Shar­ing peace and quiet with the neigh­bours

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - DEB­O­RAH K. DIETSCH The Wash­ing­ton Post

Liv­ing solo in an apart­ment in North­west Wash­ing­ton, Ellen Ruina yearned for a coun­try home where she could gar­den and en­joy the out­doors.

“But as a sin­gle per­son, I didn’t want to live in a re­mote area where I would feel iso­lated,” says the 67year-old re­tired public health re­searcher.

Ruina con­sid­ered sev­eral cohous­ing de­vel­op­ments where res­i­dents col­lab­o­ra­tively par­tic­i­pate in com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties, such as shared meals, home­owner as­so­ci­a­tion meet­ings and work­days. She nar­rowed her search to the 160acre Ca­toctin Creek Vil­lage in Loudoun County, Va., about 24 kilo­me­tres north of Lees­burg. Home­own­ers in the vil­lage col­lec­tively own 120 acres pre­served by a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment, and some come to­gether once a month to main­tain the prop­erty.

One of about 165 such es­tab­lished com­mu­ni­ties in the na­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Durham, N.C. based Cohous­ing As­so­ci­a­tion of the United States, the vil­lage is mod­elled on the idea of pri­vate homes clus­tered around shared spa­ces and re­sources. Res­i­dents are en­cour­aged to work and play to­gether “to cre­ate neigh­bourli­ness,” says com­mu­nity co-founder and de­vel­oper Lau­ranne Oliveau.

Over the past dozen years, Oliveau says, 10 sin­gle-fam­ily houses have been built at Ca­toctin Creek Vil­lage and five lots re­main to be sold, priced from $81,000 to $104,000.

Ruina rented rooms in the vil­lage be­fore de­cid­ing to buy a par­cel of nearly an acre for about $100,000 and build a cus­tom house.

Since com­plet­ing the two-storey dwelling in 2014, she now spends most of the week in the ru­ral Vir­ginia ham­let.

“I feel safe and com­fort­able here, be­cause of the prox­im­ity to the neigh­bours,” she says on a tour of her new home. “I was for­tu­nate to be able to buy a beau­ti­ful piece of prop­erty with views of fields and moun­tains.”

Lo­cated next to a clus­ter of ram­bling neo-Vic­to­ri­ans, Ruina’s house stands out for its com­pact, modern ar­chi­tec­ture. The stream­lined, gabled dwelling with large win­dows is de­signed by Wiede­mann Ar­chi­tects of Bethesda, Md. to be only one room wide.

“The thin­ness of the house al­lows for cross ven­ti­la­tion and ori­en­ta­tion to both the meadow and moun­tains,” says ar­chi­tect Greg Wiede­mann.

De­sign in­spi­ra­tion, he says, came from the white clap­board farm­houses and red barns typ­i­cal of ru­ral ar­eas. That ver­nac­u­lar is sug­gested by the new home’s pale fi­bre-ce­ment sid­ing, field­stone walls and a stand­ing seam metal roof, and the painted shed of the free-stand­ing garage.

Built into a hill­side, the house is ar­ranged on two lev­els — one for Ruina and the other for guests or a rental tenant — that take ad­van­tage of the slope and views.

“I wanted to live on one floor but be able to have bed­rooms and spa­ces for fam­ily and friends,” says the home­owner, who de­clined to com­ment on the con­struc­tion price. “I didn’t want to build more house than I needed.”

The up­per floor re­sem­bles a loft with the liv­ing area open to a din­ing nook and kitchen set within a long bay at the front of the house. Flank­ing the three-me­tre-tall (11 feet) liv­ing space is a screened porch at one end and main bed­room suite at the other.

“The porch serves as a sec­ond liv­ing room, and the big fan keeps it cool on even the hottest days,” says Ruina.

Vis­i­ble through win­dows on both sides of the space are un­en­cum­bered ex­panses of hill­sides, with­out other houses ob­struct­ing the views. The front porch faces a street that is rarely trav­elled ex­cept by home­own­ers who live nearby.

