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A two-story farmhouse grows in Virginia.

Project: Residence, Fauquier County, VA

Architect: Barnes Vanze Architects, Inc.; Stephen J. Vanze, AIA, LEED AP, partner in charge; Tim Clites, project architect

Landscape Architect: Poke Gardens, Washington, DC

By Lynne Lavelle

The rolling hills and equestrian trails of Virginia's Hunt Country give little clue that the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC, is just one hour's drive away. Here neighborly protocol still supports the long-standing privilege of riders to cross private land adjoining their own, the traditional Virginia farmhouse remains a popular template for new construction, and the Piedmont region provides some of the most spectacular views in the country.

The latter is the backdrop for a new 7,130-sq.ft. house by Barnes Vanze Architects, set on an 80-acre mountain property with long views in all directions. Inspired by the pace of local life, the house is redolent of simpler times; it was conceived as a two-story farmhouse that expanded over time, suggested by telescoping clapboard additions and rustic materials that vary in formality. "The main block – the highest piece – is considered the original farmhouse, then it gradually steps down to a lower brick mass, supposedly added at a later date, then several clapboard additions over a period of time," says Stephen Vanze, partner in charge. "It's really just an interpretation of the way in which these houses in this region were traditionally added on to."

From the orientation of the house to the arrangement of the rooms, the site guided the design program. The first floor master suite, living room, game room, kitchen and mudroom, as well as the four second-floor bedrooms, all have views of the valley below and the Blue Ridge mountain range in the distance; only the dining room remains enclosed. "When we visited the site before anything was built, it was very how this house wanted to be sited," says Vanze. "It is very linear, and arranged to provide a broad range of vantage points, both inside and out. The dining room is different; it is an internal space, where the focus is inward – on the gathering, bringing the family together. I was reminded of that scene from a Virginia Woolf novel, where everyone is focused on the candles in the middle of the dining-room table."

The approach to the house is via a long winding road, which turns 180 degrees back on itself, only revealing the views at the last possible moment. It is one of several devices used to conceal the scale of the house, helping it to appear modest against the landscape and historically accurate. To avoid the appearance of bulk, the "original" portion of the house was designed asymmetrically, while the modest additions break down the massing further. "The intent is not only to make the house seems like it was built over time, but also to make what is a fairly large house seem a lot smaller," says Vanze. "At the front façade, the wing to the right is a master bedroom suite. To contain that, the main mass would have gotten considerably larger. So by taking elements away from the main piece, and turning them into one- or one-and-a-half-story pieces, it breaks down the mass quite a bit."

From the impression that the family room is a screened-in porch to a kitchen pass-through that could have been a window, the interiors reinforce the historical narrative. The main brick portion of the house features the client's collection of antique doors and hardware, while the "extensions" are differentiated by variations of hardwood flooring, moldings, wainscoting, furniture and cabinetry, and even scale. "We did everything we could to reinforce that this house was not built all at once," says Vanze. "That means changing details such as head heights of windows, which are slightly different throughout the house, to suggest that some of the additions were built by a carpenter, rather than designed – which is harder than designing."

Barnes Vanze worked closely with landscape architect Dana Westring to create intimate outdoor spaces that tie the house to the landscape. Within the mass of the house, these include strategically placed covered porches at either end, and a second-floor screened sleeping porch. "There are really two different ways to make outdoor spaces," says Vanze, "either carving them out of the house or using the mass of the house to create the edges of rooms. We did both here."

To ensure that the views from the house remain unobstructed, the landscape program is set between the structures – a pergola transitions between the formal front garden to the rear pool and entertaining area, and the nearby detached guest house, which resembles a small equestrian shed. Garden statuary, antique flower pots and weathervanes link the landscape to the historic detailing of the house. "This client was very sensitive to design issues and how they wanted to use the house and how they wanted to entertain," says Vanze. "And they knew that they wanted to the pool to be visually connected to the house, but a separate space. It is always important to us to make outdoor rooms that are really extensions of the house, and these particular spaces are used a lot."

Completed in 2009, the house appears as natural to the landscape as the hill it stands on. "It is as though the house and land expanded and grew together," says Vanze.  

 

 

 
 

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