Home & Design

Almost four years ago, a dermatologist and an architect met at the DC preschool their sons attended. Talk turned to home design and their shared modernist sensibility. The doctor and her husband, also a dermatologist, soon visited EL Studio, founded by architects and business partners Elizabeth Emerson and Mark Lawrence—the schoolmate’s dad. He also showed the house-hunters his own custom digs. Friendship ensued.

In 2019, the physicians, who love to cook and entertain, bought a four-level, 3,730 square-foot 1880s row house near Dupont Circle. Despite an undesirable first-floor layout and primary bathroom—“unlivable for our style,” the husband declared—it did have four bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, a fenced backyard and great potential. They hired EL Studio, which focuses on modern architecture, to spearhead an overhaul.

First, virtually all appliances, cabinetry and fixtures had to go. “The previous owner had renters and used off-the-shelf, contractor-grade everything when renovating a few years back,” says Lawrence. The existing galley kitchen, with facing walls of tall, dark cabinets, was sequestered at the back of the house and the living area was in the front; the dining room was between the two.

The new owners didn’t mind that the home’s historic detailing was long gone. “We have a very clean, organized, practical aesthetic and wanted the design to flow. We always had kitchens that were closed-off so if you had people over you were isolated,” says the husband, a serious wine collector. “We wanted the open look of lofts in Soho and Brooklyn that my wife had lived in.”

The renovation, which took much of 2020, totally opened and reorganized the main level, creating an expansive kitchen with a large island in front, a central dining space and a living area in back. Simultaneous work on the first floor and basement streamlined the upgrade of a powder room and full bath, plumbing, electrical, gas and HVAC systems on each level, says contractor Chris Brauss of Tarpon Construction.

Several redeeming features were retained. Angular, four-window bays on all three floors still overlook the quiet, tree-lined street. A concealed steel beam revealed for a hint of urban grit bisects the main-level ceiling. Since cutting new roof openings was deemed too costly, a trio of existing skylights illuminates unexpected parts of the owners’ third-floor suite—including one above the commode in their spa-worthy bathroom.

Other elements were easily altered. The original 19th-century exposed brick along the home’s entire left wall is now painted white. The 21st-century oak flooring got a paler finish, and the banisters and balusters leading upstairs and down gave way to sculptural, gallery-like white and pastel rail panels of furniture-grade birch plywood.

For the creative hosts—think specialty cocktails and gourmet meals—the coveted open kitchen is a triumph. Cabinets along the right wall are covered in furniture-grade, dark-blue, textured Forbo linoleum, which is thinner than flooring material and easy to clean. Custom concrete counters bookend the BlueStar gas range and top the white-stained oak island that houses the sink and accommodates four jaunty bar stools. Yet another eating option awaits in the window bay, furnished with a small, round Eero Saarinen Tulip table and custom, cushion-topped floating benches.

A table and Eames Eiffel Tower chairs anchor the dining area. The resident mix- ologists make frequent use of the space’s wet bar and hidden half-fridge tucked into a niche created by reducing the size of the powder room behind it.

The adjacent sitting room is furnished with a sofa, chairs and a low table, allowing adults to drink, snack, chat and watch the children playing outside. Glass-paneled doors open into the yard, covered in cool, smooth pea gravel. A terraced wooden container garden next to the steps leading outside is filled with fresh herbs.

The family—including their then-three-month-old baby boy—moved into the house in June 2020 as the renovation wound down. The two brothers live on the second floor down the hall from the guest room, and share the dual-sink bathroom with a tub and shower that Emerson calls a hybrid of premium tile and Ikea cabinets.

The owners’ top-floor bedroom suite includes two wide rows of freestanding closets, with custom doors clad in pale-blush Forbo and fitted with Elfa hardware. The wife’s small but elegant built-in vanity is flooded with light from a nearby window. And, oh, that bathroom, with dual sinks, high-end tile and a window along the back wall. The large glass-enclosed shower was the trickiest part of the renovation, says Emerson. “It has a recessed pan that teak planks sit on and integrating it seamlessly was a bit of work.”

