Hidden away on a wooded cul-de-sac, this Tudor-style home leads a first-time visitor to believe that she’s been whisked away from the nearby Tysons Corner corridor and has landed somewhere in the mountains of West Virginia. On a Friday in late August, butterflies and hummingbirds flit in and out of the morning glories and butterfly bushes while the pool tempts guests to laze away an afternoon.
Until recently, the owners’ 1980s-era home barely reflected upon this glorious backdrop. With closed-in rooms and small, poorly placed windows, “the house was an introvert,” says interior designer Marlies Venute of Marlies Venute Interior Design, who just completed a renovation of the home. Without changing the footprint and by moving very few walls, she devised a plan that would expand the home’s interiors and its views of the outdoors. “The house looked inside, not outside. We put in big windows and openings so the light comes in,” she says.
With two grown sons, the couple was ready for a change but reluctant to sell the house, which backs up to land protected by the Chesapeake Bay watershed. “The house was built in 1982 and was very much a product of its time,” says the wife. “It had narrow passageways and a lot of cluttered spaces that didn’t make sense. We needed to modernize it and open it up.”
The homeowners had discussed doing a renovation for a year or two. “We had spoken to a kitchen designer and a contractor. But I told my husband we really needed a decorator because every room looks onto other rooms,” recalls the wife. “We needed help.”
Though they first approached Marlies Venute to remodel their kitchen, the project evolved as she presented additional possibilities for improvement in the foyer, family room and powder room on the main level and in the master suite upstairs. During a three-month design phase, Venute would present her ideas, turning favored concepts into detailed renderings to help her clients visualize the outcome. “When somebody hires me, I familiarize myself with the project, then any idea that comes to me I present informally. If I really think something is a good idea, I present it three times,” Venute explains. “If it’s shot down the third time, I give up.”
It was after the designer’s third presentation that the couple decided to embark on a whole-house renovation. The plan would improve upon the best of what the house had to offer while replacing the most out-of-date features, finishes and appliances. Venute’s goal was to create a sense of openness and light and improve the interior layout while keeping the tone transitional enough to complement the home’s original Tudor style.
The results are dramatic. A new vaulted entry greets guests at the front door, where they enter an airy foyer made more spacious by the removal of an awkwardly placed closet. A widened hallway opens to the kitchen where large windows reveal sweeping views of the backyard.
In the adjacent family room, where there was once a closed wall of shelving, a floor-to-ceiling window now overlooks a stand of old-growth trees. The absence of frames and window treatments creates a striking, modern effect. The existing brick fireplace was re-cast in limestone. A revamped powder room off the family room boasts another frameless window and a custom vanity of Venute’s design.
Major structural changes transformed what had been a cramped, boxy kitchen and separate butler’s pantry into a wide open, inviting space. The wall between the kitchen and living room was moved back 30 inches to provide enough room for a free-standing island in the kitchen. Venute positioned most of the cabinetry and a 42-inch refrigerator along this new wall so that the opposite wall of the kitchen could center on an oversized window where the owners now enjoy views of the pool and gardens.
From the butler’s pantry, a series of archways once led through a hallway and past a laundry room and closet into a sunroom, which was added onto the house in 1994. Venute eliminated the Tudor-style arches and closet and was able to widen the access to the light-filled sunroom—another vast improvement to the overall flow of the house, especially during parties. The wife didn’t want to give up the arches completely, so Venute’s carpenter painstakingly re-purposed some of the existing mahogany millwork to create a wood-framed archway leading into the sunroom.
The master suite also underwent a major overhaul. Previously, two small windows overlooked the backyard while the bed was positioned facing inward. Venute opened up the back wall to create a large window and designed a custom bed that looks out toward the scenery. To solve the dilemma of where to put the TV so it wouldn’t block the view, she devised a cabinet that conceals a flat-screen on a shelf that easily pulls out for viewing. In what was a small bathroom and a separate vanity area, the couple’s new master bath, with its enormous sky light, oversized shower and soaking tub, is a relaxing, spa-like retreat.
Throughout the process, Venute provided the owners with eco-friendly options. Replacement windows are energy- efficient models surrounded by improved insulation. Halogen lights replaced conventional bulbs and dimmers were installed to save energy as well.
The owners also hired American Automation to install an audio-visual system operated by touch panels in every room. “I think one of the things that’s really important is that a house has staying power,” says Venute. “You should install the latest technology you can afford. Whether you have a house that’s traditional or very contemporary, as far as looks are concerned, the technology should be behind the skin.”The owners are now enjoying their home and its peaceful surroundings more than ever. “Everywhere you look, there’s beauty,” says the wife. “We see the change of seasons; we can really observe them. It is a unique property and the house now embraces that.”
Photographer Bob Narod is based in Herndon, Virginia.
DESIGN: Marlies Venute, IFDA, and Amy Chester, design assistant, Marlies Venute Interior Design, McLean, Virginia. CONTRACTOR: Frank Vitiella, JSV, LLC, Stafford, Virginia.