Time Out of Time

When Peter Twohy’s clients first saw the Cockeysville, Md., house they now call home, the husband was wowed by the site. The wife, however, just couldn’t get past the dated 1970s contemporary in which they’d have to live.

“She looked at me with this desperate look and asked, ‘Could this house ever be beautiful?’” Twohy recalls. Fortunately, the architect, principal of Towson, Md.-based 2e Architects, saw promise. “What I saw was the proportions were OK, but it was stuck in a time warp. It wasn’t ugly; it just wasn’t handsome.”

The site was stunning with the house set 100 yards or more back from the street and no other houses in sight. Instead, tree-filled views abounded, though the home’s existing design largely ignored them. Creating greater access to those vistas — bringing the outside in, as he describes it — became the architect’s principal goal in the transformation.

“The views were paramount,” he says, as was doing something about the muddy-brown batten-board siding, the front entrance and out-of-level subfloor. The house had issues, but focusing on the views helped Twohy create the timeless contemporary his mind’s eye saw when he first toured the property.

Considered from an aerial viewpoint, the footprint of the remodeled house hasn’t changed substantially, aside from a bump-out for the kitchen/breakfast area and a similar expansion for the master bath. In profile, however, the house is transformed. Most prominently, roof angles now rake dramatically upward in the H-shaped home’s kitchen/breakfast-area wing and across the length that encloses the great room, opening up those spaces to the surrounding countryside. Twohy carefully calculated those angles. “It was a bit of a math equation,” he says, to ensure ample exposure while also providing the overhangs essential to ensure the space didn’t become a hothouse during midsummer.

As a result, the breakfast area is now something of a beacon, thanks to a spire-lined chandelier over the table. When that fixture is turned on, the glass-walled space turns into an oversized lantern for visitors, helping guide them to the repositioned front door.

Visitors previously could become puzzled by how they should make their way from the driveway to the home’s formal entrance. Now, the flow from the parking area through the front door and into the main entertaining space is clearly delineated, thanks to a more logical door location and a seamless flow of finishes from exterior to interior. Twohy carried the stone used to clad one side of the entryway into a new stone wall that extends to hide the driveway and opens to create a logical pathway to the front door. The same material continues into the home, along one wall of the foyer, cueing guests to continue past the kitchen and toward the great room.

Bringing so much light and openness to the house wasn’t without some very down-to-earth challenges. The extensive use of glass across the length of the great room meant a balancing amount of sheer wall was needed to provide adequate structural support in case of earthquake or hurricane. The structural engineer wanted half the glass gone, an option neither Twohy nor his contractor was willing to consider.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Well, obviously, that’s not a solution,’” Twohy says of his trusted contractor, Rick Raphael of Raphael Homes. “He wanted it just as much as me.”

Instead, adjustments were made to the roofline, which had the added advantage of creating pantry space for the adjacent kitchen. Raphael was similarly helpful in discovering and correcting the great room’s floor being 1 3/4-in. out of level from one end to the other. Evening things out required Raphael’s team to raise the subfloor and add the structural support that had been overlooked when the house was first built.

“What I always look for in a contractor is someone who starts taking ownership,” Twohy says.

Now, Twohy’s clients have a home that’s equal to its beautiful surroundings, and Twohy has a contemporary design for his portfolio that he can honestly call “timeless.”

So, just what takes a contemporary out of its time, whether that’s the Brady Bunch 1970s or today’s concrete-and-glass aesthetic? In Twohy’s mind, it’s the winning combination of warm-hued, natural materials, along with extra attention to craftsmanship that seems more old-school than new.

“When I think of timelessness, I think of simple details that are relatively traditional in origin, but not necessarily in execution,” he says — such as, for example, door casings that seem to be turned on their sides. “There’s an intentionality; you can’t really tell when the house was done.” QR


Chuck Ross writes about remodeling and construction from Brewster, Mass.