A Look Back on 30 Years at BVA

Ankie Barnes and Steve Vanze left their day jobs 30 years ago to form their own, eponymous architecture firm in Georgetown. They’re still in Georgetown today, with a studio of 21 architects and designers, and have expanded their leadership to include four new principals: Wayne Adams; Melanie Giordano; Ellen Hatton and Michael Patrick.

As the firm celebrates three decades in business, we’re revisiting favorite projects our architects have designed since the beginning; you can see them on Instagram, tagged #BVA30.

In the meantime, we’ve asked our principals about their impressions since each has started at BVA, and what’s in store for the near future.

How long have you been at BVA?

Wayne Adams 7 years
Ankie Barnes Since Day One, 30 ½ years ago, when we started in my house!
Melanie Giordano 27 years
Ellen Hatton 18 years
Michael Patrick 5 years
Steve Vanze 30 years

What was your first project here?

Wayne Adams We repurposed an old indoor-pool greenhouse into a family friendly gathering space. We relocated the pool to the outside and turned the old greenhouse into a living and entertaining area, with a copper wood-burning fireplace, changing rooms and spa:

Click here to see the full project description.

Ankie Barnes An addition to stone farmhouse in Virginia:

Melanie Giordano A renovation of a federal-style townhouse in the Kalorama neighborhood of DC, with clients who were very involved in the design process and in creating beautiful spaces:

Ellen Hatton The first one I remember was a new house in Potomac, Maryland, that I worked on with Ankie and Gibson Builders. It was a beautiful home and a wonderful introduction to the level of design quality that BVA is known for:

Michael Patrick A new Anglican Church that came with me from my old firm. They wanted a simple but beautiful building to worship in. It was a perfect opportunity to expand our religious and institutional expertise, while allowing our client to benefit from BVA’s expert traditional design and detailing. They love it!

Click here to read more about this project.

Steve Vanze One of the earliest was the University Press building addition at the University of Virginia, attached to the original structure via a two-story “hyphen:”

Click here to read more about this project.

Over your career here, which of your designs do you consider to be standouts, and why?

Wayne Adams All of them. We pride ourselves on doing our best every time.

Ankie Barnes A small artist’s studio for a retired lawyer who became a decent painter—it met his dreams (see below). And the restoration of a John Russell Pope house, which helped me learn from and respect his great, reserved eye and proportions.

Melanie Giordano The renovation of an English-style house on the edge of Rock Creek Park where we reorganized the interior spaces to create an elegant kitchen and added a three-story, light-filled stair tower to provide access from the lower level driveway to the upper levels:

Click here to read more about this project.

Ellen Hatton A vineyard project in Virginia — we had a dream team of wonderful clients and a talented and capable contractor. The finished house sits comfortably in the land and is perfectly suited to the clients’ needs. It’s a fairly quiet design with a refined simplicity that I felt always made it calm and comfortable and exactly the kind of house I’d want to come home to:

Click here to read more about this project.

Michael Patrick A modern condo renovation in Georgetown. This was a great chance to do a clean, modern design, with knife-edged LED-lit raised ceiling details, custom back-lit glass shelving and a generally simple but beautiful aesthetic that the client loves. What made it stand out the most, though, was the wonderful client, who always conveyed a sense of complete trust to our whole design and construction team:

Steve Vanze A new house in Easton, Maryland, that was modeled after the William G. Low House by McKimm Meade and White in Bristol, Rhode Island. It’s an iconically simple plan under a single gabled roof:

What have been your proudest moments at BVA?

Ankie Barnes The day we elevated four talented, long-serving team members to be partners.

Melanie Giordano There are many. There’s a moment in every project when it transitions from a dusty construction site to someone’s home; this is very rewarding.

Ellen Hatton Being invited to move into an ownership role was a surprise and honor; I started here as a young intern, so I’ve grown and developed both personally and professionally under Steve and Ankie’s mentorship, and I’m really moved that they recognized my leadership qualities in this way.

Michael Patrick Washington National Cathedral. This was a wonderful chance to work intimately within one of the most impressive buildings in Washington, DC. We were asked to help the Cathedral plan expansions and renovations to make the 10,647-pipe modified 1937 EM Skinner organ’s sound perfectly fit the complete space of the Cathedral. Although on hold at the moment, it has been a great chance to work with carved gothic wood detail and the stone Triforium chambers of a marvelous building.

Steve Vanze Three awards: Firm of the Year from the Washington Architectural Foundation for doing more pro bono work than any other firm in Washington; The Wieb Award, a personal public service award from the WAF; and getting my F (Fellowship) from the National AIA.

What are you working on right now, and what do you love about it?

Wayne Adams A family ranch in Colorado that sits on 75 acres. It includes a main house, bunkhouse and a barn:

Ankie Barnes Three older, waterfront houses in rural Maine, dating from 1760-1890. All have different, simple, but elegant responses to their sites and local vernacular details.

Melanie Giordano Just putting the final touches on the renovation and addition of a Mediterranean-style house in DC where the landscaping and the interior spaces are designed take advantage of the views of the adjacent park. The attention to detail and craftsmanship contribute to creating a comfortable and inviting home for this family.

Ellen Hatton My primary project is a new home for a lovely repeat client. The design experience has been thoughtful and deliberate, with a real focus on the iterative process and “getting it right.” We’ve just started construction, and the final result is going to be stunning.

Michael Patrick Church, Cemetery and School for the Basilica of Saint Mary, which was founded in 1795: We’ve been engaged in almost 30 projects for this historic parish in Old Town, from installing reclaimed marble altar railings in the Basilica to a full master plan for additions and renovations to the school, and a master plan for beautiful classical columbarium monuments in the cemetery. We’ve even designed the coat of arms since the church was elevated to a basilica earlier this year. I love the opportunity to create unique works of art in gold, marble, brass, bronze and wood that invoke deeper meaning in the lives of those who encounter them.

Click here to read more about this project.

Steve Vanze A large new stone-and-clapboard home for a wonderful and appreciative family. I love the design, construction and interaction with the client. It’s a traditional H plan that accommodates six kids and a mother-in-law suite.

What’s on the horizon in your portfolio?

Ankie Barnes The renovation of a Queen Anne house in an historic district.

Melanie Giordano A new modern house designed around a courtyard on a wooded hillside in Maryland. Natural light and the connections between the interior and the exterior spaces are priorities for this home.

Ellen Hatton There are always exciting projects in the pipeline, and of course moving into a partnership role presents its own set of challenges and rewards!

Michael Patrick A very cool new two-story modern structure with a hip industrial aesthetic, to showcase 24 classic collector’s cars. I love that the project is unusual, and built around exceptional modern works of industrial design.

Steve Vanze Ensuring that all the work we’ve done to build a wonderful design firm that works so well with clients in an ethical and straightforward way continues well into the future with our next generation of architects.