River House

River House landscape view


The clients had a hands on approach and were very engaged in both the design and construction of their new home. Having a practical sense of what they wanted, their involvement greatly contributed to the success of the project. They chose an attractive and open site along the Allegany River in Warren, Pennsylvania. Encompassing several acres, the site gently slopes to the river and contains several large sycamore trees. The clients had definite ideas about the home's layout and initial discussions centered on an open floor plan with large windows and decks, a sunken living room with a large fireplace, a master bedroom and bath located on the first floor, and a second floor with spare bedrooms above the garage. The garage ended up playing a leading role in the layout. The clients requested at least five garage bays. Initial design concerns were focused on integrating the garage with the living space without it dominating the house.


The design sought to accomplish three main goals. First, to achieve the client’s layout, a task primarily focused on incorporating the large garage space with the rest of the home in a way that was proportionate. Second, to create a large open deck focused on the river view and integrated with the rest of the house. And last, to create a strong façade and entrance.

The solution to the garage layout rested in taking advantage of the sloped site. The terrain allowed for an open at grade basement. Using this fact to maximum effect, a large three car garage was placed on the main floor level. It then became possible to extend the driveway around the house to an additional four garage bays at the basement level, essentially stacking the garages on top of each other.

The integration of the deck and the creation of a strong façade were accomplished through the use of layered roof planes supported by a colonnade of stone pillars. The view of the river from the property faces directly west. By layering the roof planes along the western side of the home, it became possible to use large open spans of glass and deck while minimizing the effects of the western sun. This layered theme was then expanded throughout the rest of the design to visually unite the three main elements of the home; deck, living space and garage. Working in concert with the layered roof planes, the colonnade of symmetrical spaced stone pillars forms the core of the design. These stone columns integrate both interior and exterior spaces while anchoring the home to the site. The pillars work to define a series of open cathedral rooms that flow beneath the layered ceiling planes. Their orientation creates a strong façade while directing attention to the expansive river view.


Construction on the project began in the early fall of 2011 and took just over a year to complete. Some of the highlights include: geothermal heating and cooling, LED lighting, a 26’ tall wood-burning fireplace and custom built-in furniture.

The geothermal system was installed as a horizontal ground loop and it takes advantage of the homes river side location. The close proximity to the river made it possible to place the slinky field beneath the water-table, improving heat transfer. The geothermal system was also designed as a hybrid: heating hydronically through radiant tubing embedded in the concrete slabs and both heating and cooling the main living areas through the use of a forced air system. In combination with high efficiency and the current income tax break for alternative energy, geothermal promises excellent long term value.

An area that received a great deal of focus was the interior lighting. The home’s tall ceilings required a powerful lighting system that would illuminate the expansive interior while also being practical and minimizing the need to constantly change bulbs. To that end, the home’s lighting was designed as an indirect system that primarily illuminates the ceiling planes, stone columns and walls. By focusing the light on these major, primarily vertical surfaces (essentially the surfaces that the eye “sees”) we were able to call attention to the homes dramatic geometry while also minimizing the amount of light required; in essence making the space feel lighter with less light. Additionally, most of the lighting fixtures in the home utilize LEDs. Their extremely long life (50,000 hours) combined with their outstanding efficiency made them an excellent choice and a great long term value.

One aspect of the construction that required some additional forethought was the extensive use of natural stone throughout the interior. Integrating the stone columns with windows and trim and the tall nature of the columns themselves made the logistics of construction challenging. The masons where a huge part of the project and took over the interior for some time, making a mess as only masons can. Throughout the construction, large sections of scaffolding filled the interior.

The home also has three fireplaces all located within the same central block of masonry. There are two wood burning fireplaces, one in the basement and one in the first floor living room, and a third gas insert in the master bedroom. On the mason’s recommendation, the two wood burning fireplaces utilize a highly efficient Rumford firebox. The Rumford is tall and narrow and is designed to deflect the fire's radiant heat into the room. All of the hearths and mantels were also custom cut into dynamic shapes from slabs of sandstone. And finally the center “infill” sections of the living room fireplace make use of artful and technically superior dry-stacked stone.

One of the last challenges was the design and creation of several custom built pieces of furniture. Probably the most dramatic piece is the large custom built chandelier that illuminates the kitchen island. In many ways, the kitchen is the center of the home. In this house, most of the interior spaces were so tall and open, that we sought ways of making the kitchen a cozy and intimate counterpoint. The large chandelier helps create an enclosed space that is also a bright center. In addition, the seating of the kitchen island makes use of a custom designed and built bench. The raised bar and rounded edging of the island are made from Kilimanjaro granite and the upholstered bench follows a similar shape with a chamfered backing. The last significant built-in is the homes entertainment center. Built from large curved pieces of maple, it blends with the general shape of the fireplace while providing several display shelves and enclosing a large flat screen TV.


Quarried Sandstone, Local Field Stone, Kilimanjaro Granite, Black Galaxy Granite, Travertine Tile, Ash Hardwood Floors, Maple Trim, Birch Cabinets, Marvin Windows, Azek Decking, Stainless Steel Cable Railings, LED Lighting, Cement Board Siding, Radiant Heating.

Cast & Crew