Like most basements, this one is multi-purpose: family movie and game room, children’s play space, laundry area, full bath, home gym. But the most prominent feature awaits at the foot of the stairs: a tall, gleaming 200-bottle wine chiller. Now that the renovation is done, the husband muses, he might just create “a proper cellar” someday.

Renovation Architecture: Elizabeth Emerson, AIA, and Mark Lawrence, AIA, EL Studio PLLC, Washington, DC. Renovation Contractor: Chris Brauss, Tarpon Construction LLC, Washington, DC.

 

DRAWING BOARD
Q&A with architect Elizabeth Emerson

How do you decide what to change in a move-in-ready home?
Often there are obvious layout issues if existing space is badly used, like bathrooms with poorly arranged fixtures, or kitchen cabinets on both walls but no center island. You can reposition spaces so they work for you, and upgrade off-the-shelf features with custom millwork.

How do you maximize natural light in a dark row house?
You can put skylights in the roof plane (above), add clerestory windows or install glass transoms over doors. Also consider glass enclosures for stairways, exterior doors with large glass panels and lightening dark colors on the walls, floors and cabinetry.

Can you replace or replicate missing historic elements?
For fireplaces, it is doable if the flue remains, and it can be unblocked and relined. It’s possible to design new molding that suggests a specific period. Old mantels, lighting and reclaimed wood for flooring and cabinetry can be sourced from architectural salvage companies.

 

In the late 1980s, an Annapolis college professor with deep Virginia roots bought 40 acres and a hilltop home outside Charlottesville. For nearly three decades, he and his wife passed summers and holidays in that 2,000-square-foot farmhouse overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains and foothills, welcoming their adult progeny and grandchildren.

Seven years ago, the widowed academic, now 87, gave the property to his son and daughter-in-law. They sought to preserve and expand the house, creating a compound where life seemed slower and gentler and the family—and visiting friends of all ages—could gather together or spend time alone.

They enlisted Stephen Muse, principal of Muse | Kirwan Architects, and project architect Kuk-Ja Kim—who both designed a starkly contemporized addition behind the couple’s Tudor-style Washington home—to rehab the two-story, 1890s abode and conceive several modernist outbuildings close by.

The architects kept the farmhouse remodel simple, adding 375 square feet to the existing structure. “I wanted to give them only the space they needed, nothing more,” recounts Muse. “There was already a living room addition on one side of the house. It would have been seductive to put a matching addition on the other side—but it’s a farmhouse, not a manor. It didn’t need symmetry.”

It did, however, need lots of work: foundation repair and a new roof; electrical, heating, plumbing and cooling systems; and new doors, windows, porches and paint. But first on the agenda: a three-bay garage where the family could store their possessions during the 10-month renovation. Muse and Kim also conceived a decidedly contemporary guest cottage close by, which spills out to a new pool.

Geoff Pitts of Ace Contracting in Charlottesville handled the project and recalls his “disgruntled” workers rooting for a farmhouse teardown so they wouldn’t have to contend with the deteriorating stone foundation, mud-floored cellar and tight crawl spaces. By project’s end, however, the Ace team proudly marveled at what they’d created. “The project was ideal,” Pitts says, “because we got to bring an ancient house back to life while also building a contemporary garage and guest cottage.”

Indeed, there was plenty to preserve. Original pine floors and stairs were refinished. The library to the left of the entrance, a favorite of the professor, got new custom cabinetry and bookshelves. The wood-burning fireplaces in both rooms were refurbished.

The biggest changes were to the rear of the house. A wall at the far end of the dining room was replaced by pocket doors that open the view from the front entry to the back porch and beyond. The kitchen was extended by 10 feet in the rear. The right wall bump-out, measuring 12 feet long and 30 inches wide, houses new cabinets below the stovetop, sink and dishwasher and ceiling-height windows above. A seating and storage island anchors the room, while the new L-shaped porch provides another alluring gathering space. Directly over the kitchen, the larger, updated primary suite features added windows and a sleek new bathroom. The kids, now teenagers, sleep down the hall in a pair of reconfigured en-suite bedrooms.

