From its site selection to the relationship of its indoor rooms to outdoor spaces, the property represents a remarkable totality of design that can happen only when the house and garden are conceived together. Arentz, a landscape architect, spent months — years — designing Running Cedar with architect Richard Williams and interior designer Jose Solis Betancourt before a single stone was laid. The three Washington-based designers, all with national reputations in their fields, knew that this was one of the few golden opportunities in their careers to take the raw elements of a house, a garden and a broader natural setting and forge them into a harmonious whole. Solis Betancourt called the project “a beautiful, unique collaboration.”
The aesthetic is obvious and winsome: The house pays homage to fine, large farmhouses of the region — but within a clean, contemporary, almost minimal matrix. A raised seam roof of copper sits atop a stuccoed box, classic enough. But there is little ornamentation, the windows are large, and if you look for gutters, you won’t find them.
The front door is a rectangle of orange-red, splashy against the muted palette of the facade, and amplified visually by a stone landing below and a cantilevered canopy above. The sound of water comes from a fountain incorporated into the end of the wall, a salutation to both visitor and the winding Rappahannock River 100 feet below.
If that was all Running Cedar were — a clever synthesis of modern and traditional — that might be enough in a countryside where new houses are expected to mimic the old. But Arentz’s property is much more than a fetching contemporary take on the vernacular.
Named after a native woodland plant that grows on the site, Running Cedar was completed in 2006 after a four-year period of deliberation, planning and construction. Created as a weekend retreat for entertaining, it is used by Arentz, 48, as a venue for personal and professional gatherings and for events for charitable causes.
Today, the house and guest cottage seem naturally planted in the landscape, but their construction at that site was anything but preordained.