Mediterranean Architecture and Design
(In Washington DC?)
Images by Kenneth M. Wyner
Sometimes design inspiration shows up in unusual spaces, like a Mediterranean style, terra cotta tile roof making an appearance on a house in Washington, DC. Although tile roofs are routinely used on Italianate structures, the original owner of this particular house added some tropical flavor to an otherwise contemporary home in the District. The current owner saw enormous potential in the house in addition to the unconventional design. “I love red tile roofs, but it should not of been on the house when we bought it,” says the homeowner.
The new homeowners overlooked the architectural aberration in favor of the neighborhood and a vision for what the house could become. He tapped an architect that he had worked with on a previous project who came over for a look and together they developed a multi-phase plan.
Phase one was a new master suite. The second part was more complex. “Phase two was a rear addition with a kitchen remodel, a new dining room, an eat-in breakfast space, a screened-in porch, and a transitional area that would lead to a future pool in the back yard,” says architect Jim Gerrety of Jim Gerrety Architects in Germantown.
Design by Jim Gerrety Architects
Gerrety took note of the existing house, his client’s tastes and started drawing. “You try to take the good cues from the existing house and run with them,” he says. “So we looked at the clay tile and tried to add things like decorative railings taken from European architecture.” Through his client’s input, Gerrety’s design skewed towards the Mediterranean as he pivoted the design for the new rooms around a space in the yard where a pool would eventually go.
According to the plans, the existing kitchen and dining room would be demolished as the team added a builder to the mix. His first job was dealing with a section of the red tile roof sheltering the two spaces. “We had to take it up and save it,” says George Papaheraklis, owner of Fine Craft Contractors based in Gaithersburg, “the new ones are a different width and they wouldn’t of looked right.” But the challenges on the project were just beginning.
To handle the setback requirements and fit the addition into the back yard while providing views of the pool Gerrety couldn’t design the porch on a straight line or at a 90 degree angle from the rest of the house. Instead, the porch would branch off the breakfast nook at an unusual angle. “It was one hundred ten degrees,” says Papaheraklis, “we had to pull strings to find the angles and then hold the strings through excavation, it was very difficult.”
To maintain the classic aesthetic to the exterior, the builder had to find an affordable way to add fine detailing including dentils, the tooth-like rectangles ringing the homes roof line. A job he undertook willingly. “My background is in architecture,” says Papaheraklis, “but I’m a hands-on guy.” The contractor figured out how to make the dentils out of PVC and then disguise them to look like wood. To further blend the addition in with the house it would be built with brick and then painted a bright yellow – mimicking the existing exterior façades.
On the interior, the new section of the house begins in the dining room where the kitchen used to be. “We wanted a warm space with formality and classic lines,” says the homeowner. The old dining room felt cramped so Gerrety increased the proportions by thirty percent. The chair railings, crown molding, and trim in the new room are all painted in a crisp white to contrast with the neutral walls. Special attention was paid to niches, wall space, and lighting to accommodate the owner’s extensive art collection.
The dining room gracefully gives way to the kitchen which is defined by dark wood cabinetry and features a bay window looking out towards the pool. The cooktop occupies the central island which also offers seating around the rounded end. Twin skylights flanking the work triangle flood the space with natural light. Mediterranean influences show up in the form of a limestone floor, granite countertops and tumbled tiled backsplash. Stainless steel is used sparingly in keeping with the more traditional feel of the space.
Construction by Fine Craft Contractors
Through an entrance supported by classic Grecian, Doric-style columns lies the breakfast nook and wet bar, the transitional space where the whole project comes together. A half circle of French doors and mullioned windows provides a panoramic view of the back yard as it bends around the grounds. The gentle curve of the space is reflected in a uniquely soffited circular ceiling. “We needed a regular shape to draw the eye up and then we also used a circular table,” says Gerrety. The room becomes a light, spacious spot for leisurely breakfasts with the Sunday paper.
As the space continues around the curve, an entertainment area is revealed that includes a wine cooler, bar, and a glass door mini-fridge. “It was designed to be an area to contain the mess from people coming in from outside,” says the homeowner. “Plus we didn’t want a massive fridge in the kitchen.” Having dedicated drink coolers permitted the owners to go with a standard sized refrigerator in the kitchen and still have the capacity to comfortably entertain.
