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When designing this home, the architect was influenced by the natural surroundings, not historical precedents


In a region known for country estates and predominantly Adam, Georgian and American Colonial-style homes, this house, designed by noted architect Robert M Gurney, is one of the recent additions to the community that is bucking the tide of tradition.

"I sometimes feel local residential architecture is too rooted in the past," he says, "but the people who live in this house have a real fondness for modern architecture."

Gurney says the location was a strong influence on both the physical and emotional aesthetic of the home, which is situated just outside a small suburban community.

The rural setting is steeply sloped. It is surrounded by deciduous trees and has an appealing view of the nearby river. An existing house and driveway served as the orientation point for the new structure.

The massing of the design and many of the structural elements are a response to the natural surroundings.


"The project became about how to create a modern house in the woods, " says Gurney.

He chose to use form and materials to distinguish the external volumes.

A double-height ellipse, covered with lead-coated copper, contains the entryway and staircase. The vertical slot window and skylight allow natural light to pour into the space. The ellipse intersects the triangular and rectangular volumes that comprise the main living areas.

Public rooms are located in a striking, glass-enclosed space. A butterfly roof echoes the slope of the hillside, while walls of glass take advantage of the natural light, river view, and ever-changing foliage of the wooded site.

The apex of the triangle seems to cantilever out over the hillside.

"I wanted the point of the living room to feel like it was floating in the trees," says Gurney. "Bringing the space right out over the downward slope of the lot contributes to this effect."

A rectangular volume that has been finished in vertical mahogany cladding is a remnant of the original structure, and houses the bedroom suites, home gym and study.

Gurney says he wanted to juxtapose the wide-open feeling of the public areas with a more inward-looking focus in the private rooms.

Inside, separate living spaces are again defined by use of texture and materials. Brazilian cherry floors throughout the open-plan public area contrast with the rough surface of a board-formed concrete fireplace and smooth glass walls.

The main living room and adjoining dining area are situated to take full advantage of the surrounding woodland and river views. The walls of glass are left bare to enhance the open feel.

The adjacent kitchen features a large island and a glass-topped bar for informal seating. Most of the kitchen cabinets are mahogany, but ash was chosen to highlight two sets of wall cupboards, and also for the flooring. Stainless steel, glass and granite surfaces echo the smooth texture of the glass walls.

Stainless steel appliances complete the contemporary design of the kitchen.

On the basement level, below the living area, is an eight-seat home theatre and adjoining bathroom.

A more intimate atmosphere is created in the upstairs rooms. Two guest bedrooms each have an en-suite bath, and the master suite features an outside terrace and adjoining study.

The importance of capturing natural light extends into these rooms, too. But to maintain a more intimate atmosphere, the architect punctures the exterior walls with smaller window openings.

Gurney says the play of light and texture throughout the house is inspired by the changing seasons. With such a dynamic natural environment to compose within, he feels it is essential not to bring preconceived ideas to the design process.

"I always start with theclients' spatial requirements and lifestyle considerations," says the architect.

"The structure then evolves from these factors, and the natural environmental features of each specific site."

First published date: 11 October 2006

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Credit List

Architect Robert M Gurney, FAIA, and Claire Andreas (Alexandria, Virginia)
Interior designer Therese Baron Gurney, ASID
Builder MT Puskar Construction Company
Structural engineer Tony Beale, Advanced Engineers
Home theatre and audio Dennis Erskine, Design Cinema Privee
Kitchen manufacturer Burger's Custom Cabinetry
Windows and doors Weather Shield
Flooring Brazilian cherrywood
Cladding Vertical mahogany wood cladding, UnaClad corrugated galvalume cladding
Wallcoverings Venetian plaster
Paints Duron
Lighting Lightolier; Artemide; Task; Stonco; Access Bega; Progress
Heating Carrier
Blinds MechoShade
Kitchen cabinets Mahogany and ash
Benchtops Blue pearl granite, stainless steel
Oven Thermador
Cooktop and ventilation Viking
Microwave General Electric
Refrigerator Sub-Zero
Dishwashers Bosch, Fisher & Paykel
Kitchen taps Vola
Bath and basins Kohler
Vanity cabinet Burger's Custom Cabinetry
Bathroom tap, shower fittings and accessories Vola
Tiles Daltile
Bathroom flooring Green limestone
Ventilation Nutone