"Get used to it," interior designer Chris McCray advises modern-wary Richmonders, "because you're going to be seeing lots more of it. It doesn't have to be Chippendale or Biedermeier to withstand the ages. Modern design is not all black and chrome and glass it is beautiful, simple and functional, and it's not going away."
"I don't think we should be living in the past," architect Cheryl D. Moore adds. "We have so much new technology available, new building materials and methods, that we should take advantage of them and design for the future. Do you think Thomas Jefferson would still be doing Colonial today?"
If there's an air of defensiveness (or protectiveness of the modern aesthetic) in these comments, it comes with a desire by both architect and designer to educate a conservative Richmond audience about ideas more easily embraced in other cities. The homeowners drew negative responses, raised eyebrows and critical questions during the construction process. By now, though, the interference has moved elsewhere or can be ignored.
That leaves the clients and creative team free to relish the result a project that's a new career highlight for Moore and McCray. "When you go in the house," Moore says, "it feels light and airy. Maple paneling on the walls was put there to give the house a warmer look, instead of being completely white. The stairway is situated to allow light from the top floor all the way to the lower level. I'm very pleased with the way it turned out."
Moore's interest in light extends from fixtures to window placement. In some rooms, windows are situated high on walls to allow privacy without draperies or shades.
Because the house is sited on a steep slope, there is a feeling of warmth and coziness in the private rooms. The public spaces have an expansiveness akin to a ship's prow. Rooms reveal themselves in a decidedly modern way - no four-square, front-hall stairway pattern here. Instead, asymmetrical spaces are fitted into the site and around the central open stairway in a logical, public/private division that works according to the clients' needs.
Light plays across the walls and casts shadows through brushed aluminum panels that divide entry and living room, giving an urbane sense of arrival. For this space, McCray designed a nautilus-inspired wool rug; a foyer table of concrete, stainless steel and zebra wood; and a tufted steel bench that's 10-feet long and ready to accommodate guests. "I wanted something that was sort of simple and worked with the architecture," he says, "but was bold and powerful in terms of its form. The juxtaposition between the concrete and the zebra wood with its pronounced stripe evokes the feeling of something special, and the stainless steel jazzes it up."
McCray designed more than a dozen pieces of furniture for the home, including an ottoman that rolls on industrial casters and is upholstered in red sparkle vinyl "just like an old Schwinn Stingray," he notes. It is a focal point in the family room, which also features a Bruhl sofa covered in black Neoprene and blue Ultrasuede, accented by blue silk pillows. Custom Lucite gaming tables and a sculpted, blue wool rug add function and one-of-a-kind personality to the space.
In the dining room, Moore worked with Mark Cohen to create a massive wood-and-glass table that repeats the brushed aluminum grid design on the foyer panels. That detail reappears on the living room fireplace in a strong vertical statement. Steel cables on the stairway continue the metal theme, and are used on the exterior terrace walls as well. Consistent materials and repeating motifs give the space a sense of harmony, and clean-lined modern furnishings add cohesiveness. Each item, McCray emphasizes, was selected to complement the clients' art. "They have keen eyes, are very particular about what they buy, and have a fantastic collection," he says.
This house is created with art and modernism as its guiding principles. It is trying something new. And though it may play to a limited audience in Richmond circa 2002, it intends to go the distance with a family that knows what it wants and knows how to get it. HS
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