McLean Deck & Outdoor Room

UPDATE 7.18, see end of post!

A few months ago we began the design process for a lovely existing home in McLean, VA. The clients wanted a new second story outdoor room (the words screened-in porch, sunroom, screen room, outdoor room, etc all were bandied between us) and also an open deck. In chatting with the clients and in surveying the property, I could see almost immediately that this would be a project where finesse and sensitivity to the existing architectural lines would be important. The home is a late 1970′s ‘Midcentury Modern’, with a West Coast panache that is remarkable. Entirely sheathed in redwood siding, the home underwent a major renovation in the early 2000′s, and the lines vastly improved by Mickey Simpson Architects. Mickey adroitly fixed some longstanding siding issues by giving the home appropriately weighty roof overhangs all around, as well as improving the shading and shadow lines of the facades. Lap-seam metal siding above the garage also improved the feel of the space by modernizing the look and clean lines of the front deck.

photo by
prior to major renovation, photo by


The home today

At some point a very large second story backyard deck was built, and it was in this area that the clients wanted to rebuild. Construction methods for this existing deck were ‘creative’,  and in addition to dubious load support framing of the deck and support posts, the deck was also simply coming to the end of its life. So, a teardown was planned with all new appropriate, to-code framing, support posts, and footers dug to carry the load of the new deck.

old awful deck must come down

The design itself came together over a period of weeks as I juggled client wishes (e.g., program elements) with design ideas which honor the look & feel of the space. Above all else, in deck and outdoor room designs I strive to create spaces which do not look ‘tacked on’ as an afterthought to the main house’s architecture. A striking feature to this home are the strong protruding ‘wings’ which extend about 4′ out from the rear facade; they create a ‘frame’ visually, the planes of which I did not want to arbitrarily break with the new deck and outdoor room. I also love the bifurcated roof, and I knew I wanted to bring that strong sloping plane down into whatever room design I would come up with.  The clients’ wishes included having one set of the existing sliding glass doors to open up onto the deck, while the other set of glass doors should open up into the outdoor room. Proximity to the kitchen dictated that the room be positioned to the left, and the deck to the right. I loved the idea of making the space as open and airy as possible, while still making an area secure against rain and wind, as well as our notorious buggy weather. Large open spaces are a lovely byproduct of traditional timberframing techniques, so I combined timberframing with the typical framing techniques found in high quality deck construction and presented this: The outdoor room’s key feature is the use of large retractable screen panels, which allow for the space to be completely open on fair days, as well as unifies the deck floor both under the floating roof and out into the exposed deck areas. At the touch of a button, screens roll down and the entire room can be screened off in just a few moments for bug-free entertaining. The combination of heavy timberframe beams along with the open airy spaces makes for a lively and really pleasant atmosphere. Stay tuned, we’re breaking ground on this project presently and will have construction photos soon…

UPDATE 7.13.14

The old deck has been successfully demo’d and disposed of responsibly:

An interesting architectural feature of the home’s original small balconies can be seen above. The joists for the balcony are actually the same as for the 2nd story floor, they extend out through the facade 4′ (the existing 3rd story master bedroom suite balcony is the same way, you can see it upper left).

Framing starts next week!


Framing continues in earnest, the crew is really going full steam and making great headway.


Some extensive rot was occurring in the fascia boards and railings of the upper balconies, those have been replaced as well.

We’ll wait several months for the new wood to dry down and silver, then we will blend a custom stain to match the existing redwood.


Progress continues, the crew is making haste slowly

Perfect deck-building weather day after day means this project is coming together fast.


Staircase rail posts and railings going in. To do: Install stair lights and top rails

Even though the square footage is quite generous (indeed, it’s larger than the previous deck), because care was taken with lines and railing choices, the deck appears quite tidy and not like a tumor growing from the house. Above you can see one of the 4′ ‘wings’ extending out from the rear facade of the house.

Above you can see how we solved the architectural puzzle of the floating 2nd story interior floor joists. If you recall, in the original blueprints these joists were taken right through the rear wall of the home and extended out into a 4′ balcony. One must tread carefully when dealing with original construction: It would be unwise to simply saw these off, install the ledgerboard, and be on our way framing out a typical deck. In addition to creating holes which would need careful sealing, it’s a dishonorable quick fix which damages the history of the house, in my opinion. Instead, we married our new pressure treated joists to the old joists, then brought the load carrying member out 4′,; you can see the beam to the right in the photo. That beam will carry the load from that point forward to the edge of the deck, replacing the need for the ledgerboard.

one more!

Outdoor Fireplace

I think this fireplace turned out exceptionally beautifully. Because of the age of the house as well as the design concept, a ‘patina of age’ was necessary for all of the outdoor elements.



How to achieve this with new construction? There are various ways to distress or ‘weather’ new blocks or bricks, such as tumbling or acid washing, but nothing can match the sublime beauty of genuine antique bricks. For this project, we found lovely one hundred plus year old bricks from a small supplier in Maryland. Using salvaged bricks adds to construction costs but for something like this it’s completely worth it.

What is a Pinetum, and Why Are They So (literally) Cool?

