In an upscale urban neighborhood where new houses are swallowing their lots, this four-bedroom dwelling shows startling restraint. Occupying one-third less space than its predecessor, the elegant cube preserves the lot’s lush backyard and mature trees. Ribbonlike windows and a glass wall at the rear frame those garden views, and ground-faced block cladding offers the durable, maintenance-free exterior the owner was after. “The whole house, including windows and door heights, was designed around the size of the block modules,” says architect Robert M. Gurney. “There is no cut block.”

There also is no wasted space. The rooftop holds a 1,100-square-foot deck, which is reached via a lithe steel stair that hangs off the side of the building. “We didn’t want to eat up interior space with a long stair,” Gurney says. “It’s a nice experience going out of the house, up the stairs, back into the building, and up to the roof.” Layered sections of mahogany and charcoal-colored block walls define the entry sequence and establish a rhythm from the street. Inside, dark walnut flooring and white walls provide a canvas for the furnishings.

“To make it so simple is so much more difficult,” a judge said approvingly. Another singled out the entry canopy, noting that “it respects the scale of the neighborhood.”

Entrant/Architect: Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, Architect, Washington, D.C.; Project architect: Brian Tuskey, Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, Architect; Builder: Freedom First Homes, Bethesda, Md.; Living space: 2,200 square feet; Site: 0.23 acre; Photographer: Maxwell MacKenzie.

Resources: Bathroom fittings: Vola,; Bathroom fixtures: Duravit,; Cooktop: Wolf,; Dishwasher: Bosch,; Doors: Weathershield,; Kitchen fittings: Vola,; Lighting fixtures: Artemide,, Bega,, Lightolier,, Stonco,, Buschfeld,, LBL Lighting,; Oven: Wolf,; Paints/stains/wall finishes: Sherwin-Williams,; Refrigerator: Sub-Zero,; Windows: Weathershield,