You’d never know that Peter and Angela D.’s house, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, isn’t brand new. Looking sharp in its ipe siding and modern lines, it appears to be a newly minted creation of Charlottesville design-build firm STOA, which just finished revamping it last December. What’s perhaps even more surprising is that it wasn’t a midcentury relic; it was originally built just 15 years ago.
But the couple had two good reasons to radically remake their house after they bought it in 2012. For one thing, “It was very much not our style,” says Angela, comparing the place to the set of TV’s “Dynasty.” “There was vinyl siding and filigreed bits of metal everywhere.” (She and Peter preferred something more like Don Draper’s New York apartment on “Mad Men.”)
For another, there were major structural problems stemming from shoddy construction and the extreme weather that routinely visits this site on the very backbone of the Blue Ridge. A week after the couple moved in, Superstorm Sandy came calling. “We could see water penetrating through the windows and doors,” says Peter. “The fireplace and chimney were making tremendous noise and there was clear motion of air through the house.”
Nonetheless, most of the structural issues weren’t obvious until the couple hired STOA to remediate the existing chimney, a large stone affair unsuited to the site’s 60- to 80-mile-per-hour winds. Once the team began to inspect the house more closely, “We started realizing some of the building practices were not good,” says STOA’s Michael Savage. “There was no flashing around the windows; the bandboard was rotted.”
One thing led to another, and before long, STOA and its clients realized they had a major renovation on their hands. This suited STOA’s Justin Heiser, jokes Peter: “He had a vision right away. He says, ‘We’ve got to replace that front window,’ and I said, ‘Hi, my name’s Peter.’”
A total redo would provide the chance to do the necessary structural reinforcement, insulation and weatherproofing, and it would make the dwelling into something as beautiful as the site itself.
Clean and simple
The site is utterly spectacular: a westward view over the sprawling Shenandoah Valley and the Allegheny Mountains beyond. This is a place where the weather often becomes a panoramic display. When fog settles in the valley, says Peter, the foothills look like islands poking up through it.
With that sort of visual interest outside, says Savage, the design task for STOA was to stay out of the way. Both clients and architects wanted a crisp, simple look for the house that would allow the views to dominate.
One means to that end was a tightly limited materials palette. Whereas the original interior featured lots of beige walls, gold faucets and fussy trim, STOA pared it all down to a few key materials. Rich walnut wood plays against dark gray steel, stone and tile, and otherwise nearly everything is white: walls, trim, ceiling and counters.
The house is conceived as a whole, so that the dark gray floor tile in the master bathroom, for example, echoes the hue of a steel fireplace surround and granite hearth a couple of rooms away. “We tried to tie absolutely everything together,” says Savage.
Most floors are white oak with a whitewash finish; countertops are made of the same white quartzite in kitchen and bathroom. Built-in shelves and paneling, made of walnut, cover the fireplace wall in the living space, then wrap around through the entrance to the bedroom and along the fireplace wall there—making a single edifice with multiple facets.
Another major change was to rethink the floor plan, which originally featured numerous angles. “Even the closets had 45-degree angles,” says Peter. “It was incredibly distracting.” With simpler, boxy rooms, things feel more open and serene. “It’s easy for your eye and your brain to take in what you’re seeing, and it looks much larger than it used to.”
The simplicity of style here makes it hard to overlook the fine craftsmanship that animates each surface. A few special touches provide luxury, like the large tile on the master bathroom walls, with its wavelike relief pattern. In the living room fireplace, ceramic aspen logs stand vertically as though still part of a forest, while the granite hearth runs the length of the wall and turns a corner to become an understated seating option.
Keeping out the cold
Design aside, there was plenty of nitty-gritty construction to be done in order to make the house safe and livable. During storms, rain and snow travel upward along the slope of the Blue Ridge from the valley floor—so the precipitation appears to be flying up instead of falling down. Snow would pile up along the north side of the house as high as the rafters.
Inadequate weatherproofing, says Peter, meant that “with the heating on full blast, we were unable to maintain any sense of heat.” He and Angela used to wear hats indoors on winter evenings. It was noisy, too, with the wind whistling through openings in the building envelope and shooting down the chimneys. “It was like living on a sailing ship,” says Angela.
The STOA crew added insulation, new sheathing and a rain screen, and worked hard to properly reinforce structural elements. Even the new deck—extra-wide, resplendent in ipe and stainless steel—has a weatherproofing function: It buffers the wind that comes up from below, keeping it away from the main living level.
The clients have been impressed not only with the boost in style to their dwelling, but its increased comfort and efficiency. “We wanted this to last a lifetime,” says Peter. “We wanted a sense that this was home and it was safe.”
Existing house and garage: 4,900 square feet
Renovated area: 2,400 square feet
New deck: 1,600 square feet
Structural system: Stick framed
Exterior material: Ship-lapped ipe rain screen and varied height hardiplank siding; ipe deck; bluestone entry; Corten steel apron
Interior finishes: Kitchen: Walnut cabinetry with white cambria countertops, Nagomi | Wa-kei tile backsplash; living room: Steel paneling, walnut cabinetry and paneling, Virginia mist granite bench/hearth, pickled white oak flooring; master bedroom: steel panelling, walnut cabinetry and paneling, pickled white oak flooring; master bathroom: walnut cabinetry, Onda “Piemme Blanco” wall tile, Emilceramica “Elegant Grey Natural” floor tile.
Window system: Pella
Mechanical systems: Gas furnaces with variable speed heat pumps
General contractor: STOA Design + Construction
Roof materials: Existing asphalt shingles