What's luxury to some may be ostentatious clutter to others. When this Baltimore County couple began planning the house of their dreams, they wanted its luxury to take the form of innovative contemporary design, opulent building materials, wonderful conveniences and low maintenance -- not elaborate furnishings and accessories.
With architect Michael Wang, they planned a house that would take full advantage of the expansive site. "It's successful in a lot of different ways," says Mr. Wang. "And it was a challenge for us all." The clients, the builder, Merkel Construction, and interior designers Kenny Sprafkin and Marilyn Sheelds of Creative Interiors worked together from the blueprint stage to create a unique interior of air and light.
The geometry of the house is based on a 45-degree shift of two boxes. The clients wanted clear spaces with not a lot of walls or columns, so the house has an unusually high amount of steel structural components -- something, Mr. Wang explains, "that's almost a different league of construction for most builders."
The core of the house is a dramatic sunken living room, three stories high. When visitors step into the foyer, they're drawn visually into this central room. During the day, light streams through the windows, and soaring columns carry the eye up to the high domed ceiling. A sun room that wraps around the living room opens up onto a patio. The floor plan is open, with spaces flowing into each other; rooms are separated by different levels and half-walls.
The couple prefer neutrals and wanted nothing to distract from the house's dramatic architectural features, so the builder and interior designers worked predominantly with white, gray and black. The floors of the foyer, hallways and dining room are luxurious white Italian marble; the living and family rooms are plushly carpeted in off-whites.
The focal point of the formal dining room is a huge Venini light fixture that seems to float above the table. The room has a large, glass-topped table on stone columns; its black cabinetry is a striking contrast to the marble floor. The dining room flows into a contemporary kitchen filled with every convenience imaginable. The highly designed space has glossy white cabinets, granite counter tops and high-tech lighting. At its center is a striking asymmetrical island with stove, sink and seating for the family. (There's also a separate breakfast area.)
A level down is the family room, with a fireplace and a spiral back staircase that leads to the children's bedrooms. The central four-zone sound and entertainment system for the house is here; it controls 40 different speakers throughout.
On the opposite side of the living room is a home theater, with a 100-inch television screen that pulls down from the ceiling. A guest room with its own full bath and a study-library are also in this wing.
A spiral, high-gloss black staircase in the foyer leads to the second floor, where each child has his own bedroom, full bathroom and balcony. A playroom connects their two bedrooms. The woman of the house wanted a full laundry room upstairs for convenience -- "But just in case we didn't like it," she says, "we also put a washer-dryer in the laundry room in the basement."
The guest room upstairs has its own full bath; counting the powder room on the first floor and the basement bathroom, there are six and a half in all. None is as luxurious as the multi-level master bath, all mirrors and marble. Included are a Jacuzzi and separate shower room.
Because the couple wanted light and space everywhere, the multi-level master bedroom has a curved translucent glass-block wall that lets light through and opens up the already spacious room further. A remarkably real-looking gas fire on the sitting room level can be turned off and on from the bed by remote control. This one room is decorated in softer, warmer neutrals -- ,, beige and a touch of peach.
The couple love ceiling fans, so each bedroom has part of its ceiling raised to accommodate one -- in spite of the fact that the house has a sophisticated heating and cooling system. It, as well as security, lighting and appliances, is controlled by a wall computer in the downstairs hall. The system can be accessed by telephone if, for instance, the owners want to turn on the Jacuzzi from their car on the way home.
The lower level of the house isn't finished yet, but it includes a recreation and party room with a bar and mini-kitchen (with a sink and dishwasher). Here, too, are a three-car garage, housekeeper's room, exercise equipment, sauna and bath. (This level will lead out to the pool that the couple plan to build as soon as their younger child can swim.)
The rest of the house isn't completely finished yet, either, so far as the interior design is concerned, although the family moved in in September. The sun room, for instance, will be filled with rattan furniture and a swing by summer. But that hardly matters. As designer Kenny Sprafkin explains, "We didn't want the furniture and fabrics to compete with the house. . . . It's so interesting architecturally it doesn't need much to create excitement."