What happens when two young architects move into a brand-new townhouse, surrounded by dozens of identical townhouses, in a big development where the bulldozers are still at work? If they’re Lowell Morin and Lin Jia, they cheerfully overlook the dust and set to work making their home their own. The pair moved into the Pavilions at Pantops in 2008 and have put a designer’s stamp on their three-bedroom home.
In winter 2009, while Lin had a break from earning an architecture degree at UVA, she and Lowell—who’s the brains behind architecture firm Areté Studio—focused on fixing up their living room. They painted some walls and hunted for furniture that could show off some of their more prized possessions, many of which speak to far-flung family connections, from Shanghai to Malta.
“This is a reflection of all the different things that influence us,” says Lowell. “We’re very methodical about what we have and display.” Spoken like a true designer.—Erika Howsare
Lowell: “Last winter, Lin just started [research] on apartmenttherapy.com and it all coalesced. We planned your office first…”
Lin: “…and it snowballed from there. I found all these D.I.Y. websites. We made that lamp [over dining room table]. You take an inflatable ball and wrap glue and twine around it, then pop the ball and take it out.”
Lowell: “Before that you should have seen the other option. We had this builder-grade chandelier. We took a thin polyester and wrapped it around and it became sort of a pod.”
Lin: “It sounds cooler than it looked.”
Lowell: “That [side] table I made out of plywood. I came up with this technique of gluing strips of plywood together. I like the look of it, like zebra stripes. We’ve made good use of the Dumpsters on the site.”
Lin: “There’s the Martha Stewart pebble tray for shoes.”
Lowell: “The chairs were a set we found on craigslist. We got them both in our little car—one in the back seat, one in the front seat, Lin in there somewhere.
“The dining room table—that’s ’80s Ikea vintage. My folks bought it in the ’80s. My brothers and I would do our homework there and you can still see stuff we scrawled on the table—numbers, division signs.”
Lin: “And ‘hello.’
“The lions [in a stairway nook] came with us from Philadelphia. In Chinese culture they’re good fortune and they guard the house. The calligraphy my grandfather gave me. There are three lessons: love your country, love your family, love yourself. He’s 97 or 98 this year. And my grandmother, his wife, gave this to us—it’s a jade piece. It has a clam with a pearl for prosperity and a baby with two fish for fertility.”
Lowell: “The stained glass piece [over the front door] my father made. It’s a Viking helmet. It has the horns; it’s kind of stereotypical, but it’s my ancestry. My mother’s family is from Norway.”
Lin: “All the flowers [on the bookshelves] are from our wedding. The red tea set is a traditional Chinese one my uncle gave us at our wedding. The swirly vase is from Malta and his uncle sent it. The two tea cups were our wedding favors. They’re from China; they’re double layered so when you pour tea in you can actually hold it.”
Lowell: “The picture on the wall is a play Lin was in during college.”
Lin: “And there’s our little DVD collection—‘Sex and the City’….”
Lowell: “…Well, that’s yours. We have Metropolis, Koyaanisqatsi…”
Lin: “We’ve been eating dinner in here because I was making [architectural] models on the dining room table. We read here. Lowell uses those chairs and sits in the sun like a cat. Guests always sit in those chairs. We chat and eat candy.”
Lowell: “Another activity is watching the [construction crews] across the street. For at least two years it seems like they were moving dirt around and putting hay on it. They put hay bales in a chipper and spray hay everywhere. Then they’d dig it up again.”
Lin: “The space goes through seasons—messy, clean, messy, clean. I tend to move and model upstairs, then in the basement, then here…it’ll be like a tornado hit it and [our dog] Kismet will be jumping around. Then it’ll be clean again.”