Interior designer Kim Caplan says her longtime clients, both lawyers, had a clear mandate: It’s a country home, and they wanted it to be relaxed. “I tried to incorporate the antiques they agreed on without making the house a museum,” she notes. The family room, a stone-floored addition dating back decades, was furnished for comfort. Pale, neutral walls play up the changing light and landscape.

Muse and Kim took inspiration from both the farmhouse and local vernacular materials in their conception of the property’s stained-cedar outbuildings, with their gabled metal roofs and clean interior and exterior lines. The wife calls the single-story guest cottage “fabulous,” explaining that “we wanted it all on one level for mobility reasons.”

The cottage would have been too big as part of the main house, says Muse, so it became a separate, two-volume structure, “one for the bedrooms and one for the living room—with a connecting hyphen that contains the kitchenette, laundry and storage.” Reducing the building’s overall scale, he adds, gave it “a better relationship with the adjacent pool pavilion,” a diminutive third structure just steps from the minimalist pool.

The garage now boasts stairs leading to a game loft for playing ping-pong and darts. And nearly hidden down a steep slope is the latest building, finished in 2020: a tractor shed and workshop where the husband likes to tinker.

The family spent many pandemic months in Virginia, working and learning remotely as well as hiking, biking, gardening, reading and watching movies. An outdoor fireplace with a tall chimney was constructed behind the shed and quickly became a favorite hangout.

What did the family patriarch think when he first visited? “I was impressed. I thought they did a marvelous job,” he says. As for his cherished library, “It’s pretty much unchanged except for a new look.”

Or as Kim observes, “you build buildings, and you build memories.”

DRAWING BOARD
Q&A with architect Stephen Muse

How do you meld different styles in an older home?
Because few homes are tied to aspecific style, we seldom focus on that when designing renovations. After analyzing every feature of the existing home, we extend and celebrate what is good, mitigate problems and maximize site potential so it looks as if it could have always been there.

What is a common remodeling mistake?
We often see designs focusing on the project’s new architecture rather than the entire home, which can result in a product that is not fully integrated. Additions should only be considered successful if the entire house is greatly improved.

What are the advantages of a multi-structure site?
A multi-structured compound allows more possibilities. A comprehensive site plan locates and organizes the main house and all outbuildings within a series of gardens and terraces. This approach yields a smaller, more energy-efficient main house, with secondary buildings for guest rooms, artist studios and home offices.

Renovation Architecture: Stephen Muse, FAIA, principal; Kuk-Ja Kim, AIA, LEED AP, project architect, Muse | Kirwan Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. Interior Design: Kim Caplan, KC Interior Design, Sarasota, Florida. Renovation Contractor: Geoff Pitts, Ace Contracting, Charlottesville, Virginia. Landscape Design: Anna Boeschenstein, PLA, ASLA, Grounded Landscape Architecture & Design, Charlottesville, Virginia.

The renovation took a year, mostly during covid. But shortly before Christmas 2020, the couple and their two dogs returned to the transformed condo and its jaw-dropping Potomac River overlook. The lawyer and the lobbyist had long hoped to purchase the choice three-bedroom apartment from a neighbor in their Rosslyn building. The 2,245-square-foot duplex hadn’t been updated in 40 years, and the layout hardly maximized the view, which starts with the Washington Monument and takes in a dozen more iconic DC and Virginia landmarks.

The sixth-floor entry foyer opened onto a pair of guest bedrooms plus a full bath. A curved staircase led down to the main living level including the kitchen, which was completely enclosed save for a doorway to the dining room and a pass-through to the living room. Another wall between the staircase and dining room partly obstructed the Potomac panorama.

Three months before the actual purchase in 2018—also the year the owners married—they consulted designer Vincent Sagart of Poliform | sagartstudio in Georgetown, who agreed that demolishing nearly all the walls, floors and systems would be required.

