Architecture

Portfolio: Danish Modern

Few countries have produced a more specific design aesthetic than Denmark. For most people, the term “Danish Modern” conjures ready images of light wood surfaces, expanses of white and sleek, contemporary furniture. To the owners of a mundane raised ranch house in Chevy Chase, Maryland, imbuing their home with this spare sensibility was of paramount importance. Kira Fortune, who is Danish and works in the field of international health, and her British husband, Richard, a management consultant, resided in England before settling in the DC area. Prior to that, they lived in Denmark. “We wanted a house where London and Copenhagen could come together,” Kira explains.
After living in the house with their two children for a couple of years, the Fortunes selected DC architect Carmel Greer to make the changes they wanted. “They asked for an open family room/dining room and kitchen, which isn’t unusual,” Greer says. “What was different was that when they showed me photos they had clipped, they were so boldly modern.”
Greer designed a sleek, contemporary addition that expanded the back of the home; it would contain an enlarged kitchen, sitting area and dining space—all in stark-white Scandinavian style. In contrast, the original 1970s structure housing the living room would be largely untouched; with its traditional fireplace and built-in bookshelves, it reflected the London piece of the equation while still flowing smoothly into the addition. If funds were left after these changes were made, a master suite above the addition would become part of the plan.
A large, functional kitchen replaced the small, cramped version, as well as the former dining room. Beyond the kitchen, the back wall of the home was bumped out 16 feet to accommodate a spacious seating and dining area. Ten-foot ceilings delineate the addition from the kitchen and the rest of the house, where ceilings measure eight feet. Glass doors and windows admit plenty of light.
The design seamlessly supports the owners’ stylistic vision—including a sleek Bulthaup kitchen centered on a 14-foot, Caesarstone-topped island and a wall of built-in cupboards that keeps surfaces clutter-free. The interiors throughout are painted white. “We believe less is more,” Kira says. “We wanted clean lines—warm modern with a soul.”
In keeping with this philosophy, the couple imported furniture by renowned Danish designers, along with iconic pieces by Charles and Ray Eames, Kira’s favorite modern designers. The dining area contains a sideboard from BoConcept, a table by Piet Hein and Eames chairs, while the sitting area holds an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair shipped from Hay Furniture in Copenhagen. A wood-burning stove from Morsø adds a cozy touch, and large-scale photography commissioned by Greer hangs on walls that are otherwise unadorned.
Before the renovation, the upstairs consisted of one small, attic-like room. Greer brought light and height to it with a five-window dormer, and it now houses Richard’s home office. Creating the hoped-for master suite on the second story of the addition was indeed possible; it lies beyond a short transitional passage lined with floor-to-ceiling cabinets. As spare as the rest of the house, the bedroom opens to a small îpe balcony overlooking the backyard. It also flows directly into a spa-like master bath with an enclosed W.C. Clad from top to bottom in Carrara marble with a luxurious soaking tub, “it’s our escape,” says Kira. “It feels like a hotel.”
The kids’ rooms are located in the original structure, along with the living room, where Greer enlarged the windows, replacing a curved bay with a square one, and substituted the original stair rail for a simpler version. One of their prized possessions, a Stingray Rocker by Thomas Pedersen, occupies a corner of the room.
The Fortunes are very happy with their sleek, renovated home—and so is their architect. “This was one of my first jobs,” Greer reflects. “As a fledgling architect, it was a relief to be hired to do something I knew would be beautiful.”
Photographer Jeff Wolfram is based in Washington, DC.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: CARMEL GREER, AIA, LEED AP, District Design, Washington, DC. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: OSCAR TELLEZ, H.I. Contractors LLC, Bethesda, Maryland.
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Moody Blues