Liv­ing room fur­nish­ings are ar­ranged on stained oak floors next to a baby grand piano. Among the more un­usual pieces are a re­pro­duc­tion of a mid­cen­tury modern rock­ing chair and a live-edge wal­nut ta­ble crafted by fur­ni­ture maker and builder Jon Du­vall of Mill­wood, Va.

Given the com­pact size of Ruina’s liv­ing quar­ters, am­ple stor­age was built into the nooks and cran­nies of the spa­ces. An­chor­ing one end of the liv­ing space is a ma­hogany-pan­eled wall sur­round­ing the wood-burn­ing fire­place that in­cor­po­rates cab­i­nets and a TV, which can rise and then van­ish when not in use. Match­ing wood cab­i­netry in the kitchen pro­vides hid­den places for small ap­pli­ances, dishes and glass­ware.

Di­vid­ing the liv­ing space and bed­room is a stair­case de­scend­ing past a pur­ple-painted wall to the lower level.

One end of this walk­out base­ment is de­signed as an in­de­pen­dent liv­ing unit with a bed­room suite and a sit­ting area open to a kitchen. The apart­ment opens to a car­port and rear flag­stone pa­tio.

“The floor plan is flex­i­ble enough for the space to be used as a rental apart­ment, fam­ily room or guest suite,” says project ar­chi­tect Felix Gon­za­lez.

Two bed­rooms and a bath­room are at the op­po­site end of the lower level past the stair­case, so if Ruina de­cides to rent out part of the lower floor, she still has ac­cess to guest quar­ters for vis­i­tors.

A large me­chan­i­cal closet at the foot of the stairs houses equip­ment for an en­ergy-sav­ing geo­ther­mal heat­ing and cool­ing sys­tem.

Ad­di­tional “green” de­sign fea­tures in­clude high-per­for­mance, ar­gon-filled in­su­lated glass in the win­dows and su­perin­su­lated walls. The cupola ex­tend­ing from the roof serves to ex­haust air from the in­te­rior via a fan within a ceil­ing shaft.

Over the past few years, Ruina has planted na­tive shrubs and veg­eta­bles to re­al­ize her gar­den­ing dream. “I’m the only per­son here with no lawn,” she says.

From the rear yard, a path winds down the hill­side to a small lake, around which are com­mon fa­cil­i­ties shared by com­mu­nity res­i­dents.

An old red barn near the wa­ter­front is used to store tools, a trac­tor and mow­ers for res­i­dents, and it also hosts blue­grass dances and par­ties. Next to it, a stone com­mon house, with some rooms built in the 1700s, pro­vides meet­ing spa­ces and guest quar­ters.

Ac­cord­ing to vil­lage co-founder Oliveau, the his­toric dwelling will be turned into a sin­gle-fam­ily house and sold to pay for a smaller com­mon space in the barn over­look­ing the lake.

Within Ca­toctin Creek Vil­lage, 120 acres are deeded to the home­own­ers as­so­ci­a­tion as com­mon prop­erty and pro­tected by a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment.

“There’s a mile of creek frontage,” Ruina says. “I don’t have to man­age it, but it feels like mine.”

Houses and lots are clus­tered next to the pro­tected open space to pre­serve the ru­ral char­ac­ter of the vil­lage.

Ruina and some of her neigh­bours spend four hours a month on main­te­nance and up­keep of the acreage. In re­turn, they get to sub­tract $40 from the monthly home­own­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion fee of $180.

“We don’t so­cial­ize a lot, but we are here to help each other.”

Ruina says she’s fa­mil­iar with work­ing with an ar­chi­tect and a builder, hav­ing con­structed a cus­tom house in Chapel Hill, N.C., with her late hus­band.

“I like think­ing about house de­sign,” she says. “The op­tions in newly con­structed hous­ing are so lim­ited. Mod­ernism as seen in places like Hollins Hills (in Alexan­dria, Va.), built in the 1950s and ’60s, ap­pears to be his­tory — but why?”


“I was for­tu­nate to be able to buy a beau­ti­ful piece of prop­erty with views of fields and moun­tains,” Ellen Ruina says.

Flank­ing the 11-foot-tall liv­ing space is a screened porch at one end and main bed­room suite at the other.

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