They knew the galley kitchen was cramped, the bathrooms were outdated and the tiny windows all but concealed the spectacular views outside. In their minds, the location made up for the home’s lack of character. “It was one of the ugliest houses in the neighborhood,” recalls Karen Grissen. “But Dave was very attracted to the lot being set back here…because of the freedom in the back, not seeing other homes and being able to walk down to the [C & O] Canal.” They bought the 1960s-era center-hall colonial realizing the potential for expansion on its secluded lot.
During their home search, the couple was also drawn to the work of architect Jim Rill, who was designing several unique Craftsman-style homes in the Potomac community of Merry-Go-Round Farm. As soon as they moved in, they set up a meeting with Rill to discuss a renovation.
Little did they know, that initial conference marked the beginning of a decade-long collaboration that would encompass not one, but two, major additions to their home. The Grissens first approached Rill to create a larger, more open kitchen with a breakfast area, a three-car garage and a family room where they could gather with their two young sons. The homeowners envisioned a typical remodeler’s bump-out from the rear, but Jim Rill had other ideas.
“One of the things we really responded to was the site,” Rill recalls. “The house had no connection to the yard, either physically or visually. The kitchen ran across the whole back [of the house] but had a little tiny window. So when you walked in, you saw nothing.” Behind the house was a spartan kidney-shaped pool surrounded by a concrete deck.
Rill proposed building a new wing on the north side of the house set at an angle so that it would not overwhelm the original structure. It would encompass a new garage on the lower level and a light-filled, vaulted family room above it. The home’s former family room would become a spacious kitchen opening to the new family room. What was once the galley kitchen would become a butler’s pantry connecting the new kitchen to the dining room.
Rill’s plan, completed in 2001, also opened up the interior to improve traffic flow throughout the house—and take advantage of the woodsy views outside. Now, there’s an instant visual connection to the outdoors through French doors in the dining room and plenty of windows in the kitchen and family room. A major overhaul of the existing pool by Rowan Landscape Company—including the addition of a waterfall flowing into a hot tub—greatly enhanced the back-yard setting. “By angling the addition a little bit, we were able to give it some drama,” says Rill.
To lend the home character and architectural detail, he honed in on Karen and Dave Grissen’s fondness of Craftsman and shingle-style design. “We call it Colorado rustic Arts and Craft,” says Karen Grissen. “I’m from California, Dave’s from Michigan. We spend a lot of time in Colorado. We just love the architecture out there.”
Rill enhanced the home’s façade with a new front porch and a breezeway with a dormer above that connects the main house to the new wing. A change of materials helped transform the typical colonial into something more eclectic without sending shockwaves through the established neighborhood. “We went with shingles on the second floor and we changed to copper roofs for the breezeway connection,” explains Rill. “We put the balustrade around the front of the house to give it some formality.” Crafstman-style elements also distinguish the interiors, from the custom trusses and the dry-stacked fieldstone fireplace in the family room to the slate floors in the kitchen.
“The second addition kept that inspiration going,” says Rill, describing the most recent phase of the program, which he designed with colleague Kay Kim. An executive in the hospitality industry, Dave Grissen hosts frequent business events at home and liked the idea of creating a large space for entertaining. In addition, the Grissens had grown tired of their small master bedroom and bath in the original part of the home. The idea of building a new wing on the southwestern side of the house was born.
Rill and Kim designed a three-story addition, to be connected to the side of the home by a three-story breezeway. The new master suite, located on the main level, boasts a bedroom with coffered ceiling; a luxurious bath overlooking the woods; a spacious closet with custom-designed cabinetry; and a splendid screened-in porch overlooking the pool. A stairway leads from the suite to Dave Grissen’s third-floor private office, where he can truly focus on work away from the activity of the household.
A curved gallery from the original home’s living room (now used as a den) leads to the master suite and Rill and Kim’s pièce de résistance: an open, freestanding curved mahogany-and-steel stair leading down to the wing’s ground-level entertainment room. “This curve is like a signature by Jim Rill,” says Karen Grissen. “To me, it is like a piece of art.”
The lower level is home to billiards and shuffleboard tables, a seating area surrounding a stone fireplace and flat-screen TV, a full granite-topped bar equipped with another TV and beer on tap, a home gym and a spa bathroom complete with changing room, sauna and steam shower.
On the outside, the architects and builder extended the patio surrounding the pool and paved it with flagstone. They also created a large outdoor fireplace—a last-minute request from the Grissens that got plenty of use during several recent dinner parties.
Rill can hardly contain his enthusiasm when describing how much fun is packed into the entertainment space. “It’s a cabana, it’s a tavern, it’s a terrace, it’s a deck, it’s a family room, a living room, a game room. It’s all those things tied into one. Containing it so that it actually feels like it’s not busy was probably the biggest achievement here,” he says.
Throughout the basement space, materials achieve a rustic but sophisticated look, from the flagstone floors to the mahogany-paneled coffered ceiling and vintage wooden beams. “We wanted the floor to be flagstone so the pool material came right into the house to make it feel like it’s a part of the outside,” explains Rill. “By painting the ceiling coffers green, we also tie into the natural surroundings.”
Despite the clubby feel, the room is full of natural light with windows and French doors wrapping two sides of the space. “Having this much glass in the basement was a real feat too,” continues Rill. “We didn’t want it to look like an addition sitting on a glass block, so we worked on that with columns and brackets and porches. You always get a sense of light from all parts of the house and strong connections to the beautiful views.”
Rill credits his clients for their receptiveness to the playful design elements that make their home complete. “We had a lot of freedom to play with and create fun, eclectic stuff and work with different materials,” he says. “And the builder made it very possible.”
“The new wing has allowed us to entertain more,” says Karen Grissen. “We had 85 people here recently, and it didn’t seem crowded at all. We probably could’ve had another hundred.”
When they first bought the original house, the Grissens never would have imagined what the typical colonial would become. Reflecting on the latest phase of the project, completed one year ago, Karen Grissen says, “When I wake up in the morning, I see a great view from the house and the porch, and the [sound of the] waterfall carries when we open up those French doors. I’m enjoying being home more.”
Photographer Lydia Cutter is based in Arlington, Virginia.
The curved mahogany-and-steel staircase was an engineering
challenge for the architects and builder.
The curved staircase leads to the lower level of the new wing
—an entertainment center complete with a granite-topped bar,
a stone fireplace and seating area, and pool and shuffleboard
tables. Rill suggested painting the ceiling coffers green to tie in
with the outdoors. Flagstone floors, mahogany ceiling panels
and rough-hewn vintage beams create a rustic feel.
The newly expanded pool terrace complete with outdoor hearth
is a great spot for parties all year round. A far cry from the
original home with its tiny windows, the new three-story
wing incorporates the entertainment room on the ground
level, the master-bedroom suite on the main level and an
office space and additional bedroom on the third floor.
Large windows, French doors, porches and catwalks
establish a strong connection to the outdoors.