It’s not easy to find examples of modernist architecture in Alexandria, but longtime residents Don and Lynne Komai set about changing that when they decided to buy an oddly shaped parcel of land on Rosecrest Avenue.
The husband and wife graphic design team — the couple owns and operates The Watermark Design Office — bought up the vacant, triangular lot at 30 Rosecrest Ave. about two years ago to fulfill a dream of building their own home.
“I think everybody hopes to have a house you can design or that is customized to your liking,” Don said. “The lot is also very close to our grandkids and daughter. We wanted to stay in the area.”
The property came with challenges, though. The shape and setbacks meant the Komais would have to get creative with their designs, a skill they had built their livelihoods around.
And because they had hoped to someday live in a modernist home, the lot’s limit actuall opened up more doors than they closed.
“I think that’s part of the fun of being a designer: If you have a problem you solve it within the context of what you wanted to do,” Don said. “We’ve been in business for 30 years and consequently we see design as a problem-solving process. This was kind of a problem lot and we were going to solve the problem.”
For a solution, they turned to Washington-based architect Robert Gurney. The Komais knew of Gurney’s previous works and held him in high regard. They weren’t sure the famed architect would take the job, but Gurney said any opportunity to design a modernist home in the region was too good to pass up.
“They’re creative people, they’re in [a] creative field and they were open to doing a modern house in … Alexandria and that’s enough for me,” he said. “The excitement about building a modern house in the Washington, D.C. region is really all that we need. It’s not about the size of the budget or project, it’s about doing something that’s not a pseudo-colonial or a craftsman home.”
When it is finished in February, the triangular shaped, monolithic-looking house will boast a flat roof, two floors and a plethora of windows. It’s a noted departure from many of the neighboring homes; Gurney and the Komais hope it will be an eye-catching — if not always pleasing — display of contemporary architecture.
“I expect if 10 people to walk by five are going to like it and five are going to hate it,” Gurney said with a chuckle. “I think it will be a very pleasing composition. I hope people would embrace it.”
The couple’s soon-to-be neighbor, George Walker, is surprised someone would finally develop the peculiarly shaped plot. He’s lived in the neighborhood with his wife for about 27 years and have used the lot as a dog park. Only a few have tried to build on the land, he said.
“I’m amazed that someone could come up with a design that would fit on that lot, to be perfectly honest,” Walker said. “I think they’ve done the best they can with the constraints.”
As far as Don’s concerned, it’s a design that falls in line with their vision: something contemporary, a little eclectic, close to home and near the grandchildren.
“It’s a perfect opportunity to do what we wanted to do,” he said.