Contemporary Solar Home

Location: Potomac, MD

Editorial: Sharon Jaffe Dan

Ensconced in a neighborhood with its own wooded trail leading down to the C&O Canal towpath, the owners and their three young boys adored their pristine surroundings. If only their 1980s Colonial home shared a similar reverence for Mother Nature. Its windows were too few and far between to appreciate the views. Outdated mechanical systems and poor insulation made the house drafty and inefficient. It also had an outdated kitchen and disjointed floor plan.

House-hunting forays to find something better led to a simple realization: No other lot in the Metro area could hold a candle to their Potomac gem. So they decided to stay put, and commissioned KohlMark Group to design a renovation—which eventually evolved into the design of a brand new house.

Unencumbered by the constraints of the original structure, the architect and his clients were free to explore bold new options. They set their sights on a modern home with an open floor plan that would celebrate nature, accommodate parties of all sizes, and project sophisticated style without sacrificing comfort or durability.

Faced with a limited footprint on the two-acre lot, the home was nestled around the existing pool without disturbing the mature river birches in the front yard. The home’s southern orientation made solar power an easy option—happily for the owners, whose determination to tread lightly on the environment drove the entire building process. Before demolition, Second Chance, a Baltimore non-profit, deconstructed the original house—and was able to recycle two-thirds of its materials. The owners selected insulated low-E, argon-filled windows; spray-foam insulation; low-voltage and LED lighting and low-flow and dual-flush plumbing fixtures for maximum efficiency. The solar system fuels electricity and hot water.

But going sustainable did not mean settling for spartan over über-chic. In fact, many of the home’s features required daring feats of engineering, from walls of glass to a three-level cantilevered, helical staircase to an open “fire pit” hearth in the living room that appears to defy gravity. The walls were painted white to allow the home’s organic materials—Brazilian cherry floors, stone and glass—and the views to take center stage.

Voluminous and intimate rooms on the main level yield to a second-story “bridge” connecting the bedrooms. By contrast, dark gray dining room takes on a glamorous vibe thanks to the crystal pendants by Schonbek.

The living room is oriented toward the outside with a two-story wall of glass. A custom rug mimics the line of the ceiling above, and a series of wall sculptures by John Douglas makes a bold statement. The living room leads to a loggia, where a NanaWall opens completely to face the backyard.

Public and private “zones” cater to both family and social functions. A pocket door closes off the kitchen, family room and family powder room, and a back stairway and elevator lead upstairs so the kids can use these spaces during a party—sight and sound unseen.

The wife, an expert cook, immersed herself in the kitchen design with help from kitchen designer Patty Whitman. Double ovens, sinks, microwaves and dishwashers make the space functional, while Bianco Antico granite countertops and a white back-painted glass backsplash offset dark cabinets and wood floors. In the adjacent family room, oversized windows flank a stucco-clad fireplace.

The master suite, positioned on one side of the bridge above the loggia with the boys’ rooms on the other, is a picture of serenity. Inspired by a hotel the couple visited in Mexico, the bathroom pampers them with smooth limestone and marble tiles and a soaking tub with views of the treetops.

The second floor also features rooms with en suite baths for each son, a well-appointed guest suite and a kids’ gallery where the parents and boys gather to read and unwind before bedtime. A large third-story playroom prevents toys from straying into other areas of the house.

On the lower level, the owners have created a sophisticated “club room.” Unlike their previously dark basement, the new space is bathed in light thanks to the open staircase and bridge near the fireplace. An indoor-outdoor bar, a modular sofa and an etched stainless-steel wall sculpture make this space perfect for large gatherings. A whole-house Lutron lighting system and wireless sound system by SONOS enable the owners to set moods with ease. The lower level also features an exercise room and a bathroom with a steam shower.