Karl and Diane Kelley’s wish list for their dream house did not include a romantic ruin, though that became the inspiration for the glamorous Goose Creek residence they now enjoy.
The couple cast about for the right style in which to build on a prized plot along this protected Potomac River tributary near Leesburg. When they chanced upon a sparkling rendition of a farmhouse by architect Donald Lococo, Karl Kelley was smitten—but the architect knew better.
“You don’t want this house,” Lococo said. “You want your house.”
And so began a months-long adventure in which desire was distilled from childhood memories of waterways past. Karl Kelley, a Richmond native who runs a strategic research consultancy, and the Canadian-born architect both grew up floating under old railway bridges and by remnants of 19th-century industrial might. Their shared design language evolved from old “farm” to abandoned “mill.” The resulting homage to America’s manufacturing heritage has produced a polished Piranesi for the 21st century.
Form followed the imagined function, and today, the low-slung structure reveals itself as a cluster of buildings linked by walkways and bridges typical of old factory or mill architecture—a natural for Karl Kelley, who descends from a line of industrial suppliers. The two-story dwelling sits back on a rough-mown meadow. Twin stone chimney walls rise 27 feet from its heart, like survivors of some mythical, hard-working past. A standing-seam metal roof adds nostalgia. And yet, expanses of glass amid the board-and-batten façade allow glimpses of an urbane interior.
The 5,250-square-foot residence centers on a double-height “main building” containing a dining area, step-down living room, kitchen, media room and master suite. The architectural dynamic of black steel beams and rough-hewn hemlock timbers salvaged from a 19th-century barn creates drama and forges a backdrop for contemporary art and furnishings. Up a flight of steel stairs, a three-foot-wide, steel-and-glass bridge spans the central space, linking a second-floor office and bedrooms for family and friends. “Things are happening above, over and around you,” says Lococo of the energy he tried to create.
The home was constructed by The Block Builders Group under the direction of Tony Paulos. The interior design evolved in partnership with Sandra Meyer of Ella Scott Design and Diane Kelley, a retired NCIS agent and native of Southern California. Material elements, including white oak and asphalt-look, ceramic-tile floors and an antiqued-brass wall in the master bedroom, were contributed by Lococo.
Meyer unified the whole with inspired choices, including a partition wall clad in leather between dining and sitting areas, and silvered walls in the dressing room. A funky French daybed was acquired online and left in its original fabric. Cushy swivel chairs were spotted at the Washington Design Center. “The clients are very young at heart,” Meyer says. “They love to entertain. I was trying to bridge comfortable with a glam vibe.”
The kitchen grew organically out of the architecture. Lococo employed the exposed stone wall as a backsplash, with a window to an adjacent screened porch. He also designed the spacious island where the Kelleys and their frequent guests like to gather at counter stools covered in cowhide.
Expanses of glass on both levels offer views across a pool terrace to the creek and woodland on the opposite bank. “The views really do speak for themselves,” Meyer says, “so keeping clear lines of sight was necessary. That’s the way Donald designed it. That’s part of the brilliance of the architecture.”
Landscape architect Bob Hruby was brought in early to address the five-acre site, which balances flood plain and septic field. He approached the project with respect both for the existing semi-wild aesthetic and for Lococo’s desire to evoke a modern ruin. “We didn’t want to set this house in a manicured landscape,” Hruby says. “The approach we took was almost like minimal intervention. Plantings were organized in a very natural way, meant to look as if they had just grown there.”
An existing scrum of trees provided a backdrop for a natural meadow on the approach to the house. Hruby describes the planting concept as an “experiment in what happens when you leave parts of the property fallow.” Horsetail makes an artful evergreen statement beside the front door. Sweet box, viburnum, ornamental grasses and river birch and Sweetbay magnolia trees soften the architecture along a gravel drive.
Requirements of the flood plain determined both the construction and planting possibilities between the house and creek. The swimming pool extends right to the buildable edge of the property, supported by a seven-foot-high retaining wall. Hruby edged the pool terrace with rock-walled planters and filled them in a romantic nod to weeds likely to sprout from crevices in an actual ruin. The perennial show includes salvia, bluestar, coneflower, catmint, aster and Russian sage. Small ornamental trees combine with native hydrangea, viburnum and bearberry to define the pool-terrace edge.
“It’s all about understanding the architect’s goals and what the clients want,” Bob Hruby says. “The land can be shaped to marry those ideas.”
Architecture: Donald Lococo, AIA, NCARB, Donald Lococo Architects, Washington, DC. Interior Design: Sandra Meyer, Ella Scott Design, Bethesda, Maryland. Builder: Tony Paulos, The Block Builders Group, Bethesda, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Bob Hruby, ASLA, Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. Photo Styling: Stylish Productions.
Table: calligaris.com. Chairs: deccahome.com/bolier. Rug: loloirugs.com. Chandelier: daikonic.com. Drapery Fabric: pindler.com. Custom Sideboard: definitivecustomfurnitureanddesign.com. Sideboard Hide Covering: romo.com.