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Describing a home as “traditional” leaves a lot of room for interpretation. In the case of a home recently designed by Anthony “Ankie” Barnes, principal of BarnesVanze Architects, tradition played a big role in the design—but it’s a home with a distinct character of its own.
“People have different interpretations of ‘traditional’ because, I think, so many of the traditional styles of architecture in America have been borrowed and tweaked from European examples,” he says, citing Georgian- and Tudor-style homes as specific instances of what people imagine traditional to be. “I’d say traditional architecture is one that is respectful of the lessons of the past and the traditions of architecture that have come before us.”
In the case of this project? “This is clearly a colonial house,” he says, but he emphasizes that the brick colonial was “planned and executed for the lifestyle of a modern young family.”
Thanks to its slight asymmetry, it’s a house that makes a strong first impression—one that doesn’t feel too conventional or too predictable. Its brickwork uses reclaimed brick, each one with its own unique color and patina—some are red, some salmon, others orange, and still others brown. Instead of slate shingles, the roof is of natural cedar wood, which takes on a weathered look with time.
“These materials are a bit softer than your classic one-color-brick and perhaps slate, which would be a more typical palette for a house,” Barnes says, explaining that the softer look makes a home more approachable.
Inside, the front door opens into a cozy entryway with a low ceiling—a perfect place for greeting guests. “The slightly smaller space allows for a little intimacy in that initial greeting,” Barnes explains. Only a few steps farther in, the space opens to a larger entry hall with a curved staircase leading upstairs. “This was a great design opportunity for elegance and drama,” Barnes says of the space.
Subtle choices such as this—balancing the intimate with the elegant—are used throughout the house and keep it from feeling overwhelming. Barnes describes it as “quietly a big house,” meaning that even though the house is indeed big, it’s scaled in a manageable way with a lot of “practical thought behind the layout.”
One way the house defies expectations is in its use of double windows and French doors along the back, which let in plenty of natural light—something modern homeowners seek. A traditional colonial, Barnes explains, would have been built before the age of steel beams to reinforce the home and, as such, relied on masonry to hold them up, so too many windows would have been impractical. This design pays tribute to that by limiting the glass on the front façade but meeting the modern need for light with plenty of glasswork around back. As Barnes puts it, “There’s enough walls here for these façades to look elegant.”
This balance of tradition with touches of modernity also appears in the interior design. Jennifer Tonkel of Kemble Interiors describes the homeowners as “definitely traditionalists,” but she helped them open up to creative touches in each room. “We did a really good job of pushing those boundaries a little bit, getting them to step outside their comfort zone,” she says.
One of her favorite examples is what she and Barnes refer to sometimes as the library and other times as the den: the single-story hipped-roof room off to the side that gives the exterior its distinctive asymmetry. Inside, slate blue walls and velvet sofas serve as the more traditional elements against a bold painting of a woman’s silhouette by British artist Natasha Law. “It was a really traditional library, but we anchored it with a gorgeous contemporary art piece,” Tonkel says. “You walk in there, and it’s a showstopper. It draws you into the room.” Other elements, such as the orange throw pillow and the red lamp, give more pops of boldness.
Another favorite room Tonkel loves is the formal dining room, with its dark green walls and the tortoiseshell wallpaper on the ceiling. Brass elements, such as the mirror over the fireplace and the sconces on the wall, add warmth and recall other brass elements used in the kitchen and in the butler’s pantry that connects the two rooms.
The dining room is another aspect of the house that Barnes loves as well, noting that there’s something special about having these designated spaces, especially when many modern homes are opting to forgo dining rooms. “Sometimes space is at a premium; people have smaller city lots, and they’re making as much use of the space as possible. But I love it when you can support a formal dining room like this,” he says. “There’s something about the contract of sitting down at a table, around a table with other people, where someone has gone to the trouble to prepare an honest meal. That really makes it feel like it’s a celebration, makes you feel welcome.”
Ultimately, it’s this balance—tradition with creativity or formality with casualness—that makes the house such a success. Barnes explains that although the house emphasizes elegance and formality in many of its prominent rooms, there are plenty of casual spaces throughout the house where members of a busy family can feel at home. “It’s so important in creating a family home where people can be comfortable—a place that’s warm and inviting,” he says.
Marion Oxford Dearth, of Marion Dearth Landscape, designed the landscape to compliment the L-shaped home. These homeowners, whose children are into sports, devoted a large section of the lawn to an ice hockey rink. Her challenge was accommodating this structure without making the outside look like a sports field. At the back of the house, one steps down to the pool area.
To enhance the home’s elegant European-style feel, Dearth incorporated green velvet boxwoods, symmetrically placed, which are both evergreen and deer-resistant. Dearth says that “transition from the house to the garden is key,” and she values “as many ways out to the garden as you can get.” This transition is notable in the diamond-shaped flagstone patio that echoes the diamond shape of the interior flooring. The French doors allow multiple exits to access the “garden rooms” at the back of the home, where she planted evergreens and annuals.
In all these ways, no matter what comes to mind when you think of traditional architecture or interior design, Barnes, Tonkel, and Dearth have successfully reinterpreted “traditional” for a contemporary family, incorporating creativity, character, and comfort.
Architecture: Anthony “Ankie” Barnes, BarnesVanze Architects, Washington, DC.
Builder/Contractor: Zantzinger Inc., Washington, DC.
Interior Designer: Jennifer Tonkel, Kemble Interiors, New York, NY.
Landscape Architect: Marion Oxford Dearth, Washington, DC.
© Annapolis Home Magazine
Vol. 14, No. 6 2023