OLD WORLD INTEGRITY

The Valcourt's stately English manor house was built to withstand centuries-and the daily wear and tear of the couple's six kids

MARCH/APRIL 2006

BY JUDITH BELL | PHOTOGRAPHY BY BOB NAROD

When Nelcy and Jeffery Valcourt embarked on the three-and-a-half-year project to build their dream home in McLean, Virginia, they knew they wanted to create a house for the generations. The vision they took to architect Richard Radcliffe of Custom Design Concepts encompassed a desire for timeless Old World design built with a level of structural integrity unheard of today.

With Nelcy’s mother living with the family and six children ranging in age from three to 13, the couple needed a home that would accommodate their family-centered, expansive style of living. “We have a big family,” says Jeffery Valcourt. “We needed a big house where everyone would have plenty of space. In our old home, several children shared rooms; we had a shortage of bathrooms on the second floor. We wanted each room to be unique, each child to have their own bedroom and bathroom and we wanted to entertain and share our home with friends and extended family. We didn’t want to create a museum; we wanted a charming, livable house where every inch could be used. With six kids, it’s going to be lived in. And we wanted to build a house that would be here for hundreds of years.”

Jeffery’s business along the eastern seaboard requires frequent and extensive travel. He and Nelcy share a passion for historic hotels and inns and routinely seek them out. “We love the dark carved wood, the attention to architectural detail, the rich fabrics one finds in these settings and the way they combine to convey a sense of history,” says Nelcy.

The couple purchased their lot in spring 2002, and Radcliffe spent six months developing the plans. “The Valcourts were drawn to brick exteriors and stone. We looked for a European style that would support those elements and we found it in the Country English manor house,” Radcliffe recalls. “There was also the challenge of scale. The house had to be sized to allow for nine bedrooms and bathrooms and the lifestyle of a large family. The Valcourts weren’t interested in imposing interiors or huge rooms; they wanted the interior to feel warm and friendly. The idea was to use all of the house all of the time.”

And they wanted the house built to withstand decades of wear and tear. The floors are mahogany throughout, even inside closets and crawl spaces. The tiles of the antique French refined limestone floor in the kitchen and family dining area are one and a half inches thick to allow for eventual resurfacing and are set in a thick mud base to prevent cracking. In the rear of the house, the fieldstone for the retaining walls was specially chosen to give a sense of warmth to the setting for outdoor gatherings around the pool.

“It’s refreshing to work on a property where the client is interested in building to structural standards of the past,” says Mike Daughtry, construction manager for builder Adrian Edwards Custom Homes. “Even in custom homes there are different levels of structure. This house exceeds maximum building standards.” Jeffery Valcourt recalls, “Mike would say, ‘You can do it this way. It might be more expensive but it’s going to look a lot better, last a lot longer.’ We told him do it the way you would if you were building it for yourself. We wanted it done right. This is the house for our lifetime.”
Handmade oversized brick, the generous use of fieldstone and broad, hand-chiseled cedar columns reinforce the 12,000 square-foot home’s sense of solidity and presence. A turret and herringbone-patterned brick further define the arched recessed doorway. A 17th-century Lithuanian lock foreshadows the attention to detail found throughout the house.

Nelcy realized and refined her goals for the interiors, working in concert with interior designer Dee Mandis of The Blue Ribbon. In Mandis, she found a designer who would interpret her vision in unexpected ways. While beige is not Nelcy’s color, Mandis asked her to trust that color could come from other things. The designer avoided, for example, the predictable reds and yellows, the jewel tones that traditionally define Old World in the American mindset. Inside the foyer, which opens onto the formal section of the house, soft gold walls showcase the grand paneled and carved solid mahogany staircase that quietly anchors the two-story space. To the left through arched French doors is the formal living room and conservatory where the children practice their music and the family entertains. A watery palette of blues and celadon creates an oasis of quiet in the busy household. “Even in its most formal state the room had to say, ‘Come in, sit down.’ It had to be inviting,” says Mandis. Here, as elsewhere in the house, she used handmade vegetable-dyed Afghan rugs to convey an understated sense of softness.

On direct axis with the front door is the dining room. While exceptional attention was paid to millwork throughout the first floor, Nelcy wanted the dining room to feel elaborate. Mandis designed a 13-piece crown molding that envelops the doorway. Decorative painter Debbie Weir, who worked throughout the house, created a subtle pattern in persimmon and gold tones that calls to mind the textural variance of raw silk. Oversized Italian Renaissance reproduction murals and Ebanista furnishings add further richness to the room.

To the left of the dining room is Jeffery’s study, where staggered studs create a 100-percent soundproof retreat. The solid Honduran mahogany room—walls, cabinetry, floor and ceiling—was built over four months by Dimitrios and Company, the craftsmen who also made the mahogany panels for the stairway and created custom stains for the doors on the first floor. “If I want to have a private meeting where I can make someone feel relaxed, this is where it happens,” says Jeffery, who worked closely with the architect and builder on the library. The room is also the long-dreamed-of retreat where he can enjoy his book collection with its emphasis on biography and history.