The couple wanted clean lines and a palette that evoked Mid-Century Modernism. They also craved storage, lots of storage. After culling furnishings and accessories, they sold their prior condo and rented a nearby apartment to wait out, and check in on, the renovation. They told Sagart they wanted their remaining possessions—including dual wardrobes, bulky linens, beloved Christmas decorations and prized cooking gear—stored close at hand yet out of sight.

After the covid lockdown, they welcomed the designer’s conversion of one upstairs bedroom into the lawyer’s office complete with a sleep sofa that splits into twin beds for visiting nieces and nephews. A renovated full bath serves both rooms, and the former hall closet is now a coffee bar.

“We clicked on color, styles and materials,” recalls the lawyer of their ongoing dialogue with Sagart. “We wanted something modern that is also warm. What Vincent has done is create what feels like a home.”

Architect Andreas Charalambous prepared drawings of the new infrastructure and architecture that would support Sagart’s vision, which the latter defines as “a clean, contemporary and uncluttered interior that does not compete with the view and does not read ‘design.’ It reads as warm because there are also sentimental pieces from their families.” The residence feels seamless with all-white walls and ceilings and ceramic floor tile indoors and out. Most of the comfortable, stylish furnishings are by Poliform.

For the cabinetry, the couple chose walnut, favored by many important 20th-century furniture designers whose pieces they’d collected for more than 25 years. Today, a number of these treasures add a dose of history to the 21st-century décor.

Demolition and construction began in late 2019, culminating in what Sagart calls “a natural progression of spaces from the foyer toward the dramatic spectacle beyond the wall of glass, as if it were a church altar or the prow of a ship.” He designed the striking metal fireplace enclosure in the living room, rising 12 feet to the ceiling. Dancing “flames” on the raised hearth are actually hot water vapors drifting above fire-colored lights that do not generate heat. On the opposite wall, a large television faces an inviting sectional sofa and a pair of contrasting dark chairs. Glass doors lead outside to the furnished terrace, where guests and owners delight in the view. Gleaming surfaces—glass-fronted cabinetry, the TV screen and multiple glass-and-metal doors—further reflect interior and exterior vignettes, whatever the season, the hour or the weather.

The kitchen and dining room are unified by gray-veined white Carrara marble covering the countertops, the backsplash and a curved rectangular table that seats eight. An “enthusiastic amateur cook,” the lobbyist wanted comfort and order in what he calls his “first real kitchen.” Miele refrigerator and freezer units now bookend the appliance-and-coffee station; an induction cooktop set into the island faces an attached wooden bar to encourage chitchat during food prep.

Likewise, the lawyer, who cherishes memories of doing homey things with his mother and grandmother, is delighted by the full laundry room with a dog-grooming station and a repository for canine paraphernalia that replaced the mishmash of a stacking washer-dryer, an old shower and a linen closet.

The couple’s serene primary suite is anchored by an upholstered platform bed. And, oh, those ultra-organized dressing rooms. “There is a place for everything, from ties, belts and shoes to glasses, shirts and suits, which simplifies getting ready each morning,” enthuses the lawyer.

Gone is the elevator that once conveyed the apartment’s previous owners between floors—but Sagart left space for a new lift should today’s dream digs morph into their forever home.

Although pandemic-era entertaining has been intimate and socially distanced, the couple anticipates many more gatherings come summer. As both like to say, “It’s all about the view, which never gets old.”

Renovation Architecture: Andreas Charalambous, AIA, IIDA, Forma Design, Washington, DC. Architectural & Interior Design: Vincent Sagart, Poliform | sagartstudio, Washington, DC. Renovation Contractor: CMG Construx, Washington, DC. Home Automation: SmartTouch USA, Columbia, Maryland. 

 

RESOURCES

THROUGHOUT
Sliding Doors: rimadesio.it through poliformdc.com. Lighting: deltalight.com through poliformdc.com. Home Automation: smarttouchusa.com.

