Houses are such powerful vehicles for memory. I’ve been thinking a lot about this since we just moved out of the first house Jim and I bought and raised our kids in. But there are also houses where I’ve never lived that are important because they conjure memories and events that come right back every time I pass by.
Such is the case with this house on Chain Bridge Road in Arlington:
This is the last house the late architect Rob Morris built for himself. A perennial house builder, the founder of the Morris-Day architecture firm (reorganized as McNeil Baker since his 2013 death) sold it mere weeks after his moving-in party in 2010.
Six years later, the people who presumably bought it from him are moving on, and it’s listed with TTR Sotheby’s for $3.995 million.
I always remember that great party when I pass by this house, and the fact that Rob was kind enough to let me come back with photographer Thomas Arledge and his photography students to shoot some of its rooms. I asked Rob why he built an 8,000-square-foot house with seven bedrooms when he lived there alone. Here’s what he told me at the time: “I come from a big family, so the notion of having large rooms and overnight guests is what a home does,” he told me. “How do you play games late at night and expect your guests to drive home?”
He was raised in Georgia, so the house exudes a sense of Southern hospitality. Based on the real-estate photos, it hasn’t changed that much, either:
Here’s what it looked like before:
What you can’t see in the listing photos is this incredible stained-glass ceiling from which the colored pendant lights hang:
Rob told me that the stained glass was reclaimed from a church in central Virginia. It caps the two-story family room, and the second floor has a balcony that directs your view across the space and through the wall of windows to the pool outside:
The adjacent kitchen and dining rooms also remain remain remarkably unchanged.
The dining room and master bedroom retain the same William Morris wallpapers that were a hallmark of all the houses Rob lived in. Here’s what I wrote at the time in this blog post about the house:
Rob, who grew up in an English-tudor style house in Columbus, Ga., has always incorporated William Morris papers into his houses, and it defines the dining space here. “William Morris had a timeless sense of gardens and romance that becomes a house,” Rob says. “It’s hard to pinpoint, but it’s definitely timeless, and it works with modern pieces.”
The window treatments speak to the colors in the adjacent sitting room in this master suite. I’m so glad the owners kept them.
The master bath has a sunken tub that’s surrounded by windows. Rob told me he designed it to be identical to a previous home he had built for himself in McLean’s Franklin Park:
Of course, Rob added personality and romance by transforming it into a veritable green house:
The home’s exterior also has a story that’s tied to his personal history. He asked Mark White of Garden Wise to do the landscaping, which looks like it’s been maintained over the years just as it was planted.
Here’s what I wrote at the time, describing how Mark had to design not only for aesthetics, but for the steady Chain Bridge Road traffic out front, and the pollution it generates:
He chose plantings both appropriate for the conditions and near and dear to Rob’s southern heart: Southern Magnolia, Camellia and Azaleas. He also included Yoshino cherry trees, the same as the ones along the Tidal Basin. I’ll close with a quote from Mark, which perfectly describes the house and surrounding property:
“The concept of the property from beginning to end, or rather from front to back, is to take a coarse, dangerous and brutal space, and immediately make it fortress-like from first sight. Then, with each single step from the street, the property transforms itself into a more defenseless and exposed space, slowly becoming more transparent, vulnerable, intimate, and finally Eden-like once you’ve reached the final rear space. Like peeling an onion, the property reveals itself slowly, using color, texture and some pretty incredible design elements.”
This is a house built with such care and meaning, and as I look at it, I remember first having a fabulous time at Rob’s moving-in party, but then being so engaged by the stories behind it when I went back to take pictures. The fact that Rob is no longer with us also weighs on me as the For Sale sign takes me back to the late summer of 2010. I hope the new owner enjoys it as much as Rob meant for it to be.