Pope-Leighey House adventure

This morning Dr. Jay and I packed up the toddler and traveled a few miles south to a little architectural gem that’s been on our list to visit for a while, the Pope-Leighey House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  I realized once we were there that it was my first time in a FLW house- a big deal for me.


The house was originally built in 1940, commissioned by Loren Pope and his family.  It was first located in Falls Church, and the family lived there for about five years until they needed a larger home for their expanding brood (the house is only about 1200 square feet).  Mrs. Marjorie Leighey was the second owner and lived in the home until 1964 when it was condemned to be torn down by the oncoming expansion of Route 66.  Mrs. Leighey struck a deal with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the house was moved (sort of) to its current location in south Alexandria, the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation.  She was permitted to continue occupying the house and did so until her death in the early 1980s.  In 1996 the house was again moved, but just 60 feet from its previous spot so as to more accurately portray what the original site orientation would have been.

woodlawnplantation Woodlawn Plantation home

Our tour was given by C.J. Lamora, a local designer and devotee of Frank Lloyd Wright.  He stressed that the house is a prime example of FLW’s Usonian house ideal, the concept being that the house is modest in size so as to be affordable for American families, efficient in design and well-sited for the surrounding environment.  FLW relied on three major materials: brick, cypress wood and concrete.



He also used these geometric cut-out shapes as a motif throughout the house at the clerestory level, a theme fairly common in the Usonian houses.

We weren’t permitted to take photos inside (major bummer) but I’ll share some photos I took of the exterior and talk more about the interior with some images I’ve gathered from the world wide web.



You can see the deep overhangs, typical of a FLW design.  I was once told that these serve to limit the amount glare from the sun in that particular site line, so that you would have a more even view of the horizon.







Spring was out in bloom today.


I loved the use of built-in planters around the house.



As our tour guide mentioned, you can see the strong use of horizontals throughout the house.  This is part of Wright’s ideals of connection to the land.  There is a 6’8” datum line for most of the ceilings (doors reach this datum line as well) that serves to reinforce a human scale and make the spaces seem more intimate.  In this house, it is broken only in the living room, where the space expands and light from the south facing wall fills the room.

Photo of the living room found online:




Original drawing of the plan:


Here’s a link to more interior photos, which seem to be protected so that I can’t reproduce them here.

While flipping through one of my books on Frank Lloyd Wright, I found that there was an article written by Mr. Pope (a journalist in Washington D.C.)  in House Beautiful in which he praised Wright’s efficient design for the home.  Because this article was so well-written and widely read across the country, it served to catapult Wright’s popularity and gain him clients at the end of the WWII and into the 1950s. 

We enjoyed the short tour and ability to walk around the beautiful landscape in spring.  I definitely recommend a trip to the Pope-Leighey house if you are in the area and appreciate historic architecture or just want to be inspired by Wright’s work, as I was today.


light reading

Mark and I had a date at the library last Friday.  There is the sweetest little library only about a mile from us (if you knew me, you’d know how often I use the phrase “only about a mile from us”; it could be a drinking game, seriously) and I know that we are terribly fortunate to be able to walk to it. We had a delightful time and Mark was a real peach.  He even let me pick out some books for myself after I tore him away from the mega-blocks and board books in the children’s section.


From the top:

Being Perfect by Anna Quindlen

The American Barn by Randy Leffingwell

The Green Home by Bridget Biscotti Bradley and the editors of Sunset Books

The Complete Guide to Designing Your Own Home by Scott Ballard, AIA

Can you tell where my head’s been lately?  That first book, Being Perfect, is more of an essay with photographs.  I really enjoy Anna Quindlen’s writing (I think this is the third book of hers I’ve read) and this is short and satisfying.  I read it over lunch.

The American Barn?  Well, I wanted to look through all the photos for inspiration.  This is the one book I haven’t delved into yet, but that’s because I’ve been reading through The Green Home and the Designing Your Own Home books.  You may wonder why I, as an architect, would need a book like this.  Well, Dr. Jay and I will definitely build our own home at some point, and since we are making the move down south, that could potentially happen in the next few years.  We realized in talking about this a few weeks ago that despite having savings for a house, we aren’t really sure how the financing of a residential construction project works.  This book dedicates a few chapters to this subject, and though it’s from 1995, it’s helpful for me to read about the process and remind myself of all the preliminary work and decisions involved.  Knowing what to expect in advance could save us a lot of energy, and money!  This book is also written by a University of Texas at Austin graduate, which I didn’t realize until I got it home.  I think it must have been calling to me from the library shelves.

I grabbed The Green Home because I’d like to start researching materials (and pricing) for this pie in the sky home we might one day build.  Cork floors seem like the have lots of benefits (easy on the legs, a rapidly renewable material, relatively inexpensive, good for the wear and tear of a dog and children) but I’m wondering how they perform if they’ve been painted?  I was thinking that a classic black and white checkerboard pattern could be great for a kitchen, but would that work on cork?  Please let me know if you’ve had experience with this.

If I make more headway in the category of Our Future Home, I’ll certainly let you know.  Right now I divide my thinking/internet research time between that, pinning images on PInterest, and looking for places to move in Tennessee.  That’s what’s been going on here, lately.  We’re glad it’s March and hoping the winter weather and sickies are behind us!

