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Simple forms rendered in sensory materials createa home that's at one with its environment

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A house designed to be in harmony with nature, rather than in contrast to it, is a successful recipe for a relaxed lifestyle. Living spaces that offer vistas of trees and water can soothe the senses and calm the spirit.

This house sits on the back corner of a 5-acre piece of land sheltered from views of the neighboring house and overlooking a river 60 feet below.

Nestled in the crook of the wooded site, the structure is honest in both its materials and its response to the environment, says architect Robert M Gurney.

"Daily life is enriched by the changing experience of this environment, making one at home in the larger landscape of river, wood and sloping site. Fog rolls in off the river. Leaves change color," says Gurney.

The house has been made with low-maintenance materials and designed to meet the owners' requirement for living spaces that promote an informal lifestyle.

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Its structure comprises four different shapes, each designed to complement the texture, light and colors found in the surrounding landscape. The first form is rectangular and clad in ground-face block to visually anchor the dwelling to the site. The second form, a trapezoid, is oriented to make the most of the river views.

"Clad in corrugated galvanized panels, the silvery façade reflects the trees in bright sunlight, translating to a soft gray at other times," says Gurney.

A cantilevered wood and glass structure connects these two forms, a delicate contrast to an adjacent elliptical volume clad in oxidized corten steel panels. Its rich brown color and varied texture reflects the look and feel of the surrounding earth, the architect says.

To capture the best river views, the living room, dining room and kitchen, along with the master suite, were placed on the upper level of the two-story house. On the lower level, a canopy of trees provides privacy to two guest bedrooms and two home offices.

In the open-plan living area, the exterior forms of the house intersect to play a crucial role in the way the space comes together, says Gurney.

"The living, dining and cooking spaces are open to each other, but are defined by ceiling height and with respect to the site-specific geometry."

In the living room, for example, the high ceiling is accentuated by a round skylight. In the kitchen, a visibly lower ceiling achieves a sense of intimacy. This feeling is enhanced by a shaft of light that comes from a rectangular shaped skylight.

Throughout the space, expansive glazing permits views of a backdrop of leafy trees, eliminating the need for overt decorative features on the walls.

Built-in, custom-designed cabinetry helps to maintain the interior's clean, modern lines. The majority of the cabinets are maple, with mahogany used for accent pieces to make the composition more inter-esting, says Gurney.

An assortment of simple, stylish furniture complements the streamlined look.

First published date: 24 August 2003

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Credit List

Architect Robert M Gurney. Architect, FAIA (Alexandria, VA)
Interior designer Thérèse Baron Gurney, ASID
Kitchen manufacturer Burger's Custom Cabinetry
Builder Chandler Construction
Siding Corrugated Galvalume, oxidized corten steel, concrete, timber and glass
Windows and doors Aluminum-clad wood windows from Weathershield
Flooring Pietra Verde limestone
Paints Duron
Lighting Stonco, Lightolier
Furniture Living room furniture from M2L, Aeron chairs from Herman Miller, dining table custom-made by Masters Woodshop, coffee and side table by Ekitta, bed custom-designed by Robert Gurney
Kitchen cabinets Maple by Burger's Custom Cabinetry
Countertops Blue Pearl granite
Backsplash Laminated glass
Oven and cooktop Thermador
Ventilation Dacor
Microwave GE Profile
Refrigerator Sub-Zero
Dishwasher Miele
Waste unit KitchenAid
Bath, basins and toilet Kohler
Vanity cabinetry Mahoganyby Burger's Custom Cabinetry
Faucets Philippe Starck from Dornbracht
Shower Hansgrohe