Football legend John Riggins keeps souvenirs of his career as a running back for the Washington Redskins in the basement media room of his newly built home. Riggins’s team helmet sits on a coffee table and, leaning against the walls, framed photos and newspaper clippings document his pivotal role in Super Bowls of the 1980s.
These days, though, “The Diesel” is more interested in talking about his current venture than past glories. After stints as an actor and sports commentator, he now hosts his own television show on Comcast SportsNet Washington called “Riggo on the Range.” The episodes combine hunting and fishing adventures with cooking game caught in the wild.
“We’ve got pheasants, venison, antelope and Hungarian partridge in the freezer right now,” says Riggins. “When the game is processed and prepared properly, it’s as good as it gets.” The bounty came from his recent 48-day stint on location in the Midwest and West, while traveling in an RV called the “Riggobago.”
The cooking segments of upcoming shows, some with DC celebrity chefs, will be filmed in the kitchen of his Cabin John, Maryland, home. Far from being rustic, the house is urbanely contemporary with walls of glass framing vistas of the C&O Canal and Potomac River through the trees.
“If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were in Montana or Alaska,” says Riggins, pointing to the shallow area of the river where he sometimes fly-fishes. “It’s like The Swiss Family Robinson; you feel like you are in a tree house.”
The Hall-of-Famer clearly likes the proximity of his pared-down home to the great outdoors, but admits his taste runs to “timber-frame structures with a lot of stone and wood.” He credits the unconventional design to his wife Lisa Marie, an attorney and a yoga instructor, who worked with DC architect Robert Gurney to realize her vision. “I prevailed on the modern design,” she says. “We used to have a loft in Manhattan and I wanted to recreate that feeling here.”
Before they could build the house, the Riggins family lived in a nearby rental until their dream location on the Potomac finally went up for sale. After purchasing the property in 2008, the couple razed the Tudor-style residence on the lot and hired Gurney to design a new four-bedroom home. “They were both open-minded about my ideas for the site,” says the architect.
John’s preference for rugged materials is reflected in the home’s exterior of dry-stacked slate, mahogany and cement board, and a lava-stone-clad wall extending around a huge fireplace in the living area. The pivoting front door is also mahogany and supersized at five feet wide by 10 feet high. Gurney strategically placed windows and interior openings to offer views straight through the house to the outdoors so the connection to nature is always present.
Lisa Marie’s wish for a loft was fulfilled in an open space for cooking, dining and entertaining on the main level. In furnishing the house, she worked with DC interior designer Therese Baron Gurney to recycle streamlined pieces from her previous homes and complement them with new contemporary designs.
“The house is modern but not sterile,” says Lisa Marie. “We accomplished a warm feeling through all the different materials and daylight that comes into the rooms. It’s conducive to socializing and enjoying great food.”
The couple’s favorite space is the galley kitchen where marble countertops and walnut cabinetry are configured around the commercial-grade gas range and refrigerator from their New York loft. “The kitchen is the magnet of the house; everyone is drawn to it,” says the former football player, who does most of the cooking for family and friends.
On the second floor, the couple’s shared home office overlooks one end of the living area through floor-to-ceiling glass. Bedrooms for their two daughters, Hannah, 17, and Coco, 9, and a first-level guest suite are placed at the front of the house. The main-floor living space and second-level master suite with sitting area are located at the rear overlooking the river.
Joining the front and back rooms, a two-story hallway extends from the front door to the basement staircase. On the upper level, the two sides of the house are connected across the hallway by a pair of steel bridges whose glass floors have unnerved even the toughest guests. “Dexter Manley [former Redskins defensive end] wouldn’t cross the bridge,” John Riggins says, recalling a party attended by former teammates at the house. The couple frequently entertains and, after moving in, shifted the living room sofa to make more room for dance parties.
Although Riggins says he conceded most of the design decisions to his wife, his involvement in elements of the house became clear during a recent tour. “I call him the optimizer,” says Lisa Marie of her husband. “He researches and explores every situation before making a decision.” That attention to detail led him to insist on a geothermal heating and cooling system to save energy as well as heated floors throughout the house. Outside, he leveled the front yard to make way for a lawn and recently planted rows of arborvitae to shield the property from the street. “John took an interest in how the whole house was put together,” says Gurney.
When he wants to relax, Riggo enjoys a long soak in the large, sculptural tub he chose for the master bathroom. He also insisted on matching vessel sinks for the vanity. Is the outdoorsman a fan of contemporary design after all? “I’m a practical-minded guy, but beauty needs to be celebrated and respected,” he says. “That’s what this house represents.”
Frequent contributor Deborah K. Dietsch is based in Washington, DC. Maxwell MacKenzie is a photographer in Washington, DC.
ARCHITECTURE: ROBERT M. GURNEY, FAIA, principal; BRIAN TUSKEY, project architect, Robert M. Gurney Architect, Washington, DC. INTERIOR DESIGN: THERESE BARON GURNEY, ASID, Baron Gurney Interiors, Washington, DC.