By Beth Herman
It wasn't a Midwest-style twister, but a storm still powerful enough to deliver a neighboring tree to the top of an old, one-story enclosed porch addition to a post-war brick Colonial in Arlington.
Sited on a busy, residential street, the home overlooks the Donaldson Run Bike Trail in the back, marked by lush vegetation and mature trees that tower over the residence despite the arbors' location on a deep incline.
"The client came to us probably eight years ago, before the storm,” said Jane Treacy of Treacy & Eagleburger Architects, noting the porch was neither well insulated nor well heated, restricting the homeowners to limited use. “We did some schematic designs for making it bigger, maybe another story taller, and using the space better, but they didn’t want to do it right away.” Then three years ago, the storm wiped out the addition completely, and the phone rang.
Eviscerated down to a supportive slab, the former 12-ft. wide porch was situated over a one-car garage of the same proportions, appearing almost below-grade from the front. It was accessed via a steep driveway in the back which rendered it useless in inclement weather, according to the homeowner. A decision to widen the slab to 17 feet, for a total dimension of 17-by-22 feet, resulted in its transformation to a family room, adding value and usable space to the home (the garage became storage space beneath). But the renovation’s focus was clearly skyward: to a second story.
“This was just a little post war two-story box,” Treacy explained, noting there were hundreds built throughout Arlington County in the same time period. “They do make a nice scale in the front, though, and have a comfortable neighborhood feel, so we didn’t want to lose that.”
To that end, and with an eye to creating a glass tree house of sorts that would appreciate the verdant view in the back, the architect made a decision to step a second story back about six feet from the new family room beneath, so as not to overpower the front of the house. Views out of this new master bedroom suite were to be directed primarily to the back, with a wall of rust-hued aluminum-clad windows and four clerestory windows –in what the architect calls an eyebrow—creating a light-inspired space.
“We considered the eyebrow almost like a dormer,” Treacy said, “though not truly because a dormer is embedded in the roof.” In this home, the plane of the wall continues up and the architect “popped the roof” to accommodate it.
On the interior, a flat, stained, slatted Douglas fir ceiling with recessed lighting and sconces also pops exactly where the roof does, to an apex of 11.5 feet, providing height to the moderate 16-by-17-ft. space. “The scale here is what connects you to the trees in a dramatic way,” Treacy affirmed of the project they aptly named "Rear Window." Stainless steel cable rails provide a barrier to enable the master’s French doors to safely remain open, catching a cool breeze from the adjacent forest, and also encircle a deck off the first floor family room.
“I guess you could say that their hand was forced by the storm,” Treacy said of the homeowner’s ultimate decision to build the glass tree house. “Now the addition is completely integral to the house.”
photos courtesy of Celia Pearson
For design story ideas, please contact Beth at bh@ dcrealestate.com