Architect Richard Leggin took an undistinguished ranch house and infused it with style and character.
A simple yet commanding portico graces the front door of this pastoral property in Potomac.
The family room includes a niche containing a Craftsman-style fireplace and extensive paneling on the walls.
A spacious kitchen with granite countertops and custom cabinetry opens onto the family room.
The newly built pool house provides storage for equipment as well as a space for the homeowners to gather well into the fall.

A renovation transforms a bland Potomac rambler into an elegant retreat

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2009

Attorneys Joann Neth and Ford Farabow, Jr., spent four years searching for just the right house. The problem wasn’t finding a house—it was finding a house on a property they loved as much as the one they already owned. Ultimately, they concluded that while their home’s expansive, private setting could not be surpassed, they could certainly improve the mundane, uninspired rambler that came with it. Instead of moving, the couple embarked on a major renovation. Their goal was to improve their home’s interior space and to create an exterior that would do justice to the landscape around it.

The couple chose Glen Echo, Maryland, architect Richard Leggin to realize their ambitious vision. Farabow, an avid golfer, already had some ideas in mind, inspired by a favorite Stanford White-designed golf club in Long Island. “The golf club was a long, low structure like this house,” Leggin says. “The two-gabled approach we chose was like the golf club.”

Prior to the renovation, the front façade was unremarkable. Though the house had two levels, they were invisible from the front. The main front door was obscured by shrubbery crowded too close to the house. “You could barely find the front door,” Leggin recalls. “All you saw was roof.” In addition to the gables, Leggin designed a substantial portico at the front door. The family entrance—facing front but off to one side—now has a covered porch over it. The house, which had been painted brick, is now a combination of fieldstone and cedar shakes.

Inside, the couple had a few more requirements. “We wanted a living space we could be in all the time, modern and updated but cozy,” Neth says. “And we wanted to be able to live entirely on the first floor.” The original floor plan was far from efficient: The front stairs were accessible only from a side hallway, the kitchen could only be entered through the dining room, and the cramped, narrow mudroom shared its space with the laundry room, resulting in unwanted clutter. Upstairs, there was no hallway; three bedrooms sat railroad-apartment-style, so that occupants had to walk through one to get to another.

According to Neth, in the course of addressing this list of problems “there was not a room that didn’t get touched.” The most conspicuous change was the creation of a new family room with a dramatic two-story vaulted ceiling and exposed, arched beams. Opening onto a completely gutted and refurbished kitchen, the room is now 20 by 40 feet and includes a spacious sitting area and a dining area that easily accommodates a table for eight. A pre-existing brick fireplace has been refaced with an iridescent slate tile surround; Leggin designed a charming Craftsman-style inglenook, or niche, around it with benches on either side.

Throughout the house, the architect moved or created doorways and walls to establish a flow between rooms. In order to redesign the exterior façade, he pushed the front wall of the house out four to six feet; he used that extra space inside to shift the dining room forward and install a hallway between it and the living room that would directly connect the entryway to the family room/kitchen. He opened the front stairs onto the living room and created a door from the foyer to the study, which has been beautifully paneled from top to bottom in honey-colored pine.

Leggin reorganized the master suite, which was already on the first floor, to better accommodate the closets and renovated master bath; he coffered the bedroom ceiling for interest. Upstairs, he radically altered the layout, adding a common room, an extra bedroom and a much-needed hallway stretching between the front and back staircases. Behind the mudroom, a powder room (also serving as a pool changing space) and a laundry room were installed; this addition converted the existing mudroom into an open corridor with closets for belongings and access to the three-car garage, the back staircase and the family entrance.

At the rear, it also accesses the backyard, where the resurfaced swimming pool and new slate patio beckon visiting family and friends. Gorgeous natural surroundings notwithstanding, all the existing landscaping has been replaced. The winding driveway, which was situated too close to the house, has been moved. Set back from the road on 2.2 rolling acres, the couple’s sprawling country home now provides the perfect centerpiece to this idyllic setting.

Kenneth M. Wyner is a photographer based in Takoma Park, Maryland.

ARCHITECTURE: Richard Leggin, AIA, Richard Leggin Architects, Glen Echo, Maryland. BUILDER: Macon Construction Company, Kensington, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: Linda Steimke, Linda Steimke & Associates, North Potomac, Maryland. KITCHEN DESIGN: Galen Harley, Nancy Thornett Associates, Inc., Bethesda, Maryland. LANDSCAPE DESIGN: Guy Williams, DCA Landscape Architects, Washington, DC.