Where We Live

Woodsy Worlds Away From the City

Contemporary styling on rolling terrain attracted Mel and Karin Colton in 1963.
Contemporary styling on rolling terrain attracted Mel and Karin Colton in 1963.

By Ann Cameron Siegal
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, March 25, 2006

Six months ago, Eneida Somarriba rediscovered the moon when her family moved to Carderock Springs.

When she was growing up in Costa Rica, she said, "I lived with the moon." And since she came to the United States, she has missed it.

"Why didn't we have a moon in Gaithersburg?" she jokingly asked her husband, Jorge.

Carderock Springs lacks the light pollution that plagues more populated, commercial areas. "It's so dark here," Somarriba said of her Montgomery County community, tucked between Congressional Country Club and Cabin John Regional Park, just outside the Capital Beltway.

On moonless winter nights, a parade of flashlight beams heralds the end of the workday as residents walk home from a bus stop on River Road.

Somarriba and her husband, both art teachers at the nearby Norwood School, are very conscious about how light plays on the walls inside their house and filters through the branches of the trees outside.

"The moon bathes the house at night and I get to see it from different angles," she said.

Carderock Springs is woodsy, rocky and hilly, located in an area where quarries once provided the stones used to build the C&O Canal in the 1800s. Wooded, pine cone-strewn paths winding through the community give walkers a sense of being far away from city life. And yet, residents say, it's only a 20-minute drive to the White House.

The original 404 Carderock Springs houses are low-profile contemporaries with large walls of windows and two-foot overhangs. Many people shun curtains because the houses are angled to take advantage of wooded views.

"We don't like curtains, we like light," said Raul Mandler, a professor of neurology at George Washington University Medical Center.

George Petsche was just out of architecture school in 1962, shopping for several acres farther out, when friends told him he should look at what developer Edmund J. Bennett was doing. "These were modeled after Charles Goodman's properties in Virginia," Petsche said.

Like Goodman's Hollin Hills community in Fairfax County, Carderock Springs was designed to make the outside an extension of the interiors. In a few cases, that goal was taken literally. Several flat-roofed "atrium houses" are built around square center courtyards. One even has an evergreen tree peeking out the top from within.

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