MRT Recap: Shearman Associates // Igloo House / by Modern Richmond

September’s tour of the Igloo House boasted an unprecedented turnout.  Modern Richmond is pleased to have partnered with our friends over at R-Home to share this one-of-a-kind dwelling, which has figured so prominently on the south bank of the James River for decades.  We truly appreciate the Gardner family’s willingness to share their newly renovated home and the Igloo with our tandem group.  Special thanks to Michael Shearman and Todd Hersey of Shearman Associates for sharing their thoughts about the challenges and opportunities presented by this unique design-build project.  It was a fantastic evening of conversation, architecture, and art.

Jennifer and Graham Gardner described instantly falling in love with the ramshackle complex of buildings on their first visit to the Igloo House.  Referencing the strange combination of junkyard chic and bucolic natural beauty on display on the property, Jennifer noted that the house “looked like Sanford & Son meets Green Acres.”  The story of the house is one of creative evolution.  The original home – a 1950s rancher owned by a park ranger – was bought by sculptor Demetrios Mavroudis who built the Igloo in the 1970s as a “womb for his art.”  In the 1980s, he added two warehouse structures to the complex to accommodate his growing collection of large-scale artwork.

Mavroudis was a pioneer in the use of reclaimed and salvaged materials, and to walk around the warehouses and Igloo is a study in local history.  The Igloo boasts massive wood doors fashioned of old lab tables from the University of Richmond.  Large, gothic panels of quartersawn oak were also sourced from the University.  The variegated stone floors were salvaged from the demolition of an old federal building in Downtown.  The steel that supports the foam and stucco of the Igloo was sourced from a power plant renovation at Lake Anna.  Not all materials are precious or so steeped in history – the sculptural forms of the ceiling are the rigid foam packaging from old computer boxes.

Michael Shearman described taking inspiration from Mavroudis’ innovative recycling.  The wood of the new mantle was salvaged from another renovation and the exposed steel in the new house deliberately references the framing visible on the exterior of the Igloo.  In the central living room, the wooden glulam beams of the new addition are a nod to the exposed wood trusses in the warehouses, which the sculptor salvaged from an old warehouse in Richmond.

© Shearman Associates

© Shearman Associates

The goals for the renovations were fairly straightforward: accommodate the family of five with lots of space for the kids to have adventures and be creative, provide a new entry, and take advantage of the river views.  The addition features a new double-height living room, complete with a ‘Brady Bunch’ stair to a second floor office ‘command center’ for Jennifer.  From the moment you walk through the new entry, Graham’s “wall of glass” facing the River dominates the space.  Portions of the original house and one of the warehouses contain the bedrooms and bathrooms – which are all modest in size but rich in material and detail.  The exposed trusses of the master bedroom lend a wonderful patina to the space, which features dozens of family photographs.  One of the warehouses boasts a garage playhouse complete with large-scale climbing wall.

Of course, the most iconic of the spaces is the Igloo itself.  Located just off the kitchen and living room, the vaulted space features eclectic furnishings, the family dining table, a collection of musical instruments, a pool table, and the makings of a performance stage.  It is the rare Modern Richmond Tour where the ceiling is more interesting than a view of the James River.  However, in this case, at any given time there were dozens of people wandering around the Igloo looking up at the sculptural and textured ceiling.

The relationship between the family and the house appears mutually beneficial.  For the Gardners, the home is both striking and functional – the perfect backdrop for their active family life.  In the family, the Igloo seems fortunate to have found owners who are interested in continuing its creative evolution.

Graham, Jennifer, and architect Michael Shearman

Modern Richmond would like to thank Graham, Jennifer, Ava, Finn, and Oliver for opening up the doors of their new addition and the Igloo to our capacity crowd.  Thanks also to Michael Shearman for sharing his thoughts on the design and construction process.  We extend special thanks to our friends at R-Home and Selba for co-sponsoring the tour and providing the delicious food.

You can read more about the Gardners and the Igloo House in the Sept/Oct issue of R-Home – on newsstands now.  We'll see you soon for October's event.

-KWJ