In the Washington-area home-construction market, it is practically an article of faith among the large national builders that houses with contemporary styling won’t sell. So when K. Hovnanian Homes, the nation’s seventh largest home building firm and the third largest in the Washington market, builds a new subdivision that is unabashedly contemporary in style, it’s definitely noteworthy.

(Read the Saturday Real Estate story about the development here.)

Even more surprising is how this very different subdivision came about. When I asked Ara Hovnanian, president of K. Hovnanian Homes, about this seeming apostasy, I learned that it all started in 2004 with a coffee table book, “Piet Boon 1” (Terra,  $99), that he chanced upon in New York City where he lives. On a whim, Hovnanian phoned Piet Boon, who turns out to be a Dutch designer with a wide following in Europe but not so well known in the United States, and a week later Boon was sitting in Hovnanian’s Fifth Avenue co-op apartment discussing its renovation. That project led to designing a contemporary-styled subdivision in Scottsdale, Ariz., and then to the new Line K subdivision in Willowsford, a new home community in Loudoun County, which opened last May.

Surprised that a book could have such an impact, I read it myself. I could see immediately why Hovnanian found the work of Boon and Karin Meyn, his design and business partner for nearly 30 years, so appealing. Their houses are exactly what Hovnanian said he was looking for — a minimalist, modern look that is warm and cozy. And it is utterly unlike anything he had seen in New York. There, the trend in modern-styled interiors favored a look that he described as “sleek and sterile, so minimalist it feels like a museum and you don’t feel you want to put your feet up.”

The warmth and coziness and simplicity of Boon and Meyn’s work are the first things a reader will notice in the photographs of “Piet Boon 1.” But just as important in the overall effect and also evident in the photographs is the clear connection with building traditions that are very old. These Dutch designers favor materials that have been used in Holland for many centuries including wood, stone, zinc and lead. And their designs incorporate aesthetic principles of balance and symmetry that have for at least 400 years characterized the houses in the area of the Netherlands where both Boon and Meyn are from. Not only did they absorb these traditions by osmosis growing up with them, but Boon also built houses that incorporated them before he became a designer.

The Dutch team’s own house, the most richly illustrated one in the book, was my favorite. On the front elevation, the steep roof made of zinc, the stuccoed walls and the symmetrical placement of windows are a nod to tradition while the nearly monochromatic palette — gray roof and walls, black steel frames for the windows — is a modern touch. The only contrast is the warm yellow tone of the welcoming red cedar door.

In the interior, every doorway into a room appears to be centered in a wall, and the doorways line up so that you can see through from one side of the house to the other when all the doors for the major living areas are open. The doorway openings are generous and the windows run down to the floor line. The walls are a simple white plaster and the locally sourced flooring materials include a soft gray Pietra Serena stone, a nearly black Kerkdallen stone that was traditionally used in churches, and a bleached oak in seven-inch wide planks, a detail that Boon often uses to make a room feel more spacious.

The cover of the second book of Boon and Meyn’s work, “Piet Boon 2” ( Terra, $125), is a shot of Hovnanian’s remodeled apartment. Highlighted in the book, the apartment looks very different from Boon’s earlier work — the entire apartment is white — but the warmth and minimalism of the Dutch team are still central themes. Some of the details, including the powder room vanity — a vessel sink on a plain white rectangular-shaped stand — and small, recessed wall niches for displaying art work are in the Line K houses.

The book’s subtitle — “What you see is not design, but feeling” — is another indication of the unusual design sensibility of the Boon-Meyn team. Their work displays a sophisticated use of space and light, but their focus is in creating a restful place to recharge one’s batteries, or as Ara Hovnanian might put it, “a place where you can put your feet up and relax after a hard day’s work.”

In addition to “Piet Boon 1” and “Piet Boon 2,” the latest work of the Piet Boon Group is now available in “Piet Boon 3” (Terra, $130) and “Piet Boon Styling by Karin Meyn” (Terra, $80).

Katherine Salant has an architecture degree from Harvard. A native Washingtonian, she grew up in Fairfax County and now lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. If you have questions or column ideas, she can be contacted at or