Low-Key Furnishings Allow Landscaping to Make the Look

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A dream house does not need to be huge or lavishly furnished to be beautiful.

That's what Ann and Donald Brown learned while working with Richard Neutra, the celebrated architect who helped launch modernism in California. Their house, built in 1968, is the only one Neutra designed in the Washington area. His son said it was one of his father's favorites because of its spectacular setting on nearly an acre of wooded land overlooking Rock Creek Park.

Neutra selected the site out of three that the couple were considering, said Ann Brown, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission during the Clinton years. "It was raining. He walked over the lot we're on now and planned the house in moments. He fell in love with it."

To take advantage of the scenery, the house is designed as a series of glass- and redwood-covered steel platforms that heavily borrow from the landscape. All of the home's rooms come with a view.

With such bold design, Ann Brown said she felt no pressure to add much color. The furnishings are in muted tones. "That way, I never get sick of them," she said.

The light from the outdoors, Neutra's strategic use of mirrors, the art, the trees and the gardens make the look. "It's magnificent when the leaves turn or the snow falls," said Donald Brown, a retired real estate lawyer and developer who also taught at Harvard Business School.

What the Browns appreciate most is that none of the rooms are particularly large, which gives the home the cozy, lived-in feel they wanted.

Heather Willson Cass, a D.C. architect who designed a room added to the front of the house in the early 1990s, said that people who associate "dream house" with "big" need only take a look at the Neutra house to know that's not true.

The home is 4,000 square feet, including Cass's addition, made to house a fruitwood Knabe grand piano that the Browns inherited. It's no bungalow, but it's not a mansion either.

"It's an example of how one can have a magnificent place to live, one that gives them great joy, without giving in to the trend of larger and larger houses, which so many people are now rethinking," Cass said. "It's a small house given the sizes we're seeing these days, but because everything is so beautifully proportioned and minimalist, it has a dramatic, experiential quality."

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