Latitude 38 experiments with the horizontal

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Photo: Isaac Miller Photo: Isaac Miller

You can often spot a Latitude 38 house from a block away. The Charlottesville company, owned by husband and wife team Jeff Erkelens and Joey Conover, has tended to build tall, vertical structures, with a fresh, quirky asymmetry. But one Latitude house, found in the Riverside neighborhood adjacent to Riverview Park, breaks the mold.

More horizontal than vertical, it is largely symmetrical side-to-side and front-to-back. (That’s notwithstanding the signature Latitude shed roof.) The reason for the change? It lies somewhere between Erkelens, Conover, their employees and the site itself.

A trademark Latitude touch is wood cladding—short plans in various hues and widths—on interior walls. Diagonal boards add drama to the entryway. Photo: Isaac Miller
A trademark Latitude touch is wood cladding—short plans in various hues and widths—on interior walls. Diagonal boards add drama to the entryway. Photo: Isaac Miller

“We’re usually stuck on these skinny lots,” says Erkelens; Latitude focuses on urban infill, mostly building houses on spec in fairly dense neighborhoods like Fifeville. But the Riverside site is relatively wide and, what’s more, it overlooks a landscape that also spreads laterally: the flat ground of the park and the Rivanna beyond, flowing left to right across the view.

Building a house that’s wide instead of deep also worked better with the slope of the lot, since the team did not want to include a basement in the design. Instead, the house sits on a concrete slab, with the front entry a few feet below street level.

Says Erkelens, “At the time, we’d done a couple houses using all Superior Walls”—prefab concrete wall sections—“but we wanted to figure out how to break that up in an interesting way.” Latitude employee Isaac Miller contributed the basic scheme for the house’s form: two Superior Wall rectangles, with a wood-frame connector between. That center section is set back to create a recessed entryway at front and rear. “I find that more inviting,” says Erkelens.

Once the house’s outer form was in place, the basic interior layout took shape in response. The open kitchen/living/dining area would spread across the back of the first floor, taking in the river view. “The dining room had to be in the center; you don’t need as much space for that,” Erkelens explains. Upstairs, one bay is devoted to the master suite and the other is divided into two smaller bedrooms.

Photo: Isaac Miller
Photo: Isaac Miller

The scheme of the house seems almost classical in its simplicity and in the way it derives from the exterior form, but Erkelens says there was plenty of push-and-pull to make it all work. For example, the first-floor ceiling joists are mostly left exposed in order to gain some height. Yet second-floor plumbing would need to be hidden, too. So Latitude added a drywall ceiling to the dining room. This accomplished a couple of things—it helped to delineate the dining zone from the rest of the open great room, and it provided a way to hide plumbing for the second-floor bathroom, located directly overhead.

Rather than their go-to white cabinets, Erkelens and Conover used a wood finish. "It has more of an Asian vibe," says Conover. Photo: Isaac Miller
Rather than their go-to white cabinets, Erkelens and Conover used a wood finish. “It has more of an Asian vibe,” says Conover. Photo: Isaac Miller

On this project, Erkelens and Conover experimented with kitchen design. “We’d been doing these more modern kitchens with white cabinets,” says Conover. In this case, “We did a wood finish, and it has more of an Asian vibe.” White quartz countertops resemble trendy marble but are more durable, and the dark wood cabinets carry through along one wall of the dining room. One of these pragmatically hides a wall-mounted mini-split HVAC unit, but the overall effect is of visual richness within the spare, clean space.

One trademark Latitude touch is the wood cladding on some interior walls: short planks in various hues and widths, forming a pattern that’s organic and modern at the same time. Bold diagonals mark the staircase and add drama to the entryway. In the living room, a wooden wall also holds an arrangement of Ikea cabinet boxes, wrapped in the same wood—a “sculptural piece,” says Erkelens, that also happens to hold a lot of stuff.

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