A sensitive renovation has revived the architecture of a classic late 19th-century American Four Square in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Surrounded by elegant new gardens, the home’s gracious summer porches have been rejuvenated and enhanced for 21st-century owners. Embellished with flowing draperies and a new network of terraces, these outdoor rooms preserve the legacy of a distinguished past while fully engaging in today’s lifestyle.
Porches have long provided the defining drama of the house, but the latest remodeling effort by architect Donald Lococo has added substantially to their impact. The architect designed a system of interconnecting porches, terraces and walkways to encircle the residence. With access through French doors from almost every room on the main floor, the owners can now enjoy the full measure of indoor-outdoor living.
The vision of a “circuit” was Lococo’s, but the architect credits owners Stephen and Ellen Conley with “the whole conceptual idea of gracious terraces.” The couple purchased the house in 2007 and spent months getting to know the half-acre property before starting their renovation. They knew that ultimately its success would also depend on expert landscaping to enhance the views, and intelligent interior design to set the mood.
Even before closing on the purchase of the home, the Conleys turned to Mary Jo Donohoe of M J Interior Design. She had decorated three of their previous residences and appreciated the needs of a family with three adult sons and a daughter in college. These included expanding the kitchen and family room and fitting out the lower level to accommodate serious sports fans on game days. To overhaul the gardens, they called on Donohoe’s brother-in-law, Bob Hawkins of Hawkins Signature Landscapes.
Ellen Conley’s initial instinct was to add a fireplace in the family room. That determination led to a significant extension, plus the addition of a breakfast room and renovation of the kitchen, and a realignment of space on the second floor—including the creation of an outdoor garden off the second-story master bedroom and new dressing rooms and bathrooms. The basement was excavated to create a home theater, wine room and fitness center.
Ironically, when the Conleys tapped him to design their renovation, Lococo already knew the house inside and out, having completed a makeover of the home a decade earlier for a previous firm. French doors and classical columns at the front entrance date from that project, as does a small family room. In the Conleys’ expansion, Lococo sized the new space based on a “rhythm” of French doors flanking a monumental 18th-century French fireplace acquired from an antiques dealer on the Eastern Shore. The piece was cut to fit by an expert stonemason.
“This final owner really did what the size of the space wanted to be,” says Lococo. “The meter of the French doors created the size of that room.”
Even in historic Chevy Chase, this dwelling has been accorded special distinction, as Lococo delights in revealing. The original owner, Clarence Moore, had been a master of the Chevy Chase fox hunt and a skilled oarsman as well as a banker. In 1912, after journeying to England to scout hounds, Moore boarded the Titanic. Newspaper accounts report his final heroic hours helping women and children into lifeboats. He is said to have declined an opportunity to row the last lifeboat away and, with a friend, leapt into the icy waters as the ocean liner exploded.
Today, the sound of the Conleys’ two dogs padding along the dark-stained polished floors seems entirely appropriate for a master of the hunt. The Conleys have thoroughly revived Moore’s house, while respecting the proud spirit of its past. Rough-hewn Pennsylvania barn timbers known as “summer beams” give the family room stature. Narrower summer beams continue the motif into the breakfast room and kitchen. “The house had beautiful traditional foundations,” Donohoe says. “It’s a romantic old house. We updated it for a modern family.”
Lococo’s plan ensured that breezes, light and views flow from porch to porch and room to room. The dining and living rooms open to a dining terrace, which leads to a new “television terrace” with an outdoor fireplace. That space adjoins an outdoor cooking area at the back of the house, which is accessible to the family room. A walkway continues full circle around a new breakfast room to an elegant sitting porch shaded by a grand old specimen beech tree along the front walk. As Lococo intended, visitors experience “an entire circuit through the porches.”
Lococo also finessed the property’s freestanding garage, which sits in full view of the breakfast room. He transformed the former eyesore into a charming presence with eyebrow windows on a new roof. Hawkins supplied the perfect apple tree topiary to enliven a blank garage wall. Today, when viewed from the house, the structure resembles a storybook cottage.
Donohoe aimed for sophistication in the interiors, with Venetian plaster in the hallways and luxurious touches, such as Ann Sacks stone mosaic tiles in Ellen Conley’s bathroom and rhinestones decorating the vanity chair. Cabriole-style legs on a contemporary daybed are Lucite.
The landscape design is equally sophisticated. “When we took over the lot, it was mostly wooded,” Hawkins recalls. The property is now neatly edged in a velvety embankment of liriope spicata. Using a mixture of hardscape and elegant plant material, he established focal points along the circuit around the house, to create “a little bit of a ‘wow’ factor in each spot.”
Elegant herringbone-patterned brick walkways curve around the house and terraces. Bob Hawkins emphasized the notion of a circuit by laying circles of brick at key points along the walkways. Just beyond the dining terrace, a semi-formal garden is enlivened with a circular fountain. A parterre of bedding plants is edged with low boxwoods.
To keep the landscape relaxed, a staircase of stone slabs emerges on the lawn, and boulders are strewn here and there amid a magnificent row of tulip poplars with an understory of dogwood. Hawkins replaced overgrown shrubs with an airy border of holly, crape myrtle, hydrangea and nandina, providing seasonal color as well as a luxuriant screen for neighbors to enjoy.
On a recent summer evening, three of the Conleys’ adult children gathered in the spacious family room. Light streamed in from the French doors and dogs scampered. As Donohoe noted, “It’s sort of an empty nest, but never empty.”
Linda Hales, former design critic at The Washington Post, writes about architecture and design.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: DONALD LOCOCO, AIA, Donald Lococo Architects LLC, Washington, DC. INTERIOR DESIGN: MARY JO DONOHOE, M J Interior Design, Bethesda, Maryland. LANDSCAPE DESIGN: BOB HAWKINS, Hawkins Signature Landscapes, Bowie, Maryland. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: CARL PETTY ASSOCIATES, LTD., Washington, DC.