A backyard of one’s own is one of the great attractions of living in the suburbs. In a new home in Bethesda, Md., the backyard is elevated to even greater importance: It is the core of the home, and can be easily accessed from all of the main spaces of the house. Local firm Muse Architects designed the 10,290-square-foot home for a Chicago couple moving to the Washington, D.C., area. The couple had purchased a home on a nearly 22,000-square-foot lot, but the home itself wasn’t that inspiring.
“It was a box in the center of the lot—when you were in the house, you saw the neighbors and the street,” says senior principal Stephen Muse. “We decided to turn the idea upside down: We put a courtyard in the center of the property and built the house around the courtyard.”
The home has a classic U-shaped floor plan that optimizes natural light and cross ventilation. According to the architects, building the house with an elongated footprint cost about 10% more than a compact rectangle, but it provides the luxury of privacy and views that never have to be screened. The walls facing the courtyard are mostly glass, while the exterior walls, which are built right up to the setback lines on either side, are mostly opaque.
Providing the one-story living the couple desired, the master suite is located on the first floor with the living/dining room and kitchen/family room.
Meanwhile, the second level has an office and three bedrooms to accommodate guests that include the couple’s grown children and their families. Rather than put the pool in the middle of the courtyard, the architects chose to make the centerpiece the patio and the lawn, placing the pool to one side off the master suite.
“Most of the year, your pool is a pool cover,” explains Muse. The architecture is a nod to the Midwestern modernism of the clients’ former home city. “It sits very comfortably on the site,” says Muse. The architects took their inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright and his Prairie style, giving the house hipped roofs and bands of windows. Wood framing on the windows, horizontal cedar siding, cedar roof shingles, and fieldstone walls bring the warmth of natural materials to the mix.
The project also gracefully incorporates a two-car garage, a challenge for many suburban homes. Because the home is on a slope and had to be set back from the street a considerable distance, the architects designed a parking court in front of the house. The garage itself is set 90 degrees from the street so cars turn into it off the parking court. The upper level of the home continues over the top of the garage, making it look like another wing of the house, and a row of trees screen the garage and parking court from the street—thus avoiding the dreaded “garagescape.”
The entry feels light and bright, thanks to a wall of south-facing glass. The foyer is a glass box that creates a gentle transition between inside and out. Once inside the main house, the spaces flow easily from a living room to the left and an open stairwell to the right. The circulation corridor on the second level is designed as a mezzanine so light can come from above into the level below. The beams of the trellis over the front door continue through the house, connecting the indoor with the outdoors architecturally. Says Muse: “This is probably the best house that we’ve done that integrates the inside and outside. It uses every inch of the property.”