Farmhouse Reborn

Architect Shorieh Talaat updates a pre-Civil War farmhouse in Virginia, keeping its connections to nature alive

The renovation of this pre-Civil War farmhouse in Great Falls, Virginia, was all about pairing architectural craftsmanship with rich building materials to create the perfect setting for embracing nature, indoors and out. The 2.3-acre estate occupies the highest point of what was once a 40-acre dairy farm; now tall windows provide panoramic views and its new interiors are bathed in natural light.
The home was renovated with maintenance-free stucco
and Carderock stone.

When a Bethesda couple purchased this house in 1993, it had already been updated to a plantation-style white clapboard with columns in front. “It wasn’t much to look at, but it had great barns,” the wife chuckles. “We wanted our children to experience rural living like my husband enjoyed when he was growing up [in Maryland].” Shorieh Talaat designed a small addition for them, and the couple framed and painted it themselves. But with two teenagers, they soon called the architect back for the major expansion, completed in 2006.

“With the first addition we felt we had to honor the original farmhouse, but by the second phase, we decided to do what we really wanted,” says the homeowner.

While traveling and working in England, she had become attached to the old country homes designed by 20th-century British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. Lutyens happened to be a favorite of Talaat’s as well. “There’s a whimsy about his style, an elegant informality, and I think we nailed down the spirit of it in this project. Lutyens collaborated with a landscape designer, and this house reaches out into the landscape,” says Talaat.

“The home has a genuine character to it,” says Shorieh Talaat. “The exposed beams, for example, serve an aesthetic purpose, but they are also actually working. The joinery is beautiful all the way through; craftsmanship was our big focus.”

The homeowners, who have careers in engineering and technology, have spent free time creating formal gardens on the front side of their property, and a “tree collection” behind the house. “My husband started with a few existing dogwood and apple trees, and now he has 250 trees—and three tractors!” his wife exclaims.

Talaat adds, “The exterior development of the project was driven by the homeowners’ love of gardening. The new greenhouse, terrace, courtyard and entry court reflect that sensibility and help compose these garden spaces.”

Another priority for the family is entertaining. “We like to invite whole families over after our children’s sporting events, but I wanted separate entertainment areas for adults and kids,” says the homeowner. “My husband wanted a greenhouse and a billiard room.” To satisfy these goals, Talaat designed an open floor plan with a new first-floor living room and billiard room that are divided by back-to-back fireplaces. The kitchen, built in phase one, separates these new “adult” areas from the original family room. The renovation also includes a home office, a second-floor master bedroom suite with adjoining terrace, three additional bedroom suites and the greenhouse, which opens off of the billiard room and is great for overflow at parties.

The exterior development was driven by the husband’s desire for maintenance-free materials. Talaat selected stucco and Carderock, quarried locally in Maryland. “We used Carderock for phase one, so this was a way to knit the two renovations together and make it seamless,” says Talaat. The trim and upstairs terraces are Spanish cedar.

Inside the home, a premium was placed on outstanding craftsmanship and the use of natural materials, from limestone and red birch floors to the cherry custom cabinetry in the kitchen and the handcrafted maple beams in the great room. “The home has a genuine character to it,” says Talaat. “The exposed beams, for example, serve an aesthetic purpose, but they are also actually working. The joinery is beautiful all the way through; craftsmanship was our big focus. Everyone who worked on the project got in the spirit of it, and it was fun to watch.” Mark Moeller of MS Moeller Cabinetry and Millwork, Inc., built the Spanish cedar terraces outside as well as all of the interior beams, paneling, wainscoting and cabinetry. Moeller completed the work off-site; it was then installed by the project’s general contractor, BOWA Builders.

The team also integrated architectural artifacts and antiques throughout the property, even designing an entire bathroom around a piece of tile discovered at an art show. “The homeowners are avid collectors,” says Talaat. “They purchased salvaged doors, fireplace surrounds and statuary with the intention of artfully including them in the architecture, so we had a focal point to work with in virtually every space.” Spanish cedar doors salvaged from a Pittsburgh warehouse, for instance, were earmarked for the home’s new front entrance. Guarding the walkway are huge antique stone lions, reportedly salvaged from the Lilyette lingerie company founders’ estate and purchased at Thieves’ Market in Virginia. A fantastic gargoyle scupper reigns over the stone terrace in back, and an antique fireplace surround in the billiard room features ornately carved griffins.


Two antique stone lines flank the front walkway.

A palette of Benjamin Moore’s historic deep blues and greens works beautifully with the rich woods because there’s so much natural light throughout the house, Talaat says. The homeowner calls her choices “nature’s colors.” She says, “It’s a happy house and it was designed for comfort. The light makes us feel energized, and the greens, especially, make me feel more alive because they help bring the landscape in.”

Talaat is also pleased with the finished project. “The result of the renovation, I think, is a delightfully eclectic composition that is rich with details and carefully considered materials and finishes,” he says.

Sherry Crisp is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Maryland. Photographer Kenneth M. Wyner is based in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Architecture: Shorieh Talaat, AIA, Talaat Architects, Burtonsville, Maryland • General Contractor: BOWA Builders, McLean, Virginia • Custom Woodwork, Exterior & Interior: Mark Moeller, MS Moeller Cabinetry & Millwork Inc., Westminster, Maryland


A metal archway of cowboys provides an eye-catching
transition from the house to the barn.


Up-lighting showcases the new living room’s 20-foot
ceilings and handcrafted beams.


Cherry pillars and back-to-back fireplaces separate the
living room and billiard room.


The family room was added in 1993.


In the billiard room, a wet bar is concealed behind custom
cherry paneling and cabinetry.


The original log ceiling was raised in the upgraded kitchen.


The flagstone terrace and stone fireplace located off the
kitchen is one of three outdoor living areas.


A terrace located off the new master bedroom was
handcrafted of Spanish cedar.