House of the Week | Gibson Island midcentury modern for $1.29M

“A free house, / A secret you and me house, / A high up in the leafy branches / Cozy as can be house.” The words of Shel Silverstein’s poem “Tree House” weren’t written about this Gibson Island mid­century modern home but they could have been.

“When you’re in the house, it really feels like you’re in a tree house because you’re looking out to this canopy,” said Lorin Culver of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. Culver and Ellie Shorb are the listing agents. “It really is like being part of nature. The sellers just loved that about the house.”

Designed by Ulrich Franzen and built in 1962 for a Bethlehem Steel salesman, the glass, steel and stone structure is perched on the highest point of Gibson Island among the foliage. Franzen, a German-born, Harvard-trained architect who began his career with I.M. Pei, first made his mark designing residential homes before moving onto large-scale projects, such as the Phillip Morris headquarters in New York City, the Alley Theatre in Houston and the Harpers Ferry Center in West Virginia.

The two-level home was the first residential dwelling to be made out of Bethlehem weathering steel, a type of steel that gains a warm brown patina as it ages. Because it was the first, the home was featured in Bethlehem Steel’s 1965 company calendar.

Architect Amy Gould, who updated the home in 1995, respected Franzen’s design and maintained the home’s clean lines while modernizing it, adding an elevator and expanding the master suite.

“I really love modern homes, and I was really surprised to see this one had been renovated,” Culver said. The renovation “retained the architectural integrity of the home.”

A sliding-glass door leads you into the home’s top floor and main living area. Stepping through the foyer, a 10-foot wall of glass and steel wraps the living and dining areas. The space is anchored by a large stone wood-burning fireplace. The mahogany wood ceiling contrasts with the integral color concrete flooring laid out in an ashlar pattern and warmed by radiant heat.

Sliding wood panels, on which the owners hung artwork, help define the rooms but don’t inhibit the flow. A spacious kitchen makes for easy entertaining.

The master suite features a roomy master bath with a soaking tub and steam shower. A second bedroom with an en suite bathroom is also on the first level. The lower level has a third bedroom, a family room and a resistance swimming pool.

The home is listed at $1.29 million. An open house is scheduled for Sunday from noon to 3 p.m.

Listing: 703 Skywater Rd., Gibson Island

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Kathy Orton is a reporter and Web editor for the Real Estate section. She covers the Washington metropolitan area housing market.
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