In 1964, when architect and homebuilder Ken Bonner, 75, built the first home south of the Dulles Access road in Reston, he remembers having to transport a portable generator to the building site in the back seat of his 1957 Ford because there were no power lines yet.
“It was rough,” he said. “That was a cold, wet winter and I was building primarily in the mud, with only woods around me. We had to haul all our equipment down there by hand and on foot from Reston Parkway. There wasn’t any other road to drive on yet.”
The home, Reston’s first detached single-family house, still stands today on Stirrup Road and turns 50 this year, along with Reston itself.
The modern-design home, built when Bonner was only 25, has been featured in national magazines and still is considered a technological marvel for its use of space, natural lighting and energy-conserving design. He since has built approximately 65 other homes in Reston, as well as some residential apartment buildings.
“My philosophy has always been to maintain the natural beauty of a homesite,” Bonner said. “I like to build in such a way as to utilize natural sunlight and preserve trees. My idea was always to integrate a human living space into nature in an environmentally sensitive way.”
In the 1960s, Reston founder Robert E. Simon Jr. was eager to give Bonner a chance to build throughout Reston with that philosophy in mind.
“I well remember the pleasure it gave me in the early days of the development of Reston to show Ken Bonner’s houses off to visiting firemen and media people,” Simon wrote in a letter of recommendation to Bonner in 1984. “They were outstanding among the single-family detached houses built by others …”
Joan Smith has lived in Reston’s first stand-alone house since 1967. She and her husband purchased it from the Segman family, the home’s first owners, when they moved out after only three years.
According to both Smith and Bonner, Ralph and Sally Segman became disillusioned when other environmentally conscious homes were not built on surrounding lots. They voiced their displeasure in a newsletter they created that eventually became the Reston Times newspaper.
“This is the room where the Reston Times was born,” said Smith, pointing to her den.
Smith, who graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and calls herself unconventional, said she was immediately drawn to the house for its unique spacial and conservational properties.
“It was built in an oriented-north-to-south-passage solar design,” she said.
Smith explains this means the sun lights her kitchen when it rises in the morning, lights her living room as it crosses the sky midday, and then lights her den as it begins to set. The home also is outfitted with several ceiling skylights, making electric lighting unnecessary on most sunny days.
“There is also an eave that juts out beyond my roof in the back,” she said. “It allows the sun in the winter to warm my floor, but in the summer, when the sun is slightly higher in the sky, the eave prevents the sunlight from coming in that far.”
When asked how Reston has changed in 50 years, both Bonner and Smith agree that what is most notable is how Reston has not changed.
“There is still a great sense of community and involvement,” Smith said. “When I first moved here, there were about 130 people. That was it. We had to be communal. There was no other choice. But I am glad to see that spirit still alive today, now not by necessity, but by desire.”
Bonner, who has himself lived in Reston since 1968, agreed.
“What amazes me is that Reston still looks relatively the same,” he said. “The trees that act as a buffer between homes still mostly remain even though there are at least 60,000 residents now. That is truly a unique quality that Reston has maintained.”