Modern makeover: A hidden midcentury masterpiece gets a major update

Commissioned in 1952, the Charlottesville home was designed by Edward Durell Stone, whose architectural work also includes the original Museum of Modern Art, in New York, and the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Stephen Barling Commissioned in 1952, the Charlottesville home was designed by Edward Durell Stone, whose architectural work also includes the original Museum of Modern Art, in New York, and the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Stephen Barling

On a quiet street in Charlottesville sits a not-too-eyecatching house, its plain brick façade all but obscured by a screen of trees. Yet this is far from an ordinary rancher. In fact, it serves as a connection to a wider, more cosmopolitan world, and to an optimistic time in architectural history, when the International Style was bringing construction into the modern age. The house was designed by Edward Durell Stone, a celebrity architect who later dreamed up New York’s Museum of Modern Art (the original building, on West 53rd Street, which has expanded considerably over the years) and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The Charlottesville home, known as Stone’s Throw, is one of the city’s true hidden gems, created by the U.S. architect whose prominence was second only to Frank Lloyd Wright’s, according to a 1958 Architectural Forum article.

Connections to the outdoors form the the central organizing idea of the house. Two small bedrooms open into the internal courtyard shown here. Photo: Stephen Barling

Based in New York, Stone was commissioned to design the house in 1952 by a UVA doctor and his wife, Charles and Gladys Frankel. Though it’s not known exactly how the couple chose Stone or what they hoped he would produce, they evidently found it pleasing—or, at least, Mrs. Frankel did. Stone’s Throw served as her home for 64 years.

The structure has all the hallmarks of its historical moment. Elegant and minimal, with a single story split into two levels, it delivers drama while eschewing traditional ornamentation. It’s organized around connections to the outdoors, with two smaller bedrooms opening onto a private courtyard, and an entire rear wall made of glass, creating an uninterrupted view of the backyard from the master bedroom and the primary living space.

Yet in 2016, when Curry and Andre Uflacker bought the house, its modernist design conflicted with many of the finishes and furnishings. “There was a lot of heavy carpeting and silk drapes,” says Curry. Stone, who died in 1978, had originally specified contemporary furniture in his plans—Eames chairs, Herman Miller desks—but the Frankels’ traditional furniture and wallpaper made for an uneasy match with his clean, horizontal lines.

Meanwhile, the central courtyard had lost its connection to the sky with the addition of a translucent roof. “I think we all said, ‘This is the first thing that needs to go,’” remembers Joe Wheeler, the architect hired by the Uflackers to envision a renovation. “That was not Edward Durell Stone’s intention to have that closed in.”

The rear wall of the house is made of glass, providing an uninterrupted view of the backyard from the master bedroom and main living space. Photo: Stephen Barling

Despite its anachronistic aspects, the house’s character captured the hearts of architect and clients alike. “I stumbled across it and immediately fell in love,” says Curry. “The second you walk into it, you really feel it has been designed by an architect.” For his part, Wheeler relished the opportunity to enter a dialogue with an architect he admired. “I’m a big fan of Edward Durell Stone,” he says. “His houses are his best work.”

Besides uncovering the courtyard, the renovation’s major goals were to update finishes, modernize bathrooms, and reconfigure the kitchen. The original owners’ disinterest in cooking was reflected in the way the galley kitchen was hidden from the living areas. Wheeler would relocate it to a more prominent spot, combining it with the dining area.

Wheeler appreciated both Stone’s aesthetic achievement and his innovation. “You have to respect the original house,” he says, adding that he admires how Stone orchestrated an experience. “You come through the door, and there’s compression and release. When you walk in you’re looking into the house from an upper vantage point; then you come down the steps and enter this higher volume.”

For Curry Uflacker, all the stylistic choices the renovation demanded boiled down to this question: “What would Stone do today?” Uninterested in living in a time capsule, she chose to look for finishes and fixtures that are contemporary now but harmonize with the original structure. The kitchen cabinets, for example, are very minimal, white, and free of hardware, while gray granite countertops blend with the gray cork flooring newly installed throughout the house. It’s a kitchen that completely defers to the view through the adjacent wall of glass.

A custom dining table slides under one end of the island to become more intimate for family meals, or pulls out to entertain a crowd. Where the galley kitchen used to be, Wheeler designed a mudroom.

Bathrooms are minimal and white, with the master bathroom displaying a specific homage to Stone: a panel of glass printed with a pattern mimicking one found at Stone’s New York townhouse. A new corridor for storage separates the master bathroom and bedroom, while along one wall of the bedroom, built-in cabinetry—again, sans hardware—forms a subtle geometric pattern all in white.

From their bed, the Uflackers can raise the blinds on the floor-to-ceiling windows and watch the view reveal itself. Though it was crucial to remove the heavy drapes along the house’s rear wall, Wheeler says they did serve an important function. “It’s hard to have an all-glass house without the ability to get privacy and protect the house from direct sun,” he says. He replaced the drapes with automated blinds. These stow away invisibly when not needed, but in the afternoon, can be lowered to shade the master bedroom, kitchen and living areas, and the wood-paneled library.

After two years of renovation, the Uflackers learned they’d be moving for professional reasons and put Stone’s Throw on the market. Curry says they’ll miss having the chance to spend more years in the house they updated. “We use every single room; there’s no dead space,” she says. “I think there’s a perfect balance of form and function.”

 

Other local mods

Photo: Andrea Hubbell

Cole residence: Generally considered to be Charlottesville’s first modernist house, this International Style dwelling—in white brick with an eye-catching curved wall around the main living space—was designed in 1933 by Philadelphia architect Kenneth Day. After local architect Jeff Dreyfus and partner Bob Headrick bought it in 2002, they renovated and added on in phases, striving for seamlessness with the original design. The home now features a lap pool, a porch, and a walk-through closet.

 

Photo: Stephen Barling

Wadlington residence: The house that Jim Tuley, a modernist architect and UVA professor, designed for the Wadlington family in 1972 is clearly a cousin of Stone’s Throw in terms of its multi-level layout and south-facing wall of glass. And it, too, housed the same family, the Wadlingtons, for many decades. Architect Cecilia Nichols of Formwork designed a bigger, better kitchen for the house in 2003, adding a window so the family could look out over their garden while they ate.

 

Photo: James Ewing Otto

MacNelly residence: Danny and Katie MacNelly, UVA grads who now practice architecture in Richmond, designed their weekend house to perch on a bluff over the James River. It’s conceived as a series of separate volumes, arranged in a rough semicircle “like rocks around the campfire,” says Danny. Buckingham slate and black-stained cedar set a cool minimalist tone, and the house is designed to accommodate three growing boys and plenty of guests.