Artist Jackie Hoysted and her husband, information technology specialist Prem Singh, both 53, like a short commute. From bedroom and kitchen, they trek only several feet to their respective work spaces — a tall painting studio for Hoysted and a second-floor office for Singh.
“Our goal in life has been to have no distinction between work and life — one is part of the other,” says the Irish-born Hoysted. “Everything is intertwined for us, and we love it that way.”
Their pale-sided, contemporary house stands out among the brick Colonials in a neighborhood near downtown Bethesda, Md. Hoysted and Singh razed the original house on the lot to build the new dwelling and insisted that an art studio and an office be an integral part of the design.
In their previous home in Darnestown, Md., Hoysted recalls, “I worked in the basement and Prem worked in an office by the main living area. Prem’s area was problematic because when we had guests, noise filtered into his office from the living space.”
Far from being as makeshift as those converted rooms, their new work spaces are deliberately designed to be light-filled and private. Each incorporates a door opening to the outside so visitors making business calls don’t have to trek through the house.
“My office now has a lot better views and lighting due to the design of the windows,” says the Guyanese-born Singh, pointing to tall panes reaching the floor. “It has a separate entrance at the side of the house and also it is away from our main living area.”
The two-story house was designed by Bethesda architect Mark McInturff and his colleague Colleen Healey and built by Added Dimensions in Takoma Park, Md. The architects divided the wood-framed structure into an L shape with the studio and office placed at the rear. Between the two wings, a courtyard bordered by low concrete walls provides an outdoor dining and entertaining area, and another work space for Hoysted in warm weather.
The artist’s ground-floor studio opens to the courtyard, providing access for visitors. Business colleagues meeting with Singh can make use of a spiral staircase next to the driveway at the side of the house that winds up to his second-floor office.
“We had a lot of fun designing this house,” says McInturff, pointing to playful window patterns and blue-painted balconies, firebox and stair projecting from exterior walls. “Jackie and Prem were game in terms of creativity, and part of that creativity was about cost savings.”
The couple spent about $700,000, not including the architect’s fee, to construct the new house, after spending $720,000 for the 1930s home that was razed. “We went back and forth between expanding the existing structure and demolishing it,” Hoysted says. “Mark gave us some suggestions about adding on, but we wanted a cleaner, more contemporary design that could incorporate the work spaces.”
To save money, the homeowners decided to frame the new dwelling in wood, not steel. They chose inexpensive fiber-cement siding to sheathe the perimeter, asphalt shingles to clad the inner courtyard walls and pre-made aluminum components, including standard grates, to enclose the balconies.
“We were willing to work with alternative materials,” Singh says.
The aluminum sections around the balconies “are standard products that were designed in a way so that they could be fabricated and painted off-site, and then assembled like a kit on-site,” Healey says.
By taking advantage of the sloping site, the architects sunk the painting studio into the lower, rear part of the lot so it sits a half-level below the living area at the front. That position allowed the studio to rise 14 feet, compared with the nine-foot ceilings in the rest of the house.
“Not every house has an artist-in-residence,” McInturff says. “I wanted Jackie’s studio to be seen from different vantage points throughout the house.”
The presence of the creative space is evident from the moment the front door is opened, since it is located at the end of the entrance hallway and reached down a flight of stairs from this corridor. The open staircase and outdoor courtyard at the center of the house offer additional views of the tall room.
“It’s a utilitarian space with concrete floors and no fixed furnishings so that the space can be easily reconfigured depending on what I am working on,” Hoysted says.
On a recent visit to the studio, a brightly colored work titled “Mix ’n Match” was displayed on one wall, having been displayed in an exhibition at American University’s Katzen Arts Center last fall. Another wall covered in blackboard paint allows the artist to sketch her ideas before committing them to canvas.
Singh’s office is similarly adaptable. Paired work tables and Eames chairs on casters can be moved around to different places in the room. A modular storage system of stacked, laminated plywood boxes provides adjustable shelving for books and papers.
“We both spend more time in our work spaces now,” says Hoysted, who is currently completing paintings for an exhibit opening at the Arts Club of Washington in early March.
Living spaces at the front of the house are treated as an open loft. Sitting, dining and cooking areas are combined into one big room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the courtyard.
“The kitchen is very economical in terms of space and budget,” says Healey. “There is only one run of upper cabinets, no stand-up refrigerator but refrigerator drawers instead, and the backsplash is made up of simple porcelain tiles laid vertically.” Countertops are made of ½-inch-thick Corian rather than stone.
Other cost-cutting designs include storage cabinets and vanities assembled from Ikea products in the master bedroom, bathrooms and hallways. A row of silver-tipped light bulbs, rather than recessed lamps or pricey fixtures, illuminates the second-floor hallway.
Among the homeowners’ splurges is the custom, steel-faced gas fireplace with a built-in TV cabinet in the living area. Arranged nearby are the French-designed Togo sofa from Ligne Roset and Danish side tables and a patchwork cowhide rug from Design Within Reach.
From the main floor, the basement and second floor are reached from the staircase placed at the intersection between the front and rear wings. “The stair is a viewing instrument for looking into every space,” McInturff says. Landings are fitted with glass balustrades and metal grates to allow glimpses of the studio, living area and courtyard, depending on the level.
The master bedroom suite occupies a second-level space at the front of the house. Its minimalist decor is helped by cabinets and drawers stretching along one wall for stashing clothes and belongings. A metal balcony and windows framing views of crape myrtle trees put the owners in touch with the outdoors.
Throughout the house, Hoysted’s paintings are strategically hung to provide colorful accents within the minimally furnished spaces. As in an art gallery, they stand out against white walls and pale oak flooring.
Should they decide to sell the property in the future, the homeowners say the art studio could be turned into a family room or children’s play space, and the office into another bedroom. But for now, “every square inch is utilized,” says Singh.
Part of the decision to move to Bethesda, he says, was to downsize to one car and fewer belongings, as well as to work more comfortably at home.
“We wanted a smaller house that is easy to maintain,” says Singh of the structure’s 2,900-square feet, including the basement. “We are trying to get away from things we don’t need.”
Deborah K. Dietsch is a freelance writer and author of “Live/Work: Working at Home, Living at Work.”