When architect Jim Rill moved his family of four from urban-based Silver Spring, Maryland, to the more bucolic town of Darnestown to enjoy greater views and space to use, it seemed only fitting that he would design a home that suited its setting.
Jim’s architectural creations gather inspiration from the bungalow class of homes — a style long associated with quality craftsmanship and use of natural materials, such as wood and stone. The exposed pine frame for the Rill home is prominently displayed in the beams, trusses, joints and other timber detailing.
“I love the framing of the house. I love to see the structure,” Jim states. “I love the way people style things, but it’s a fleeting affection. I’m much more in tune with the structural details, which, in this particular house, exposed themselves, which is fun.”
In a sea of loosely Colonial-styled homes, however, this look was a tough sell for the neighborhood association. “We showed them our house with its exposed rafters and stained siding, and they said, ‘This is bad architecture; we don’t like it,’” Jim recalls, especially because it had such little relation to the surrounding brick-and-siding-encased structures in the area.
Small compromises, such as wood siding instead of shingles, helped minimize the difference but still allowed Jim to create the home he desired. “There are those who say it fits more in its rural setting than other houses in the neighborhood,” he notes.
Jim subscribes to the school of thought that “you should find a beautiful property and let it grow with you,” he states. His home is strongly connected to the four acres on which it sits through proper window and door placement that allows not only an extensive visual connection to the surrounding land but also nearly instantaneous access to the home’s outdoor areas from almost any room on the main level.
“I love that windows can provide portals to vistas and landscapes, and connections between indoors and outdoors,” he states, especially when mullions or muntins are omitted to open up the panes as true picture windows. “This particular style can do things like that.”
Because the property had previously been used for agricultural purposes, there was little landscaping in place to view when the Rills first bought the land in 1996. “Bales of hay lined the street,” Jim jokes.
The Rills initially planted 20 trees on the property to provide some outdoor interest as well as a buffer between their home and the neighbors, given that the home is situated only 90 feet from the property line. They eventually added 40 more trees, and most recently installed a stone wall to keep water out of the basement and pavers in high-traffic areas to prevent the lawn from looking overrun by their two dogs.
The outdoor spaces available to enjoy these views are Jim’s favorite places of the home. “In the summer, [I love] the front porch because it faces north and has views of the landscaping, and in the winter, it’s the rear deck pergola because it catches the sunset,” he notes.
Although trained with the ability to draft up inventive and unique features, in designing their own homes, architects still have to pay the bills at the end of the day.
“I get to sit down to dinner after each project [Jim designs], and I’m always asking, ‘Why don’t we have that?’ or ‘What about that?’” his wife, Mary, jokes. “It comes down to budgeting.”
Comparable to their landscaping approach, the Rills built their home in phases to minimize upfront costs. Secondary spaces such as the guest bathroom were left roughed in until the funds were available to complete them.
Originally, Jim had hoped to leave the upper level unfinished and have the family live on the main level, but the bank would not fund the perceived value for the unfinished space. So he omitted the drywall insulation between the two levels — saving a considerable amount in materials — and made the floor of the upper level the ceiling for the main level. The decision provides plenty of visual interest overhead, but it lacks sound insulation and privacy.
“From a cabin standpoint, it fits right in because, at certain times, you can see right through the floor,” Jim notes. “But it’s not always so great for privacy or putting kids to bed early.”
“I can hear everything that’s going on upstairs,” Mary adds, though that may not be a bad thing when it comes monitoring their two sons, whose bedrooms and TV area are located there.
Because they were finished as quickly and inexpensively as possible to get under roof, some rooms — such as the kitchen and master bath — will likely receive a facelift in coming years that will involve upgraded appliances, fixtures and accents. But, thankfully, they already have excellent groundwork in place.
Jim’s one regret in the process: not involving Mary in the initial design decisions. “I didn’t want her telling me what to do, and that was probably a bad move,” he laments. “I think it’s more masculine than she would have adopted.”
She seems pleased with the results, though. “The most surprising thing was all the exposed wood and leaving it natural,” she says. “It kind of has this Old-World feel to it. People feel like they’re coming home.”
Square footage: 3,150
Architect: Rill Architects (301-656-4166; rillarchitects.com)
Builder: Zink Construction (301-919-5800; zinkconstruction.com)
Dishwasher: Bosch (800-944-2904; bosch-home.com/us)
Doors: Simpson Door Co. (800-746-7766; simpsondoor.com)
Flooring: Alaskan yellow cedar
Interior decorator: MaryJean Meisner
Knobs/hardware: Schlage (888-805-9837; schlage.com)
Refrigerator: Amana (866-616-2664; amana.com)
Roofing: BK Lang Contracting Co. (301-670-9363)
Timber provider: Bear Creek Lumber (800-597-7191; bearcreeklumber.com)
Windows: Weather Shield Premium Windows & Doors (800-222-2995; weathershield.com)