The rest of the home is devoted to informal family living. Off the formal dining room, the spacious kitchen, dining area, and family room flow into each other. The generous use of mahogany, limestone, granite, vintage lumber and fieldstone give this area a sense of warmth despite its openness. “I didn’t want anything trendy,” says Nelcy. “I
didn’t want to tire of something and have to come back and revisit it later. The granite for the countertops—a warm green with streaks of red—seemed at first too bold. I asked Dee if she would do it in her home and she gave me a resounding ‘yes.’”

Old and new blend effortlessly in the space. In the dining area an ebony-top antique French sideboard is accented by a collection of plates depicting seals of the medieval provinces of Italy. Hobnailed leather dining chairs and a custom semi-circular leather sofa in the family room are child-friendly and welcoming. Off the kitchen and dining area, a spacious arts and crafts room allows the children to play close at hand during meal preparation.

Nelcy wanted to bring the children into the process of creating their new home. A grandmother of six, Mandis embraced the idea, interviewing each child individually about their new room. “You can say, ‘What does a nine-year-old know about design?’ or you can acknowledge these kids have something to say, and they did. I asked, ‘Tell me what you really love.’ They all have their interests, and their rooms reflect those passions.”

The two girls closest in age—and most competitive—both wanted horses. Mandis’s solution was to give one girl a room focused on riding, and for the other, with the help of extensive murals by artist Debbie Weir, the ambiance of a horse field replete with grass-green shag rug and pink daisy fabric. The only boy in the family, now 12, wanted a room that would grow with him. He chose an Aspen log bed and an outdoor theme expressed in neutrals and Ralph Lauren fabrics. Upstairs, on the home’s third level, his 13-year-old sister opted for a cool modernist feel in tones of pale blue and minimalist furniture from West Elm.

Mandis develops her projects through color. “Once I find that door I can creep through almost any space,” she explains. “But the challenge upstairs was someone wants purple, another wants pink, or blue—how do you do that without creating a rainbow of colors? The house had to be fun but also urbane. The key was discovering a tonal range with some sophistication. Then it’s the fabric, the wood, that start to make the whole picture come together.”

A serendipitous design decision came about for the open area above the family room and off one of the children’s rooms. “When Mike told me this was attic space,” recalls Jeffery, “I asked if it was safe for the kids to walk on. He told me of course, the whole house is built like a fort. I suggested making a secret room, one that could be accessed through a mirror. The family reads all the Harry Potter books and had just seen the most recent movie, so the theme developed naturally.” Weir faux finished the walls to create the patina of age and painted the Harry Potter seal and other elements. Mandis and Nelcy found the props that completed the room.

“The house is so alive,” says architect Richard Radcliffe. “Nelcy has gone to great lengths to insure it comes off that way. There are no stagnant spaces. Even the conservatory, which in most homes would be for show, is used all the time. From the front door all the way through, everything has purpose.”

Over-sized handmade brick, the generous use of fieldstone and broad, hand-chiseled cedar columns reinforce the 12,000 square-foot home’s sense of solidity and presence.

Judith Bell is an art historian, features and fiction writer based in Washington, DC. Photographer Bob Narod is based in Sterling, Virginia.

Architecture: Richard Radcliffe, Custom Design Concepts, McLean, Virginia
Builder: Adrian Edwards Custom Homes, Reston, Virginia
Interior Design: Dee Mandis, The Blue Ribbon, McLean, Virginia

Nelcy and Jeffery Valcourt share a passion for the dark woods and rich fabrics found in historic hotels, and wanted their home to convey a similar sense of history.

A grand paneled and carved solid mahogany staircase quietly anchors their two-story foyer (above).

A watery palette of blues and celadon creates an oasis of quiet in the formal living room and conservatory just off the foyer (above). Interior designer Dee Mandis selected the handmade vegetable-dyed Afghan rug to convey an understated sense of softness.

In the dining room, decorative painter Debbie Weir created a subtle pattern in persimmon and gold tones that calls to mind the textural variance of raw silk on the walls (above). Oversized Italian Renaissance reproduction murals add further richness to the room. Mandis designed a 13-piece crown molding that envelops the doorway.

Antique engravings lead the way into the study. Dimitrios and Company spent four months building Jeffery Valcourt’s study using solid Honduran mahogany on the walls, cabinetry, floor and ceiling. Staggered studs make this a completely soundproof retreat.

In the kitchen, the generous use of mahogany, limestone, granite, vintage lumber and fieldstone lend the area a sense of warmth (above). The warm granite countertops are streaked with red and green (right). Designed for informal family living, the kitchen is open to a dining area and the family room beyond. In the informal dining area, an ebony-top antique French sideboard is accented by a collection of plates depicting seals of the medieval provinces of Italy.

Hobnailed leather dining chairs and a custom semi-circular leather sofa in the family room are child-friendly and welcoming (above).

“Mike would say, ‘You can do it this way. It might be more expensive but it’s going to look a lot better, last a lot longer,’” Jeffery Valcourt recalls. “We told him do it the way you would if you were building it for yourself. We wanted it done right. This is the house for our lifetime.”

Examples of the exacting details the Valcourts and their design team lavished on the house include: a custom-made Boussac duvet cover adorning the Julia Gray bed in the master bedroom; the solid brass antique hardware on the powder room door; the Brunschwig & Fils drapes in the living room with their elaborate trim; and a long-awaited 17th-century lock on the front door that was imported from Lithuania.