The bar area connects to a room that takes it’s inspiration directly from the beach, a screened-in porch. “We had a place in Rehoboth that had a pool and a screened-in porch and we were out there all the time,” says the homeowner. The dimensions of the porch required some tweaking in the design phase. To the homeowners the initial plans looked too small. “We laid hoses out in the yard and sat inside them to check out the size and we ended up making it larger to about twenty one feet by fourteen,” he says.
The generous porch proportions permitted the owners to arrange two seating groups, a couch and coffee table set for lounging and a table for dining. True to form, the outdoor furniture reinforces the Mediterranean theme with gracefully arcing arms and legs.
Ipe, (Brazilian Walnut) was chosen for the floor of the porch that extends out to accommodate a covered cooking deck for the grill. A naturally finished beadboard ceiling and twin tropical styled fans finish off the interior of the room. Another skylight ensures plenty of sunshine streaming into the space. To wring more use out of the porch, the owners specified vinyl window coverings they’d seen used on beach houses that help insulate the room in the cooler months. The covers slide down like double hung windows when they’re not in use. Like the other new additions to the house, the porch was positioned to look onto the pool area. Designing the pool starts the second half of the story.
At a local home and garden trade show in the summer of 2006 the homeowners met James Londot of Serene Pools and Landscaping, based in Bowie, Maryland. By visiting the site, Londot picked up on the desired theme right away. “They wanted a Mediterranean feel with a pool and a koi pond that would tie in with the terra cotta roof,” says Londot.
Making things more interesting Londot soon learned that the pool and pond project would be underway at the same time as a major house renovation. “The logistics were a challenge,” says Londot, “there’s a very small entrance into the yard, and we were working at the same time as the builder.”
Pool by Serene Pools & Landscaping
To make room for the free-form pool and pond, ten truck loads of dirt were moved out as 4000 pound boulders were moved in. In able to see the water features from the master suite, the design team set off on a bold course to layout the pond and pool side by side and create the illusion that the water from the pond was naturally spilling into the swimming pool.
It would have to be an illusion since koi don’t flourish in swimming pools but the overall affect would be a waterfall tumbling into the pond and then that water spilling into the pool. “It was something that we had never done before, ” says Londot, “we had to use two separate pumps for the pool.” One pump moves water through the rocks while the other recirculates the pool.
Once the pond was finished, the homeowners moved their favorite fish from their beach property a maneuver that was never in doubt. “The fish became out pets,” says the homeowner, “don’t let anybody tell you that koi don’t have personalities.”
Besides the engineering challenges posed by the design, the landscape designers were also charged with the responsibility of accentuating the Mediterranean theme through the layout and material choices. Concrete pavers with smooth edges were selected for their traditional appeal. “We laid the pavers out in circular patterns that have an old world feel to them,” says Brian Holden, one of the designers on the Serene Pools team.
To blend the new hardscapes into the backyard, the landscapers went with a varied mix of plantings including crepe myrtles, skip laurels, and shasta daisies. Evergreens selected for the perimeters include cedars, hemlocks and textured shrubs. To extend the blooming season into Mediterranean-like proportions they picked a mix of perennials that bloom through three seasons.
Extra festive touches were also added to the pool. Custom selected glass tiles were embedded into the steps and a table for socializing while in the pool was designed – complete with a mounting for a sun umbrella. “The table is all concrete and was formed when we did the pool,” says Londot.
The feeling imparted in the backyard is a pool-based playground that’s perfect for entertaining. The landscape crew points to the connected pool and pond as their favorite part of the project but everybody has their own opinion.
“I like the way the breakfast room and porch swings around the yard,” says Gerrety. “It looks good from the inside as well as the outside.” For the builder, his biggest reward for solving the challenges of the project are less technical. “Seeing the smiling faces of my clients,” he says. “Plus having the finishes come out so well. It’s a confirmation that you’ve done everything well from the beginning to the end.”
For the homeowner in charge the major challenges that arose are fairly obvious. “Trying to get everything coordinated and making sure that everything could keep going at the same time,” he says. “We were praying it wouldn’t explode.” But the rewards also stand out. “I walk in here everyday and say, ‘wow, what an awesome space.’”
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