Of all the ways in which our ancestors manipulated the landscape for their benefit, surely the Pinetum (plural, Pineta) is one of the most sublime and attractive.

Think of a Pineta in the same way as you would an orchard, except planted on the geometric grid are pine trees instead of fruit or nut trees. The trick to growing and maintaining a successful Pineta is the correct selection of an appropriate Pine variety and also the correct spacing.

The Pine selected (to my way of taste) should be fairly thin-trunked in relationship to its overall height. In our area, Limber Pine, Lodgepole Pine, and especially Loblolly Pine make great Pinetum. Pick one species only, and plant them far enough apart so that at maturity, the canopies healthily touch and cross without overly rubbing and crowding (which would promote disease). Pines which naturally shed their lower limbs are perfect, although some pruning needs to occur as the trees become established. Limbing up pines helps to develop a more umbrella shape to their individual form, which is exactly what we want.

Pinetum are best sited on the southern side of a property in order to maximize its benefits and catch prevailing summer breezes. A well designed Pineta creates a cool microclimate with high, filtered sunlight and a lovely carpet of pine needles below. The sound and smell in a Pineta are soothing, especially when the winds pass strongly through the branches, and the sweet fragrance of resin is prevalent.




Villa Doria Pamphili, Rome– area of the original Pinetum (G.B. Falda, Giardini de Roma, 17th Century)

Below is a ‘Pinetum-wannabe’, it’s a grove or bosco of Eastern White Pines I actually helped to plant when I was a lad. I don’t think Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine) make the best variety for Pineta because they are strongly whorled trees (branches grow in rings) and their enormous girth over time, these trees are easily 2-3 feet in diameter. Nevertheless, if the property management would commit to clearing out all of the dead or fading lower branches I think it would help immeasurably. By limbing up you lighten and open up what could otherwise be felt as dark and brooding, and the trunks themselves begin to resemble the columns of a high building, say a cathedral.

Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobus

Massive Image Post

Keeping up with social media and greeneyedesign’s other pages around the Internet, sometimes updates and posts here become neglected. To change all that, here are some recent drawings and work:

As always, click the image to embiggen

Another client in Great Falls:

A commercial space in McLean, VA:

This is something to pin up and show clients how the design is developing, below are the finished sheets:


Virginia Hospital Center

Several months ago I began discussing with The Virginia Hospital Center the possibility of designing several planting areas scattered around the hospital grounds, difficult, high traffic or neglected areas of opportunity. During the course of those conversations we were offered a fabulous opportunity: Develop & design a new outdoor space at the confluence of three major structures: Between the main hospital building & the Women & Infants health center and above the subterranean Radiation Oncology suites.

click images to embiggen

It is the Oncology Department which is the driving factor in this project;  a new,  state-of-the-art Linear Accelerator (pdf file) and its encompassing support suites are to be built below the space, resulting in a seven million dollar major engineering and architectural change to the facility.

To date, the space seen above has over time become a bit of a catchall in terms of engineering solutions– by that I mean, the outdoor environment has been utilized primarily as a repository and support system for the existing radiation suites below.

Here we see the cooling units for the Cyberknife® suite and supporting equipment. Obviously maintaining optimal temperatures is critical with multimillion dollar equipment, and this space represented the nearest, most cost-effective location.

The raised planter in the foreground is an integral part of the radiation shielding assembly, which consists of several feet of reinforced concrete, lead lining, brick, and of course the several feet of earth inside the planter. The planter’s shape reflects the radiation oncology suite below ground.

A space was opened up at ground level in order to crane in various pieces of heavy, precious medical equipment, and a skylight was seen as a beneficial solution in case repairs or replacements ever had to be made in the future. Unfortunately, it’s been plagued with leaks and has been quite a liability overall.

This much taller planter is part of another suite’s shielding assembly, and again the brick and earth are absolutely critical in terms of radiation abatement. Removing this planter would result in hundreds of thousands of dollars being incurred in additional lead shielding and the structural support required to bear the additional load (around forty additional tons on this small footprint).

Stowmwater runoff is dealt with inefficiently, as a problem to be moved as quickly as possible away from the space.

It strains credulity, but a stairwell (over on the left) pops up into the space as well, a mandatory fire safety element the need for which thankfully will be eliminated with the new construction.

An abandoned door into the space will be removed with the construction, but what of this narrow ‘hallway’? A recent awning removal reveals stained brick which adds to the feeling of disjointed uneasiness.

As patients/visitors drive in, this is what they see from curbside.

Conclusions: This is a fabulous area, rich with the patina of age and full of unique design challenges. In my next post, I will start to lay out our design process, our goals, and how we will achieve them.


Fairfax Country Club

We were recently engaged to do the design, installation, and maintenance for several lovely massive pots flanking the front entrance to The Country Club of Fairfax. These are combinations of pussy willow, curly willow, Redtwig Dogwood, dried hydrangea blossoms, and Virginia Juniper, along with Southern Magnolia tips. They are quite large (the larger containers have an overall height now of about 8′-9′) and now really frame the entrance well. Cheers!

click images to embiggen

inside the work, clients, & life @greeneyedesign