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Vertical House

Actually, it's all of the above — multiple factors establishing an exhilarating, three-dimensional space in a house that flows seamlessly and luxuriantly from one area to another, from floor-to-floor.

"Your house is going to be a work of art." That's the promise Jay Hugo, a partner in Richmond architecture firm Bond Hugo Farley, made to clients Sandy and Heyn Kjerulf during the design phase for the house the couple sought to transform.

"I thought that was awfully cocky," Heyn thought to himself at the time.

Rather than a work of art, what the Kjerulfs had in mind was a place for art. "We wanted lots of natural light to show off the stuff we had collected over the years," Heyn says offhandedly.

After many years of living in suburbia, the Kjerulfs craved city living where they might enjoy strolling to restaurants and an occasional class at Virginia Commonwealth University — and become far less dependent on the automobile.

They also wanted Sanford Bond for the job, an architect who maintains an international project list of houses. "We knew his work and knew that his own Fan house was the only home we would have moved into just as it was," Heyn says. At Bond's lower Fan townhouse he had removed many walls and reconfigured the interior, an approach he would take for the Kjerulfs.

The opportunity for the collaboration arose in the form of a 22-foot wide, four-story, corner house that hadn't been lived in for 30 years.

"It had been trashed, it was a wreck," says Heyn, "but that actually turned into a plus." Architect and client didn't have to be shy or guilty about ripping out woodwork, moldings and other historic architectural features that had already deteriorated beyond hope.

The challenge for Bond and company was transforming the typically longish, narrow and constrictively boxy interior into an open and flowing space.

Standing in the main floor's front living and dining area, one's eye is now drawn all the way through the house to large windows that overlook a hothouse and a tiny, outdoor walled garden that is paved in rectangular chunks of bluestone.

The long and narrow interior horizontal floor planes (1,500-square-feet on three lower floors and 600-square-feet on the top floor) are broken up visually by a glass and metal elevator shaft that cuts a powerful, vertical and sculptural line up the center of the house.

If the overall effect is like a landscape, Bond says it was intentional. He wanted the interior to be akin to looking out onto a rural or mountainous view where one's gaze doesn't land on just one thing. Rather, one's eye bounces from plane to plane. The Catch-22 was that although client and architect desired open spaces, The Kjerulfs' numerous works of art required extensive wall space.

This led to Bond's "art wall." The inner wall of the corner house was freed up and made a continuous plane, from the newly excavated English basement shooting up to the fourth floor. Set along the wall, but not touching it, Bond placed a continuous rise of stairs starting at the lower level and rising straight up with only slight and subtle gyrations. The treads, like flooring throughout the house, are made of a warm, almost luminous maple. What has been created, where constricted hallways might have been, is a unique, vertical room. Brilliant.

Interior surfaces are generally one of three materials: plaster walls painted a warm white; light-hued maple floors; and steel either polished or painted a dark, warm gray.

Heyn was delighted with both the architect and contractor, Chip Spitzer, each of whom he says both brought strong points-of-view to the project. "The stronger they are, the better the resistance," he says, "Don't look for a balance between architect and builder, or you won't get that tension."

And what pleases the architect? "You never know what the light is going to be like, it changes at different times of the day," says Bond, "but it's terrific.

And does the house live up to architect Hugo's promise of being a work of art?

"It's like living in a Mark Severo sculpture," says Heyn, beaming. "It's very three-dimensional." HS

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