Avery Faulkner was a 22-year-old graduate architecture student at Yale University in 1951 when his father offered him a once-in-a-lifetime summer job: the chance to design a vacation home on Gibson Island for he and his wife.
“My father, who was also an architect, thought it would be good for a graduate architectural student to design a home on his own,” says Faulkner, 76, a Washington, D.C., native who went on to become senior partner of one of D.C.’s most prestigious architectural firms, and is now an independent architect based in Middleburg, Va.
At Yale, Faulkner was exposed to the pioneering aesthetic of architect Philip Johnson through seminars at the university and visits to Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Conn. For his parents’ vacation home— which was his first solo house design— he created a boxy, one-story structure “derivative of Johnson’s Glass House,” he says.
“The thrust of the design was that all the walls that faced the neighbors would be solid, and the walls that faced the lakeside and the roadside, which was wooded, would be glass,” says Faulkner, whose design credits now include eight hospitals, more than 100 school and college buildings and 14 museum projects for the Smithsonian Institution, including the conversion of the Old Patent Office into the National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of American Art.
Faulkner’s parents approved of his creation (though his father made one alteration Faulkner hated, putting a solid door in one of the glass walls) and enjoyed the home until their deaths in the early 1980s, at which time Faulkner and his wife bought it from their estate. “When it became our house, I took that door out and duplicated the sliding glass doors that are on the lakeside,” says Faulkner. “Now it’s symmetrical. And the house just gave a huge sigh of relief.”
In 1993, Faulkner sold the home to the current owners, a Baltimore couple that used the house as a getaway from their Bolton Hill house before deciding in 1999 to live in it full time.
To winterize what had been a three-season house, they modified the two fireplaces, installed two wood stoves and lowered the ceiling in the living room. To “warm up” the look of the interior, which they believed sometimes appeared cold, they painted the original red brick walls white and replaced the dark vinyl floors with earth-toned ceramic tile in varying patterns.
They also removed the original wood-paneled walls then installed new drywall painted off-white, a neutral color that wouldn’t detract from the feeling of “being outside when you’re inside,” as the wife says.
In the kitchen, the couple also tore down the wood-paneled walls, but replaced only half of them with drywall, leaving a counter that looks into the airy, adjoining sitting room. “The kitchen had been very closed in,” says the wife. “We just really opened it up.” Of the home’s four original bedrooms, the couple kept two and transformed one into the sitting room and the other into a cozy den that is the wife’s favorite room.
By far, however, the biggest change was adding a second-floor master suite atop the original flat-roofed one-story structure, a decision the couple made after they climbed onto the roof with their project architect, Amy Gould of Gould Architects in Baltimore, and discovered the spectacular view. The couple’s bed now looks out over the state’s largest freshwater pond through a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, while smaller windows surround the bedroom and adjoining bathroom, allowing natural light to flood into the entire floor.
“I think the addition, with its curved metal roof, gives the house some interest on the outside,” says the wife. “It was so square before. This softens it a bit.”
Faulkner, who also designed the clubhouse of the Gibson Island Country Club, concurs. “This was not an easy house to add to,” he says. “The roof they used was a simple modern shape and I think it works out really well. And to disguise the old brick/new brick problem, they painted the exterior white. It’s a very nice effect.”
Despite major renovations, the interior of the home remains true to its 1950s roots because the couple has kept much of the original furniture. “It just belongs here,” the wife says. “When we sell the home, we’ll sell it as we bought it: furnished.”
The Danish Modern wood table and rush seat chairs in the dining room are the ones Faulkner chose in 1952, as are the two twin beds and built-in sinks and desks in each first floor bedroom. The living room features the original 114-inch-long couch, which has been reupholstered in tweed, and two side chairs reupholstered in chenille, all manufactured by Knoll. The couple commissioned then-local custom cabinetmaker Bill Poffel (who has since relocated to Florida), to create a built-in sideboard in the living room similar to one Faulkner had custom-designed for the home.
As a young man, the husband was inspired by interior design that combined old and new after seeing a friend’s New York City apartment in which each room featured a mix of antiques and contemporary pieces. He and his wife have taken that philosophy to heart, filling the strikingly contemporary home with collectibles and family heirlooms. A self-proclaimed “Dead Head,” the wife proudly displays her collection of Grateful Dead memorabilia in a front hallway, as well as two of Jerry Garcia’s subtle watercolors in the sitting room. A tiger maple chest in the master bedroom is from the husband’s family and dates back to the 1840s. The bottle collection begun by his great-great-grandmother in 1825 is housed in an oak, glass-front cabinet in the dining room built especially to display the assortment.
Now the couple lives comfortably year-round in their glass house, with “before” photos tacked up throughout the home to remind them of life before the changes they made. “I feel like we brought the house up to date,” says the wife. “Yet we still maintained its integrity.”
Original architect: Avery Faulkner, FAIA, Middleburg, Va., 540-687-3620
Renovation architect: Amy Gould, Gould Architects, Baltimore, 410-244-0070
Interior design: Sandra Meyer, Ella Scott Design, Bethesda, 703-655-1708
Custom cabinetry: Bill Poffel, Panama City Beach, Fla., 850-230-5731, http://www.Rootedinwood.net