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Bringing a modern aesthetic to a traditional D.C. neighborhood

The newly built house, designed by Wouter Boer of Jones & Boer Architects and built by Zantzinger, backs onto Battery Kemble Park in Wesley Heights. (Eric Angelus)

Other developers wanted to build on the property in D.C.’s ­Wesley Heights, but Bryce Arrowood, managing partner at Cliveden Group, was the one who made it happen. Now, the first of three homes he is constructing is on the market.

When Arrowood saw the site originally, he was struck by the large expanse of undeveloped land next to Battery Kemble Park. The challenge was gaining access to the land.

“Prior to my getting involved as a developer, I had heard there were several other developers over the last 10 to 15 years who were trying to figure out ways to access the land,” he said. “They couldn’t do it because there was no way that D.C. was going to allow 49th Street to come up, and there was no way to access Cathedral Avenue from the lower six lots that we ended up buying.”

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Wesley Heights house | The newly built house, designed by Wouter Boer of Jones & Boer Architects and built by Zantzinger, backs onto Battery Kemble Park. It is listed at just under $15 million. (Eric Angelus)

Arrowood’s solution was to buy the house at the end of Cathedral Avenue, which bordered the six undeveloped lots. That allowed him to construct a private road that would connect the newly built houses to the main road.

“It took a year and a half, two years of finessing two different [sellers],” he said.

But that was just one hurdle he had to overcome. Another was gaining approval from the various entities involved — the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the National Park Service, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation and the D.C. Department of Transportation, to name a few.

“When I talked to my civil engineer about this at the very beginning, he said it’s going to be very hard to get all of the approvals to do this because you’re next to a national park,” Arrowood said. “There are storm-water management issues. There are all kinds of DDOT issues. There are environmental concerns. We’ve got to be really careful about how we do this.”

It took six to eight months, but Arrowood and his team had the approvals in place before he purchased the land.

The land also presented a challenge. It was steeply pitched and covered with invasive plants and dead trees. Few people could have seen the potential, but architect Wouter Boer of Jones & Boer Architects did.

“One of the things we wanted our architect to do was to find a way to softly embed these homes by taking advantage of the natural topography,” Arrowood said. “[Boer] said, ‘Look, whatever we do here, it has got to be modern.’ ”

The updated mid-century modern design allows the house to capitalize on its surroundings. Walls of glass frame park views that bring the outdoors in. However, the danger with this style is that it can be cold and sterile.

“This again is where Wouter, our architect, was just brilliant,” Arrowood said. “He said, ‘Successful modern architecture has got to have simplicity and elegance to the design. But in order for it to be successful, you have to invest in certain things. Materials are critically important.’ He said, ‘If you don’t invest in the materials, you end up with what could become an empty white box.’ ”

The house, built by Zantzinger, has walls of teak that add warmth to the main level. The floors on the main level and the terraces are Italian limestone, creating a seamless transition from indoors to outdoors. The floating stairs are an engineering marvel of rift-sawn white oak, steel and glass. The kitchen countertops are Calacatta Covelano marble that picks up on the subtle veining in the Italian limestone floors.

“As a developer, you’re always balancing cost with opportunity,” Arrowood said. “I am glad that I trusted the architect’s vision. . . . As you can tell by looking at it, significant dollars went into it. . . . That was kind of a leap for me financially, not knowing how it would look ultimately. But once it was done, I was just blown away. I was like, wow, this was definitely the way to go. ”

Although green roofs were added as part of a storm-water management system, they provide other benefits. They extend the green space around the home but also significantly reduce energy costs.

“I didn’t realize how energy-
efficient these homes are because, one, [the green roof] absorbs the heat, and two, you have almost two feet of insulation,” said Arrowood, who has received a certification from D.C.’s RiverSmart Homes program. “I’ve read you can save up to 75 percent on your air-conditioning costs.”

The first of the three houses to be built is at 4640 Cathedral Ave. The house at 4630 will be finished in six weeks or so, and 4620 will be finished in November or December. The houses relate to one another without being identical. “We wanted to be sensitive to where we were and what surrounded us but at the same time take advantage of this unique opportunity to build a much more modern aesthetic in a very traditional neighborhood,” Arrowood said.

The six-bedroom, nine-bathroom, 8,600-square-foot house is listed at just under $15 million.

Listing: 4640 Cathedral Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.

Listing agent: Lee Arrowood, Compass.

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