January-February 2011 | Bethesda HOME

Modern Man

Contemporary architect David Jameson is attracting a lot of attention. A visit to his Bethesda home shows why.

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A couple of years ago, David Jameson was visiting a newly completed federal building in San Francisco that would go on to win awards for its layout and eco-friendly design. Jameson was checking out the building’s exits, vents and other details—when the police stopped him and asked for his driver’s license.

“They thought a terrorist [might be scoping it out],” he says.

That inquisitive nature and attention to detail may have nearly landed him on somebody’s watch list, but they’re also what set the Rockville-born architect apart. In 2010 Jameson, 43, was recognized as one of Architectural Digest’s “Top 100” architects and designers in the country. Since starting his own practice in Alexandria, Va., a little over a decade ago, he has won more than 100 national and international design awards, including The American Institute of Architects’ 2004 Young Architects Award, and was inducted into the AIA College of Fellows in 2006.

Arriving at his home in Bethesda, it’s easy to understand all the attention. The cubic, white stucco structure looks like a work of art, in sharp contrast to the 1950s ramblers and new Arts and Crafts-style homes in the Bradley Woods neighborhood. Jameson named the house “Jigsaw” when he first designed it, because of the “puzzle-like quality” of its “tessellation of solid and void”—a key attribute of modern architecture.

Jameson was hired in 2005 to transform the 2,800-square-foot house—a 1950s ranch with a 1970s master suite addition—into a modern home. While he kept many elements intact, he gutted most of the house and started from scratch. Central to his design was an outdoor courtyard that he created within the interior of the existing structure. The courtyard features a gas fireplace, converted from a functioning fireplace that had faced into the interior of the house; Hawaiian volcanic rock variegates its flame. Jameson calls the courtyard—open to the sky yet shielded from wind—the “heartbeat of the house” despite the fact “it is negative space.”

He also “curated” windows throughout the house, varying the shapes and placing them at different heights to create “apertures” of light while ensuring privacy from the neighbors. “You feel like you are living in this kaleidoscope pulsating out of light and space,” he says.

Jameson finished the house and moved on to other projects. Then, in 2009, he and his wife, Nancy, were renting his maternal grandmother’s Bethesda home nearby when the “Jigsaw” house went on the market. Jameson always felt “this was one of those projects that we did not go the whole distance.” So he decided to buy it and finish what he had started.

Today, the house features a 10-foot by 11-foot entrance area with mortarless slabs of black granite on the floor—one of Jameson’s several recent modifications. The ceiling is just 8 feet here, but elsewhere in the house it jumps to 11, 14, 17 and 22 feet, making the structure feel much larger than the 3,000 square feet on its two main floors.

The interior courtyard, framed by glass windows and doors, is visible from the entry, the living room, the great room and the kitchen. It also can be seen from a back area, where a black-painted steel staircase with both child- and adult-height rails lead to his daughter’s and son’s rooms, and where a “piano room”—a tribute to his maternal grandmother, who played for the Chevy Chase Baptist Church and taught Jameson to play by ear—connects to the master suite on one side and to the kitchen and great room on the other.

To the right of the entrance is the great room, where a large glass door opens to an area overlooking trees with a pool, outdoor kitchen and dining area that Jameson uses in place of a formal dining room.

Even on a cloudy day, light suffuses the house. It seems to bounce from the black-finished oak floors. Huge contemporary pieces of art hang throughout, and the furniture is classic modern. Teak wall cabinets in the great room hide any clutter. There are no baseboards anywhere. The workmanship in the house is so exceptional that the walls hit the floors seamlessly.

Jameson attributes that attention to detail to his maternal great-grandfather, who built pianos and pipe organs as well as a cabin that Jameson and his family used to visit in the Rocky Mountains. “A lot of the notion of craft that was instilled in me comes from him,” Jameson says. “Architecture became an instrument.”

That instrument is apparent in the kitchen, where teak cabinetry conceals most of the appliances; Jameson says that it is a mistake to make even a high-end Wolf oven or range the centerpiece of a room. An abstract painting hangs on the wall behind the kitchen island. Jameson says the piece by Eastern Shore artist William Willis reminds him of paddling the wildlife estuaries of that area during his childhood.

Besides adding some cabinetry and stonework when he and his wife moved into the house, the architect turned a motorcycle garage into an office, finished the basement with a bedroom, bath, laundry and home theater, and made significant exterior alterations. He added walkways around the house and landscaped strategically, moving one tree to block the view of another home and adding others to “stretch the relationship of space.”