March 9, 2016
For those who were unable to attend our season opening tour at 20 W. Leigh Street, we offer you this final look at the 2900 square foot, three level home of John Ryan and Wesley Chenault in the historic Jackson Ward district.
Working with design architects Josh McCullar and Katie Cortez of SMBW and builder John Gray of Peak 3 Construction, the collaborative effort resulted in a structure that fits seamlessly within this important Richmond neighborhood.
The primary goals of the house for John and Wesley were for it to function well, feel spacious, and maximize the amount of natural light. They wanted the house to be as low maintenance as possible. Adequate wall space for their extensive and ever changing art collection was also important.
Construction began in November 2013 and was completed in July 2015.
According to Josh McCullar, one of the two design architects on the project along with Katie Cortez, 20 W. Leigh established a precedent in Richmond for new urban infill projects. The original rendering of 20 W. Leigh, seen above, is remarkably consistent with the finished building. The design received unanimous approval by the Richmond Commission of Architectural review, whose guidelines state in part that any new construction in an historic district shall be clearly discernible from the historic, but relate in materials, massing and form.
20 W. Leigh comfortably fits into the Jackson Ward neighborhood, interpreting the architectural components of the older house in the community with a modern vocabulary. The projecting glass and metal window bay on the front façade was inspired by the bay windows that punctuate many of the neighborhood historic houses.
The subdued color palette of gray, black, and white serves as perfect background for John and Wesley’s extensive art collection. Entry into the house takes visitors into the dining room furnished with an Eero Saarinen-inspired table and four Bertoia-style chairs.
Fire separation requirements restricted the use of any openings or windows on the east and west (non-street) sides of the house. This design model shows the creative solution for bringing natural light into the center of the house. A centrally located lightwell bathes the heart of the house with sunlight.
The full height, three-story, light filled tower is the focal point of the house, providing natural lighting for the interior of the house. Katie Cortez, SMBW design architect for the project, described it as a key element for creating an interesting and active space. She sees the lightwell as a modern interpretation of the centrally located fireplace.
The lightwell is topped with an off-the-shelf Velux skylight system and provides an ever-changing play of light and shadows while also visually tying together the three levels of the house. The house becomes a frame for the infusion of natural light.
As with many well-designed modern homes, what at first appears to be a relatively straightforward structure is actually a sophisticated series of vertical and horizontal relationships.
The open floor plan of the compact twenty by forty eight foot footprint results in a clear horizontal orientation from front to back with the kitchen being the anchor of the first floor. Continuous white oak floors further unify the house. Built-in shelves provide a perfect exhibit space for the diverse art collection. Notable in this wall display is a series of face jugs, which represent a prominent chapter in the history of African-American art.
The family room is the primary gathering place for John, Wesley, and friends. The room layout centers on an Isamu Noguchi-inspired coffee table and two Saarinen-inspired Womb chairs. The wall mounted Travis Pack piece is a primary focal point from their inspiring art collection.
The family room includes a beautifully designed fireplace insert. Created by Fireplace Xtrordinair, the gas fireplace contains under-lighting that shines through the translucent glass floor. A Caesarstone London gray stone hearth complements the installation.
The house is unique in it ability to effectively maximize every square foot of its compact plan. Flush door openings conceal spaces, which creatively incorporate liquor storage, laundry chutes, and a guest bathroom.
The connecting stairway runs parallel to the light tower providing access to each room via a glass floor section. Carefully located openings at each level of the house provide framed views of the art collection.
Photos © Adam Ewing
Both owners and their companions have become comfortable walking on their glass bridges. Each bridge is 1 ½” thick and consists of three sheets of glass with layers of laminate between.
The second floor of the house provides two guest bedrooms, each with expansive views through full height window curtain walls. The white oak floors continue throughout the house as a visually unifying feature.
The top level of the house is reserved for the master bedroom and a home office/media room. The cleanly furnished room features the art of Suellen Parker.
Careful detailing is prevalent throughout the house, including in the master bathroom.
The unusual bathroom tile appears to be a random installation but actually consists of 8” by 12” ceramic tile sheets. The seams of the tile sheets, from Porcelanosa, disappear after installation.
The eclectic and original art from John’s and Wesley’s twenty-plus years of collecting fit perfectly within the architecture of the house.
The previous house on the site was demolished in 1972/1973, and replaced forty years later with this modern interpretation. 20 W. Leigh Street is a successful piece of urban architecture and a model for how modernism can be seamlessly incorporated into a historic community.
Our hosts, John and Wesley, the SMBW design architects, Josh and Katie, and MRT co-founder Andrea Levine answer questions from the audience.
John shared how he and Wesley are of like minds in terms of design. For 20 W. Leigh they enjoy the clean lines, simplicity and uncluttered feel to their house.
Josh noted that the three greatest design challenges were understanding the architectural context of the Jackson Ward neighborhood, keeping the scale of the house within this understanding, and addressing the owners’ needs for the house in a structure only twenty foot wide.
Earlier John shared with me that previously he and Wesley had been modern in their minds longer than modern in their home. At 20 W. Leigh Street they can fully enjoy both.
We thank John Ryan and Wesley Chenault for opening their home to Modern Richmond. Also, many thanks to architects Josh McCullar and Katie Cortez of SMBW for sharing many design details with the capacity crowd. Catering was provided by our own Helen Reed and Wendy Umanoff. Photography provided by Ansel Olson, Adam Ewing, and John & Wesley.