Completed in 2010, the green, modernist house and studio at 4798 Western Ave. in Bethesda were designed and built by award-winning architect Tom Shiner, FAIA. The design was inspired by Scandinavian masters Poul Kjaerholm, who Shiner studied with in Denmark, and Alvar Aalto. See the Compass listing here. (Photos by Tod Connell.)
Constructed of brick veneer and extra thick fiber-cement siding, the two-story house with its separate studio building provides a peaceful sanctuary. Both buildings open onto a fence-enclosed lawn, terraces and gardens situated on a flat 6,000 square-foot lot. The main 1,900 square-foot house has two bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms with an additional TV room/office. The 500 square-foot studio has a full bathroom and can serve as an office, guest suite or exercise studio. It also has a small workshop integrated in the back of the studio.
One of the primary objectives of the design was to establish dynamic interaction with the change of seasons; each season invites a slightly different way of using the house. During spring and fall, the house relies on operable windows and a whole-house fan for natural ventilation. Passive solar orientation, shading and use of solar-powered air conditioning counter summer heat. High-performance insulation counters and a high-efficiency gas-fired furnace counter cold in winter months.
Because the plan of the house is open and designed to incorporate a central “chimney effect,” cool air is drawn in from the shaded garden while warm air is vented up through the stair hall and out, either through open windows or with the aid of a mechanical whole-house fan. Every habitable space has cross-ventilation. Windows and openings throughout the house are protected from rain by generous overhangs. In the studio, an operable window high in the loft naturally vents the 14-foot ceiling. All spaces have awning-style windows fitted with screens.
Insulation and energy-related construction exceed requirements of recent energy codes. The first-floor slab is isolated from the exterior foundation walls by 2” of rigid insulation. The walls incorporate 6” batte insulation. Roofs are insulated with 12” open cell Icynene spray foam.
An array of roof-mounted photovoltaic cells located above the studio generated more than 300 kWh for August. The solar collection equipment is not leased; the equipment and metering are integral and connected to other electric and mechanical equipment and controls. Solar power generated by the array is monitored on-line. The systems maintain a comfortable, bright and ventilated environment despite the low requirement for energy.
Ground surfaces surrounding the house are permeable. Rather than draining rainwater to streets or storm drains, water permeates the soil beneath the driveways and the gravel collection areas surrounding the buildings. Roof-collected rainwater is stored on site in a 450-gallon tank, and can be released by a valve into the perennial garden.
Bathed in Natural Light
The home’s interior is bathed throughout the day in natural light. The house wakes up to penetrating morning sunlight and, throughout the day, natural light illuminates every room. The master bedroom suite, living and dining rooms and large terrace are oriented to morning sun. Later in the day, welcome shade protects the terrace. Even on overcast days, the house’s interior gets plenty of natural light.Ample, soft, indirect natural daylight permeates the studio.
Spaces and Features of the House
The ground floor of the house is an open plan. The living room, hearth and dining area,which occupy about two-thirds of the ground floor, have a ceiling that exceeds 10 feet. The dining area opens to the terrace through 8-foot sliding glass doors. One entire wall of the living room is floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and another wall features three large formal windows looking onto the garden.
The ground floor has a well-appointed custom kitchen and several useful ancillary spaces: an entry foyer, a small built-in office, a TV room, a powder room, along with storage and coat closets. The kitchen is accessible with its own door opening to the rear parking area.
A central feature of the house is a custom-built brick and limestone wood-burning fireplace integral with the stair to the second floor. The elevated Scandinavian hearth opens front and side (oriented to a seating area and the living room). The masonry mass of the fireplace is capable of storing and radiating heat in the very center of the house, provided the fireplace is kept burning for a day or longer. A laundry room, second full bathroom and second bedroom are located on the intermediate level at the top of the stair.
From the intermediate level, four steps up bring you to the door of the master bedroom suite. The master bedroom includes rich wood flooring and a balcony overlooking the terrace. A tiled-floor bathtub area has a large view-window. The suite includes a full bath with large shower and a fully appointed walk-in dressing area.
