The busy metropolis of Washington, D.C., and its surrounding metro area isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find a peaceful, one-with-nature retreat. But it’s here, located just 30 miles from the nation’s capital, that you’ll find Mark and June Kohler’s tucked-away timber home. Or, then again, maybe you won’t.
Purposely positioned on the land to “look like it had been dropped on to the site by a helicopter,” the house sits amongst a forest of old-growth trees about 100 feet above the Occoquan River. “Everything was kept as natural as possible,” explains Mark who, along with his Burke, Virginia-based firm KohlMark, was the architect on the project. “It was intentionally designed to fit in with the surrounding landscape.”
Mark came across the spectacular piece of property back in 2001 when he was designing the house next door. A steep lot with complicated pitches, the lot was easily the most difficult spot in the neighborhood to build on, but Mark was up to the challenge. In fact, instead of modifying the site, he used it as inspiration for the home’s design. “The hill that the house sits on is steeper than 45 degrees, so I designed the pitch of the roof to that same angle to mirror the property,” he explains.
This design method also reflects the entire idea behind the Kohlers’ home — a nature-inspired space that feels more like a vacation house than a primary residence. To help accomplish this look and feel, Mark interviewed a number of timber frame companies, but ultimately decided to work with Drake Ambrosino, a Michigan-based representative for New Energy Works Timber Frame Homes. “I had designed timber homes before, and I knew I wanted some true timber-frame elements in this house,” says Mark, who ultimately decided to also use timber framing for the two car ports that greet you as you approach the property.
“I love the way the two timber-framed car ports became this big entrance feature,” says Mark. “We wanted the ‘wow’ factor and we definitely got it.”
Pass through the covered car ports, and you enter the three-bedroom house by way of a bridge that Mark designed to feel like a dock, complete with steels railings with wires that almost disappear at night. He also opted for some circular windows to carry the nautical feel from the outside in.
Inside, the house features full timber-framed elements as well as timber accents — an intentional design decision by Mark to show potential clients how you can get different looks from both options. “Often times you only see one style in a house, but there are three spaces here that are all different and showcase the wide variety of options you have when it comes to truss design and engineering,” explains Ambrosino.
In the great room, Mark opted for two large trusses that sit atop stick-built walls — a more economic option that eliminates the need for post support in the home’s lower level. In the music room, tucked away next to the main entrance, you’ll find a fully framed space, featuring posts, knee braces and a slightly more elaborate design. “The original design only included the right side of the house, but we needed an entrance,” says Mark with a laugh. “We added the music room, living space and basement to better accommodate the new plan.”
The finished house stands at 5,000 square feet, but it doesn’t feel that big. The two upstairs bedrooms (the third bedroom is located in the basement) were built into the roof to give the illusion of a one-story home. “When you look at the house from any angle, it fits the site so well,” Ambrosino says. “The spaces are properly scaled, so it doesn’t appear overbearing on the tranquil property.”
And it’s that property that, from the beginning, is always keeping the Kohlers on their toes. “Every day it changes,” says Mark. “We have so much wildlife and greenery. Every season, from winter to fall, is so beautiful. At any moment, from any level, you can walk out and go sit on the stone patio or the porch and fall in love with the spot all over again.”
Square footage: 5,000 (including unfinished space)
Architect: KohlMark, 703-764-1200
Flooring: Pioneer Millworks, 800-951-9663
Stairs: NEWwoodworks, 585-924-3860
Timber Provider: New Energy Works Timber Frame Homes, 800-486-0661