Photo © Catherine Tighe

Sommer House

James Gauer Architecture & Design

White Stone, VA
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This 5,200-square-foot house and 960-square-foot pool house sit on an acre overlooking Tabbs Creek, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay on the Northern Neck of Virginia.

Design concept and solution: The form of the house and its site plan resulted largely from existing conditions and setback requirements on a constrained waterfront site. Visitors approach the house through a loosely enclosed trapezoidal courtyard, bounded at its southern edge by the pool and pool house. At the eastern edge, parallel to the side yard lot line, is a long pergola concealing the septic system and screening views of a neighboring house. The western edge is open to views of the creek, as is the pool. At the northern edge is the relatively opaque entry façade of the house, which provides little clue of the water views to be had from within.

The house consists of two long rectangular pavilions punctuated by a stair tower. The larger pavilion, which contains public spaces on the first floor and bedrooms on the second, replaced a more modest cottage whose footprint had to be retained. The smaller pavilion contains a master suite. The space between the two pavilions is filled with an attenuated trapezoid of circulation, which stretches from the stair tower to a waterfront breakfast room.

The plan is organized to provide every room with a water view. The two pavilions have shed roofs pitched up toward the most expansive views of the creek at the property’s northern edge. The main living space and the master bedroom are located at this edge and therefore have the highest ceilings and the best views. A floor to ceiling glass curtain wall encloses the waterfront elevations of these rooms, thereby maximizing their transparency. A climb up the stair tower to the third floor crow’s nest reveals panoramic views of the Chesapeake Bay to the east.

All exterior finishes, such as the commercial aluminum curtain wall, doors, and windows, marine grade stainless-steel hardware and fixtures, and cypress siding treated with bleaching oil, were chosen with an eye toward long-term durability and low maintenance. The multiple volumes of cypress and curtain wall rest on a continuous plinth of tinted concrete edged in brick. Indoors the concrete floor, which is polished and waxed, contains radiant heat.

A core containing service spaces anchors each of the two pavilions. In contrast to the transparent curtain wall and white plaster that enclose the major spaces, these cores are treated as opaque boxes clad in dark wood panels.

One of the more clever devices for maximizing water views came from landscape architect Keith McPeters, who assisted with site planning early in the design process. It was McPeters’s idea to locate the pool between the pool house—converted from an existing garage—and the creek, effectively creating an axis that terminates in a water view. Code requirements for fencing might have impeded this view, but this problem was resolved with a pair of eight-foot-wide gates that slide away to frame it.

Total construction cost:

James Gauer architecture & design
315-68 Songhees Rd.
Victoria BC V9A 0A3
T: 250.598.3483
F: 250.410.0396

August 2011
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