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Glass Castle

A Maryland couple transforms their suburban rambler into a modern masterpiece with exceptional views.

Light now pours into Daniel and Magdalah Silva’s entry lounge, where they can relax on a chair and pouf by Paola Lenti through Contemporaria.

Rock-like poufs center the B&B Italia sofas in the family room, bringing nature’s “sense of strength” inside, says Magdalah Silva.

The Boffi kitchen conceals major appliances, so there’s no visual separation from the family room­—even the stovetop resembles a table more than a place for cooking.

The entry encloses a Zen-like garden, setting the mood for what awaits inside.

Magdalah and Daniel Silva live in a Maryland subdivision known for its wooded 1-acre lots, but they owned their rambler for 15 years before they could actually see the nature that surrounds it.

“The house was closed in and had a large deck area you could only use in perfect weather,” Magdalah says, referring to her Silver Spring home. Because the deck was the only space that offered panoramic views of their large backyard, the Silvas could only enjoy the vista on a handful of days.

Something had to change, especially since the couple has steadily built their IT consulting firm to the point where they work up to 14-hour days on multiple contracts with the federal government. “Sometimes, at the end of the day, you need a little bit of repose,” Magdalah says.

They called modernist architect Lavinia Fici Pasquina, whose own home had been featured on the cover of a local design magazine in 2008 (which Magdalah clipped and saved “for the appropriate time”). Pasquina, who also teaches architecture at Catholic University, brought on her former student, DC architect John Nahra, for the task of opening the house to its natural surroundings.

“She wanted to change her lifestyle,” Pasquina says, referring to Magdalah’s desire for the home to offer meditative qualities, with its interior spaces having a seamless connection to the outside. “Looking at the house and its potential, I realized the intervention was going to be more than a front entrance and back porch.”

The result is what Pasquina calls the Cross House. She and Nahra took advantage of the Silvas’ expansive corner lot and designed an addition that takes the home’s rectangular footprint and turns it on the diagonal, reorienting it from front to back.

Steel pergolas extend from the addition on both ends, supported by white stucco frames. The front-side frame encloses an Asian garden marked by pebbles, rocks and a pond; three square “cushions” on the exterior ledge echo larger Caesarstone floor tiles inside, which visually usher a visitor through the entry lounge and into the main house.

While the front frame welcomes people from the outside in, Pasquina says, the rear frame expands their view from the inside out. Irregular-shaped skylights mimic the geometry of the pergola outside, and the new family room allows 180-degree views of the lot year-round.

“We can enjoy the snowfall,” Magdalah says. “I can enjoy the seasons changing. It becomes just part of your life.” The Silvas have a new sense of tranquility, she adds, “feeling that, when you’re home, you’re in an environment that’s calming and strengthening at the same time.”

When Pasquina and Nahra rearranged the front and back, they also attacked the spaces in between. The original layout consisted of two, large horizontal spaces for the living room and kitchen, mostly cut off from each other by a wall enclosing separate fireplaces on each side.

The architects created one opening in the wall to accommodate a long, elegant gas fireplace to enliven both areas at the same time. “The fireplace, for me—it’s not just for gathering; it’s a filter to divide the space,” Pasquina says.

The addition blew out the exterior walls of the kitchen and living room, making way for the dramatic entrance in front and the expansive family room in back. The new Boffi kitchen, Magdalah says, is the heart of the home. “It becomes an interaction, where the cooking is part of the living—there’s no demarcation.”

Where walls and doors once closed each space off from another, their absence is notable in Pasquina and Nahra’s design. Magdalah notes the new openness is as much psychological as it is physical.

“Aesthetically, you feel like you’re stepping outside, even though you’re enclosed,” she says. “It really does create a sense of wellness, a sense of peace, a sense of welcoming and a sense of harmony.”