Accessible by a steep stair, a small attic space provides storage, access to the roof and the whole-house fan.The driveway accommodates off-street lighted parking for three cars. Healthy 20’ high columnar junipers provide a privacy screen on west side. Located behind the house and adjacent to the studio, a steel-framed carport is accessed from an alley.
Light-filled studio: A Separate Space for Work or Recreation
Complete with a tiled full bath, the studio provides a separate high-ceiling space devoted to productivity and creativity. The long, open space has an entire wall of sliding doors opening onto a small patio and a perennial garden. The studio is independently heated and cooled with its own thermostat-controlled heat pump. With built-in desk surfaces and shelving, an accessible loft for storage and equipment, halogen lighting, wiring for a printer, computers, a stereo, and lock storage, the studio is an exceptional self-contained refuge for pursuing writing, artwork, hobbies or exercise.
Custom Finishes, Fixtures and Interior Lighting
Finishes, plumbing fixtures and lighting fixtures chosen for the house were selected for ease of maintenance, durability and evidence-based quality.
The ground floor has 12”x 12” ceramic tile, except in the kitchen where thick, nubby rubber flooring provides exceptional comfort under foot. The custom kitchen cabinets and bath built-ins are natural lacquered birch wood with a stainless-steel accent. Kitchen appliances, sink, hardware and countertops are durable, easy-to-maintain stainless steel. Grills and mechanical registers were specially made for the house in bright aluminum.
Flooring throughout the upper levels is solid two-inch planks of natural Douglas fir, except for the tiled bathrooms and laundry room. The laundry room flooring is natural cork.
The master bedroom suite features a 6-foot cast iron tub with a tiled surround and a large window overlooking the garden and terrace. Bathrooms throughout the house and studio are completely tiled (including the ceilings) with gloss white 6”x6” tiles and fitted with heavy chromed towel rods and accessories. The master bath features a shower accent wall of green glass tiles. The flooring in the master bath and the tub area are circular bottle-green penny tiles.
Throughout the house, low-voltage halogen recessed lighting is used to illuminate walls, and, indirectly, spaces. In the first-floor areas with high ceilings, the halogen lighting is suspended bringing the lamps lower and closer to the walls and surfaces to be lighted. Halogen light, warm and excellent for color-rendition, is controlled in various areas by dimmers.
A number of glass globe-style lighting fixtures are located to provide generous diffused lighting. The kitchen’s overhead lighting is provided by four glass globes, and the large glass spherical fixture above the dining room table is meant to provide general, diffused lighting along with a strong, direct down light in the center of the 10-foot wood table.
Even, bright studio lighting is achieved by the use of two powerful Italian halogen lights directed at the ceiling. The indirect bounced light from the ceiling surface provides an even,adequate general lighting effect, and each built-in work space is equipped with its own task lighting.
In every bathroom and the powder room, Italian ground glass diffused sources are located above the mirrors. The lighting is attractive, subtle and effective so that shadows or dead spots are diminished.
The property has custom site lighting, including white steel reflectors over each door to cast diffused light at entrances. The street numbers and driveway are evenly illuminated by a custom-designed steel and glass lantern with LED lamping. Subtle walkway lighting comes from low-key wall-mounted LED fixtures. The terrace is lighted by both unobtrusive lights directed at the surface, along with indirect lighting bounced from the underside of the white overhanging roof above.
– Less than 1 mile to the Friendship Heights Metro Station, movie theater, Bloomingdale’s and other shopping
– 5-minute drive to Sibley Memorial Hospital
– Moment’s drive to Massachusetts Avenue
– Steps to bus routes connecting to Metro, downtown and Glen Echo
– 10-minute drive to 3 Whole Foods locations
– Close to Millie’s, Clyde’s, Wagshall’s, le Pain Quotidien
– 5-minute bike ride to the Capitol Crescent Trail