If they haven’t been over in the last few years, friends are surprised when they come to visit Judith and Brian Forst at their Hunters Woods home.
"There have been people who have known us 30 years, and their mouths drop open as soon as they walk in the door," said Brian Forst. "From the front it looks like an ordinary house, but from the back you can see the spread of it."
John Hockensmith, who owns a Waterview Cluster townhouse, has had similar experiences.
"Anyone who has come over and never seen it, they’re pretty impressed by the transformation," he said. "People have said it is much more modern and open [than] they would have expected for a house this age."
In the last few years both Hockensmith and the Forsts have made significant renovations to their respective homes. Hockensmith, an engineer who designs kitchen and bath improvements, bought his townhouse in 1998, gutted it, and re-designed the interior. The Forsts have lived in their home since the late 1960s. In the 1990s Brian Forst, a professor at American University, was tenured. The couple started looking for homes in Washington, D.C., but were disappointed by the cost of living in the city.
"We realized this may be our dream house," Brian Forst said.
In 1998 they started renovations on their home. A year later they had built an art studio, expanded their living room, built a multi-purpose party room and added a raised stone pavilion.
NOW BOTH HOMES are being recognized for their creativity, beauty and functionality. They are part of the first annual Reston House Tour, scheduled for Saturday, June 1. The self-guided tour will include five homes from across Reston. The tour will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with about 750 tickets sold. Because so many people will be visiting the homes, tour organizer Carol Nahorniak said it may be smart to wait until the afternoon before visiting the homes.
To find potential homes for the tour, Nahorniak and others relied mostly on word-of-mouth. Then they judged the homes on a number of elements, ranging from aesthetic — "We looked for the wow-factor," Nahorniak said — to more practical considerations, like the amount of nearby parking.
When the Forsts first heard the House Tour Committee was considering their house for the tour, they were surprised.
"We love our house, but we don’t think of it as anything fancy," Judith Forst, an artist, said.
Organizer Susann Gerstein convinced the couple to include the house.
"She said this is about regular Reston houses, and how people have built their houses to accommodate them," Judith Forst said.
One of the couple’s main concerns with the renovation was that it did not darken the rest of the house. Brian Forst had noticed that many addition projects tend to include large exterior structures that block light from entering the house. To keep the house open and well-lit the couple, with the help of local architect Ken Bonner, planned high ceilings and sky lights. They built wide, doorless hallways between rooms with an airy, triangular arch between the living room and the new multipurpose room. They also installed a bank of large windows looking out the back of the house, into their wooded backyard.
"Throughout the project there was a big piece of plastic over the window," said Judith Forst, motioning to the bank of windows in the living room. "The contractor didn’t tell me when he was going to take down the piece of plastic, and when I saw the window it was overwhelming. I had imagined what it would look like, but it was even better."
WHEN HOCKENSMITH BOUGHT his Lake Anne townhouse in 1998 the interior was outdated, virtually unchanged since the house was first built in 1966. The house had been rented for seven years before Hockensmith bought it. He had been living in another home in the Lake Anne area, but wanted to find a house he could buy for cheap and rebuild from the inside.
"I like the architecture in this area," he said. "I like all the open spaces. It feels like you’re living in a park when you are in this cluster."
When he bought it, the walls of his townhouse were covered with dark wood paneling. Hockensmith stripped the walls down to the cinder blocks, replacing the wood paneling with bright colors and lively paintings by friends and family members. He also put new appliances, fixtures and cabinets in the kitchen and two bathrooms. The entire project took six months.
"I moved in halfway through the project, because the upstairs was already done," Hockensmith said. "It was neat to see the transformation."