In architecture, to honor tradition is no simple matter. But the land is a good place to start. Whatever materials are native to the site can become an indelible link between building and ground. Such was one of the goals at Green Mountain Station, where the Van Clief family has just settled into a brand-new house that nods to many different traditions, and its bucolic site, too.
Set on a 400-plus-acre tract in southern Albemarle, the house is meant not only to shelter its inhabitants—Alan and Cyndra Van Clief and their four children—but to create for them a way of life that is woven into the surrounding fields and woods. “We wanted a house that embraced its place,” said Cyndra.
From the homesite, they enjoy both complete privacy and long views, all the way to Carters Mountain, across a rolling landscape embroidered by creeks. “You come out in the morning and experience a panoramic view,” said Cyndra.
“We walked the entire property,” said architect Bruce Wardell, “and became interested in the boundary between two adjoining pastures,” where there was a remnant of an old railroad bed leading to the Alberene Quarry. At this, the eventual site of the house, “You come out in the morning and experience a panoramic view,” said Cyndra.
When they decided to move from their home of 16 years in Charlottesville, the Van Cliefs approached Wardell’s firm to create a house that would, like their previous home (designed by Milton Grigg), turn to tradition as a way of centering itself in a place. Whereas Grigg’s homes are connected to Charlottesville by virtue of his impressive legacy here, the new house would grow from the Arts and Crafts tradition—not a widely imitated style locally, but, said Cyndra, one that is “at home here in Albemarle County.” The use of natural materials like stone and wood make it appropriate, she added, for a rural place.
So while this large house is meant to serve a very contemporary and active family, it includes many time-honored touches. For example, arched roof gables create spaces for semicircular windows, peeking beneath custom-designed rafter tails. The exterior is stucco with a terra cotta roof. “We used the stone to anchor the home to the ground, and developed a broad hipped roof with deep overhangs to provide a strong sense of shelter,” said Wardell. “At the front entrance the roof extends forward over stone piers and heavy timber brackets to create an intimate scale where you enter.”
Stone on site
In a nod to very local conditions, the house makes extensive use of soapstone, a material that’s still quarried very nearby and was available right here on the property. The stone shows up as sinktops, tile and walkways, tying the structure to its surroundings. One raw-edged soapstone piece forms a primitive-style backsplash for a powder room sink.
Kitchen cabinets are maple, flooring is red oak, and the main living space centers on a stone fireplace. Here is where many eras come together. The past lives in the room’s formal symmetry and in the prominence of the hearth. Yet, as Cyndra put it, “The house is Arts and Crafts, pushing modern”—more contemporary notions being evident in the wall of glass and metal that surrounds the fireplace. Its mantel is hyper-local, and made of a repurposed rail in reference to the railroad that once crossed the property.
This high-ceilinged, light-filled room looks through glass on either side to a music room and a dining room. It also opens to the front entry hall, where stacked stone wraps the coat closet and powder room. On either side of this symmetrical, central core, the house relaxes and bends into greater informality, with a master suite on one end and the kitchen on the other.
From the music room rises a dramatic steel and wood staircase with open treads. Wardell partnered with local sculptor John Rubino for its design. “John worked closely with us to create a staircase where the steel alluded to the railroad heritage of the site,” said Wardell, “as well as the metalwork traditions common in the Arts and Crafts movement.”
“We didn’t want to have a big home and not use much of it,” said Cyndra. That meant not having too many formal spaces. And with their kids ranging in age from 17 to 24, attracting them and their friends to spend time here was also a priority. “The home is convenient and comfortable for people to come and hang out in,” said Alan. Last summer, the couple’s son brought home some friends from college to help put up hay, and then the party gathered for dinner on the curved stone deck in the back.
Other times, guests avail themselves of the home theater in the basement, ping pong and pool tables or the poolhouse and hot tub a short walk from the house. When they inevitably end up hanging around the kitchen, they find themselves under a barrel-vault ceiling that makes the kitchen feel both spacious and cozy. A large central island, topped with granite, stands in contrast to the soapstone counters around the outside of the room. A soapstone woodstove radiates heat near the kitchen table.
The Van Cliefs are busy embracing their new rural lifestyle, planting berry bushes and fruit trees, observing hawks living near their creek, and above all, drinking in the views from every room of the house. “When we’re here,” said Cyndra, “we wanted to feel like there’s no place we’d rather be.”
10,000 square feet (main house), 900 square feet (pool house)
Structural system: Insulated concrete formed foundation; wood framing
Exterior material: Stone and stucco
Interior finishes: Oak flooring, painted gypsum wallboard, painted wood trim
Roof materials: Clay tiles
Window system: Marvin Windows
Mechanical systems: Geothermal heat pump
General contractor: Robb Construction
Custom or innovation features: Sculptural stair by John Rubino; landscape architecture by Waterstreet Studio