News

Beyond McMansions: A Falls Church Architect’s Evolving Focus

JEFF DUBRO AND FELLOW ARCHITECT Lucia Dunin-Borkowski reviewing a floorplan for one of their homes. (Photo: Jeff DuBro)
JEFF DUBRO AND FELLOW ARCHITECT Lucia Dunin-Borkowski reviewing a floorplan for one of their homes. (Photo: Jeff DuBro)

Jeff DuBro wants to renovate your house. Scratch that — he wants to reinvent your home.

Drawing inspiration from the University of Virginia’s architectural school, his parents’ ballroom dance studio and Zen Buddhism, the lead man for Maple Avenue’s DuBro Architects and Builders in Falls Church doesn’t callously craft new additions and features for your house. He absorbs each space, reflects on its connective tissue and infuses the experiential nature of the residents into the design. All of that is done to turn a hollow house into an animated home.

“There’s a relationship between things, ideas, people and energies that help us find a place,” DuBro said. “The translation of that was easily found in architecture and what develops into a home. Historically, that’s a gigantic part of our existence — how do you live?”

DuBro penned a guest commentary for the News-Press in January on the desensitization of truly living in a home, a trend he learned firsthand while flipping houses during the early 2000s.

Back then, the Falls Church architect strived to make his projects more than just another McMansion (a term that still causes him to cringe). He added custom kitchen islands or bridges to his renovations to give them some flare. However, the aesthetic embellishments often cost DuBro as potential buyers would pass on his property and rewarded developers that hugged the bottom line instead.

By 2007-08 DuBro had been thwarted by the market too many times and decided to shift his enterprise’s direction.

“It gave us that kick in the shorts to say, ‘What do we want to be doing here?’” he said. “‘What is our place architecturally [and] as a business? How can we give something relevant to the market that makes sense and is also innovative, exciting, fresh and resourceful?’

“I started to realize that doing the big houses wasn’t really the ticket for that. I wanted our work to be accessible, and I believed that good design should be a right. It shouldn’t be this elitist thing.”

From that point on DuBro began to sculpt the future of his company.

He fostered relationships with clients so they felt intimately attached to their new home. He discarded the rigid styles houses conform to and opted for understanding the “a-stylistic language” of the home to dictate a design’s direction. Weaving together considerations for the environment and how structures interacted with neighboring houses were also paramount to DuBro as he transformed the homes.

All of these elements factored into the company’s new mantra of “living architecture” — a not-so-subtle jab at the cavernous McMansion’s that reluctantly occupy DuBro’s early portfolio.

The projects came to defy industry standards in more ways than one.

When assessing the panorama of American houses from coast to coast, DuBro spotted missed opportunities. A home in Topeka shouldn’t mirror one built in Arlington. There was never an effort to construct intrinsically unique spaces or be thoughtful about the culture surrounding the houses.
That needed to change, and DuBro found ways to make it happen while turning a profit in the process.

Ecological footprints of houses needed to be addressed as well. Newer houses touted their “green” designations, but rarely lived up to the moniker.
Again, DuBro elected not to fall in line with the conflicting concepts of the housing market.

“‘Green’ has been so bastardized. It ends up becoming a marketing slogan for people and is misplaced so many times,” he said. “We’re in the process of trying to develop a new paradigm, a new way of looking at what’s green. We want to be this ‘jade’ builder where it’s more holistic thinking. Jade is applied green, so you take this idea of green and apply it.”

Creating discourse about the difference between houses, homes and how design can embody the people living within them is a principal objective of DuBro’s. A strict reliance on the raw economics when developing a property leaves the house detached and often at odds with its inhabitants. Acknowledging the significance of the pre-existing features while determining which areas are suffocated of meaning are critical to the architect’s progression through any project.

It’s why he likens a home to a well-fitted garment. You know right away by how it embraces its residents that the home seamlessly meshes with their lifestyles. Much like the Victorian houses peppered throughout the Little City, DuBro’s homes carry on the spirit of their time by representing what’s important to the citizens of Falls Church.

But that doesn’t make the job any easier. For DuBro, inherently caring about the finished product presents the greatest obstacle.

“The challenge is the love,” he said. “Being able to develop a concept that makes sense and develop it into something that can be crafted and actually have somebody live in it. That’s the most gratifying process aside from raising kids that I can imagine.”