The corner lot on which this new house stands had stumped developers for years. In an established neighborhood of traditional houses, its acute triangular shape and restrictive buildable envelope simply wouldn’t accommodate a marketable traditional house. Enter architect Robert Gurney, who understands that working within the envelope sometimes requires thinking outside the box. Using the wedge-shaped lot’s height limit and property line setbacks to define a structure, Gurney designed a striking triangle-plan house that not only answers its owners’ program requirements, but also makes a handsome and respectful addition to the existing streetscape.

One approaches the house at the sharpest point of the triangle, where a sheltered porch leads to an entry vestibule, then to the kitchen. A two-story living and dining space occupies the center of the building, while the master suite spreads across the base of the triangle, opposite the entry. A steel bridge spans the living and dining area at the second floor, linking a second bedroom suite, over the kitchen, and an office, over the master bedroom.

Viewed from the sidewalk, cutouts in the building volume punctuate the otherwise sheer flanks, while mahogany-slat screening at the entry, master bedroom windows, and rear patio create a warm contrast with the monolithic gray of the stucco walls. “We tried to do something different with each of the three points of the triangle,” Gurney says. Because the building’s street setbacks and overall height match those of nearby houses, its abstract elevations extend rather than clash with the visual theme of the neighborhood.

Gurney credits his clients, two graphic designers, for their willingness to embrace such an unconventional solution. “They’re design-oriented,” he says, “so they were pretty much on board with whatever we came up with. And, fortunately, they didn’t need a lot of space; they’re empty-nesters.”

The jury praised the house’s “clever, cool floor plan” and “creative exterior,” calling the project as a whole “very clear and direct.” One judge declared that the design team had earned an award “because of the problem solving ability they demonstrated. Compositionally, it’s a real tour de force. They put a piece of throwaway land to good use.”

On Site The house’s flat roof breaks the pattern of its bungalow and colonial-style neighbors. But by matching its overall height with the average on this block, architect Robert Gurney harmonized the house with its surroundings. The configuration also afforded Gurney flexibility in placing the large skylights that brighten the interior.

Project Credits:
Project: Komai, Alexandria, Va.; Entrant/Architect: Robert M. Gurney, FAIA Architect, Washington, D.C.; Builder: Commonwealth Building & Design, Clifton, Va.; Structural Engineer: D. Anthony Beale, Springfield, Va.; Living Space: 2,440 square feet; Site: 0.18 acre; Photographer: Maxwell MacKenzie

Resources: Bathroom plumbing fixtures and fittings: Kohler, Toto; Oceanic Ventures; Dishwasher and refrigerator: Bosch; Hardware: Omnia, Baldwin, CRL, Sugatsune; Kitchen plumbing fittings: KWC; Kitchen plumbing fixtures: Vigo; Lighting fixtures: Lightolier, Resolute, Sistemalux, Bega, Illuminating Experiences; Oven: Bosch; Paints/stains: Sherwin Williams; Windows and exterior doors: Marvin