Labor of Love
Nestled on four wooded acres, Judy and Stuart Sebring’s new custom home evokes a lodge out West with its stone walls, hand-forged ironwork and rough-hewn beams. Though it would appear right at home in Colorado, this property was built in an established neighborhood in Potomac, Maryland, carefully crafted inside and out with natural and eco-friendly materials. Warm and welcoming, the home suits the Sebrings’ relaxed aesthetic and lifestyle, whether they are sharing dinner for two or hosting a charity event for 200. Despite the home’s rustic shell, chic upscale furnishings and personalized amenities abound, from the dedicated “dog room” with a walk-in shower for their five pets to an indoor spa with a glass wall that can be opened wide to the pool terrace in warm weather.
The Sebrings were living in Bethesda when they decided to purchase the Potomac property from Stuart’s stepfather. “We’d be hard-pressed to find a property this size anywhere in Bethesda,” says Judy. Not only would there be plenty of space for their dogs, but a larger residence would also enable her to take in her aging parents should the need arise. “I was adopted,” says Judy. “I can’t see putting my parents somewhere after they took me in. And I have three kids, two of whom are grown and don’t live in the area. I want them to know when they visit, eventually with their children, they will always have a place to come home to.”
The Sebrings briefly considered renovating the existing house. “But it didn’t make sense to take a house that was 35 years old and re-do it and have something new attached to it,” says Judy. So they donated the structure to the local fire department to be razed as a training exercise. Only the original swimming pool was left intact.
Rather than create “showcase” living and dining rooms they would seldom use, the homeowners sought less formal spaces. “I wanted it to be casual so you didn’t have to be afraid to use anything,” Judy says. “The whole house was designed to be organized and to give us ease of maintenance and longevity—we didn’t want it to be out of style in a year.”
The Sebrings approached architect Neal Hodgson and interior designer Sharon Kleinman to help make their new home a reality. Hodgson designed a Z-shaped structure that “hugs” the land and pool. Since the property slopes down away from the street, he maintained a one-and-a-half-story elevation to minimize the front of the home, while creating a more dramatic, three-story elevation in the back. Gables and arches repeated along the roofline make the home’s 11,000-square-foot mass seem “less monumental,” says Hodgson. Balconies, patios, and porches establish a strong connection to the surrounding landscape. “There’s an ‘organic-ness’ to this kind of architecture with stone, timbers and cedar siding joining the outside and inside,” Hodgson explains. “It’s not just a house plunked down on the ground. It looks like it’s been there a long time.”
The team made a conscious effort to build green, using Icynene insulation, high-efficiency windows and a reflective Peterson aluminum roof that reduces heat gain. And whenever possible, materials were acquired locally—from the stone to the reclaimed black walnut floors found on the Eastern Shore.
Designer Sharon Kleinman approached the interiors with an eye toward reinforcing the home’s material palette—but dressing it up a bit. She had been saving a Donghia botanical fabric for just the right client—it became the inspiration for the Sebrings’ color palette. “I started to get the sense that I wanted this house to be very organic-looking. The idea was to bring different green tones and browns and lots of texture into it,” she says.
“When we first started, Judy had the idea that this was going to be more of an Aspen-style house,” the designer recalls. “But instead of following that décor-wise, we ended up moving toward a more modern, upscale look. I love the way that the frame of the house is very rustic but there’s an elegance to the furnishings.”
Throughout design and construction, Judy Sebring, Hodgson and Kleinman collaborated on every decision. This open dialog, says Hodgson, was vital to the success of a home with such a high degree of craftsmanship. “Everyone’s opinions are important in the process,” he says. “It was a meeting of the minds.”
Judy Sebring, who acted as general contractor on the project, spent every day on site during construction. One of the finishing touches, an outdoor seating area she had carved out under her cherry trees in the shape of a heart, speaks volumes about the time and energy she poured into the home. “It’s the last thing that went in,” she recalls. “It symbolized how much love went into this house.”
Photographer Gwin Hunt is based in Annapolis, Maryland.ARCHITECTURE: Neal Hodgson, AIA, Neal Hodgson Architect, Washington, DC. INTERIOR DESIGN: Sharon Kleinman, Transitions, Potomac, Maryland.