THE BINDEMAN house, in the best of traditions, has a quality of mystery. It's closed to the street, open to the garden, high ceilinged for drama, low ceilinged for cosiness, open-planned for friendliness, zoned for privacy.
"What do you want that you can't get in a tract house?" asked architect Chloethiel Woodard Smith.
Nate and Alice Bindeman replied, "We want to know when the seasons change. We want to watch the snow falling in winter, the leaves coming out on the trees in the spring. We want to be a part of the outdoors, but cozy and dry."
And that's how Smith designed the Bindeman house, with a glass wall for almost every room, including the bath, yet so protected, the house keeps itself to itself.
From the street, all you see is a noncommunicative garage door, a steep asphalt drive and a passageway. Don't take the stone pathway to the garden on the side. That's not the way to get in.
The entry is through the covered passage on the west of the garage. The entry is low-ceilinged, rather dark, resulting in a secret rite of passage such as ancient cultures have used for the same effect. When you come out of the passage, into the open court, the sky seems higher, the light brighter.
The courtyard has a covered walkway leading to the house's real front door. But most people stop to admire the goldfish in the lily pond, and the Knoll mesh chairs and lounge on the patio. Walls of glass separate the patio from the living room on the south, the studio on the west, and the master bedroom on the east. The blank wall to the north is the garage.
This atrium has a feel of a secret garden, only visible to birds and low flying craft. You could sun here in the altogether, without feeling at all exhibitionistic.
Inside, you have your choice - to go downstairs if you're visiting the children - turn left if you're headed for Alice Bindeman's painting studio, or right into the living room. The living room is filled with paintings and some small sculptured pieces by Alice Bindeman and her friends. Leonard Cave did the hermaphrodite sculpture. Kristen Hoffman, the flying papier mache ballet dancer. A large fireplace, of the same brick as the house, shields the living room from the entry and the downsteps.
A south glass wall (the better to collect heat from the sun, solar heat without hardware) shows a deck, a bridge over a cavern and a far side of azaleas. The Bindemans planted hundreds when they built the house, and now they make a crazy quilt of color. A large metal sculpture is by Robert Fergerson.
Around the corner, opposite the door to the deck, is a wet bar, serving both as a gardening sink and for drinks, but not visible to the living room. It can also serve as buffet for the dining room, just beyond.
An amazing table base/sculpture by Leonard Cave holds up a 450 pound slab of glass. A new custom buffet, so new that it still smells of fresh cut wood, has just arrived from Woodstock furnituremakers of Rockville. Glass doors slide open to the dining patio with a hillside of azaleas.
The kitchen and breakfast room is through another door. It's big. "I really like to cook," said Alice Bindeman. "Mrs. Smith does not. So Warren Miller did the kitchen for us." (Bindeman is the originator of Global Menu Club, the two-for-one restaurant program.) Beyond is the laundry room.
At the front door, you also could have gone left to a hall with a powder room, and on to Alice Bindeman's painting studio. Also hanging here is a sculpture by Hoffman regarded as too painful for some tastes.
To the east of the living room is the master suite. Instead of a hall there is a dressing room area. A shower, a bath, a wash basin and a toilet, in three separate compartments, lead off the dressing room. Floor-to-ceiling windows between let light but not sight in through thin blinds. The master bedroom is to the north a library to the south.
Each of the two floors constitutes a complete apartment. On the top are Nate and Alice Bindeman's major rooms.
The Bindeman children (Steven, Jody and James) call the plan "separte but unequal."
The lower level is above ground, thanks to the hillside. The children's living room is complete with a barbecue built into the fireplace stack and a rudimentary kitchen, all opening to the outside, partly protected by the upstairs deck. Three bedrooms and two baths are on one side of the living room, a storage and utility area on the other.
The house took some effort to build. The Bindeman began with architect Smith and John Ruffner as project architect. They enlisted their help in picking the site in the Bannockburn area of Bethesda. A wall in the basement, a collage, documents the whole procedure, with preliminary drawings, bits of brochures and Bindeman sketches of the owner.
"They helped us select this lot, especially because on the east was land then considered unbuildable because of the drainage. Of course, now it has two houses on it," Alice Bindeman said.
Finding a builder wasn't easy, especially when the first bids were twice what they'd budgeted. In the end, it cost $83,000 for the basic house - "Smith and Ruffner told us to get the space first, and then worry about the interior finish," said Bindeman. The lot, the kitchen and landscaping were extras.
When the Bindeman built the house 13 years ago, they had three small children. Now the children are all grown, only home on holidays or between jobs. The elder son brings his wife and child to visit.
The house has adapted very well to changing circumstances. To say of any building that it is designed to change with the seasons and with the owneers' life, is high praise indeed.