MAIN LEVEL
Flooring: landmarkceramics.com through architessa.com. Stair Rail Fabrication: cmgdc.com. Paint: benjaminmoore.com.

KITCHEN
Cabinetry, Countertop & Backsplash: poliformdc.com. Sink Faucet: ceadesign.it through poliformdc.com. Hood Insert: mieleusa.com. Hood Design: poliformdc.com; Hood Fabrication: akmetalfab.com. Cooktop: mieleusa.com through poliformdc.com. Island & Bar Stools: poliformdc.com.

DINING
Dining Table & Chairs: poliformdc.com.

LIVING AREA
Sectional & Sectional Fabrics: poliformdc.com. Ottoman & Ottoman Fabric: poliformdc.com. Tray Table: poliformdc.com. Chairs: flexform.it through poliformdc.com. Pedestal Tables: poliformdc.com. Fireplace Design: Custom by poliformdc.com. Fireplace Burner: customfireplacedesign.com. Fireplace Surround: akmetalfab.com. Rugs: starkcarpet.com. Drapery Fabric: romo.com. Drapery Fabrication: yardstickdesign.info. Floor Lamp: vintage. Paint: benjaminmoore.com.

TERRACE
Divan, Ottoman, Table & Chairs: royalbotania.com through poliformdc.com. Pedestal: Clients’ collection.

OWNERS’ BEDROOM
Bed, Bed Upholstery & Chairs: poliformdc.com. Pedestal Table: Clients’ collection. Bedside Drum Table: poliformdc.com. Drapery Fabric: pindler.com. Drapery Fabrication: yardstickdesign.info. Art: Paule Marrot. Rug: kravet.com. Floor Lamp: louispoulsen.com through poliformdc.com. Paint: benjaminmoore.com. Wardrobe: poliformdc.com.

OWNERS’ BATH
Vanity: cmgdc.com, agapedesign.it. Sink & Shower Plumbing: agapedesign.it through poliformdc.com. Countertop: agapedesign.it through poliformdc.com. Flooring: landmarkceramics.com through architessa.com. Mirror & Lighting: robern.com. Toilet: agapedesign.it through poliformdc.com. Shower Flooring & Walls: landmarkceramics.com through architessa.com.

GUEST ROOM
Rug: kravet.com. Bed, Wardrobe & Bench: poliformdc.com. Drapery Fabric: kravet.com. Drapery Fabrication: yardstickdesign.info. Art: Clients’ collection. Nightstand: vintage.

At Home with Debra Lee Debra Lee fell in love with contemporary design as a young girl living on an army base in Germany, where her father filled the family quarters with Danish Modern furniture. The romance never died for Lee, now the chairman and CEO of BET Networks, who once considered a career in fashion.

Today, in a Massachusetts Heights neighborhood of neo-Georgian mansions and faux chateaux, Lee presides over a dramatic, four-level edifice of angled and curved steel, glass and stone that like its owner is stylish and versatile. 

Above all, the house is a family retreat for her Los Angeles-based son, Quinn Coleman, a DJ and music festival promoter, and daughter, Ava Coleman, who studies communications and the music industry at the University of Southern California. It is a sprawling art gallery for dozens of glass sculptures Lee has collected over decades, including pieces by African American sheet glass master Therman Statom. It is a grand entertaining venue with indoor and outdoor spaces perfectly scaled for cozy suppers with her besties, star-studded BET fetes, charity benefits and political fundraisers such as last year’s $40,000-a-plate dinner for President Obama. 

And it is a welcome refuge for a globe-trotting executive who bided her time before creating her first custom home. In 2000, Lee bought a 1939 California Art Deco-meets-modern dwelling designed by Kennedy Center architect Edward Durrell Stone, but soon began eyeing a neighbor’s adjacent property for a guest wing. When it hit the market, she bought and razed the small Tudor-style home. Architect Michael Marshall, an avid Modernist and  principal at Marshall Moya in Georgetown, urged Lee, who is divorced, to build new digs for her family on the site.

