Vernon Mays -- Interior Design, 1/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Glass houses aren't just for the Philip Johnsons of the world, as Robin Dripps and Lucia Phinney can attest. Their 3,500-square-foot farmhouse in Batesville, Virginia—a perpetual work in progress—has suffered the vagaries of design experimentation for 35 years. Both professors at the University of Virginia School of Architecture and founding principals of the firm Architecture & Urbanism, they had already built a catwalk for their home office and a cylindrical space for their foyer, the latter ventilated by a set of glass wedges raised and lowered on pulleys. So when the couple finally turned their attention to the long-overlooked bathrooms, the project seemed perfectly doable.
Dripps, who restores vintage motorcycles when not retooling syllabi, has a fondness for fabrication and assembly. "We decided to make everything in the bathrooms," she deadpans—adding, after a pause: "Very smart."
Teaming up with Ryan Hughes, a former student, Dripps and Phinney designed the master bathroom upstairs and the half bath directly below as a single concept, sharing structure, sight lines, and materials. "We leveraged the space by connecting the two," Phinney explains. Hughes did the materials research and handled the fabrication and construction.
The two-story box containing the bathrooms is enclosed by clear and frosted panels of glass and acrylic, the latter where extensive drilling and cutting were required. "We did things that required a lot of fittings, and you just can't get the accuracy with glass," Dripps explains. All the panels fit neatly into a grid of aluminum tubes, channels, and T angles.
In the master bathroom, the focal point is a sculptural tub of stainless steel, fashioned in the spirit of a Corbusier chaise longue. "No other material could have achieved this slim shape with such grace," Hughes says. The tub floats ever so slightly above the floor grid, most of its 4-foot squares being tempered and laminated glass. Directly beneath the tub, however, two clear acrylic squares allow its underside to be visible from the half bath downstairs.
The existing ceiling of the master bath was originally going to remain, but the rough trusses started clamoring for attention once construction of the more refined intervention had begun. A staggered pattern of perforated aluminum panels was the last-minute solution.
Awash in custom details—from the mounting of the sparkling light fixtures to the showerhead assembly and the pair of 16-gauge sinks welded into the stainless-steel counters, then ground and polished to a flawless finish—the project employs foot upon foot of stainless tubing that Hughes specially bent and cut to length. He used it for the tub's supply lines and drain and connectors under the sinks.
A year into the process, the three veteran tinkerers' preoccupation with customization reached the point where Dripps wondered aloud: "What if we designed our own toilet?" It's all a matter of knowing when to stop.
Clockwise from top left: Both bathrooms' frosted-glass doors hang from fasteners made of stainless steel. A mirrored wall visually doubles the 25-square-foot half bath downstairs. Panels of translucent glass and clear acrylic separate the master bath from an office on the catwalk. The box enclosing the master bath measures 10 by 12 feet.