Architect Richard Leggin added a charming curved porch at the main entry.
Leggin brought in light by raising the ceilings and installing transoms above the doorways and windows.
In the living room, a backdrop of cream and blue invites visitors to relax.
A custom table from The Rist Corporation and chairs by William Yeoward for EF + LM grace the dining room.
In the breakfast area, custom banquettes flank the table.
The kitchen boasts crisp, white custom cabinetry and marble countertops.
In the family room, a vaulted ceiling picks up the color of the window treatments and upholstery.
For the master bedroom, designer Celia Welch chose a restful blue palette.
The red cedar pavilion opens onto the pool.
The pavilion houses a stone fireplace and plenty of seating from Sutherland.

Fresh Start

A talented design team transforms a mundane McLean split-level into an elegant home that is both restful and refined


It’s ironic—but not uncommon—to discover that the full-scale addition and renovation you’ve longed to do on your house for years has finally become financially viable right around the time your kids leave home. This was true for a McLean, Virginia, couple, who lived in their 1950s split-level home on three scenic, wooded acres for 30 years, raising a son and daughter there before deciding they were ready to take the plunge. “We became empty nesters while coming up with the money to do what we wanted to,” says the husband.

After the long wait, the wife had an understandably extensive wish list for her refurbished home. It included a new kitchen; powder and laundry rooms; butler’s pantry; separate dining room; enlarged master suite; and open kitchen/family room. After seeing a renovated split-level by architect Richard Leggin profiled in Home & Design, the couple hired him for the job. “The people [in the article] had a great parcel but not a great house,” recalls the wife. “It was like they were interviewing me.”

Leggin was tasked with creating a design that would enhance and enlarge the home but retain its split-level roots. Area renovations “were turning all the houses into McMansions and we didn’t want that,” the wife explains. The final design eschewed a second-story addition in favor of a bump-out in back that added 1,500 square feet to the home. A curved porch at the entry dramatically improved the front façade, while a service door reoriented the way the owners enter the house, increasing its efficiency.

The renovation process was remarkably smooth, which Leggin and his clients attribute to the seamless collaboration of the design team assembled early on. “They met every two weeks for six months to discuss the vision for the plan,” says the husband. “It was a totally collaborative process.”

The team included contractor Carl Mahany of Macon Construction and Guy Williams  and Amy Mills of DCA Landscape Architects. And for the pivotal role of interior designer, the wife selected Celia Welch after spotting her work in a magazine. “It was the most exquisite, understated room I’d ever seen,” she remembers.

Welch gleaned the wife’s vision right away. “She had 30 years worth of ideas and dreams that she hadn’t been able to realize,” Welch says. “I wanted to give her a chance to love her space.” The goal was to create a calm, welcoming vibe—partly for the husband, who has a hectic job in the hospitality industry. Welch and her client honed in on a clean-lined, transitional look that would convey a sense of restfulness, in a neutral palette with accents of blue. They replaced all the old furnishings with a mix of antiques and custom pieces. To bring in color, Welch suggested her clients look for art while on their frequent travels. “The energy shows up in the artwork and not in the wall colors,” she explains. 

Meanwhile, Leggin converted the dated interiors into open, inviting spaces embellished with custom built-ins and millwork. He raised the ceilings from eight to nine feet throughout, which allowed the addition of transoms above all the doorways and windows to bring in more light. 

The addition encompasses the new kitchen, breakfast area and family room, unified by a reclaimed hickory floor. Coffered ceilings lend elegance to the crisp, white kitchen, which flows into the dining area with its oblong table and banquette seating.

Simple oak beams and a vaulted cedar ceiling make an impact in the adjacent family room. The fireplace and built-in window seats were designed by Leggin. An arched kitchen window mirrors the one in the family room—a connection the team made once construction had begun. “During the process you see things like that,” Leggin observes. “We used the arch construction again as a transition upstairs.”

A small office off the kitchen gives the wife her own workspace. The adjoining mudroom and laundry room lead to the garage and service door; the mudroom’s hexagonal cobblestone floor was salvaged from a Paris street. “More energy and attention went to detail than to square footage,” says contractor Carl Mahany. “This was not about making it big.”

The new dining room houses a custom table and paintings by Pennsylvania artist Marlin Bert. The focal point of the living room is a marble mantel and steel fireplace surround that the clients imported from England. In both spaces, plush upholstered seating beckons.

Upstairs, the enlarged master suite affords views of the wooded backyard from a small balcony. In the bedroom, Leggin added a window seat and Welch opted for a relaxing palette of light blue tones.

The backyard was also in need of an update. “We had to address the grading and drainage problems that arise during a renovation,” landscape architect Guy Williams says. He and partner Amy Mills built a retaining wall and terraced the sloped lawn to deal with these issues. They also pushed the woods back, tagging trees they wanted to keep; 14 trees were reclaimed and used in the home’s renovation.

Williams also worked with Leggin and Mahany on siting the pavilion, which now anchors the pool and houses an outdoor kitchen and stone fireplace. “It’s a three-season space with built-in infrared heating,” Leggin says. Retractable screens on three sides can be completely opened while skylights salvaged from the original house provide light. The existing pool has been updated with a stone deck; tooled flagstone clads the pavilion’s floors.

The basement was enlarged and refinished with a recreation area, guest room and wood-paneled home office for the husband that opens out to the pool.

While both kids have left the nest, they return frequently and the owners look forward to the time when grandchildren will be returning with them. Now, they have the perfect place in which to welcome them home. 

Angie Seckinger splits her time between Potomac, Maryland, and Spain. Anice Hoachlander is based in Washington, DC.

RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: RICHARD A. LEGGIN, AIA, project architect, and KELLY NORTH, associate, Richard Leggin Architects, P.C., Glen Echo, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: CELIA WELCH, Celia Welch Interiors, Bethesda, Maryland. CONTRACTOR: CARL MAHANY, Macon Construction, Kensington, Maryland. LANDSCAPE DESIGN: GUY WILLIAMS and AMY MILLS, principals,DCA Landscape Architects, Washington, DC.