Comfort by Design

Interior designer Susan Holtzman creates a warm, family-friendly home in Potomac full of rustic charm


The front of the house is clad in stone.

When Rich Rhodes first saw Brendan O’Neill’s development of English country homes in Potomac, sparks flew. “The site immediately conjured up thoughts for me: I could build a house that looks like a ski lodge in the winter time and a lake house in the summer time, that would be perfect,” he recalls. Rhodes and his wife Cheryl wanted a casual home where they could raise their three active, growing daughters; so the informality of the English country style required by the development was a plus.

Before they signed on the dotted line, Rich Rhodes contacted interior designer Susan Holtzman, who had worked with the family on the renovation of their previous home. “I called her and told her, ‘I am not putting any pressure on you, but if you are not willing to do this house, I am not going to do it. I can’t do it without you.’” He knew that countless decisions are made in a new 10,000–square-foot home, everything from floors and fixtures to built-in cabinetry—far more than fabrics, furniture and fringe. Holtzman signed on.

Cheryl Rhodes, who retired a few years ago after selling her recruiting firm, had input into the home, but this project was in her husband’s bailiwick. “He is more creative,” she says, noting that her husband is also “an A-one musician.”


Inside the main entry, the den’s hand-stenciled ceiling
and fireplace design evoke Moroccan style.

Rich Rhodes had a ball. As a principal in a commercial real estate firm, CRESA Partners, he was comfortable reading floor plans and was the conduit for the project. “My biggest challenge was juggling all the vendors: the AV guys, the pool, landscaping, lighting, the architect, my designer, the GC [general contractor], everything that goes into building a custom home. But I loved it,” he recalls.

“Here was the trick,” Richard Rhodes begins. “How do we get 16-foot ceilings in the family room and ten-foot ceilings on the main level to feel warm and cozy?”  

As they worked with architect David Jones to design the fully custom home, they outlined their priorities: Cheryl wanted an entry that ran from the front to the back of the house; ditto for the kitchen. She also requested an adjacent office and family room, where they asked Jones to create an inglenook in the family room. The couple did not want a formal living room. Instead, for Rich, there would be a den and a music room on the far side of the entry—a getaway for a man in a house full of women, notes Cheryl. The Rhodes insisted on equally sized bedrooms with their own baths for each of the girls. Individuality would come with the décor, and Holtzman actively solicited feedback from each daughter.


Glossy black walls and a gold ceiling lend a glamorous touch.

Once the plans were in place, the couple turned to Holtzman to help them make the spacious new house feel like home. “Here was the trick,” Richard Rhodes begins. “How do we get 16-foot ceilings in the family room and ten-foot ceilings on the main level to feel warm and cozy?” Holtzman jump-started the design process. She used faux finishes to warm spaces, reaping the talents of three artists to decorate the walls and ceiling. In the den Melissa Tenhold striaed the walls and stenciled the ceiling in golds and browns as Holtzman infused a Moroccan decor.

When the designer first suggested using a glossy black paint in the dining room, Cheryl recalls thinking, “What am I going to do with black walls?” Now she sees them as a work of art and loves the reflection of flickering candles on a winter evening or during a holiday gathering.

Keeping the family room casual yet sophisticated, Tenhold applied an earthy plaster pull-away finish. Holtzman and her clients selected a deep red tone for the ceiling, and 100-year-old beams reclaimed from a farmhouse in southern Pennsylvania lend the room a rustic look.

In the kitchen, Tenhold added just a smidgeon of black to a rustic, chip-away finish, again, for the aged look. Holtzman selected a photo reflecting the rolling hills of the English countryside and artist Pat Bergeron applied it to tiles, creating a mural over the range top. She added pictures of the Rhodes daughters to the scene, in addition to the family dog, Abbey.

More decorative painting—by artist Cindy Cranney—adds faux block to the walls of the music room, where Rich plays piano. Upstairs, in the master suite, Cranney also faux finished the walls, giving depth and calm to the neutral hue.


Homeowner and musician Rich Rhodes retreats to the
adjacent music room to play the piano.

Early on, Holtzman established the furniture arrangements. Her clients had some specific requests: Rich knew exactly where he wanted the television in his den, so Holtzman designed a richly colored wood cabinet, decorating the doors with copper facing. During the project, Holtzman called on interior designer Sarah Fretwell as her design assistant. It was Fretwell who found the incredible copper on a visit to Taos. Nail heads, which were also used on the TV cabinet in the den, became a decorative theme, applied on the chairs in the kitchen and on the sofa in the family room.

During Holtzman’s search for a coffee table for the family room, serendipity intervened. She happened to meet Rich Rhodes’s aunt at a New Year’s party in Florida. A design showroom representative there, she managed to find Holtzman’s “pièce de résistance” for the family room—the decorative coffee table with copper inlay. Holtzman requested a sample of the wood, and had it stained to her specification.

Holtzman warmed and softened the interiors with each addition to the décor. She selected sofas with rolled arms and rolled backs on the dining room chairs. In the master bedroom, color and pattern abound in checks, stripes, plaids, stylized florals and a marvelous Indian-motif toile.

In addition to the many new purchases, Holtzman incorporated a number of pieces from the previous house: the ottoman used as a coffee table in the Moroccan den, a hutch in the eating area and the marble-topped buffet in the dining room. She was attempting to design a buffet of just the right scale and proportion when she was rummaging around in the Rhodes basement and saw a console from their former house. They moved it upstairs, added a mirror that was also from the previous home and finished it off with new buffet lamps.


One hundred-year-old reclaimed beams from Pennsylvania
lend a rustic touch to the family room; a stone inglenook
makes a cozy spot for gathering around a fire.

Holtzman wisely developed systems to facilitate selections along the way. For instance, she created lighting folders and asked her clients to pick out their favorites among the various styles. Invariably, they chose Gothic designs compatible with the style of the house.

Then there were the floors. Limestone paves the foyer, where Holtzman created a border for a touch of formality. White oak floors, stained a deep, warm tone were used in the remaining rooms.

For living large out-of-doors, a porch spans the back of the house with multiple terraces extending the living space. Around the outdoor fireplace that shares the chimney for the inglenook, Cheryl and Rich enjoy toasting marshmallows with their daughters and sipping wine. There is a pool, Jacuzzi and an in-ground trampoline surrounded by protective netting. And just inside, a shower/changing room, a small laundry for pool towels and a powder room. The home is packed with livability. English country influence? Unquestionably. Warm and comfortable? Without a doubt.


Interesting details abound, such as the family room’s deep
red ceiling.


Susan Hotlzman had a studded coffee table stained to match
the family room.

In the kitchen, decorative painter Pat Bergeron created a
custom mural on the backsplash tile depicting a scene
from the English countryside.

In the master bedroom a terrace overlooks the back yard.

The master bath boasts a custom-designed and -finished
double vanity.

Less formal than the front of the house, the rear is
sheathed in shingles, though the stone is carried
through in the outdoor fireplace.

A porch spans the back of the house with multiple terraces
extending the living space.

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