Home and garden now in harmony


The principles of good design from landscaping to residential architecture center on the search for ways to unify the house and grounds, provide uplifting accents and generally invite the eye to explore the area, even before the feet start to enter it.

Says Bruce Wentworth, AIA, a nationally renowned architect who has practiced in Northern Virginia for more than 25 years, A house and ground should be reconciled in a way that considers the visitors perspective. This is certainly true when you are looking at the relationship of a homes facade to its setting. The goal is to give visitors a welcoming experience.

Case in point: Wentworths eye-catching makeover to the front walkway and facade of a 40-year-old ranch situated on a quiet acre off North Quaker Lane in Alexandria. Owners Pat and Kerry Adams had done considerable remodeling to their homes spacious interior, but the approach to the house, and the homes facade itself, seemed undistinguished. Moreover, the problem was not anything obvious just a general lack of definition.

It was like a figure chiseled in marble waiting for a fine hand to bring it into bold relief, Pat Adams mused.

Added Wentworth: Sometimes a solution to reconciling a homes facade and grounds is the play of simple ideas that work together. In this case, the owners wanted to create an aesthetically pleasing arrival and that meant introducing visually sympathetic landscaping and architectural details.

The two primary considerations were the homes front entrance and its walkway from the drive to house.

The scale of the front porch was too small for a house of this size, Wentworth explained. There was too much brick, and the front door and entranceway were lost in the cumulative mass of a largely undefined front facade.

Also, we wanted to create a processional, the essence of which is the visual journey the eye takes along a path in advance of the physical journey, he said. An effective processional sets a mood that is leisurely, inviting. It creates pauses. It opens the senses.

In the end, Wentworths project was a series of carefully conceived focal points that provide accents where needed. Key project components include:

  • Announce the arrival: Starting at the driveway, Wentworth constructed low, square stone piers that announce the new flagstone sidewalk. Each pier is capped with thick flagstone that lends visual substance; lighting, recessed in the pier itself, illuminates the step at night.
  • Vary your diction: The sidewalks flagstone was laid in a diagonal pattern to create a rhythm as visitors walk parallel to the front of the house. At a turning point, the walk widens into a square and the flagstones are formed into a grid similar to the patterns used on the front porch. The pattern variations are subtle and understated yet lend an unmistakable vitality to a walk that previously lacked character.
  • Articulate the welcome: To make the porch feel more inviting, Wentworth extended the front paving beyond the roofline. The extra floor space reaches out like a kind of tongue, allowing visitors to gather, while creating space for accessories such as benches or decorative pots.

The existing covered porch was uninviting, narrow, never a destination. The exposed brick walls made the entrance zone seem unrefined, a mood reinforced by the cracked and loose paving stones and especially a pair of glass patio doors that served, unaccountably, as the homes front door. The design solution called for covering the brick with a specially milled molded panel wall covering. The bullnose-shaped window trim and crown molding around the circular window lend substance. So, too, the hammered ironwork window bar; the 1.5-inch thick flagstone; the specially designed front door with sidelights that conveys paneling themes introduced in the wall coverings.

Its the accumulation of thoughtful, carefully related details that make a place feel complete, Wentworth observed. Our emotions respond to a sense of feeling welcome even when you not aware of why youre feeling that way. Thats is what good architect tries to accomplish: create places that heighten awareness.

Bruce Wentworth, AIA, periodically lectures of home remodeling topics. For more information, call 240-395-0705 or visit wentworthstudio.com.