Architect Mark Buchanan remembers tramping through a barn and wandering around a pond, fields and outbuildings on his client’s horse farm near Middleburg when he first visited to absorb what he describes as “the spirit of the place.” He took it all in, from vistas of open fields to the lone gravestone of a horse in a pasture, before eventually reaching an empty cottage in the shade of a wood.
“It was a summer day, and I caught my breath on the west-facing porch of a cottage,” he recalls. “I could see the sun lowering over the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I fell asleep!” When he woke, marveling at the cottage’s aura of serenity, he thought, “Old and lost in the past—this is something worth preserving.”
Buchanan was scoping out Badger Hill Farm for its new owners, a CEO in the hospitality industry and his wife, who have a primary home in Bethesda. They bought the 140-acre farm, partitioned from a larger horse-breeding operation, as a getaway and place to raise the hunter-jumper breeds their two daughters have loved and ridden since childhood. They called Buchanan, who is steeped in the classical architectural tradition of the area, to help them design and build a country house on the farm. On that summer day, Buchanan thought he’d found the perfect spot in one of its several outbuildings.
“I presented them with a conceptual plan for adding onto the cottage,” Buchanan relates, “but, at their request, developed an alternative design for a new house on a hill that would maximize dramatic views of the mountains.” After careful consideration, the couple opted to build their new home around the existing cottage, originally built in the mid-1900s.
“The cottage was sheltered from the weather and framed by trees,” reasons the husband. “Why knock down an old, beautiful three-bedroom farmhouse?” What he and his wife grew to love was how the humble cottage influenced the flavor of the addition Buchanan designed, which more than doubled the original structure’s size.
Buchanan’s plan placed the addition at a right angle to the cottage; it became the new front and main volume of the house. The addition’s position on a gentle slope required a major grade elevation, which was addressed by Annapolis landscape architect Jay Graham. The owners tapped Graham to devise a comprehensive master plan for the site, which encompassed not only earthwork, but also a graceful new access road, a complex drainage system, and an environmentally smart rain garden. Like Buchanan, Graham also tuned in to the past by introducing lilac and boxwood—both of which have historic roots in Virginia Horse Country.
Sensitivity to the past was a hallmark of the project for the owners, both admirers of Thomas Jefferson’s architectural designs. The main-block addition is made of brick laid in a Flemish bond pattern. Inside, millwork and balustrades were re-scaled based on those at the University of Virginia. The formal entry and primary rooms are built on a traditional center-hall plan; the main staircase, at the far end of the center hall, provides a transition to bedrooms in the original cottage on the second floor. A skylight at the top of the stairs visually eases the adjustment from 11-foot ceiling heights in the addition to eight-foot ceiling heights in the cottage; it also bathes the deepest part of the home in light.
The owners’ desire to keep the house light drove interior designer Laura Chester’s selection of paint and fabric palettes. She noticed the application of Jefferson’s over-door transoms “to borrow lightroom to room” and stretched the effect with hues of vanilla, yellow and wheat for wall colors. The wife’s love of leafy and floral patterns, consistent through Chester’s design of two other homes for the couple, led to selections of drapery and upholstery fabrics. Chester’s familiarity with what she labels “an inherited look” inspired a layering of antiques—many of which are made of fruitwood or faded mahogany and sourced locally. Their honey tones contribute a mellow mood in rooms that function informally for extended family. “This isn’t a ‘decorated’ look, but lived-in and accumulated-looking,” Chester explains.
Recalling his own conviction that summer when he first saw the property, Buchanan explains, “Saving an old farm cottage by adding onto it helped make this new house comfortable on the land—like it’s always been here. It’s hard to believe there was any choice.”
The timeless elegance of the home’s design is a tribute to the sensitivity of its owners, architect and the entire creative team, who made it look easy. “We didn’t want a pure translation of architecture from the 1830s,” reflects the husband. “Mark helped us tweak that historical formality toward a more personal, comfortable and modern interpretation.”
Writer Susan Stiles Dowell is based in Monkton, Maryland. Gordon Beall is a photographer in Bethesda, Maryland.
ARCHITECT: MARK BUCHANAN, AIA, Neumann Lewis Buchanan Architects, Middleburg, Virginia. INTERIOR DESIGN: LAURA CHESTER, Laura Chester Interiors, Delaplane, Virginia. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: JAY GRAHAM, FASLA, Graham Landscape Architecture, Annapolis, Maryland. BUILDER: DARYL LANDIS, Potomac Valley Builders, Bethesda, Maryland.