The house would be a surprise to any visitor. Just a few minutes outside Lynchburg proper, a leafy suburban road leads to a quiet gravel driveway curving through trees. At the end of it is a stunning, open site with a far-reaching view of the mountains.
It’s quite unexpected, and the new house that perches there, designed by Charlottesville’s Adams Sutphin, is a surprise to its owners, too. “We said we would never build a house,” says one of them.
He, his wife and their four children had been living in a century-old house in Lynchburg when they began to feel they were outgrowing their quarters. “We needed another bathroom,” says one of the homeowners, “and it snowballed.”
Their previous house didn’t have an obvious place to add on, and the lot was too sloped to be a great play spot for the kids (whose ages range from 4 to 12). The couple looked high and low for an existing house to buy, but couldn’t find anything suitable. “A friend showed this lot to [my husband],” says the homeowner. Impressed by the view, he began dropping in to check it out on his frequent long-distance bike rides.
The view is certainly remarkable; even though one can see for dozens of miles, almost no buildings punctuate the forested swaths that greet the eye, and nearby Lynchburg seems totally hidden. “It really was the view” that drew them, the couple says. The next question was what to build.
The site already had a house on it, a 1950s-era home that had been gutted after suffering severe water damage from a burst pipe. It wasn’t a good candidate for rehabbing, but its new owners were able to donate it to an organization that disassembled it and saved nearly all the materials for reuse. Meanwhile, they began working with Sutphin on a design for something new.
Sutphin understood his charge to be the creation of a house that “might be mistaken for a house of an earlier period.” Proportions, details and materials would contribute to a traditional appearance—something apropos of the mature oaks that grace the front yard—yet the design would not be a slave to the past.
“The old farmhouses weren’t there to capture a view,” says Sutphin. “When you have this view, you put in as much glass as possible.” The back of the house, which faces the mountains, would become the location of the most lived-in rooms, and would be generously glazed in order to connect fully with the vista.
And the homeowners would not entirely break from their house in town; it was an inspiration for this new design. “Their existing home was beautiful,” says Sutphin. “It had nice tall ceilings, and rooms proportioned similarly to this. It was a good laboratory.” So too were Lynchburg’s historic neighborhoods, home to what Sutphin calls “an encyclopedia of great housing stock.” As many small decisions arose during design and construction, the couple often looked for ideas and answers in the details of their city—shutters, porch columns, roof materials and so on.
The house consists of three floors, and has a one-story connector to a separate volume housing a garage and a second-story playroom. In the main structure, the first floor is a variation on a traditional four-block layout, with a central hallway and the kitchen at the back. Yet unlike in many older Colonial homes, the stairway is not given star billing, but rather tucked around the corner.
“It’s still very traditional, but open,” says one of the owners. Her husband says the layout strikes a balance: “The open-concept thing goes too far the other way. [Here] there are also private spaces.”
For example, while the kitchen and living room do flow easily into each other—and visually connect with the outdoors through the living room’s walls of windows—the dining room is quite separate, befitting its size and formality, with a showpiece chandelier from Circa Lighting. Also set apart is the small “hangout room” off the kitchen, where the kids are often drawn to bookshelves, a TV and comfy couches.
Sutphin worked hard to ensure that the details—from crown molding to stairway balusters—would be right. “Adams was big on the things you touch,” says an owner. “The windows are wood on the inside, because that’s what you touch. Those minor details add to the whole effect.”
She reports that guests sometimes ask how long the house has been standing. There are certainly many cues that imply the structure is much older than a year and a half. For example, Sutphin designed the breakfast nook, just off the kitchen with its marble counters, to suggest that it’s an addition to an older house, bumped out into the rear porch. That illusion is fed by the way the porch ceiling continues through the nook.
Yet the house does more than emulate traditional styles; it fully embodies and updates the traditions, melding time-honored design features (like transom windows over interior doors) with touches that resonate with the present. There’s something modern about the long, straight sightline from the front door all the way out the back of the house, for example; it’s an acknowledgment that looking outdoors is a primary driver for dwelling here.
The house provides for gracious, comfortable living in many ways—with large closets, a butler’s pantry and a separate bar, a bike garage just off the main garage—but also through fostering the connection to the outdoors. Even the height of the rear porch, which is just right for sitting on with a picnic plate, helps to invite people out. The couple says their hilltop location, with a near-constant breeze, keeps the porch cool and bug-free almost year-round.
They’re appreciative of what a pleasant escape their new home provides. “Our second home and our primary home are in the same spot,” he says.
5,500 square feet
Exterior material: Artisan siding by James Hardie
Interior finishes: Random width white oak floors
Roof materials: Prefinished steel dark bronze
Window system: Eagle windows by Anderson Construction Co.
Contractor: Colin Anderson, Anderson Construction Co. (Lynchburg)