Bowing to Washington's perennially conservative housing taste, Robert B. Jordan Cos.' furnished model at Paterra, a new Fairfax County subdivision near Fair Lakes, features the predictable Neo-Georgian facade. But behind closed doors, Bob Jordan, a fixture in the Washington home-building industry for more than 30 years, shows us that he still tweaks the expected in unusual ways.
The house is all Jordan, who is so hands-on a builder that architect Margaret Rast, who has worked with him for the past 17 years, said, "I feel like a ghost architect. He comes up with most of the concepts. I just fine-tune them and produce the construction drawings."
Jordan's Paterra floor plan will be familiar to Washington buyers--he said it's a variation of a house he has been building since 1981. But the heart and soul of his 3,500-square-foot, $439,000-base-priced Wright model is a light-filled, two-story family room with one entire wall of glass. The room, in the center of the house, creates a stunning first impression, and I predict it will still dazzle years after the owners move in.
Washington buyers these days seem to prefer more usable square footage and fewer two-story spaces, but Jordan's family room is one instance where the volume is not gratuitous. And buyers seem to agree: The firm offers the option of adding a loft area above the family room, thus reducing the glass wall by half, and only one buyer so far has done it, sales agent Nancy Jansen said.
With about 1,000 square feet more than the current average in the Washington area for detached houses, Jordan's house also illustrates another truth. You can't just take a plan for a small house and blow it up to a bigger size. All the proportions need to be adjusted.
The room count here is the same as for smaller houses--it's still only four bedrooms--but the ceilings are nine feet high on both floors, the roof pitch is steeper, and the hallway on the second floor is 10 feet wide at the top of the stairs and more than five feet wide in the master bedroom area. The stairs are wider (42 inches instead of 36) and curving. The window count is higher, and the windows are bigger, the front door grander, and all the first-floor room openings wider.
This house also has some extras that buyers in this price range expect, such as three full baths on the second floor and an informal back stairs leading directly from the master suite to the kitchen.
Jordan's signature details are in evidence--a rounded balcony protrudes into the sizable two-story foyer, and all the openings from the foyer into the main living spaces are arched. So many archways in one house could become repetitive, but Jordan has given each a different treatment. He also deftly picks up the arch theme in the mantel trim for the two fireplaces and the ($3,500 extra) entertainment center in the living room.
The large and workable kitchen includes a sizable pantry closet suitable for storage of bulk items. The $5,460 Decora cabinets have dovetailed wood drawers, and the seven recessed lighting fixtures are standard because, "I like bright light and I hate fluorescent," said Mike Jordan, Bob Jordan's son and the firm's marketing chief.
Tucked off to one side, the library is sufficiently removed from the hubbub of the first floor that it could be used for serious work.
Bob Jordan will alter his standard plan to accommodate the needs of individual buyers. For example, for one buyer he converted the living room and library into an in-law suite ($2,200 to convert the powder room to a full bath and add a closet), and he also has added an elevator (now a $34,000 option) to one house, and a third garage bay ($15,100) to another.
The size of the family room--a 19-foot cube--plus the large glass wall creates some unusual landscaping opportunities. With the 19-foot ceiling height, Annapolis landscape architect Jay Graham thought the room could accommodate a tree as high as 15 feet, and he suggested either palms or ficuses.
To get an interior tree of this size, homeowners would have to go to an interior landscape contractor that supplies plants for hotels and office buildings. Such a firm also will have acclimated the tree, which will most likely be grown in Florida, to our vastly different climate. This process can take as long as six months, but once it's complete, the tree will not require extra humidity, said Gary Mangum of Premier Plantscapes in Burtonsville.
A two- to three-trunk palm would cost about $2,000, Mangum said. A mature ficus would cost about $1,600. With so much glass, plant lighting may not be necessary, but buyers should check with a landscaper before the room's lighting is set, he said.
All that glass also cries for an outside view, and definitely not the neighbor's garage or compost heap. Graham suggested a "borrowed view" approach--keep the space between houses open to get a deep landscape view, but strategically place trees to block out unwanted areas.
For year-round screening, Graham would use evergreens and, for seasonal color, deciduous trees. Such a landscape, with mature trees that "would not require five years to get halfway decent," would probably cost $20,000 to $25,000, Mangum estimated.
As important as what you can see with Jordan's house is what you can't see or would probably not notice--40-year roof shingles, a 75-gallon water heater and a beefed-up floor system that won't make the dishes rattle when you walk across the dining room.
Behind the walls, Jordan installs a phone and wiring system that may strike the uninitiated as excessive but will be a godsend to households with teenagers, or any family that might have someone using a fax machine while another family member surfs the World Wide Web.
Jordan's standard phone wiring will accommodate up to four lines, which are often pressed into service as soon as such a household moves in, said Shawn Lipscomb, chief installer for the home wiring division of Southern Electric in Leesburg, Jordan's subcontractor. Even better, the Category 5 24-gauge wire Jordan uses allows for faster transfer of information over the Internet than the less expensive Category 3 24-gauge wiring used by some Washington-area builders, Lipscomb said.
Equally important for buyers is how the Category 5 wire is installed. Rather than one continuous phone wire running from jack to jack, Jordan has a "home run" setup. This means a separate wire is run from a central phone box in the basement furnace room to each jack.
A home run setup has two advantages. The wiring can be manipulated to add even more phone lines, if four is not enough, and any malfunction in a wire or jack will not disable the entire phone system.
Given the increasing number of uses for the phone and the number of people in a household who will probably be using them, installing a phone jack in every room is a sensible idea. Jordan offers three as standard; additional jacks are $70. As an added convenience, Lipscomb suggests installing a jack for each side of the bed in the master bedroom.
Jordan's cable TV wiring is the RG6 quad shielded type, and it is also installed in a home run configuration. For high-definition television, soon to be cheaper and more widely available, RG6 will definitely enhance picture quality, Lipscomb said. For the standard TVs most people use today, the RG6 wiring will also improve picture quality somewhat.
When there are more than five cable TV jacks in the house, the signal will be affected, Lipscomb said. To remedy this, he recommends installing an amplifier on the panel where the signal enters the house. The cost and type of amplifier depends on the system installed.
With more services coming over cable, including Internet access and long-distance telephone service, a cable TV outlet in every room also is a good idea. Jordan offers two as standard; additional ones are $50.
To reach Paterra in Fairfax County, between Chantilly and Centreville, take Interstate 66 west to Route 28 West. Go a quarter-mile on 28, then take a right turn on Walney Road (Route 657). Travel one mile on Walney, then turn right on Poplar Tree Road. Then it's right on Leighfield Valley Drive and left on Lewis Mill Way. The models are on the right.