Located on a tight suburban lot, this new, modern house replaces one that “was built on fill and falling down the hill,” says architect Robert Gurney, FAIA. And quite the hill it is. When the real estate agent sold the client the lot as a teardown, Robert recounts, “They told her, you need to hire an architect. You need to hire someone who can really do something with this site.” There was a desirable vista to harness, a heavily wooded one with seasonal views of the Potomac River.
To capture those opportunities, Robert devised a plan that keeps the house in scale with others on the street side but climbs down the hill at the back. A custom fence in the front yard claims the only available play space for children, while a bridge along the side of the yard provides just enough elbow room to get visitors to the front entry, as the ground drops away.
Arrival through the quiet, low-slung front of the house is at an upper level. Once inside, it suddenly becomes apparent that the house is really a dramatic four-story glass box, accommodating nearly 5,000 square feet of domestic program set against a verdant natural landscape.
Our judges were amply impressed. “It’s a really hard problem to have four levels and a coherent entry façade—and to get so much square footage into such a small footprint,” said one judge. “And I am a personal fan of the front façade—it’s quite serene and beautiful.”
Custom Urban House
Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, architect
Architect: Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, principal in charge; Nicole de Jong, AIA, project architect; Sarah Mailhot Solander, project architect, Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, Architect, Washington, D.C.
Builder: Commonwealth Building and Design, Clifton, Virginia
Structural Engineer: United Structural Engineers, Sterling, Virginia
Project Size: 4,850 square feet
Site Size: 0.20 acre
Construction Cost: $264 per square foot
Photography: Anice Hoachlander
Cladding: Shou Sugi Ban Siding, Nakamoto Forestry; fiber cement rainscreen cladding
Door Hardware: Häfele (cabinetry), Baldwin (doors)
Faucets: Dornbracht (kitchen), American Standard
Finish Materials: Abet Laminati, OKITE
Garage Doors: Clopay Avante
Lighting: Hinkley, Sonneman, Lightolier, Sempria, Access Lighting
Sink: Julien (kitchen)
Tubs: Porcelanosa (primary bath), Wetstyle (secondary)
Weather Barrier: VaproShield
Windows: Western Window Systems