Inside the homes of three couples who build their dreams from the ground up.
Modern Within Reach
The dramatic, two-story staircase; owners Chris and Geraldine Mataka. Photos by Barry Harley, and Stacy Zarin-Goldberg.
“WE’VE ALWAYS loved modern,” says Chris Mataka, who’s lived in Arlington with his wife, Geraldine, since 1998. “I just didn’t think it was a possibility. I thought it was a pipe dream.”
That long-held assumption shifted in 2008 when the couple attended an open house at a home built by Sagatov Design + Build and realized that contemporary design and living in Arlington weren’t mutually exclusive. Add to that a profitable condo sale and a bit of inheritance, and the Matakas were soon searching out lots with Yuri Sagatov, principal of the Falls Church firm.
At night, the house glows from insides like a lantern. Photo by Barry Harley.
After losing several bidding wars, they finally found a teardown property in Lyon Village. The lot was narrow, but it had good southern exposure.
Seeking a “modern but warm” house for themselves and their three kids—Sebastian, 10, and twins Kiko and Sachi, 6, all students at Key Elementary—the couple worked with Sagatov to define their vision. Though his background is in IT, Chris recently became a partner at El Camino, a Mexican/Southern California-themed restaurant in D.C.’s edgy Bloomingdale neighborhood. At home, he says, “the kitchen was very important.”
The main floor is anchored by a central kitchen with a massive, concrete-topped island and a white-lacquered wall of cabinetry with built-in appliances. The open plan also includes a custom, 10-foot dining table, around which Chris and Geraldine, a partner/owner at a boutique law firm downtown, now entertain frequently. “We were used to small apartments,” Chris says, “where it was rare when everyone could sit down.”
Natural wood, concrete, metal and glass figure prominently in Chris and Geraldine Mataka’s modern Lyon Village home. Photo by Barry Harley.
Another design priority, explains Sagatov, “was to create a sophisticated home using raw materials,” including a variety of natural wood species, concrete and metal. In the family room off the kitchen, a steel fireplace surround is outfitted with sliding panels that hide the TV. Steel beams provide the structure for an open staircase with walnut risers and landings.
Natural materials also carry over to the outside, where a cedar screen shades the glass stairwell and provides a warm, textured complement to the home’s smooth cement-paneled exterior. “Aesthetically, it balances the mass of the house,” Sagatov says of the screen. It also offers privacy while filtering plenty of light inside.
A white-oak dining table, built by furniture maker Caleb Woodard, balances the kitchen’s industrial finishes. Photo by Barry Harley.
Sleek beauty notwithstanding, the home is also ultra-green, featuring a geothermal heating-and-cooling system, spray-foam insulation and tight air-control systems. With these efficient features, the Matakas’ utility bills (gas and electric) average about $160 per month. Sagatov wagers this is about half the cost of maintaining a conventionally built home of the same size.
The house is “very customized to that lot and its specific orientation” to take advantage of natural sunlight and shade, he says. “The design is really a reflection of what they were looking for.”
JULIE AND ALAN KING weren’t looking to move, let alone thinking of building a new home. But as Julie says, “I like houses—I would move every couple years if I could.” Hence, their real estate agent would call every so often if she saw something good.
Alan and Julie King with their dog, Sam. Photo by Darren Higgins.
In the spring of 2012, Susan O’Connor of Keller Williams came across something really good: a property in Arlington’s Rock Spring neighborhood that was coming on the market and was certain to be snapped up quickly. The house was in bad shape (“It was an old, run-down house—it took about five minutes to knock down,” Alan recalls), but its large corner lot (slightly more than a quarter acre) near Williamsburg Middle School was too good to pass up. This was an opportunity for the Kings to build from scratch in an architectural style they loved but were hard-pressed to find in Arlington: a traditional, Southern-style foursquare house with a wide, wraparound porch.
“Alan and I grew up in the South, and the porches just aren’t adequate here,” Julie says.
The kitchen features a walnut island and soapstone countertops. The walnut flooring was sourced from a mill in New Hampshire. Photo by Marlon Crutchfield.
Other priorities on their wish list included high ceilings, dark-walnut floors and huge French doors that open outward from the dining room onto the porch. To achieve their aesthetic while accommodating the functional needs of their busy family (the Kings have two daughters, ages 10 and 11), the couple turned to architect Dwight McNeill of the McLean firm McNeill Baker Design Associates and builder Daniel Steinkoler of Washington, D.C.-based Superior Home Services.
