With good craftsmanship, form takes on precise shapes. In a good design, function makes the most of all available space. When you have both, form and function work in concert. Nothing lags behind.
Equal measures of form and function supplied the precise answers for this bungalow addition in Arlington, Va., a metropolitan Washington, D.C., suburb. Contractor Gabe Nassar Jr. and architect Charlie Moore teamed up to transform a two-bedroom post-war crackerbox into a classic Craftsman. The resulting three-bedroom bungalow – with its characteristic angles, lines, and squares inside and out – reflects the pros' winning working relationship and fastidious attention to detail.
"We've done some 30 or 40 jobs with Moore Architects," Nassar says of the Alexandria, Va., firm. "Since our first project in 1989, there hasn't been a time we haven't been working on a project for the company." Nassar, whose 18-person contracting company operates out of nearby Arlington, estimates some 35% of his business comes from Moore's firm.
Nassar and Moore also seem to have a similar mathematical approach to problem solving. And, like most, this job came with its share of constraints, including a modest budget, a six-month time line, and lousy weather. What's more, homeowners David Griffen and Kathy Moran had their own exacting demands: to reuse the existing house (forget about a teardown); to double its square footage; to retain the replacement windows and updated open kitchen Moore and Nassar put in five years ago as part of a more modest remodel; and, finally, to stay true to the Craftsman ideal.
The nondescript 1951 rambler sat just across the street from a historic district of bungalows and farmhouses. Originally, Moore says, the house was a "totally solid, well-built rectangular box that fulfilled a huge need in 1950." But, he adds, the crackerbox type is "incredibly boring" and doesn't fit the needs of homeowners today.
To create a house that is both contemporary and in line with the neighborhood's historic standards, the design program first pulled the existing front wall forward 3 feet to make the most of a tight setback. Adding a 6-foot-deep porch across the front matched up the property more closely with neighboring setbacks. The new wide and low porch staircase also seems more welcoming to visitors.
An added second story, complete with a wide shed dormer, provides the bulk of the new living space. Moore's design for the second story, in its spatial economy, exemplifies how form and function work together to serve a single program goal.
"The clients wanted every bit of front square footage," Moore says. "We got a very efficient floor plan by raising the bearing point on which the roof rafters sit to a higher elevation." The highly technical framing job almost threw the project off track (see "Problem Solved"). But the effort produced beautiful results.
Upstairs are the new private living quarters: a master bedroom suite, a second bedroom for the clients' son, and a roomy master bathroom with access from two sides. A twin window at the top of the stairs lights the hallway connecting the rooms.
The master bedroom, situated smack-dab in the middle of the front half of the house, occupies the entire front dormer. The enviable position provides views of the historic neighborhood and, even more important, floods the ample east-facing room with morning light.
Tucked in opposite corners of the master bedroom, a walk-in closet and a tight but efficient study take advantage of the often-overlooked space under the dormer eaves.
The bathroom – complete with matching pedestal sinks and the same wood paneling as downstairs – opens to the master bedroom and the hall. Nassarpietre verde limestone surround makes for a peaceful soaking spot. A high window lets in natural light. For those who prefer to stand, a spa-like shower with and his team built the coordinating custom wood medicine cabinets to spec. The enclosed claw-foot tub (the most economical option) with a solid-slab a river-stone floor is only steps away.
Efficient spatial arrangements feature prominently on the first floor, as well. A new staircase, moved to align with the front door, splits the front public living spaces. To the left, the old master bedroom has given way to a comfortable living room. To the right, the former living room does double duty as a spacious foyer and cozy inglenook. Red oak plank flooring and stair treads complete the warm atmosphere.
The inglenook offers another example of form and function working together. "The idea was to keep the most expensive feature of the house and work from there," Moore says. "It can easily cost $7,000 to $12,000 to replace a fireplace. So we knew we wanted to retain the original."
Nassar had seen an inglenook put to good use on a recent visit to a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Chicago. He and Moore soon realized that the relatively long, narrow space would not only complement the design, it would orient the front door just where they wanted it. Hence, the inglenook was born.
The updated kitchen – now closed back in – stayed put in the back of the house but once again stands separate from the redefined dining room. The original second bedroom didn't move, either. But now it's a guest suite with a private bathroom tucked away behind the living room.
In The Details
In creating an authentic Craftsman feel, the exterior-materials list grew far beyond brick and block. Double-layered cedar shingles now define the bungalow's facade. More cedar shingles and 4-inch-exposure lap wood siding combine to cover the side gables, rear elevations, and dormers. And custom-milled wood yielded the classic tapered columns, chunky trim, and overhangs and outriggers that give the bungalow its sturdy appeal.
A warm exterior palette of green and khaki draws attention to the contrasting textures and mixed materials – even the existing brick on the side and rear elevations. The design managed to retain the replacement and even the original windows wherever possible. For the crowning touch, crisp white trim (and a storybook picket fence) makes everything pop.
The earth tones continue inside, where transitional taupes and rich yellows and blues join the palette. Meticulous trim, again in white, sharply defines every corner. Coffered ceilings, banded materials, and wainscoting all appease the homeowners' Craftsman cravings.
"The exacting trims were the toughest inside detail," Nassar says. "The existing house was out of level by about an inch, so getting everything to match up in an out-of-kilter space was a challenge." Taper cuts helped achieve alignment – especially when working with the white trim against the painted walls. Gradual changes in trim width (and a dead-on laser level) helped make sure the inconsistencies were undetectable to the eye.
Window placement and color treatment complement each other both upstairs and down. Indeed, from any vantage point, carefully plotted sight lines provide front-to-back or side-to-side views through the house. Likewise, the layering of paint colors carries the eye effortlessly from room to room.
"The best test of a good project may be how efficient a house is after the fact," Moore says. "It's all about how much of the finished space serves the intended function." So how efficient was this project? According to Moore, 85%. Only two corners, one up and one down, went unused in the remodel.
Their winning formula was so successful, in fact, that Nassar and Moore are at it again. Their clients, who heard their next-door neighbor was selling his identical postwar two-bedroom rambler, suggested the contractor-architect team approach him. And so they did.
Not long after, Nassar and Moore bought the property on a one-year, interest-only loan. Work is already under way on a slightly larger twin to the Griffen/Moran residence.
Their hope is to sell the property, their first spec remodel, within the year. If the shortest distance between two points really is a straight line, chances are Nassar and Moore will do just that. – Wendy Ann Larson, a former REMODELING managing editor, is a communications consultant and freelance writer in Bethesda, Md.