The 2010 modern house and studio were designed by Tom Shiner, an award-winning architect and furniture maker. He also designed many of the furniture pieces in the home. (Tod Connell)

Tom Shiner, an award-winning architect and furniture maker, designed this modern house in Bethesda about a decade ago when he and his wife decided to downsize.

“A lot of people really like to exhibit their houses,” he said. “I think that’s fine. Mine is very low-key. . . . In fact, nobody really notices my house from the street. It has a really low profile.”

Shiner is pleased with how modest and comfortable the house is.

“When I built this house 10 years ago, architects were very conscious of houses selling by the square foot,” he said. “I’m violating that a little bit. I’m saying the bigger the house is not necessarily the better. It is intentionally small. It intentionally does not have a basement. We don’t have stuff. We’ve had to get rid of stuff.”

The house has an unusual orientation on the site. Instead of facing Western Avenue, it is turned to capture the morning sun. As a result, it has neither a big back or front yard but a long side yard with a large stone terrace.

“The house is really oriented to this outdoor space,” he said. “You’re either looking at the garden and how the garden changes through the seasons, or you are actually going out and using the space. Probably the biggest and most used room in the house is the outside.”

On the outside, the house has brick veneer and extra-thick fiber-cement siding. Natural ventilation and passive solar orientation counter summer heat. High-performance insulation and a high-efficiency gas furnace resist winter cold.

Shiner said the house is easy to maintain because it doesn’t require a lot of effort or expense for upkeep.

“We’re very content to have a manageable house,” he said.


fireplace (Tod Connell/Tod Connell)

Having begun his career as a furniture maker, Shiner is acutely aware of how space is furnished and incorporates that thinking into his home designs.

“I’ve always thought and truly believe furniture making is just part of architecture,” he said.

The main floor has an open layout. The dining area opens to the terrace through eight-foot sliding glass doors. The Scandinavian-influenced wood-burning fireplace, with its elevated hearth, is the focal point of the space.

Shiner will apply some of his design concepts to the house he is designing for himself and his wife in Montana.

“It is very much an extension of the thinking that went into this house,” he said. “It also has the connection to furniture and how things are furnished, how the spaces work in terms of dining and socializing. . . . There’s a lot of it I would do over. There was some I would push a little farther, though. I would do even more.”


The studio is separate from the main house. (Tod Connell)

As he looks forward to refining the design for his next home, Shiner is pleased with what he is leaving behind.

“I’m very proud to give this to the neighborhood,” he said. “I hope in a quiet way, in a modest way, it influences people.”

The three-bedroom, four-bathroom, 2,400-square-foot house is listed at just under $1.7 million. An open house is scheduled for Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m.

Listing: 4798 Western Ave., Bethesda, Md.

Listing agent: Michael Shapiro, Compass

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