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Built for History—Guilded Age Home

Built by: Commonwealth Home Design, Vienna VA Architect: Susan Caughey Pierce, AIA

How Old is This House?

This is the most commonly asked question when passersby see the “red house” in Vienna, VA. Expecting it to be 100 years or more, jaws drop when they hear the answer—2006.

The signature red house has become rather well known in Northern Virginia evoking comments such as, “I love that house” and “it’s my favorite house in the area”. Its multiple steep roofs, wrap-around porch, large columns, and deep red color combine for a striking effect that can’t be ignored.

How was this achieved?

Property History

The property on which the house is situated was originally part of Thompson’s Dairy Farm, one of the area’s significant dairies. The original farmhouse was located next door, and a Cape Cod-style home was built on the site in the 1920s for one of the grown children of Farmer Thompson. The house was quaint, but lacking insulation and adequate heating. It also was insufficient in other regards for today’s standard of living. The home had only three owners during its 100-year span, which is unusual for the transient area of Northern Virginia. Because of the extensive amount of work needed, replacing the home was more feasible than an upgrade.

Home Design

The new home is situated in the same location as the original, far back from the street, leaving a deep front yard. It was sited to disturb as few of the original large trees as possible. Broad, overarching branches enhance the historic feeling of the home’s environment.


The “red house” is a modern, energy-efficient structure that embraces the historic qualities of the surrounding landscape. It has captured the attention of a bustling suburban community and enriched the lives of the families that have occupied it.

A sense of scale was explored throughout the design process. Rooms are slightly larger than expected; the porch is spacious; and windows are moderately oversized and positioned higher than normal for optimal light and expansive views. An abundance of glass was incorporated to bring the feeling of outdoors inside. Not a scrap of space was wasted, inside and out.

No redundant circulating space was tolerated, but wider than normal stairs and landings, and oversized newel posts contribute to spaciousness. Wide interior doorways (eight feet or more) and telescoping and pocket doors allow spaces to be widely opened, or secured for privacy.

Unexpected details delight the senses. A second story “gallery” opens over the kitchen that includes corner and diamond windows, wide sills and window seats with storage. Rich amenities like a warming drawer, hot water dispenser, and central vacuum are provided for comfort and convenience.

The bold red siding is possibly the most arresting feature of the home, successfully combined with oversized dark green shingles.

The new house was thoughtfully designed for energy efficiency. Spray-foam insulation in a 5.5” cavity wall makes the house highly-insulated and stops drafts from infiltrating from the outside. It also serves as an effective sound-barrier, dampening or eliminating street noise and suburban hum.

Water is heated by two on-demand (tankless) water heaters, which flash-heat the water as it passes through the appliance. Advantages of this system are two-fold: 1) no energy is wasted keeping a tank full of water hot when not in use; and 2) it is impossible to run out of hot water.