Room with a View? Yes, Please.

In architecture, as in life, context is everything. Especially so when it comes to the relationship between a home and its views of the surrounding environment.

Whether a home is along a coastal byway, on a mountain ridge, or nestled into the countryside, the power of “the view” seen from within looking out creates an emotional connection between us and the environment we are surrounded by. Experiencing a stunning view enhances our appreciation of a place. That is why we as architects treat the placement of the windows with the same level of attention as the placement of a piece of art.

We focus intently on this unique characteristic of “view” because it is just that – an element that makes one property distinct from another, one that makes it inherently personal. Writing about the design of a home in these terms sounds like an architect’s dream: esoteric and abstract. In reality, designing with view in mind comes down to a few simple, functional considerations.

Orientation. How does a home position itself in relation to important views, landmarks, features, and sunlight patterns? No matter the scenario, arriving at the decision to highlight certain views always starts by asking, “Where are the best views, and what is the most important view to you?” Sometimes it’s a key focal point such as a mountain gap or a bay inlet. Sometimes it’s an expansive vista. Sometimes it’s obvious to everyone. Other times it’s very personal and needs to be discovered.

Once those baseline determinations are made, questions about the preferences follow. Does the great room want to be bookended by other spaces, creating a focused view to the outside, or should it be open on multiple sides to create a wide view? Should the primary bedroom look out to a favorite sculpture?  The answers come from the client and are responded to by the architect, and from there we all negotiate hopes and dreams within the site’s opportunities and constraints.

Alignment. How do certain parts of a home relate to one another in order to highlight view? Fusing portions of a home together in specific ways can help elicit certain feelings and shape the way we experience a space. While the combination of design elements and sequences are virtually endless, there are a few examples that are ubiquitous. A front door and foyer with a direct line of sight to the backyard view and beyond creates surprise and delight and promotes a sense of welcome. A long hallway feels less unending with a view of the destination – literally the end is in sight. Even the mundane task of dishwashing feels less tedious when the sink looks out to a garden.

Individuality. What about the property is special? Understanding the distinct quality of a place and its surroundings is typically one of the most active and personal conversations we have when we first discuss views. Are there long views to distant horizons, medium views to valley lowlands, or short views to important structures? Are there eyesores to be avoided (almost always yes, even if not admitted)?  Are there high points that will help see over tree lines? Are there family memories rippling in an old pond in a clearing? Internalizing and prioritizing those responses provides a rallying point for everyone to align to as the project develops.

We believe that good architecture is always connected to its surroundings. It should also never get in the way of a good view; in fact, it should only enhance the nature that surrounds it. Discussing early and often how a home is designed to best take in its unique and important surroundings helps transform a house on a lot into a home that offers memorable and emotional experiences. Both for its residents and for those just passing by.

Written by Carmine Cafiero, AIA, NCARB, WELLap

Carmine believes that good design and successful projects are the result of effective listening and solid collaboration. He combines lessons learned from the University of Virginia School of Architecture and Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design with expertise in and passion for sketching, virtual reality, and BIM. Carmine’s multifaceted approach skillfully translates a client’s vision into clear, inclusive designs that are supported by comprehensive construction documents.

Dream Big – Centreville Estate (Pt. 1)

Ever had a dream that you have been working towards your whole life? I am sure the answer is yes! One of the greatest experiences is to help someone’s dream become a reality. That is the beauty of residential architecture! A little over five years ago, a client came to us with a dream. A dream to develop a Centreville estate that he has been envisioning for the last twenty-five years on 100 acres of pristine waterfront property he had just purchased on the eastern shore of Maryland. Fun fact: this client found Purple Cherry Architects because he moved into a house we previously designed for an old client! Small world!

This multi-structure estate started how many new projects do, from the ground up. So first, what were the buildings? Next, how were they positioned on the site to each other?

