Chris and Sandy Ross’ Bryn Mawr home is unlike any other on the street. For one, it’s a rare example of new construction in a neighborhood dominated by houses that have been there for generations. “We wanted it to look like it was built in 2011,” admits Chris. “And it does.”
The couple also had eco-friendly concerns. Hence, the solar panels. “We wanted to be conscious of the decisions we were making,” Chris says.
But while the house is certainly unique, it’s far from an eyesore. Philadelphia architect Anthony Miksitz took the more established neighborhood into consideration when he came up with the contemporary design, its lines silhouetting a more traditional style. Gable roofs on the house and the attached two-car garage mimic those on neighboring homes.
Nontraditional elements came by way of sustainable materials—like the black recycled-paper siding on the garage and a honey-colored version that covers the house. The contrasting colors make an impressive visual impact. Translucent glass panels on the garage door are another unexpected choice. “It’s a great, architecturally modern look,” says the home’s builder, Mark Janiczek.
But only nature can take credit for the beautiful, 100-year-old Japanese maple in the front lawn. “As soon as we bought the lot, the neighbors were passionate about us saving it,” says Sandy Ross. “Although it does take up a significant part of the lot, we wanted to save it, too. We designed the house without disturbing it.”
The interior of the Ross home is as unique as the exterior. Standing at his kitchen island, the owner notes his primary request. “I wanted to stand here and be able to see what the kids were doing in the living room,” Chris says.
Indeed, the floorplan flows effortlessly from the kitchen to the dining and living areas. There’s also a playroom for the Ross’ children and a home office for Chris that doubles as a guest bedroom. A two-story opening above the dining area contributes to the main floor’s spacious feel, and a back-to-back stone fireplace in the living room can also be used on the patio.
The home’s modest (by Main Line standards) 2,400 square feet was an adjustment for the family, whose previous house in Portland, Ore., was more spacious. “We appreciated some aspects of that home, especially the space,” says Sandy. “But we knew we didn’t want to build that type of house.”
For years, the couple had talked about what they’d incorporate into their dream home. Their return to the East Coast provided the perfect opportunity to see it through. “We’re both not in very creative fields—I’m in technology, and Sandy is an attorney,” says Chris, who grew up in Devon. “So it was fun to put together a folder full of ideas of what we like and don’t like in a home.”
The Ross’ search for an architect to make their folder a reality led them to Miksitz. “We were at his home, and we loved it,” says Sandy, a Baltimore native. “He has a small rowhouse in Center City, but he used every square inch of his space effectively.”
Miksitz also had a contemporary sensibility the couple really appreciated. “It’s not that we wanted a completely modern house,” says Sandy. “We just wanted one that was true to today.”
Miksitz also had experience in green design. “I started with the common-sense approach that the smaller the house, the less energy it uses,” he says.
Miksitz recommends the book The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka for its notion that a home should be designed to suit the way you live. “I’m more about quality of space than quantity of space in my designs,” he says.
Lot size—and that big Japanese maple in the front lawn—also played a role in dictating how big the house could be. And besides, “no one is really building 4,000-square-foot houses anymore,” says Mark Janiczek, adding that clients are more interested in detail and higher-end features. “People are far more sensitive about maintenance and utility costs.”
To that end, Janiczek praises Miksitz’s design. “It’s a bright, comfortable house that hits all the needs without compromising what you’d think,” he says.
Properly placed windows bring in maximum natural light—to the extent that the first floor needs nothing else during the day. Insulated, translucent Shoji panels in the two-story opening to the dining area allow light into the home without the heat gain or loss experienced with conventional windows. “In the summer, they don’t have to use a lot of air conditioning to offset the heat gain from traditional glass,” says Janiczek of the panels, which aren’t typically used in homes.
Janiczek also recommended the solar panels. Meanwhile, the multispeed, multi-zoned heating and air-conditioning system is high efficiency. “They have the perfect southern exposure,” says Janiczek. “Ultimately, they probably won’t have to pay any electric bills because of daylighting and the solar panels.”
The home also has reclaimed oak hardwood floors sourced from Lancaster barn boards. The wood is also used on the open staircase, along with iron railings fabricated by a local ironsmith. “The idea that green is more expensive is a myth,” says Janiczek.
And though the home is contemporary, wood furnishings help warm up the inside. “I didn’t want the house to have a sterile feel,” says Sandy. “It really is our dream house. Having our friends and family hear us talk about it, and then see it as it was designed and built, was amazing.”