As they do every spring, a panel of architects recently selected winners of the annual Washingtonian Residential Design Awards. This year’s jurors—Toshiko Mori, owner of her own firm in New York City; Michele Thackrah of Archer & Buchanan Architecture in West Chester, Pennsylvania; and Rolando Rivas-Camp, deputy chief architect at the General Services Administration—pored over blueprints and photos submitted with the 91 entries.
Mori, the New Yorker, said she anticipated that Washington designs might be “highly conservative.” But the innovation displayed throughout quickly corrected that impression: “As jurors,” she noted, “we had a very, very difficult task.”
Take a look at these seven winners and you’ll understand why.
A professional racecar driver calls this stunning property home, so it’s no surprise that the complete renovation was anything but safe. When the owner bought the house—originally a Federal Revival style built in the 1960s—from his parents in 2009, his sights were set on a modern transformation. Architect Douglas Rixey made the dream a reality.
Thanks to fresh white paint and a new third floor featuring a large dormer window, the facade is nearly unrecognizable yet blends seamlessly with the historic character of its Georgetown neighbors—an achievement lauded by the jury. Inside, a statement-making floating staircase and glass elevator connect the floors without diminishing the open layout.
The remodel extends around back, where a wall of folding French doors off the kitchen lead to a rear garden and sleek swimming pool. High-tech flourishes, such as a front door that changes from clear to translucent with the flip of a switch, complete the overhaul.
The owners of this 1,850-square-foot co-op in a 1970s Woodley Park building gave Jacobsen Architecture a specific mission: bring the serenity of an island getaway to an apartment in the city.
It was a tall order for a dark, outdated home. But clever space planning plus the use of reflective materials and frosted-glass room dividers help infuse the apartment with light, even deep within its interior. A reliance on a soft, uniform palette adds to the airiness.
The jury called the work “highly controlled, highly technically skilled remodeling and restoration,” praising the space for its cohesiveness and minimalist aesthetic.
Robert M. Gurney began the process of designing this spectacular Rappahannock County home by conducting an extensive survey of its 24 acres. He ultimately opted to place the house (left) high on a hill overlooking a meadow, maximizing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The house is composed of a series of “volumes”—box-like structures of glass, wood, stone, and cement panels. The volumes’ organization led jurors to call the project “elegant” and “skillful.” The owner can enjoy the area’s natural beauty through walls of windows, most notably in the two-story dining and living space, bookended by floor-to-ceiling glass. Outdoor spaces, including a roof deck and a 47-foot-long pool, further amplify the connection to the landscape. A geothermal HVAC system, energy-efficient appliances, solar-sensored shades, and other amenities reduce the use of fossil fuels.
This 2,000-square-foot Georgetown condo by Christy Schlesinger, once dim and closed in, is now suffused with natural light thanks to frameless windows, skylights, and the use of glass dividers instead of doors.
The kitchen, although minimalist in appearance, offers ample storage. Marble is a theme here and throughout the home. The dark marble columns cleverly hide pipes and ducts in the kitchen while creating an appealing visual contrast with the mostly stark white color scheme. The fireplace in the living area appears to rest on marble, but it actually cantilevers along the length of the wall.
Finally, Schlesinger’s design centers on a new set of stairs composed of sculptural marble angles, much admired by jurors, one of whom said this was a home he could “easily move into.”
Prefabricated construction doesn’t usually call to mind award-winning design, but this Bethesda home by Robert M. Gurney is anything but usual. Composed of 13 modules built in two weeks in a Virginia plant, then assembled on-site in two days, the project proves that economical can coincide with high-style.
The modules are typically used in more traditional Colonial and Craftsman homes, so Gurney reimagined how to assemble them to suit the owner’s modern taste. The result is a free-flowing, light-filled design, intended both to please the clients and to provide the builder with a modern style to include on its menu of modular options. The architect’s innovation impressed the jury, who said the home “could be a game changer” in the housing industry.
This rustic retreat on Jobbers Mountain in the Rappahannock County town of Woodville, Virginia, combines a 1794 toll keeper’s log cabin, its 1856 clapboard addition, and 1840 slave quarters transported from Maryland with a modern-day addition. The result: a contemporary whole greater than the sum of its parts. The jury commended architect David Haresign for executing the new design without taking away from the history of the original structures.
A second floor was removed to make room for a lofted bedroom and double-height living area, and Haresign joined the individual buildings with a slender, sunlit connector. New copper roofs contrast with cedar shingles, while a curved stone wall set into the mountainside creates a porch-and-patio space (smaller photo at right). To achieve his vision, Haresign relied on materials such as raw steel and reclaimed wood, including floorboards from a county courthouse.
The landscape designer who owns this Takoma Park house—previously a modest bungalow—asked McInturff Architects to craft a “garden room” and a bedroom with views of the back yard she created, which recedes in a series of tiered steps down her sloped, woodsy property. McInturff designed an addition for the rear of the home with soaring ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the garden. He clad the exterior in black metal with white louvers to shield against the sun.
The house, labeled “a jewel box” by one juror, showcases an understated, economical design that places the focus exactly where the owner wanted it.
The Washingtonian Residential Design Awards are sponsored by the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects and Washingtonian. This article appears in the July 2014 issue of Washingtonian.