A home designed to age along with its owners

October 18, 2013

You might expect Josh Baker, founder, co-chairman and owner of BOWA, a custom design/build remodeling firm, to constantly tinker with his own home. But Josh and his wife, Jill, always knew they wanted to stay in their home for their entire lives, so their plan allowed for lifestyle changes right from the beginning.

“Our home is typical of what we do for our clients,” Josh Baker says. “We prioritize with them what they want now, but we also strategize with them for their future. We designed this house 17 years ago with a 30-year landscaping plan that we’ve been implementing in phases ever since we moved in.”

Both Bakers’ parents still live in the homes where Josh and Jill Baker were raised, so the idea of a “forever” home is ingrained in each of them. Josh Baker grew up in a traditional, historical home in Great Falls, Va., while Jill Baker was raised in a contemporary home in Connecticut.

“When we designed the home, we wanted to create a good meld of both traditional and contemporary styles,” Jill Baker says.

The couple also wanted to design a comfortable family home rather than an opulent showcase. The open floor plan of the Baker home has a contemporary, nontraditional feel, but the use of wood flooring, extensive built-in wood cabinets, a stone fireplace and walls of windows framing views of trees, grass and gardens keep the home feeling warm and personal rather than edgy. The Bakers say they were inspired by design elements in vacation homes they enjoyed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina such as natural materials, open rooms and an informal “transitional” style that straddles the line between modern and traditional home designs.

“We made sure that there are open lines of site everywhere in the house from the front door through to the back,” Josh Baker says. “The full-length glass front doors let you see right through to the pool.”

Although the Bakers always planned to add a swimming pool to their two-acre lot, they delayed building it until their daughters, now 19 and 21, were old enough to swim. Their younger daughter, Amanda, is a sophomore at Tufts University in Boston, and their older daughter, Danielle, is a senior at Elon University in North Carolina.

When the Bakers were designing their home, Josh Baker had been in the home remodeling business for nearly a decade. He says he benefitted from years of meeting with clients and looking at their priorities at different life stages. For example, the Bakers designed a first floor guest suite with privacy and space for their friends and family to enjoy that can also function as a master suite if they decide they prefer one-level living someday.

While Baker has been careful with his own home design, he was adventurous when starting his business with co-founder Lawrence Weinberg.

“Larry and I were fraternity brothers at the University of Virginia, and we wanted to go into business together but we didn’t have any money or experience,” Baker says. “Larry went to work as a CPA with Arthur Andersen in Atlanta, and I was a chemist with Exxon in Baton Rouge, but neither of us liked our jobs, so we quit after less than a year.”

The business partners spent the summer of 1987 working as laborers on remodeling crews, and then in January 1988, they started BOWA with an investment of $5,000 each. Revenue has grown from $309,732 that first year to nearly $40 million a. Baker credits the company’s success to its emphasis on customer service. For instance, once someone has been a BOWA customer, he or she is always free to call the company for “concierge services” — including help with hanging a painting or installing baby gates.

“We take our commitment to finishing every project on time and on budget so seriously that we send our customers on a trip if we don’t fulfill our promise,” says Baker. “We’ve only had to do it once or twice, but we did send a whole family to the Caribbean once because we were two days late finishing their project.”

BOWA celebrated its 25th anniversary this year with parties, including one at the Baker home.

“We had 160 people here, nearly all of them BOWA clients,” Jill Baker says. “When we designed this house, we knew we wanted space for entertaining, and when we added the pool, I made sure we had kept enough space for several tables. The house works inside, too, for all kinds of events because the open floor plan means everyone can hear and see someone giving a speech for a community meeting or a graduation party.”

The grounds include a vegetable garden, an infinity pool, lawns, multiple seating areas and a charming trellis wrapped by a wisteria vine.

“The property is on a pie-shaped lot that was a field with only one tree and we designed the outside features so that they would be symmetrical with the house,” says Baker. “We’ve very slowly put in plants and trees. People often underestimate how fast things grow and they tend to overplant. It costs less to be patient, too, since you can start with smaller plants.”

Inside, the open family room, dining room, breakfast area and kitchen all share views of the landscaped grounds. While the floor-to-ceiling windows provide drama for the space, the details of well thought-out spaces are a clue to the fact that this home belongs to a careful craftsman. The family room is lined with built-in cabinets and shelves that hide a small flat-screen TV tucked so that the comfy couches and chairs are the setting for conversation and quiet reflection. A floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace, one of several wood-burning fireplaces in the home, is constructed of local stones that match the exterior stones of the property.

The Baker kitchen features dozens of maple cabinets with cherry veneer inserts and a center island with space for seating as well as plenty of additional storage space. Jill Baker revealed the specially designed lower drawers that still hold arts and crafts supplies for their daughters along with plastic children’s dishes. The Bakers recently upgraded their appliances and added a slate backsplash, but their cabinets, granite counters and the kitchen’s design look as if they were built this year rather than 17 years ago.

The first floor also includes a powder room, the guest suite and a home office, one of Josh Baker’s favorite spaces.

“I always wanted to have a place to work at home with a wood-burning fireplace so I could work on a snowy day,” he says.

The office has a central desk for Baker and a custom-designed built-in cherry desk that his daughters used for homework. Custom-designed built-in cherry cabinets and shelves surround the room, which has a cathedral ceiling and a wall of windows with a window seat that offers a morning view of the sunrise and the two dozen or so deer that frequently visit the Baker home.

Upstairs, each of the Baker daughters has a nicely proportioned room with windows on two sides.

“We deliberately didn’t make study spaces in their rooms because we wanted them to be downstairs with us when they were doing their homework,” he says.

The girls share a connecting bath decorated with tiles hand painted by Amanda and Danielle when they moved into the home.

“I supervised so that we ended up with patterns that look good even now instead of stick figures or something that wouldn’t look right when they were grown up,” Jill Baker says

In the master suite, the Bakers have a wood-burning fireplace with a raised hearth, his-and-hers walk-in closets and a spacious bath with a whirlpool tub and a glass-enclosed shower.

“We paid attention to details everywhere in this house with things like solid wood doors and great hardware because we’re always replacing those when we remodel homes,” says Baker. “In our bathroom, we built high vanities because we’re both tall. Now everyone’s putting them in.”

A lesson the Bakers learned from BOWA clients is that a bonus room above an unheated garage is often cold, so their bonus room, which functioned as a playroom and library for their daughters as well as guest space, has extra insulation, and they heated their garage.

The basement is underground but receives extensive natural light through a set of double glass doors and a tall window facing wide steps to the ground level. This level includes an open floor plan with a sitting area, space for game tables and a wet bar. Glass doors open into a craft room lined with open shelving.

While the landscaped grounds, quality materials and thoughtful design of this home provide a lovely setting for entertaining, it’s easy to see that the Bakers are just as happy to be settled in front of the fireplace with their dog and their daughters for quiet conversations.

Michele Lerner is a freelance writer.

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