HOME OF JOHN RYAN & WESLEY CHENAULT, 20 W.LEIGH ST. RICHMOND,VIRGINIA
SUBMISSION by Tony Giammarino, GIAMMARINO & DWORKIN PHOTOGRAPHY
www.tonygiammarino.com, email@example.com, 804.320.9709
Comments from Josh McCullar Architect and SMBW Architectural Firm
Richmond, Virginia is a city of orderly row houses and an historic urban context as rich as Charleston, Georgetown, or Philadelphia. It is rare to happen upon a vacant urban lot, and even rarer that it be in a designated Historic District. We have designed a decidedly modernist urban Row House in Richmond’s historic Jackson Ward neighborhood for clients moving from Atlanta. It is a place of tall narrow houses with front porches, cast iron balustrades, bay windows, and intricate brick cornices.
Due to strict Building code- windows could not be installed on either side of house. Extra large windows were installed on all three floors front and rear of home. In addition, 4 skylights are mounted on the roof in the center of the home- glass panels and glass bridges in hallways were used to light inner rooms, staircases all the way down to the kitchen.
The design is born of this context but extends a lineage of tradition reinterpreted for this time and the client’s lifestyle. The result is a taut 20x48 rectagular box on three levels with a centrally located sky lit light-well inside that bathes the heart of the house with light. The light well bisects the plan and cross section front to back nearly symmetrically. Transparent glass bridges span across the vertical shaft of light and white walls. A projecting glass and metal window bay on the front façade was inspired by the bay windows that punctuate many of the historic houses on the street. Ground floor black steel and iron porch details, light brick, and solid mahogany entry door complete the expression with a nod to its place in the city, but also its place in time.
The design received unanimous approval by the Richmond Commission of Architectural Review. The guidelines are similar to the standards set by the Secretary of the Interior, in which new construction shall be discernible from the historic, but relate in materials, massing and form.
(Glass Floor panels on the second and third levels permit natural light from the roof level (Velux Modular Skylights) to travel throughout the home.
Interior 18 Ft wide, 2950 total sq. ft.
From an a local Richmond publication, Rhome magazine by Melissa Scott Sinclair:
The modern house at 20 W. Leigh St. is like an optical illusion: It simultaneously blends in and stands out.The three-story, tan-brick structure has been attracting curious stares since construction began in November 2013. Yet, a few visitors have completely missed it as they drove past.
That was the intention of owners John Ryan and Wesley Chenault: to build a thoroughly modern house that blends into the historic fabric of Jackson Ward. They aren’t alone in this endeavor; Richmond’s in the middle of a mini-modern boom. When architect Josh McCullar of SMBW arrived in Richmond 13 years ago, he says, the city “was still in the end of its very long, sleepy, conservative phase, architecturally.” He credits the 2010 addition of a modern wing to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (also designed by SMBW) with opening Richmond’s mind to modernism.
In his design for 20 W. Leigh St., McCullar referenced the patterns in surrounding houses, such as porches and bay windows. “We interpreted those elements and sort of distilled them down into a modern interpretation of the clients’ wishes,” he explains.
The interior of the house is airy, glossy and sparsely furnished. Throughout the house, the walls are painted a uniform gray: Sherwin Williams’ “Big Chill.” But the house doesn’t feel chilly; the couple’s playful modern art collection and exuberant light fixtures brighten things up.
Two nearly symmetrical guest suites occupy the second floor. The third floor is home to Ryan’s hi-tech office (he’s a senior sales consulting manager for Oracle Corporation) and the master bedroom with a large walk-through closet. The couple’s two 14-year-old cats, Bunny and Clyde, snooze on the bed. A deck in the rear adjoins a small lawn and “what I like to call the Taj Magarage,” Ryan says.
The home’s most striking features are segments of glass floor on the second and third levels that allow the central skylight to illuminate the entire house. The cats stroll over the glass without batting a whisker. It took longer for Chenault to adjust.
The couple decided to adhere strictly to modern and Midcentury aesthetics, which meant discarding almost all the furniture they’d had in their previous homes. It wasn’t hard to start afresh, they say. Ryan attributes the couple’s longevity — they’ve been together for 21 years — to the fact that “we literally have almost the exact same taste in design and music.” They each retained just one treasured possession. For Ryan, it was a carved wooden director’s chair given to him by a childhood friend. For Chenault, it was his grandmothers’ dinnerware: one Russel Wright set in pale blue, and one in the Bob White pattern by Red Wing Potteries.
The couple had lived in Atlanta for about 17 years. In October 2011, Chenault, an archivist, moved to Richmond for his dream job as head of Special Collections and Archives at the James Branch Cabell Library at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I was charmed, almost right away” by Richmond, Chenault says, but it would take the couple a few years to find a home here.
They wanted a modern house, which was hard to find. Also, they drive an all-electric Tesla Model S, so they needed a secure garage where they could charge it.
The one thing they knew was they liked living in Jackson Ward. So when they found the lot at 20 W. Leigh St., which had been vacant since the 1970s, they began to think about building a modern house there.
McCullar worked with the couple to design a modern house that blended into the neighborhood. Despite some concerns from people living nearby (one of whom commented that the house looked as if it had been designed by “Frank Lloyd Wrong”), the city’s Commission of Architectural Review swiftly approved the plans.
Construction commenced in November 2013. Slowed by winter weather and some construction challenges, the process took 18 months. Finally, in the first week of August, Ryan and Chenault moved in.
They hope their endeavor inspires others to do what they have done: to live and invest in Jackson Ward. And they recognize that their house isn’t to everyone’s tastes. “At the end of the day, we did this for us,” Ryan says.
(Additional photos were taken of this home)
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Front view of 3 story home in Jackson Ward Historic District
Rear Exterior, Deck
Sky Light with side glass windows to light inner bathroom
Glass enclosed staircase with glass bridges on each floor
Glass bridge with view to living room below
Living room with view of rear deck and garage
Living room rear of house
View from glass enclosed staircase/glass bridge to kitchen
Living room to kitchen overall
Kitchen, architectural backsplash
Dining room (unfortunately the verticals could not be opened they were broken) now repaired
Dining room towards kitchen
Glass bridge view towards master bedroom
Window on left brings natural light into view of master tub
Master bath, **window in back of hanging mirrors add natural light
Guest bedroom view of urban setting
Guest bedroom with large window (rear of house)