Repurposed Upgrade in Arlington

A 1944 home gets a new look with a high-efficient renovation.


Todd Ray, Studio TwentySeven Architecture.
Photo courtesy of Studio TwentySeven Architecture.

It is easy to find the home of Todd Ray and his wife Diane. No address needed. One only needs to seek out the modern structure amongst the traditionally remodeled 1944 builds.

For twelve years Ray and his wife lived in the original structure that was compromised of three floors equaling approximately 900 square feet. And the now 2,800-square-foot, high-efficiency renovation, which started with simply wanting to add on a porch addition, is a showcase for thoughtful living.

An architect at Studio TwentySeven Architecture by trade, Ray let the site of the home lead the decisions. “The situation is what we call it. The situation took into account the landscape as it is; the exact boundaries, site and conditions; the global orientation of the building; and also its place in time.”

The remodel encases the old structure and uses all of the building; they salvaged hardwood, interiors and the masonry. “We put a big hole in the house and then built around the hole,” says Ray. Another important aspect was how the house would fit within the neighborhood. “Diane and I were concerned about maintaining the contextual appropriateness. In 1944 all [of these]houses were identical, but now have had many idiosyncratic expansions. The common thread in these additions, including ours, is the building scale and that they are diagrammatically consistent.”

But the house is unique. The modern vision of the exterior is carried inside with personal touches that draw from the history of the neighborhood. An old, dying silver maple—which was one of two every site had in the 1940s—has been repurposed into a screened divider wall between the front library/study and the main living space. Harvested pieces of the raw maple were threaded with a rod and aluminum standoff in a Fibonacci series—spacing varies as you go up.

The three-year design and renovation process went through 12 iterations before designs were finalized. (far left) The upper level will customized staircase and sculptural niche; exterior of the home; (below) master bath; lower level looking into back garden. Photo courtesy of Studio TwentySeven Architecture.

Stepping down into the main living area, you pass through “four different steps that talk about time and transition from old to new,” says Ray about the meeting of the visible old masonry with the new structure.

The main area, consisting of the living and dining rooms and kitchen, is a sun-filled space due to the above windowed ceiling and windowed back wall that looks into the garden. The kitchen, with its energy-efficient appliances, low-flow faucet and flat-packed cabinetry, is anchored by an island made of EcoStone (recycled bathroom sinks mirrors and ceramic tile) and suspended in epoxy resin.

The showcase: The staircase to the upper level, taking inspiration from the silver maple trees and the light dappling through. A photo was pixilated then converted to a line drawing. Ray then created CAD output drawings for a CNC routing machine that cut the rails. The effect emulates the leaf patterning on the upstairs hall as sun drenches through.

Ray says the upper level is the private space complete with a home studio/guest space, guest bath, master bedroom with bath and an open-to-below sculpture niche.

Everything evolved through question and answers, says Ray. “We established privacy but stay connected to the neighborhood.” Windows throughout the house are optimally placed, drawing in light and looking onto the outside environment that is pleasing to see; no looking into other neighbors’ houses. “Windows [in traditional builds] aren’t optimally placed for views, for light. What is their purpose? It’s a hole in the wall.” In this Arlington home, the lower-level windows are placed taking in curtains of greenery or rows of maples. The upstairs guest bath has a window in the shower facing the front of the home. Its twofold purpose is to bring in southern light and show the gathering of the old and new structure.

“Looking for architecture about the time in which it is existing and trying to design accordingly versus reaching back into history and trying to find something that is appropriate for today, usually the translation never makes it,” says Ray.

What today’s typical remodels encounter is looking back, not at how we use spaces today; guest rooms used maybe four times a year, tablets replacing PCs.

“What modern architecture allows you to do, particularly with more fluid and convertible space—if you can begin to think of space as purposeful—then you can dual-purpose space, triple-purpose space, and that gives you an efficiency of plan.

“People don’t think about [style difference] enough. People assume the norm.” –Lynn Norusis

(April 2014)