In a region where the center-hall Colonial reigns king, though, convincing contractors to stick with a modern aesthetic was no easy task. First, there was the general contractor who shored up the house’s glass atrium by building a not-quite-square frame using the wrong wood. Then there were the window company representatives who dutifully listened to David’s instructions for replacement windows — and ignored them.
“I told them exactly what I wanted: no molding, glass coming all the way down to the sill,” remembered David, who works as a painter and sculptor. “But then I came home and there it was: molding that extended from the frame.” A window’s frame is a small detail, but a significant one: rather than being a striking example of American modernism, the room looked like, well, pretty much any other 2000s-era space.
It was the last straw. David decided then to do most of the renovation himself, acting as his own general contractor and holding outside workers to his high standards. The house’s exceptional design and materials, he felt, deserved someone with an eye for detail who would highlight its strongest features, windows and all.
A distinctively contemporary community
Carderock Springs, the development where the Beerses’ house is located, is all about windows. Take a night drive through the area and it’s impossible to miss them: few homeowners seem to use shades, and the large, unadorned rectangles of light turn the houses’ exteriors into elegant Mondrian designs. During the day, the windows and the homes they belong to have a more subdued effect, but the architecture is distinctive, each house clearly part of a well-planned community.
Indeed, Carderock Springs — which sits just southwest of the intersection of River Road and the Beltway — is one of the Washington region’s best examples of mid-century modernism, developed 50 years ago by Chevy Chase native Edmund Bennett (who currently lives in Arizona) in partnership with the architecture firm Keyes, Lethbridge & Condon, a predecessor of today’s D.C.-based SmithGroupJJR.
In 2008, a community-led effort successfully pushed for the neighborhood to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, a few-strings-attached designation that recognizes the area’s architectural merit.
The 300-some houses in the community bear all the hallmarks of modernism: clean, crisp lines, open and uncluttered floor plans, cathedral ceilings, large entryways, and lots of glass. Most notable about the development, though, is its integration with the surrounding landscape, a style known as “situated modernism.”
“Bennett was really preserving the land, trying to minimize the impact of the houses on the terrain,” explained Isabelle Gournay, a University of Maryland architecture professor whose research, teaming with another professor, led to the neighborhood’s addition to the National Register. That element is still apparent: The houses are nestled into a rolling, wooded landscape, with each home’s design dependent on its siting.