Take a widowed physician and a school psychologist. Mix in land with a steep grade and an imaginative architect. Meet every Tuesday night for close to two years to discuss the plans.
What do you get?
A house situated near Washington’s Rock Creek Park that appears to be floating and a happy couple.
That is the story of Myron Murdock and Judy Herzog Murdock who have been living in the Crestwood neighborhood of the District for the past year.
Creating their “ultramodern house in the trees,” as Murdock likes to call it, required time and patience. “We had a basic concept,” he said.
The couple, married in 2014, had contracted three architects to draw plans for their dream house but ultimately chose Salo Levinas, a partner with Shinberg Levinas in the District. He had done work for one of Murdock’s business partners.
Levinas understood what they wanted. “He wanted to have something like a treehouse, floating — living in the woods,” Levinas said.
Judy Herzog and Myron Murdock knew each other because Herzog was friends with Murdock’s wife, Rose, who died in 2010. Murdock and Rose had been married for 44 years. After Rose died, Herzog gradually got to know Murdock, and ultimately they married. Murdock had been living in Silver Spring, Md., and Herzog in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood.
Because of the complexity of the project, from the steepness of the lot to the drama of the design and construction, the couple had plenty of time to build their life and home together. “He was very tied to where he was living,” she said. “He was saying goodbye to a lot of things.”
He said, “I would never have moved into the District if I didn’t make a house that I wanted.”
The “treehouse” began with the search for a lot.
“I got on the Internet and saw the land,” Herzog Murdock said. It wasn’t the first lot they considered, but it appealed to them for its location and value. It was actually one of two side-by-side lots in Crestwood. “I didn’t know it existed,” she said of Crestwood.
They had considered a piece of land on the other side of Rock Creek Park in the Forest Hills neighborhood but decided it was too expensive.
When deciding on the Crestwood lot, they knew some of the challenges.
“This was a very steep hill,” Murdock said. “A 14-degree angle. Salo designed this house to fit into this piece of property.”
The couple had an idea of what they wanted yet spent many hours working with Levinas on how to achieve it. “They were open to my suggestions,” Levinas said. “It was an open dialogue.” All agreed that every effort would be made to have as much open space as possible with “no impediments to the view,” he said.
At a quarter-acre, plus the frontage that is owned by the city, the site is a third of an acre, just enough to fit the 5,900-square-foot, three-level house. The main living area on the second level — open space that includes the living room, dining area, kitchen and adjacent outdoor porch — is 2,900 square feet. The entry level consists of 2,000 square feet, and the upper level is 800 square feet.
The house and floor plan are designed to utilize every bit of natural light, optimizing the views from every window. Using triple-pane glass from Lithuania and foam insulation has resulted in minimal heating and air-conditioning bills, Murdock said.
The house curves into the site with two cantilevered sections at either end — one houses the master bedroom and bath at one end of the second level, and the other contains the living room at the opposite end of the second level.
The house opens into a foyer lit by a dramatic skylight and a hand-carved staircase leading to the main living area on the second level. Though the house is designed for a busy urologist and a now-retired school psychologist from Fairfax County Public Schools who has a private practice, it accommodates family and other guests. Murdock has three grown, married sons and four grandchildren. He even built in two lower-level bedrooms with a bath and separate entrance because he thought his now-deceased parents could stay there.
The third level creates separate space for both husband and wife — a knitting room for her and an office for him — as well as a shared workout room. His office overlooks the second level rather than being closed off from the rest of the house. Her knitting room opens onto the windows at the front of the house, allowing her to take in the views.
A second staircase connects the second and third level; an elevator is available for their future use or for guests who need it.
In addition to its dramatic architectural design, the house has 21st-century features: From radiant heating in the outdoor porch to all its electronic features, the “treehouse” is a “smart” house.
But because the house features so much glass, sometimes the couple just wants to close out the world.
“We can hit one button and close everything in the house,” said Murdock. “It’s all electronic. It’s all controlled.” Security, temperature and audiovisual controls, and shades can be accessed from wireless chargers.
Edge Technologies installed the smart technology.
“We are using Apple iPads and mini pads enclosed in LaunchPort wireless technology to continuously charge. We can also use our Apple phones anywhere in the world to control our lights, security and cameras, thermostats, shades and audiovisual systems,” Murdock said.
What do they enjoy most about the house?
Murdock said he likes the open floor plan and “treetop” living. But there’s more. He enjoys the “window doors” at the back of the house, which blend the indoors and outdoors. The house opens onto a patio that has three levels of terracing. He said he loves that there is “glass everywhere” and an open screened porch with unobstructed views. He loves that the house is smart, allowing for easy living. He said he enjoys the heated floor in the master bedroom, the shower that is “like a carwash,” and the soaking tub “for relaxation and meditation.”
Stone paths lead to the separate lower-level entrance, but grass is nonexistent. Instead, gardens adorn the hill at the front of the house and the rear terracing.
Murdock said he enjoys “the beauty of the high sloping ceiling in the great room with the curved sloping balcony at the top of the floating stairwell.”
When asked what she enjoys most about the house, Herzog Murdock put it simply: “The views we have, the beautiful entry and stairwell. I love being out on the porch. We’re on top of the park, but we’re in the middle of the city.”