The most modern corner in Alexandria

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.

Husband and wife graphic designers Don and Lynne Komai saw a small, awkward lot in the Mount Ida neighborhood and saw it as a creative opportunity. (Image: Robert Gurney)

“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.

(Image: Robert Gurney)

“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.

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(6) Readers Comments

  1. The structure has been the subject of conversation several times on the DASH AT-3 bus. People have said that it will surely improve its looks as it is finished.

    No, we know it will only get much worse. There is modern architecture, and then there is just plain butt ugly. The Times can refer to this as the most modern corner in Alexandria. I’ll refer to it as the ugliest corner in Alexandria.

  2. I grew up on Rosecrest Avenue and played in the field that this house is being built on. The lot served as an improvised neighborhood park for many in the area. It is a real shame that the City was unable to purchase the parcel and officially turn it into a pocket park.

    It is also a shame that the owners have decided to build a home that is so out of character with the neighborhood and shows no sympathy for the design and architecture of the surrounding homes, most of which are craftsman style bungalows built by railroad workers in the 1920s, and others of which are traditional four square wood frame houses.

    As ther owner notes, they have done what they have wanted to do, not what is in the best interests of the neighborhood. That’s their right as property owners, but I doubt they will find the embrace that their architect wishes for in this article.

  3. I love what Robert Gurney has done with this property! It really adds to the richness of architecture in Del Ray.

  4. As a Alexandria business owner and resident of the city I prefer that the Don and Lynn built on this land rather than the city purchasing the land from the previous owners for a park that would be used primarily by the neighbors who I believe are complaining about the design of the home.

    As others have pointed out, it is a difficult lot and Don saw it as an opportunity to build a modernist home that reflected their core sensibilities.

    I know Don and Lynn so I am not entirely unbiased.

    Alexandria is known for its older architecture. Must every new building be constructed and designed as if it is at least a hundred years old?

    My home was the first that I know of in Alexandria to have a solar hot water system installed on the roof. Many in my neighborhood were concerned and expressed their concern about this alternative method of heating water. The panels blend in to the roof. When they learned that the solar hot water panels reduced my need for heating water and my gas bill dropped by 2/3rds, they approved. Alexandria inspectors did not know how to inspect the system, even though it is a simple water tank pass-through. Once they understood the system, it was fine. It was new, but guess what, Alexandria adapted to this alternative heating style and they now know how to approve this system for other homes.

    If every new home in Alexandria must look like it is constructed before 1900 then we might as well go back to coal furnaces, horse-drawn carriages and daily milk deliveries.

    This will be a stunning home in a great neighborhood that was constructed on a lot that nobody would build on before and the city did not purchase as a park.

  5. Robert Gurney is an award-winning modern architect. Don and Lynne are top-notch graphic designers with green thumbs in the garden. But, most importantly, they are a warm, caring couple who will be wonderful neighbors. We know because they were our neighbors for many years.

  6. I grew up on Rosecrest Ave as well. James and I played together in that field and it is the source of many fond memories for the kids that grew up on that street and the ones surrounding it. It is a shame that in an area so pressed for public open space and on a lot that even the home builders admit was a poor building site, that a more community friendly plan couldn’t have been developed.

    I understand the rights of property owners to do with their land as they see fit, but the argument that this horribly out of place monstrosity adds t the character of the community is laughable. I don’t know the homeowners and would never think to cast apsersions on them personally, but I find all the self-righteous indignation at the unwillingness of some to see this house as a good thing a bit offensive.

    You think it’s lovely; I think it’s hideous. The patent fact is that it’s there now, more or less permanently, accesible to only one family and the chacne to have kept it accesible to all is gone.

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