Photo by Marlon Crutchfield.
The Kings weren’t typical clients, McNeill recalls. Whereas many homeowners want as much space as possible on the inside, they were willing to sacrifice some of that interior square footage in favor of a more expansive outdoor realm. “Every time we brought in a schematic [drawing], Julie would say, ‘The porch needs to be bigger!’,” the architect says with a laugh.
Fortunately, the ample corner lot was big enough to support an 8-foot-wide porch with mahogany decking and 16-inch columns. The absence of railings makes the veranda appear even broader as it flows directly out to the rolling lawn. “It looks like an old plantation house,” says Alan, a tax partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The Kings went with traditional furnishings from Ethan Allen and hardware from Caprio & Deutsch on Lee Highway. Photo by Marlon Crutchfield.
Inside, the home is no less genteel, its Southern character marked by chair-rail molding, transoms above the doorways and crystal chandeliers with matching doorknobs. With a lower-level bar, an additional screened porch and a pool in the back, it has a laid-back elegance that makes it perfect for entertaining. “We have people over all the time,” Alan says.
Designed by Fairfax-based craftsman Bud Mepham, the custom bar on the lower level is similar to the one Mepham built for the Goodstone Inn in Middleburg-one of the Kings’ favorite retreat. Photo by Marlon Crutchfield.
Of course, there are also quiet mornings and lazy evenings when the porch offers just the right spot to hear birdsong over coffee, or to watch the fireflies with a glass of wine.
Kevin and Anne Boyce are true locals. They grew up in McLean and Arlington, respectively, and for 15 years lived within a five-minute drive of both sets of parents. When they and their three kids outgrew their house in Arlington, they knew they wanted to stay close to family.
A central chimney connects to hearths facing both the family room and the adjacent screened porch. Photo by Ken Wyner.
The house across the street from Anne’s parents (in the Sigmona Park neighborhood of Falls Church) had come up for sale in 2008, but it was out of the Boyces’ price range and was ultimately taken off the market during the recession.
Circumstances improved three years later, when the Boyces were in a better financial position and the owner of the house announced plans to move to a retirement community.
The homes’ Cape Cod-style architecture is reminiscent of the shingle-style beach houses on the Jersey shore where Anne and Kevin vacationed as kids. Photo by Ken Wyner.
At that point Anne’s mother, Rosemary Melnick, a real estate agent with Century 21 New Millennium, brokered a new deal that worked out for everyone. The Boyces then set about tearing the old house down to make way for new construction.
“I don’t know how we got so lucky,” says Anne, a longtime oncology nurse at Inova Fairfax Hospital who’s currently on sabbatical. To build their new home, the couple hired Stephen Smith, owner of Arlington-based Ventura Group, who is married to Anne’s identical twin sister. Smith then connected them to his frequent collaborator, architect George Myers, with GTM Architects in Bethesda.
Shaker style paneling and crisp trim serve as unifying elements throughout the house. A V-groove barrel-vault ceiling defines the foyer. Photo by Ken Wyner.
The floor plan of the Boyces’ new home is somewhat unusual in an area dominated by center-hall colonials with bedrooms upstairs. In a preemptive and practical move, the couple asked for a master bedroom on the ground floor—a design feature that would allow them to remain in the house long-term, even if age, injury or disability one day prevented them from using the stairs. “We’re going to live in this house until, like, forever,” Anne says.
Their 20,000-square-foot lot made it possible to accommodate that wish, along with a kitchen, family room and library on the same level. (The library doubles as a home office for Kevin, who is chief financial officer for Ellucian, a Fairfax-based company that provides software services to higher-education institutions.) The bedrooms for their 15-year-old twins, Tommy and Paul, and 11-year-old Allie, occupy the second floor.
Kevin, Anne, Paul, and Allie Boyce with their dog Zoe (Tommy not pictured). Photo by Stacy Zarin-Goldberg.
A huge screened porch runs the length of the family room and dining area, with back-to-back fireplaces facing both inside and outside. As a result, the porch gets used year-round, even in cold weather. (Anne says that making s’mores is a popular activity.)
She credits Smith and Myers for giving her family a house that they won’t outgrow and won’t have to leave, even as their lifestyles evolve. “I couldn’t have done it without them,” she says. “George is so laid-back and nice, and Steve is OCD about the details. They just work well as a team.”
Jennifer Sergent lives in Arlington’s Waverly Hills neighborhood. She is the creator of the design blog DC by Design (dcbydesignblog.com).