Writer’s Refuge

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Writer’s Refuge A Virginia-based screenwriter needed a quiet space where he could work at home with a minimum of loving distractions from his three young daughters. He found refuge—and more—in a striking, wood-and-glass studio set into his tree-lined backyard.

Architect Bulent Baydar of Harrison Design and builder Glenn Harris of Harris Custom Homes worked closely with the owner to craft a workplace in the woods that deftly mixes natural materials with modern design and engineering. The cedar cladding of the freestanding studio blends with the surrounding landscape, while behind it, an intricate steel frame supports the structure’s three windowed walls—including NanaWall systems on two corners that fold like fans to open the interior to the outdoors. The sharply angled shed roof conceals a spacious outdoor deck on the back of the structure that can accommodate up to 10 people. Baydar cut the deck into the roof, leaving three-foot walls on each side, to preserve the building’s dynamic lines and provide extra privacy.

The studio is sited on the suburban Arlington lot so that it veers away from the main house. “I wanted grass and wood and to see as much of the yard as I could,” says the owner.  The building’s location and design serve to screen the sunlight, and maintain a comfortable climate within the workspace. “Even in winter, there is never a time when the sun is glaring down on me when I’m trying to write,” the owner says. “We relied on the way
is placed and the canopy of the trees.”

Inside, the cedar ceiling rises to 14 feet at the front of the studio, allowing for a second row of angled windows. The flooring is made of weathered planks of reclaimed whiskey-barrel oak. The original saw marks are still visible on some of the boards. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases in a deep gunmetal hue line the wall behind the writer’s desk. The color, carried through to the supports between the main windows, echoes the shaded landscape while heightening the contrast with the outdoors. Two of the bookcases are actually hinged doors that pivot on a system of rollers, opening to a half bath on one side of the main room and storage space on the other.

“The pivoting bookshelves are something our firm has done a couple of times in the past, typically when a client would like to hide a space,” says Baydar. In this case, the technique helps to maximize the shelving, since the owner has plenty of books and only one wall that isn’t glass. Disguising the doors also serves to maintain the lines of the bookcases and emphasize the uncluttered feel of the main room.

The owner acted as his own interior designer, choosing classic modern furniture and lighting and lining the bookshelves with mementoes of his family and work. Though the spare lines of his retreat contrast with the more traditional design of the main house, the structures complement each other due to the use of related materials, including wood siding and stone. Setting the studio on a back corner of the lot increases its separation from the main house and surrounding neighborhood. The building, which can be glimpsed in profile from the nearby street, is accessible from a side path around the house or via a shared stone patio behind the main residence.

Although designed as a writer’s retreat, the studio doubles as a backyard entertainment space for the owner.  “It’s a refuge to work, but it blends into the backyard and patio when we have people over,” says the father of three. He marvels that once the project was complete, his girls somehow knew without being told not to interrupt him there.

Writer Sue Kirchhoff is based in Silver Spring, Maryland. Gordon Beall is a Bethesda, Maryland, photographer.

ARCHITECTURE: BULENT BAYDAR, AIA, Harrison Design, Washington, DC. BUILDER: GLENN HARRIS, Harris Custom Homes, Falls Church, Virginia.

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