At their first design meeting, Cunningham presented a cardboard model of adjacent two-story wings connected by a one-story, irregularly shaped trapezoid. The wings were splayed across the hillside on an angle: one containing the living spaces; the other, an office and studio.
Baer enthusiastically embraced Cunningham’s basic idea, but she objected to locating the front door of the living quarters on the first floor. She wanted the home’s main entrance and the most important rooms, including the kitchen, the living/dining space and the master suite, to be located on the top floor, where the light was best. Looking to the future, she realized that keeping the main living area on one story would enable her to age in place.
Cunningham suggested building a driveway that would run under the one-story trapezoid that connects the two wings of the house. That way, Baer could park her car at the top of the hill and enter the living quarters from an entrance on the top floor.
The idea became the lynchpin of Cunningham’s design. The front door of the living quarters is at the back of the house, and can be reached by walking or driving. The public entrance to the studio wing is located at the bottom of the driveway and near the street, making it more accessible to clients. The wings are connected by the glass-enclosed walkway.
Baer and Cunningham had decided that the exterior of the house would be made of charcoal gray concrete block edged in steel and glinting copper. A similar minimalist approach prevails throughout the interior, but it is expressed differently in the two wings.
The loft-style living quarters where she relaxes and entertains offer comfort and understated luxury. The central room has 9-foot ceilings and two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows equipped with cleverly concealed shades that provide privacy.
Designed to recede from view, the kitchen has ivory Corian countertops, a wall of cabinets housing all appliances and a long white island with extensive storage cabinets beneath. A white, built-in bookshelf displaying art and brightly colored, oversize art books serves as the area’s visual focal point. The wide-planked wooden floors are dark brown.
Adjacent to the living area is the master bedroom suite with hidden closets and an oversize shower with a built-in bench—Baer didn’t want a tub. The shower walls are covered in ivory Corian, the same material as the kitchen countertops, reflecting Baer’s desire to use as few materials as possible. Natural light descends from a skylight strip above the mirrored bathroom wall. Down a flight of steps are a guest bedroom and bathroom, a laundry room and lots of storage space.
Baer crosses the glass walkway to enter the studio wing. On its back wall hang three huge and dramatically lit black and white photographs that provide guests with a stunning view of Baer’s work. Her office is located on the top floor.
Downstairs is the entrance to the two-story studio, which is large enough to stage complicated photo shoots and is equipped with rolling worktables and storage units. A glass-making kiln stands unobtrusively in the corner. Glass is stored in the darkroom that’s no longer needed in this age of digital photography. The flexibility of the studio’s design enables Baer to move easily between photography and glass-making.
Although Baer and Cunningham agreed on the house design, they had different ideas about the interior décor. “We were like an old married couple who can’t agree,” Cunningham says with a laugh. “I wanted the house to have a lot of color in it.”
Baer preferred a subdued, monochromatic palette. Inspired by the many shades of green outside her windows, she chose a pale green, custom-made couch, green leather dining chairs and a concrete dining table painted the same light green as the concrete pillar in the living room. A metal coffee table picks up the color of the loft’s exposed beams.
Cunningham may not have won the decorating debate, but he’s more than pleased with the overall result. “I visited a few months ago and I was very positively impressed,” he says. Working with the lot’s difficult terrain wasn’t easy, he says, but in the end, the house was built to take maximum advantage of sunlight.
That attention to design created a house “flooded with light all year” that exceeded Baer’s expectations. She loves waking up bathed in sunshine.
“I wanted to live in the trees, and here I am,” she says. “I live in a tree house full of scrumptious light.”
Michaele Weissman lives in Chevy Chase. She is the author of three books and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and other publications.