Bridge House

Sometimes it’s necessary to step outside the box a little in order to get a client what they want. That’s exactly what Mark Kohler and his team at Kohler Homes did in order to give this Clifton, Va. family the addition they wanted. With a creative design, Kohler Homes added needed space without upsetting water drainage on the property.

Challenged with a natural swale that wasn’t to be disrupted, Mark Kohler’s group had to figure out how to build a $600,000 addition that would include a living room, master suite, office, deck and add more basement space to the carriage house. Luckily, this is what Mark loves to do and by developing a plan to platform the living room over the swale he was able to bridge the old and the new for this home.

“I grew up with my dad as an architect and he actually tried to discourage me from becoming an architect,” says Mark Kohler, president and CEO of Kohler Homes and Kohler Associates Architects. “Ever since we were little kids we were building tree and underground forts. We had a shop at our house and whenever I wasn’t at school I was building something.

After three weeks in architecture school I just loved it and never looked back. I just couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
Kohler Enterprises, started in 1963 by Mark’s dad, Karl Kohler, specialized in design-build at a time when it was frowned upon by the American Institute of Architects. “Of course Thomas Jefferson did the same thing, so that’s come about full circle,” adds Kohler

Kohler Homes spun off as sort of an extension of Kohler Enterprises in the early ’90s. That way Mark Kohler would have exclusive ownership of the company and it allowed his father to retire. No money had to exchange hands and Mark could continue doing what he was doing.

Until 1990 or so Kohler Homes, a Class A general contracting company, did a mixture of light commercial and residential, then after the recession of 1990/1991 the company made the switch over to all residential work. “Kohler Homes is the company where we construct our projects,” explains Mark. “It’s a design-build company and even though we don’t build every project, we built about 90 percent of them.”

Kohler Homes generally builds 15 to 20 projects a year. Out of those, there are usually two or three custom homes, with the rest of the work usually in high-end additions and renovation projects.

Bridging the Gap

Mark met the owners of the project, David and Phylicia Wright, at a home show and through a big renovation Kohler Homes did for David’s business partner. When they decided to move forward with the project, Dave contacted Mark with some preliminary drawings of what he was thinking about. Dave is president of a large masonry company, specializing in commercial work, so he wanted to do the masonry work on his home but have the rest of it contracted out. After meeting and liking Mark’s ideas, Dave hired Kohler Homes as an architect to take the home to the next level.

Dave had built his carriage house home when working for a contractor in the early 90s. The existing three-bedroom house was originally constructed as a carriage house to serve a future estate home that would be located further up the hill on the property. After the contractor went belly up, the property was sold at auction and Dave bought the property. After living in the house with his family for many years, Dave felt it was time to look at expanding the existing house.

With the Wright’s desire to expand, they wanted a new family room area, an entry that would bring people into the house instead of just walking in the door and something that would also integrate the carriage house into the new proposed addition.

So as part of the new layout Kohler Homes designed a stone tower with a copper roof that included an all wood look on the inside for the entry feature. From there the team went on to create the family room, new master bedroom suite and an office for Dave.

“Part of the reason we ended up with the design that we did — they wanted to stay in the house that they had, but the house is on a steep hill and the only direction that we could build was to the left of the house,” says Mark. “It’s set back in a wooded setting and a good chunk of the forest there drained right next to the house. In order to preserve the forest and take more of a green design approach, we thought it might be nice to make the house a bridge and bridge over the swale. We figured that would allow everything to drain through there and we would not have to cut down any more trees than what we needed for the footprint of the addition.”

Kohler Homes envisioned the bridge portion to be sort of light and airy with the addition and the stone tower to act as anchors for the bridge family room. A deck was also added with wire railing so it wouldn’t stand out too much and take away from the bridge portion. This idea for the design was perfect for the Wrights since they want to develop the water features that will run under the bridge portion of the addition and have a series of waterfalls in the future.

In the family room, Kohler Homes took the stone wall, originally the stone exterior of the carriage house, and transformed that into a main focal point in the family room. Being a contractor himself Dave knew specifically the kind of materials he wanted to use, and in other cases both parties would meet and discuss them to look at different options.

“On the inside of the house I wanted it to take on a more timber frame look after the house was framed up so I brought in one of my craftsman to talk about the different options,” explains Mark. “We played with some old rough-sawn white oak and cut it out and created the beams. If you look at it you can’t tell that that’s not conventional timber framing, but it was an economical way to get that look and integrate it into the structure otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to afford real timber framing.”

For the floor, a combination of soapstone and quarter-sawn white oak was used. The Wrights did want radiant floor heat throughout the project. The main floor of the project ended up being steel panned construction with a concrete slab integrated with the radiant floor heat, and so was the slab in the basement. The white oak turned out to be a good look as well as particularly stable with the radiant heating. The soapstone idea came from the kitchen remodel done just previously to this project and the soapstone countertops that were used in there. Dave found some nice soapstone that blended in and defines the space and circulation between the family room and the kitchen.

As part of the exterior, the original house had a cedar shake roof that doesn’t really hold up very well in this area at all. After looking at different types of roofs it was decided to use Ecostar that looks like slate that is low maintenance and has held up very well. In association with that Kohler Homes added the copper roof features over the bump-out off the master bedroom and entry tower. For the other exterior surfaces that included the gables and the other side of the bridge living room Hardie plank board and baton panels were used to complete the look.

A New Home

“One of the problems working on this project was getting things up the gravel driveway which is twisty, narrow and steep,” says Mark. “Just getting the products physically there because there was not a lot of room to store materials or turn around was a logistics problem. And we just couldn’t manage more than three cars up there at a time.” But Mark and his team at Kohler Homes were able to get the job done and walk away with some happy homeowners.

“They were wonderful to work with,” explains Mark. “We started a program a year ago where we identify and vote on who our favorite client is and present them with an award we call Client of the Year award. The Wrights were selected because they were very pleasant, very interested in design and we worked very well together. They were as close as I could say to the perfect client. They had great ideas and we all worked well together to take the project to the next level from the design standpoint.”

The Wrights loved their addition. Mark even keeps the two page letter they wrote to Kohler homes going on and on about how happy they are with the project.

Fast Facts About the Company:

  • Kohler Homes, Inc., Burke , Va.
  • No. of employees: 15
  • 2007 Revenue: $6 million
  • Project location: Clifton, Va.
  • Total project cost: $600,000

Specified Products

  • Bath fixtures: Kohler
  • Decking: Tamco
  • Doors interior: Trustile
  • Doors exterior: Weather Shield
  • Paints/stains: Behr
  • Siding: James Hardie
  • Windows: Weather Shield