For more than a century, the Baltimore Harbor Light has served as a beacon for ships entering Maryland’s largest port. More recently, the historic lighthouse guided DC architect Cynthia Shoup Schiffrin in the design of a weekend getaway on the nearby shore. In 2011, Schiffrin and her husband discovered a waterfront property near Annapolis and fell in love with its views of the Magothy River at its confluence with the Chesapeake Bay. A fisherman’s cottage on the lot posed too many problems to be a candidate for renovation, so they decided to tear it down and build anew.
The modern home Schiffrin designed pays homage to the lighthouse—as well as its estuary habitat—in more ways than one. “My goal was to build something simple that didn’t put any more strain on the environment than was necessary,” she says.
Based on county regulations, the size of the new house was limited to 2,500 square feet. Despite its compact footprint, Schiffrin managed to create an open, airy structure, completed last year. A central, two-story volume houses a living, dining and kitchen space, while a lofted area above forms a raised section in the roof that echoes the lighthouse shape. “I love looking at the lighthouse,” Schiffrin explains. “The house is oriented to acknowledge it and capture the warmth of the winter sun. Meanwhile, the center section is a gesture towards our own lighthouse.”
Schiffrin and her husband, who have a teenage son, purchased the property jointly with her brother and sister-in-law, who have two kids in their 20s. So her design needed to accommodate all seven family members comfortably. She created two identical master suites with private baths for the couples—one on the ground floor and the other directly above. Two additional bedrooms include one shared by Schiffrin’s son and nephew and another for her niece. A TV room on the main level with a sleep sofa welcomes guests.
Getaways to the house revolve around the outdoors, especially in balmy weather. A screened porch off the kitchen with a sundeck above and an expansive rear deck overlooking the pool provide plenty of al fresco options. “We spend as much time outside as possible,” affirms the architect. “In the summer, we eat most meals on the screened porch. And we also like to sit down on the dock.”
Committed to designing a sustainable home, Schiffrin adhered to the principles of Passivhaus, a German building standard she discovered at a recent American Institute of Architects conference. “The concept is to build a house that is highly insulated, air tight and makes use of passive heating and cooling,” she explains. Before construction began, Schiffrin hired Baltimore-based salvage company Second Chance to dismantle the cottage and recycle as much material as possible. Wood was used instead of steel in every support beam and roof truss in the new home, since steel can cause condensation that leads to mold. The house is oriented for passive solar heating, with large, operable windows taking advantage of natural ventilation. In addition to a highly insulated roof and walls, Schiffrin employed an exterior layer of mineral wool insulation. “Almost like a jacket,” she says, “it cuts down on heat gain and loss.” The white rubber roof reflects heat and triple-glazed Intus windows provide airtight seals.
Outdoors, Schiffrin converted the existing pool from chlorine to saltwater to minimize the use of chemicals and selected native plants in the landscape. A rain garden filters runoff before it flows into the bay.
The families now enjoy the house in all seasons. Whether she’s relaxing in the loft space or the hot tub, Schiffrin loves watching vessels passing on the water. “We get cruise ships, container ships and sailboats coming by,” she says. “We’ve all been captivated by the ever-changing moods of the water and the sun. The colors of the house were chosen to reflect those various moods.”
Schiffrin, whose architecture practice has focused primarily on non-residential work, had never designed a house before this one. Despite what she describes as a “learning curve” during the design phase, the outcome was familiar. “I really enjoyed coming out here during construction and our contractor, Rich Lang, was a terrific collaborator,” she recalls. “It was so exciting seeing the house come to life. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about being an architect—seeing something you’ve done on paper become reality.”
Judy Davis is a principal at Hoachlander Davis Photography in DC.
ARCHITECTURE: CYNTHIA SHOUP SCHIFFRIN, AIA, Washington, DC. STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Keast & Hood Co., Washington, DC. CONTRACTOR: RICH LANG, Lang and Company, Arnold, Maryland.
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Ask the Pros: Architecture

What factors determine whether a waterfront site near the bay is viable for new construction?
The first factor is utilities. Does the property have a private septic system? Does the soil pass health department perc testing? Test results will help define the size of a potential home.
Next, it’s important to determine the critical-area buffer location. Along with zoning setbacks, this will help define the buildable area on the lot.
And finally, what is the allowable lot coverage as defined by critical area law? Does it align with the client’s desired program? Lot/impervious coverage includes improvements such as parking areas, patios, swimming pools, walkways, stone fire pits, structures and more. It is important to work with a professional well-versed in critical area law as it applies to each lot.
—Cathy Purple Cherry, AIA, LEED AP, Purple Cherry Architects, Annapolis, Maryland.
On a stunning five-acre estate overlooking Aberdeen Creek, Purple Cherry Architects combined Shingle-style and Tidewater architecture to create a four-story, 14,000-square-foot custom home and large timber-frame barn. Photo © Jay Stearns.
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Ask the Pros: Construction

What challenges do you face when building on the water and how do you overcome them?
Corrosion and weathering from driving wind and salt spray is one challenge. We use modern door and window systems, welded copper flashing, rot-resistant materials such as PVC, stone and îpe, and other specialized water-resistant finish systems.
Another challenge is critical area, flood plain and buffer management. We retain and protect steep slopes, minimize runoff and build sustainably. Because we often build below the water table, we use extensive de-watering and waterproofing systems as well as large-scale sheeting and shoring.
Storm-water management and flood protection are another challenge. We carefully plan grading, drainage and drywells, and use integrated flood vents where required. In every project, our success is achieved through the collaboration of homeowner, architect and builder. —Bret Anderson, Pyramid Builders, Annapolis, Maryland.
This Mediterranean-influenced home was constructed by Pyramid Builders on Whitehall Creek in Annapolis. Its European-style flat-tile roof, stucco walls and stone terrace and retaining walls create a timeless, rustic look.
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Coastal Conservancy

The new Chesapeake Bay Foundation Brock Environmental Center sprawls across half an acre of Virginia Beach shoreline—the only major structure on a 118-acre tract of land preserved by the Trust for Public Land and the City of Virginia Beach for open space and environmental education.
The role of the Brock Center is to spearhead environmental advocacy, restoration and education. Its design, by SmithGroupJJR, protects, preserves and celebrates its setting. A curved building form hugs the shoreline while rounded rooflines mimic the wings of gulls and oyster shells. The material palette references the site’s colors and textures: Zinc shingles recall fish scales while cypress cladding echoes the hues of the land. Metal accents pick up the glistening water nearby.
The design team carefully preserved local ecology and water quality during construction, retaining old-growth forests and wetlands that are reestablishing along the shoreline. The sustainable design contributes to net-zero energy, water and waste: The long, narrow, one-story structure maximizes daylighting and natural ventilation and the exterior envelope was optimized to reduce heating demand. A porch along the south façade shelters the interiors, while large clerestory windows bring in natural light. Interiors are loft-like, with 20-foot ceilings at their peak. The design anticipates hurricanes and rising sea levels; set 200 feet back from the shore on 14-foot pylons, the structure is built to resist 120-mile-per-hour winds.
The Brock Center will host 2,500 area students and teachers a year and serve as a meeting place for local conservation partners.
ARCHITECTURE & ENGINEERING: SmithGroupJJR, Washington, DC. CONSTRUCTION: Hourigan Construction, Virginia Beach, Virginia. SITE DESIGN: WPL, Virginia Beach, Virginia. PHOTOGRAPHY: DAVE CHANCE, courtesy of SmithGroupJJR.
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