“She told me that all her friends go to exotic places,” Marshall recalls, “and I said, ‘Don’t worry, Debi, I’ll create your own personal resort.’” 

Together with his business partner, Paola Moya, and Deborah Kalkstein, who owns Georgetown’s Contemporaria furniture showroom, he went heavily into natural and industrial materials and a relentlessly neutral palette. “Our style is not about the blue room or the green room,” says Marshall. “It’s about a continuity of steel, glass, wood and flagstone. The art is its own character. There is an energy between art and architecture.”

It is here that Lee—who studied international politics at Brown University, earned dual Harvard graduate degrees in public policy and law, and left Steptoe & Johnson in the 1980s for BET—can kick back in her private theater, wine-tasting room and hot tub, or read a book on a secluded terrace. 

But it is in her beloved master suite facing Rock Creek Park—which she calls her “tree house”—where the busy executive unwinds completely. Facing a wall of windows split by a stone-clad fireplace, her bed seems to float toward the center of the room. “It’s the only place it could go so that I could have closets to die for behind it,” she says. The adjoining dressing room has a center island and three walls of Poliform closets for storing Lee’s shoes, purses, clothing and jewelry. 

The ultimate luxury is a hairdresser’s sink and makeup station tucked into an alcove off the master bathroom. “In the old house, I did my makeup on the kitchen table.” She pauses to survey her girly domain, then admits, “Sometimes I have to make myself leave the bedroom and enjoy the rest of the house.”

A steel-and-glass bridge links her sanctuary to Ava’s room, with its pastel colors and vaulted ceiling; directly below is Quinn’s lair, which—owing to all his music-related electronics—boasts the heaviest wiring in the house.

The second-level living room, with its 23-foot ceiling, mimics Lee’s bedroom directly overhead; wraparound windows bisect a towering slate fireplace surround. Virtually all the furnishings Kalkstein chose are Italian—Molteni, Capellini, Minotti—and she positioned Lee’s entire art collection during construction, so that niches and display space could be created as part of the process. “Debi’s work takes her to many different design-oriented places,” says Kalkstein. “I think she’s very sophisticated about art, architecture, design, materials and color.” 

A few steps above the living room is a combination dining and bar area, where stools line the counter and simple chairs surround a table. To the left is the wine room with a trio of industrial chillers flanking another table. To the right is a professional-grade kitchen.

Asked if she cooks, Lee laughs aloud. “No. I have a chef.”

Lee credits the project’s success on her design team and their clear understanding of her aesthetic. “Michael and I have very similar taste and style. The first ideas he presented I loved.” Starting a major project in a recession did prompt a few budget cuts, but, she reflects, “I felt like I had my own little economic recovery, putting all these people to work.”  

Native Washingtonian Annie Groer writes widely about design, politics and culture. Stacy Zarin Goldberg is a photographer in Olney, Maryland. 

ARCHITECTURE & INTERIOR DESIGN: MICHAEL MARSHALL, AIA, and PAOLA MOYA, Associate AIA, Marshall Moya Design, Washington, DC. CONTRACTOR: DAVIS CONSTRUCTION, Washington, DC.  

Rhythm + Light Nearly 20 years after Larry Bruneel bought two wooded acres near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, he was ready to build his dream vacation home. Then he recalled reading about a “wacky but cool house” designed by Washington architect Travis Price, a pioneering eco-modernist. At their first meeting to discuss the project, Price assigned Bruneel an essay, which he requests of all prospective clients: Describe how the house should “feel.”   

Bruneel agonized before writing, “I want it to be simple, but complex technically and artistically. I want it to be comfortable and challenging at the same time. I want it to keep me safe from nature but make me feel part of nature.’’ 

Three weeks later, Price unveiled a model based on that vision. “I was blown away. They had taken my words and turned them into this 3,400-square-foot place,” says Bruneel, a retired alternative energy lobbyist. He quickly embraced the one-year project located two hours from DC.