Welcome to Alexandria

Well, I’ve been here for a while now.  But in honor of some great friends moving here very soon (Hi S and W and G!) I thought I’d write a post listing all my favorite places in the OT (Old Town for those of you who don’t speak my jive).

Here we go:

Favorite Restaurant:  Fontaine Caffe and Creperie


They make the absolute best crepes.  So satisfying and freshly made.  They are also gluten-free (made with buckwheat) if that’s your bag.  And the owner is usually there and really nice.  Fontaine hosts a French movie night every Thursday, where they show French films for free and you can enjoy crepes (sweet or savory) if you like.  Oui Oui!  Last year they opened Petite Fontaine Salad & Company right next door.  It’s a more grab and go style restaurant but still with the same high-quality ingredients.  Delicious sandwiches.  I LOVE sandwiches.

Favorite Boutique:  Red Barn Mercantile


And I’m not just saying that because the owner, Amy, let me speak at her workshop.  It’s honestly one of the best shops in Old Town for home goods and unique finds.  RBM carries an awesome line of custom furniture (Cisco Brothers), Dash and Albert Rugs, beautiful lamps and bed linens and it’s all very lovingly displayed.  The store just makes my heart sigh.  All the employees are very knowledgeable and helpful with their interior design expertise.

Favorite (Discount) Store:  Crate and Barrel Outlet


Enough said, right?  It’s pretty amazing that we have a Crate and Barrel Outlet right here in Old Town.  I discovered it within the first few days of moving here and the pot rack I scored there has probably single-handedly saved our kitchen.  There have been numerous pieces of furniture I’ve had to pass on due to our lack of space.  I hear they get shipments on Tuesdays.  We also have a Gap Outlet and Nine West Outlet, but those aren’t as exciting to me as Crate and Barrel.

Favorite Cupcake Shop:  Lavender Moon Cupcakes

lavender moon

I know the cupcake craze may be on its way out, but for me this place will always be a huge hit.  And conveniently, it’s very close to Fontaine.  Try the flourless chocolate with sea salt and wonder why flour was every put in a cupcake to begin with. 

Favorite Place to get Caffeinated:  Buzz Bakery


When we lived in Austin, there was an amazing coffee shop just a few short blocks away (Caffe Medici- how I miss you!) where I spent many a Sunday afternoon studying for my architecture exams.  Buzz is nothing like Medici, but it’s still a great place to get a mean latte and iced coffee.  It’s super cute inside (light and cheery- the opposite of Medici, which is sophisticated and masculine) and Mark and I love walking there with Rudy.  We’d love it if they installed a drive-thru.

Favorite Place to Swoon over Stationery:  Paper Source


I’m addicted to paper and crafts, so Paper Source is where I go to get my fix.  And see my friends.

Favorite Place to Run and Walk the Dog:  Mount Vernon Trail


I was literally out running on this trail the day we moved in.  I can’t get enough of it.  I’ve run all the way to Georgetown on this trail (back in my marathon-training days) and our proximity to the trail and the Potomac is one of the things that drew us to this place.

Favorite Place for Pancakes:  Extra Perks Coffee Shop and Cafe


[confession: the above photo is not from Perks, but these pancakes are very similar]

They make incredible pancakes here- really cakey, just like I like them.  And they carry all sorts of British goods because the owner is British.  So if S and W got really addicted to HP Sauce living in London, now they know where to find it.

Favorite Place for Salads and Sandwiches:  Bittersweet


Did I mention I love sandwiches?  I could probably eat here every day and not get bored.  I’d weigh 350 pounds, but I would not be bored.

Favorite Store:  Old Town ACE Hardware


Hardware stores are some of the best places to spend a morning.  The folks here are ridiculously nice and helpful.  When I was pregnant they wouldn’t even let me walk down the paint aisle until they heard it wasn’t me doing the painting, I was just picking up something for my husband.  They’ve given me lots of great suggestions, like to store spray paint upside down.  Did you know that one?


There you have it, my top ten favorites of Old Town.  We’re excited for our new neighbors.  S & W & G, we’re glad you’re here.  Can we go out for cupcakes now?

A whole lotta shakin’ going on

My friend sent me this and I said HA really loudly (in my head because Mark is napping).


We’re all fine here, thanks.  I was actually in the car with my son and dog and we definitely felt the shaking but I didn’t realize it was an earthquake at the time, probably because I had about a million thoughts running through my head as usual and I was paying attention to the traffic in Old Town.  It took the DJ on the radio saying something about “earthquake in Fredericksburg” and then seeing all the folks in Old Town outside their office buildings as if there were 50 simultaneous fire drills going on before I realized that it was an earthquake.  So my husband says I didn’t really feel it since I just thought the car was being rocked by our son in his car seat (irrational I know, but as a mother sometimes we are irrational, no?), but what does he know?  We’re all entitled to our own earthquake experience.

I’m glad it wasn’t more serious and that no one was hurt.  Definitely something for the baby book.  Speaking of babies, congrats to two great friends that had babies this week!  One new momma (in Virginia, on the very day of the quake!) and one second-time momma.  Congrats, ladies!  All that hard work during pregnancy has paid off.

I should be back tonight with another earth-shattering post featuring dear old Alexandria!