Stephen J. Vanze, principal of Washington, D.C.-based Barnes Vanze Architects, carefully considers the built and natural surroundings when starting a project. For this new house in rural Virginia, he looked to nearby agrarian structures and the bucolic hillside site for architectural inspiration. “We always try to politely blend the design with what’s around the house,” he says, “but in a way that fits a more modern life.”

The large custom home perched above the Shenandoah Valley mimics building forms inherent to the region, while its casual open interiors fulfill the clients’ program requirements. The recently retired couple wanted to start a vineyard, indulge in their love of cooking, accommodate frequent visits from nearby grandchildren, and enjoy the site’s panorama of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The updated contextual design also respects the firm’s mandates. “We tried to make it look like a farm compound to break down the size,” Vanze explains. “We also didn’t want to have the building overwhelm the site by being on the top of the ridge, but still took full advantage of the vast views.”

Restricting the palette to local materials, the design team developed a modest exterior scheme. “The house sits on a stone base echoing numerous rock walls in the area,” Vanze says. “Then we just kept repeating the mantra of white farmhouse with a black roof and simple massing.” Those clean rooflines reinforce the open floor plan, which is organized into three volumes centered on a spacious entry court. The main house includes living areas, guest rooms, and a generous kitchen. A glass breezeway connects that central section to the master suite while a covered, open-air walkway leads to the garage and recreation room, which are disguised as a classic red barn.

The house’s orientation and the long drive on the approach keep the stunning scenery out of sight until guests step into the foyer. Vanze wanted to re-create that “wow” moment he experienced on his first visit when he stepped out of the car and turned around to see the valley unfold below. “The whole outdoor vista becomes one wall of the house,” he says, “and that wall is as glassy as we could make it and still keep within the vernacular.”