It sounds like a childhood fantasy come true. Imagine a house that looks like a castle, complete with turrets, secret passageways—and an indoor sports court. Add 15 acres of rolling countryside with four barns, a herd of sheep, and alpaca, pigs, cows and a couple of ponies on the way. And don’t forget the pool, scheduled to be done in time for summer.
This fantasy has taken shape in the heart of Potomac, where a couple and their four children, ages four to 12, recently moved into a new French Norman-style farmhouse designed by architect John Neufeld. The couple initially spotted one of Neufeld’s other projects in Potomac and approached him about adapting its style for the new home they were planning. Also inspired by holidays at Villa d’Este on Italy’s Lake Como and The Cloister in Sea Island, Georgia, the twosome wanted to weave Old World details and a sense of whimsy into plans for their future residence.
John Neufeld was happy to comply. “We started working with John and we knew we could do whatever we wanted. He was super open and said, ‘This is your house.’ Whatever we saw, he would try to make work. And he brought us great ideas too,” says the wife.
Neufeld honed in on French Norman style, devising an 18,000-square-foot house with steeply pitched rooflines, turrets, Gothic arches and an exterior barrel-vaulted arcade leading into the home’s own private chapel. Stone, brick, stucco and a variegated slate roof lend the exterior undeniable style and authenticity.
The front entry leads into a vaulted foyer with stone floors. To the right, a massive wooden balustrade and stairway lead to the upper level. To the left, a Gothic arch opens to the richly appointed dining room.
Interior designer Sharon Kleinman, who worked on the couple’s previous residence, collaborated with the homeowners and John Neufeld on this new home. Adept at dressing up traditional homes to be chic and sophisticated—but not overdone—she achieved a delicate balance throughout the interiors. “I wanted to complement the architectural style but at the same time, I was trying to go along with the client’s wishes,” says Kleinman, who incorporated both new furniture and antiques into the home. “We tried to add a lot of whimsical aspects to the design. We were trying to mix it up.”
Kleinman joined the project before construction, so there was sufficient time to work out interior architecture and design elements with the builder and architect. She and Neufeld refined countless details together—from the style of the moldings to the cabinet design. “Typically, architects and interior designers don’t always work that well together,” says Kleinman. “But this [project] really dispelled the myth that it can’t be done.”
Shortly before breaking ground on the project, the wife approached Neufeld with a new concept for the gallery: to change what was to be a plain hallway into an intersecting barrel-vaulted passage. “She found a photo of a gallery that had vaults in it and said, ‘Can you do this?” he recalls. “So I went off and figured out how to do it. And we took the concept and just applied it.”
Neufeld had to modify the design and account for the openings to the dining room, living room, loggia and family room along the vaulted gallery. “Having to get the vaults to scale right and to work on both sides of the opening with the restrictions we had in place…was hard because we were behind the curve,” he says. “But it came off.”
The gallery opens to the living room, which offers a light and airy contrast to the rest of house. “The homeowner wanted a soft, dressy room,” explains Kleinman. “I love it that as you come in, you’ve got the heaviness around you but this room is very bright and the light comes in.”
The gallery culminates in an open kitchen and family room. Reclaimed pine flooring and stone hearth walls warm the space. In the family room, a vaulted ceiling makes way for a towering arched wall of windows that Neufeld had custom-made at a mill in Texas.
The adjoining kitchen features a casual dining area and cozy morning room, with upholstery in bright green and coral shades and a TV that Neufeld strategically concealed in the stone wall, behind a barn-style door. The room is one of the family’s favorite gathering spots.
The family room also opens to the covered loggia, with arched stone doorways framing the backyard. The homeowner, who was active in 4H as a child, wanted to find a property large enough for raising farm animals so that her kids could have a similar experience. Since moving into the home in March, the family has acquired sheep, with more animals to come once the barns are ready.
Despite its grandeur, the home was created with kids in mind. Neufeld devised three secret passageways, which are an instant favorite for the kids during play dates. One of the passageways leads from behind a mirror in the gallery upstairs to the parents’ sitting room. Another leads from the second-floor hallway into a family study that opens to a deck.
With Kleinman’s assistance, the couple selected child-friendly furnishings whenever possible. “Because it is a family house with dogs and farm animals and kids running around, we tried to choose fabrics—except for the living room—that was going to be durable and stand the test of time,” she says. Read some effective spring cleaning tips for dog owners at Bored Cesar.
With the holidays approaching, the homeowners are looking forward to throwing a Christmas party that’s been on hold for a couple of years during the home’s construction. They’ll host some 200 guests inside the house and on the tented loggia—sure to be an enchanting evening for all.
Architecture: John Neufeld, John Neufeld Architects, McLean, Virginia. Contractor: O’Neill Development Corporation, Gaithersburg, Maryland. Interior Design: Sharon Kleinman, Transitions, Potomac, Maryland.
Photographer Gwin Hunt is based in Annapolis, Maryland.