Let’s begin with the main house. Well, that clearly gets the best view! Because who wouldn’t want that expansive water view! Well, okay, maybe someone who would rather a mountain view, but you get the picture.  And with that, the design began! In fact, the design of all seven buildings happened concurrently, making it even more fun. While there is a main house, pool house, guesthouse, garage, party barn, carriage house and sheep shelter (yes, you read right!), for this go-around, we are only touching on some fun key features in the main house!

Exterior Materials – Ever hear the expression “first impressions are everything”? Well, that bodes true for houses too! The proportion, texture and color should be carefully thought out as to not have one dominate over another. This house balances the beauty of James Hardie’s Artisan vertical and horizontal lap-siding with Cushwa handmade oversized brick to make a breathtaking house. But let us not forget the Intex millwork columns and railings, Boral trim, Loewen windows with Atlantic Premium shutters and yellow cedar shake roofs and copper accents!

Monochromatic Rooms – If you have never experienced a monochromatic room, I highly recommend it. And we do not mean an all-white monochromatic room, but a deep dark slate blue/gray. Maybe it has that one feature, say a limestone fireplace mantel from a manufacturer similar to Francois and Co. that stands out and is balanced by the Lyndon Heath custom cabinetry. This house gets two of those rooms!

Bar – The monochromatic rooms flank the billiards room that is just before the main bar in the house. This bar is a two-story space with custom Douglas fir trusses, lap siding, brick floor, timber frame and a secret staircase. The horizontal nickel gap boards, Douglas fir trusses, and shelf running high around the room all nod to a nautical feel. The millwork by Engrained Millwork and commercial appliances from EVI are all pieces that bring this room together. What’s also cool, if you are lucky enough to stay in the second floor main guest suite, is that there are interior windows that allow you to look into the bar and embrace all its beauty!

Wine Room – So, what’s with that secret staircase mentioned above? Well, you have to go back behind the bar to get to it. It will lead you down a narrow space into a twenty-by-forty Chicago-brick barreled-ceiling wine room. We could talk about this space for days. In fact, it seems to be everyone’s favorite place in the house. The first thing people want to do is go to the basement to see the wine room. Don’t believe me? Take a look at some of the construction photos because words truly cannot do this room justice. The frame work for the barrel is stunning as is the brick barrel itself! All that brick, and the brick barrel hallways in the basement, all were laid by one EXTREMELY talented mason with two helpers!

We could go on for hours and talk about all the fun little features of this house, but some things need to be left as a surprise! Plus, in the future, we need to talk about buildings two through seven! Something to think about in the meantime is astounding how many people have been employed by this project over the past five years, including GYC Builders, Champion Hruby Landscape Architects and Lane Engineering that helped to make it all the buildings work in harmony! That is pretty darn special. And, it is all thanks to one man (our client) to whom we will always be grateful! God bless him!

Written by Ashley Marshall, project manager at PCA

Designing for the View

Is there anything better than a house with a beautiful water view? Whether it be waterfront on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay or sitting on a sheltered creek, a home site with a view of water gives homeowners opportunities for unparalleled beauty. While a spectacular water view is one of the most important factors in design, other site characteristics should always be considered. Observe how the sun moves across the sky throughout the day. Morning light streaming into an east-facing bedroom might be just the thing for an early riser, while an owner who likes to sleep late might prefer a dark, secluded bedroom on the west side and a light-filled kitchen on the east. Owners inspired by the gorgeous pinks and oranges of sunset views will appreciate outdoor living spaces such as decks or porches facing west. If those amenity spaces can have both water and sunset views, so much the better!

The most fortunate waterfront sites have beautiful views all around, but many properties have much more scenic vistas in one direction. When one direction is clearly the most attractive, you must consider the relative priority of the spaces to determine which space gets the best view. Often the main living space containing the living room, dining room, and kitchen is given pride of place, since these spaces form the core of the house where residents spend most of their time. Within that space, consider the owners’ preferences- to some, looking from the kitchen through a beautifully furnished, seldom-used formal dining room to the shoreline beyond is a fantastic way to draw the beauty of nature into the house. Others, maybe those raising small children, or those who like to casually entertain with everyone gathered around the kitchen island on barstools, want the kitchen windows looking straight out at the water.

