Any of you who spend any time at all in McLean have no doubt driven up Chain Bridge Road to Rt. 123 — and for the past two years, you’ve seen this house being built:
It belongs to architect Rob Morris of Morris-Day, whose Arts and Crafts-syle houses can be found all over McLean and Arlington. Rob is known for going through houses — he’s built and lived in more than a dozen of them since co-founding Morris-Day in 1987. This house is his latest “test case,” as he says. “Each one gets a little closer to what I need.”
The above snaps are mine, but below are the glorious photos shot by Thomas’ students: Erin Kelleher, Emily Ferry, Julie Patrick, Kefim Green, Helder Pereira, Dejan Stankovski, Nick Gingold, James Darby, Nicole Bedard, and teaching assistant Meaghan Gay.
This is Rob’s soaring living room — the centerpiece of an 8,000-square-foot house with seven bedrooms — where Rob lives alone! “I come from a big family, so the notion of having large rooms and overnight guests is what a home does,” he told me. “How do you play games late at night and expect your guests to drive home?”
Rob has only lived here for a few months, and already, he’s hosted four large birthday parties for friends in addition to an open house reception that was so big that guests (including me and my husband) had to take shuttle buses from Langley High School a few miles away.
The top of the two-story living room is clad in stained glass reclaimed from a church in central Virginia. The jewel-like pendant lights seems to rain down from it. The effect is startling, especially against the traditional, lodge-like decor.
Now, here, I’m going to include my own snap taken from the second-floor balcony that overlooks the living room — it shows how the backyard pool becomes part of the living room through all that glass.
Let’s turn around now toward the front of the house, where the scale comes way down. The focus now is on the architectural elements rather than on space and light.
Keep walking through this hall to the left, and you see the glorious dining room.
Rob, who grew up in an English-tudor style house in Columbus, Ga., has always incorporated William Morris papers into his houses, and it defines the dining space here. “William Morris had a timeless sense of gardens and romance that becomes a house,” Rob says. “It’s hard to pinpoint, but it’s definitely timeless, and it works with modern pieces.”
In keeping with Rob’s love of pre-industrial-revolution craftsmanship, he hung this 1890s Tiffany lamp over his kitchen table. It hung in the house where he grew up, and Rob has used it in every house he’s ever lived in.
Well, that ends the glorious slideshow of the professionally-shot images, but I did take a few more of my own of spaces that are really cool. Oddly enough, they all happen to be bathrooms! I guess that doesn’t surprise me that much, as bathrooms tend to be tiny workshops of design, where you can splurge on decorative elements and not overdo it.
Here is my favorite — the powder room that the guests use.
Here is Rob’s master bath, an exact replica of the bath he had in his previous house in McLean’s Franklin Park — which was published in Washington Spaces.
I didn’t get an opportunity to talk much about the landscaping, which is still not fully complete in the back, but Mark White of Garden Wise first alerted me to Rob’s house when he wrote to tell me about the special challenges of landscaping a house whose front is exposed to so much pollution from the steady stream of cars on Chain Bridge Road.
He chose plantings both appropriate for the conditions and near and dear to Rob’s southern heart: Southern Magnolia, Camellia and Azaleas. He also included Yoshino cherry trees, the same as the ones along the Tidal Basin. I’ll close with a quote from Mark, which perfectly describes the house and surrounding property:
“The concept of the property from beginning to end, or rather from front to back, is to take a coarse, dangerous and brutal space, and immediately make it fortress-like from first sight. Then, with each single step from the street, the property transforms itself into a more defenseless and exposed space, slowly becoming more transparent, vulnerable, intimate, and finally Eden-like once you’ve reached the final rear space. Like peeling an onion, the property reveals itself slowly, using color, texture and some pretty incredible design elements.”