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By Patricia Dane Rogers
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 20, 2000; Page H05

A balcony is a gracious architectural gesture, like a hand extended to Mother Nature.

"There's nothing on earth like your own private outdoor space, especially when it's right off the bedroom," says Darrel Rippeteau of Rippeteau Architects in Washington.

Builders and architects report that a balcony is a grace note clients often request as part of a larger project. "More and more people are asking for balconies," says Gopal Ahluwalia, research director for the National Association of Home Builders, "and more and more builders are providing them. Generally, they're off a bedroom on the second floor. People like to get outside and be a part of the great outdoors."

Although such a space usually is not the primary goal of a remodeling job, designers agree that a balcony can have a major impact on the way people view and use a house.

A balcony off a teenager's upstairs bedroom in Northwest Washington visually links two wings of the shingled house while providing a small outdoor hangout for the 14-year-old and her friends.

Designed by Rippeteau, the triangular balcony is tiny--just seven feet from side to side and three feet at its widest point. But it is sturdy.

"It isn't hard to build a balcony, but it has to be safe not only because of the height but also because people love to congregate on them and you have to make sure they bear the load," he says.

Here, the steel framework, which includes the railing, is bolted to the bearing wall. The base of the balcony is made of pressure-treated lumber.

Wooden latticework fastened to the frame creates a safety enclosure that meets both the 36-inch minimum height permitted in certain residential projects and the four-inch maximum allowed between rails or lattice squares.

Lattice is a thrifty material that can create a stylish effect, says Rippeteau. For added pizzazz in this case, it is painted bright blue to contrast with the yellow and red shingles.

One-story additions are particularly excellent candidates to support a balcony. Architect Robert Braddock was part of the design team for Fairfax Architects that built a balcony above a garage as an extension of his parents' bedroom in an Alexandria subdivision.

The balcony is nine feet wide and 20 feet long with a roofline that echoes the traditional front facade. It overlooks an enclosed patio with a little garden, pond and fountain.

"There's no place better to view the patio than the balcony and vice versa," says Braddock, who now practices with Roberts Vardell Inc. in Arlington. "They were designed to complement each other."

Washington architect Richard Williams used the expansion of a flat-roofed, one-story family room in Chevy Chase Village as an opportunity to build a balcony. As part of a substantial renovation, Williams enlarged two children's bedrooms, adding twin study alcoves above the family room. The shared balcony extends beyond the alcoves. Shaded by a deep slate roof, the balcony is 24 feet wide and six feet deep--large enough to accommodate a hammock and a cluster of wicker chairs.

With copper coping and railing and a new, deep teal paint job, the addition and house now blend right in with the Arts and Crafts look of the neighborhood.

The decision to build the balcony transformed the entire house. "Built in the '70s, the old addition was a total disconnect from the rest of the house and its setting overlooking a bamboo glade," says Williams, the principal in the firm of Richard Williams Architects. When the balcony was built, he practiced with Williams & Dynerman Architects.

"This project was all about relating to this beautifully wooded yard that feels like a little clearing in the forest," he says. "The open balcony above this tall addition was a bonus. Not only does it tie in with the style of the house and neighbors, it became a space the whole family can enjoy."

There are lots of ways, including decks, to reach toward the outdoors, says Williams.

"Every case is different and site specific," he adds, but "balconies like this can offer shelter and improve the overall proportions of a house. We try to sneak them in whenever we can."

Have a decorating or design problem or solution? Share it with us. Write to Eye on Design, Home Section, The Washing- ton Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; or e-mail Patricia Dane Rogers at rogersp@washpost.com. We regret that we cannot answer each message because of the volume of responses.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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