Less important spaces where residents don’t congregate, like closets, pantries, or mudrooms, can be placed in areas with no view of the water, or even be used to screen undesirable elements such as nearby neighbors.

If the house is high on a hill, the best view will be below you when you’re inside. Window sills must be placed low to avoid blocking views. Window heads must be placed to maximize views, and when windows are divided, such as when double-hung units are used, special attention must be given to the height of horizontal divisions. Nothing is worse than a badly-placed sash or mullion at eye level. Many window manufacturers now make wood windows with narrow, modern profiles that maximize the glazed opening, such as the Weathershield Contemporary Collection. And although they tend to be expensive, all-metal windows offer the narrowest profiles available and expansive glass area, such as Arcadia Custom luxury windows.

Porches, terraces, and other outdoor spaces associated with the house also must be considered in planning for views. While they benefit from water views themselves, they also affect views from adjacent spaces. Different clients have varying tolerances for viewing through screens, or even past columns supporting porch roofs. High-visibility screens are available from window manufacturers, and can be installed in porches as well, to significantly improve the ability to see through to the landscape beyond. If the site is wide enough, outdoor spaces can be placed alongside the house rather than between the house and the water, allowing unobstructed water views from the interior. However, an outdoor space that allows a room to be opened up and expand toward the water provides great flexibility for entertaining and an unmatched sense of extending the living space into the exterior.

If a swimming pool is desired, its placement also affects the view to the water. A pool sitting between the house and shoreline becomes a primary visual element. In the summer, the sparkling water accents the landscape design and entices people to come outside and lounge poolside. This suits those who want to see the pool from the interior when entertaining or to monitor the activity in the pool. In the winter, however, a covered pool lacks that charm, so some clients prefer to locate the pool in a less prominent location and give the area in the foreground of the view to beautiful gardens or terraces.

Divisions, or muntins, in windows are a matter of personal taste, with passionate advocates on both sides. Some owners want nothing to come between them and the view, and prefer narrow frame profiles and unbroken expanses of glass. While this tends to create a more contemporary appearance, it is suitable for a variety of architectural styles. On the other side, there are clients who appreciate the classic detail and sense of scale that divided lights provide, and feel that the divisions don’t create a bothersome obstruction. One current trend is painting window sashes and divisions a dark color, which gives a cool, modern vibe to the interior. Neither conclusion is wrong, but understanding which camp the owners fall into is important.

You may want to view straight through the house from the front door, seeing the water beyond and creating a dramatic “wow” moment as soon as you arrive. Fully glazed doors with wide sidelights or adjacent windows provide this sense of drama and maximize the openness and connection between the entrance and the living space. However, there are reasons to go in a different direction. Some clients want more privacy than a transparent entrance provides and don’t feel comfortable with large glazed doors. In that case, the revelation of the water view only after being invited into the house itself can provide its own sense of excitement and create a progression from the exterior world into the private realm.

A waterfront site has so many wonderful benefits, paying attention to the wide variety of details that come into play during design can help ensure that no opportunity is missed.

Chesapeake Bay Project Update

Renovations to this waterfront brick home on the Eastern Shore are nearing completion! The stunning new patio and pool area, along with an enclosed sun room, offer magnificent views to the Chesapeake Bay. The addition of a front entry porch completes the courtyard design. We have enjoyed seeing this project progress through each design phase. The final product is sure to be incredible!

Aqua Terra: Picture Perfect

We’ve just updated our web portfolio with stunning photography of our most recent project, Aqua Terra. A heartfelt thank you to David Burroughs Photography for expertly capturing several of the spectacular design elements in this 10,000 SF custom waterfront home on Harness Creek. Sure to delight is the wood and steel floating staircase, the custom painted glass interior panel imported from Israel, the sunken outdoor entertaining area with fire pit, the luxurious master bedroom, and the study fireplace integrating large boulders and cantilever hearth stones.

Image credit: David Burroughs Photography

Architecture & Interiors