When our clients purchased a wooded lot in DC’s Phillips Park neighborhood to build a new house, we immediately started thinking of ways the architecture could celebrate its quiet, natural setting. We wanted the house to be responsive to the site and also herald the husband’s Chinese heritage—two qualities that are hallmarks of the California Arts & Crafts movement. As demonstrated by the early 20th-century architects Bernard Maybeck and Greene & Greene, this genre is the collusion of architecture, craftsmanship and fine art with a strong Asian influence.
The house is designed with natural materials—heavy timbers rise up from a stone foundation, while expanses of glass invite the forest inside. Because the property slopes downward from the street, the first floor leads out to a deck one and a half stories above the ground. It stretches into the middle of the trees, which creates the extraordinary feeling of being in a tree house. The breakfast room, moreover, is cantilevered from the house and surrounded by glass on three sides, as if being suspended among in nature. Architects
Ankie Barnes and Ellen Hatton studied Chinese architecture during the design process; its use of transparent screens is visible in the carved transoms over doorways throughout the house, and repeated on the deck railings outside. Our interior designer, Miriam Dillon, devised a palette and chose furniture that would play a supporting role to the nature framed in the large windows. She was also tasked with highlighting the owners’ large art collection—the dining room in particular doubles as an art gallery. In a nod to Asian minimalism, the overall feeling is calm, the interiors pared down with soothing colors and simple lines.