the exterior. They’re going to have a different look.”

A recent tour began at the new portico. “I always start at the front door,” McInturff explains. “I want to see what we’re going to see.” Open sesame: The west-facing interior explodes with light. The back wall of the stair hall reveals a towering magnolia, cryptomeria and holly. The stairs are wrapped in curved, oak-paneled railings—a tour de force of craftsmanship. White oak sets the mood on the first floor with paneled walls. A two-sided fireplace clad in basalt opens up the living room. Curves are a theme: In the library, for example, an oak-paneled wall arcs in a literal embrace.

Details charm: Even in daylight, a ceiling fixture by Moooi in the living room sparkles like fireflies and an intricate porcelain light fixture dangles from the top of the three-story stair hall like a Calder mobile—or a flock of doves.

The curves are repeated in spare furnishings chosen by Kate Ballou of Hendrick Interiors. Ballou adopted the palette of oak and neutrals in largely Scandinavian pieces such as a caramel leather bench by mid-century Danish saddler Erik Jorgensen that keeps company with an Eames Lounge Chair in the sunroom. Ivory wool upholstery from Kvadrat is naturally resistant to dirt, and oak tables have been treated with a sustainable soap finish. “It was really important that the home feel livable,” Ballou notes. “It’s very subtle yet still modern and fresh.”

There are almost no strong pops of color. By design, the hues that anchor the rooms are warm in tone. “It’s not a cold house, it’s a warm house,” the owner enthuses.

Mahogany frames floor-to-ceiling windows across the back and around the north side of the house, which gained floor-to-ceiling glass exposures. “I wanted to see outside,” the owner explains. “With every view, you’re looking at greenery.”

These garden vistas are courtesy of landscape architect Lila Fendrick, who planted evergreens to form a screen behind lush native shrubs and perennials. A strip of lawn is bound by a narrow pool of water running parallel to a simple bluestone terrace.

Discussing how the project evolved, McInturff avers that he and his team “don’t go in with preconceptions. Modernism is very broad—steel and glass to stone and wood. We just kind of feel our way into it.” In this home, wood became the defining character. “Wood talks back, it changes in the light and has multiple colors—it’s authentic,” the architect says. “It resonates with our humanity.”

Renovation Architecture: Mark McInturff, FAIA, principal in charge; Colleen Gove Healey, AIA, NCARB, project architect, McInturff Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. Interior Design: Kate Ballou, Allied ASID, Hendrick Interiors, Washington, DC. Renovation Contractor: James Loveless, JWL Woodworking, Ijamsville, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Lila Fendrick, ASLA, Lila Fendrick Landscape Architects, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Landscape Contractor: Evergro Landscaping, Glenn Dale, Maryland.

 

RESOURCES

PATIO
White Table & Chairs: knoll.com; dwr.com.

DINING AREA
Table: Custom through danieldonnelly.com. Chairs: dwr.com. Chandelier: estiluz.com through illuminc.com.

LIVING AREA
Sofa: eggcollective.com through dwr.com. Sofa Fabric: dwr.com. Sofa Pillow Fabric: hollandandsherry.com. Rug: woodnotes.fi through ffsgallery.com. White Chairs: atlason.com through dwr.com. White Chair Fabric: dwr.com. Chair Pillow Fabric: roomandboard.com. Small Center Side Table: eggcollective.com. Cocktail Table: andtradition.com through ffsgallery.com. Orange Chairs & Stools: Owners’ collection. Clear Console: Owners’ collection. Chandelier: moooi.com through illuminc.com. Paint: Super White by benjaminmoore.com. Fireplace Surface: architessa.com.

SUNROOM
Bench: Erik Jorgensen through ffsgallery.com. Small Table: andtradition.com through ffsgallery.com. Chaise & Ottoman: hermanmiller.com through dwr.com. Rug: starkcarpet.com. Paint: Super White by benjaminmoore.com.

LIBRARY/MEDIA ROOM
Sofa: Custom through danieldonnelly.com. Sofa Fabric: kvadrat.dk. Pillow Fabrics: roomandboard.com. Swivel Chairs: hollyhunt.com. Swivel Chair Fabric: Great Plains through hollyhunt.com. Nesting & Side Tables: fredericia.com through ffsgallery.com. Light Fixture: foscarini.com through illuminc.com. Rug: bloomsburgcarpet.com. Millwork Fabrication: potomacwoodwork.com. Paint: Super White by benjaminmoore.com.

STAIRWELL
Light Fixture: bocci.com.

LOGGIA
Table & Chairs: knoll.com.

KITCHEN
Breakfast Table: knoll.com through dwr.com. Breakfast Chairs: Erik Jorgensen through ffsgallery.com. Lounge Chairs: atlason.com through dwr.com. Lounge Chair Fabric: dwr.com. Small Table: Erik Jorgensen through ffsgallery.com. Paint: Super White by benjaminmoore.com. Cabinetry Fabrication: potomacwoodwork.com. Countertops: caesarstoneus.com through usmarbleandgranite.com. Sink Fixtures: ferguson.com. Cooktop: mieleusa.com through ferguson.com. Fireplace: woodlanddirect.com.

 

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