When Glenn Rabin and Missy Cotter purchased their contemporary-style tract home in the Epping Forest community of Annapolis in 1994, they were looking to move out of the District of Columbia and into a more serene environment. Epping Forest, which had been something of a weekend getaway spot for Washingtonians in the 1920s, was “like coming home to camp,” Rabin says of the wooded neighborhood near the Severn River.
“We thought the house had a lot of potential,” Rabin says. Located on three wooded lots and built in 1978, the home had three levels and a two-story fireplace that the couple adored — and a fair amount of deferred maintenance. Originally clad in wood, it had diagonally placed cedar siding that Rabin describes jokingly as reminiscent of “a John Denver/Rocky Mountain High” era.
The couple lived in the home as it was for more than a decade but began to itch for a change. They deferred maintenance on the house to save money for a big renovation.
“We felt just painting it was flushing money down the drain,” Rabin explains.
“The house was in good livable condition on the inside,” says Jim Molinelli, an architect at ARDO Contracting Inc., the design-build firm in Columbia that ultimately took on the renovation. “But the exterior was poor. It had a tract-home design and wood siding that was rotting in places.”
Rabin and Cotter initially sought design advice from Baltimore architect Thomas Clark, now retired, intrigued by his out-of-the-box design and the fact that he didn’t seem wedded to any particular style. ARDO came in to adjust, price and build Clark’s vision for the home, which was essentially, as Molinelli says, to “turn it into a piece of architecture.”
Taking the tall girl to the prom
With a budget of $300,000, Rabin, Cotter and their design team wanted to achieve a distinctive architectural look without a huge financial outlay. They decided to keep the shape of the house the same. A tall structure with three stories, the home features three sections with the middle one set back under a sloped roof. In its previous incarnation, the entire house was painted light blue. Clark decided to emphasize the home’s sectional nature by changing the siding and making the middle section a different color from the others.
Cotter says the couple looked at all kinds of siding materials and initially hoped to use James Hardie fiber cement siding, but it did not come in tall enough lengths for the house. That’s when Clark suggested giving the house an industrial look by using a corrugated metal siding system with a bonded color finish. The siding came in 40-foot lengths. The two outside sections were clad in black metal, and the middle was done in red, creating eye-catching drama against the green hues of the surrounding woods. Rather than playing down the home’s height, as its previous color and siding style had done, the brightly colored metal cladding accentuates it.
As Rabin puts it, “We let the tall girl wear heels to the prom.”
Stairway to unity
The home’s red middle section houses the residence’s central stairway, so Rabin and Cotter took that dramatic red to the interior, painting the walls around the metal-railed minimalist staircase red as well. Now the staircase is the architectural centerpiece of the home’s interior.
“The stairs were originally clunky old wood with carpet,” Molinelli says, and were also enclosed. The architects opened up the stairway to draw more light into the home, courtesy of the new storefront-glaze windows they installed in modified openings, and to make it possible to see kitchen, dining and living areas on the different levels to increase the home’s aura of spaciousness. The new living area features floor-to-ceiling windows and offers a view of the river in the wintertime.
“Both the owner and Clark wanted a modern, technical-looking staircase but something still quite open so it wouldn’t interrupt the views,” Molinelli explains. They ultimately chose cable railings because they offered a sleek architectural appearance and were virtually invisible, thus allowing light to pass through the staircase. ARDO then developed a custom minimalist post-and-handrail combination made of square tubular steel and painted black. They bolted the posts and handrails in place and then ran the cables through them. They carried the same post-and-railing system to the home’s exterior landing and balconies.
“These railings provide safety, views and light transparency through the main stairwell — the interior feature that ties the multilevel home together,” Molinelli says. The staircase removed the boxy nature of the existing house design and replaced it with a unifying element that provides access to the home’s three levels.
To separate the various spaces in the newly opened house, Rabin and Cotter chose four sets of bold colors to distinguish various geometric shapes in the design and to set off the red-walled stairwell. The rest of the home’s hues include dramatic blue, green, and purple. “Clark wanted the brightest, boldest color to be at the center of the house,” Molinelli says.
“The colors, which were Clark’s idea, create an overlapping feel that really helps guide you spatially through the house,” Rabin remarks.
The redesign relocated the kitchen and dining area to a more centralized location in the home, instead of hiding them away as so many homes of the era do. Rabin says the new layout has allowed him and his wife to use all of the home’s spaces.
“The previous design actually sucked you up the stairs and away from the original kitchen and living room,” Rabin says.
The architects moved the kitchen and dining area to a secondary living space and turned the mezzanine into the living room.
“We have all this natural light now,” Cotter adds. “[Those] new windows and staircase opened up the house incredibly.”