At the base of a downhill driveway, the completed house rises like a monolith. From certain angles it appears to be a giant green oxidized copper box. Step sideways and, voila! One wall reveals itself as two, bracketing a vertical slice of landscape.  

“All it takes is one little crick of your head to see the passage,” says Price. “The view explodes open to the sun and light and all of nature. It’s about getting back to the rhythm and light of the seasons. The house unfolds.”  At night, lit from within, it glows like a 21st-century lantern.

No longer the color of a new penny, the standing-seam copper cladding was chemically treated to create an abstract patina. But inside, the commercial vibe mellows into sleek residential, like a splendid tree house for grown-ups. Spectacular views of two low peaks straddling a wildlife conservation area fill floor-to-ceiling windows in every south-facing room. 

Bruneel adores the “upside down house,” with four levels from ground to roof connected by a yellow steel spiral staircase inside a rear tower.  Two first-floor garages—one conventional, the other a combination man cave and “gallery” for his red Lotus Elite—are topped by sleeping quarters, topped by living space, topped by a roof deck.

Washington interior designer Christina Cole sought clean-lined, largely neutral furnishings  “to complement, rather than compete with the scenery,” she explains, although there are exceptions: Andreu World’s red “Smile” chairs add a bold pop of color in the dining area, and the custom Tibetan-style living room rug she designed with Timothy Paul features a yellow pattern matching the staircase. 

The master suite is anchored by a Room & Board aluminum canopy frame, and it’s easy to imagine snuggling under the covers to watch the moon rise or the snow fall. Metal is repeated in the ceiling fan and the brushed aluminum slatted outdoor sun shades over the master bedroom window—and over every other large expanse of glass in the house—to diffuse merciless summer sun and provide passive solar heat in winter. The “guest pod” consists of one standard bedroom plus a study with a concealed Murphy bed. It’s reached by an exterior glass bridge that forces visitors to commune with nature, however briefly, says Price. 

All the ceilings are paneled in birch veneer plywood, and the floors are pickled oak, in homage to the surrounding woods. 

The true heart of the home is the third floor. On one side, the long kitchen is set off from the dining area by an island, making group meal prep a snap. Amid the stainless-steel appliances and Ikea cabinets is an artfully hidden dumbwaiter for moving heavy provisions from the garage. 

The living room—invitingly furnished with a taupe sectional and Paulistano chairs from Design Within Reach, and a Fritz Hansen “Space” coffee table from Contemporaria—boasts a see-through wood-burning fireplace on a slate hearth. For Bruneel, it’s the go-to space for  conversation with family and friends. A few paces away, the stairway leads to the roof deck, which offers space for grilling, container gardening or simply lying on a chaise staring at the mountains.

Although architect and client were always on the same page, Bruneel’s wife, Kathleen Brown—a DC schoolteacher—had her doubts.  On her first visit (when the two were still dating), she recalls finding the house “bizarre and intimidating-looking from the outside, inaccessible. My approach to a house is something that is welcoming,” adds Brown. She had been living in the 1910 Capitol Hill row house—with conventional layout and furnishings—that the couple now shares when in DC. 

Designer Cole gives Brown props for making concessions on the décor.  “Her aesthetic is much more traditional, but she really appreciated that the interiors had to speak to the architecture. Trying to put more traditional furniture into that house wouldn’t work. Even though it wasn’t her preference, she was able to identify how necessary it was to the context.”

On a recent Saturday, as Brown sat curled up on the sofa reading a book, she seemed to be at peace inside her husband’s Modernist retreat. “When you spend time inside,” she says, “it’s so great to look out.” 

Native Washingtonian Annie Groer writes widely about design, politics and culture. Photographer Kenneth M. Wyner is based in Takoma Park, Maryland.                            

ARCHITECTURE: TRAVIS PRICE, FAIA, Travis Price Architects, Inc. Washington, DC. INTERIOR DESIGN: CHRISTINA COLE, LEED AP, Space Occupations, Washington, DC. CONTRACTOR: PRICE-BRAKE CONSTRUCTION, Charleston, West Virginia. 

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