Landscape architect Joseph Richardson (jrichardsonla.com) and his team employ a mantra when undertaking any new project: Leave the site in better condition than when it was found. On a little more than 3 acres, including 250 feet of prime waterfront, a McLean property posed significant challenges for Richardson. “A 100-foot environmental setback from the river had become overgrown with invasive plants and weeds, which had to be replaced to restore its function as a wetland,” he says. “Moreover, we had to preserve the county’s access to water-main vaults near the river, complicating our desire to replace the existing driveway because the main’s 36-inch pipes were just 1 foot below its surface. Adding to the level of difficulty was the site’s complex hydrology—it sits at the bottom of a steep hill, so the runoff from an entire neighborhood had been flooding the area repeatedly for years, damming its existing creek and eroding the surrounding landscape.”
The homeowners, a professional athlete and his family, wanted a large parking court to accommodate plenty of guests’ cars when they entertained, plus a dedicated recreational space for rescue dogs. Richardson’s work also had to complement the architectural vision of Thomson & Cooke (thomsoncooke.com), which was creating a modern 11,000-square-foot home that would rise in the woods.
“The site, one of the closest to the Potomac River possible, has both steep slopes and a narrow, level area for building,” says architect Patrick Cooke, a partner with Thomson & Cooke. “Our goal was to work within a narrow buildable area while taking advantage of the steep slopes for expanded views toward the river. The house is tucked into the hillside and presents modestly and privately toward the drive and entry side while expanding toward the riverside. From day one, the views into and across the river were the primary design objectives.”
Richardson’s landscape team oversaw the restoration of the natural wetland and flood plain near the river. “Our team spent two weeks removing by hand every nonnative or invasive plant from this 10,000-square-foot area,” he says. “We reseeded the meadow with wildflowers and grazing plants that attract local wildlife such as turkeys and deer.” The ferns and buckeye within the rain garden serve as filters for water as it comes down from the parking court, removing any vehicle toxins before it enters the creek and flows out to the river.
Cooke says his team wanted to create moments of visual drama in the entry, stair hallway and great room that continue through the kitchen—all combining for great entertainment space. With a steep homesite, Cooke knew access to the yard would be tricky. “But it gave us a great opportunity to create expansive terraces that lead from interior to exterior seamlessly,” he says. “We looked for moments to expand the view and found this by turning several corners with glass, and we made sure to capture the sense of height on the riverside by making the staircase a three-story floating steel structure.” Cooke is quick to note that local builders Peterson and Collins (petersonandcollins.com) were critical to completing their vision and employing a remarkable amount of craft and care.
A valuable space, especially during the pandemic, is the home’s jaw-dropping office. From the beginning, Cooke says his team carved out the area with high drama in mind. “It’s both central and private, and it has views to the front, side and rear of the property,” he says. “The use of the bookcase as a dividing wall allows the owners to be as open or as private in this space as they want. Home offices are sometimes tucked into forgotten corners of [many homes], but this one was designed to be a central, functional place in the house with some of the best sightlines possible.”
For interior design, Martha Vicas (msvicasinteriors.com) says the homeowners wanted comfort to reign—and, above all, to ensure the indoor design choices didn’t detract from the stunning views outdoors. She employed child-and pet-friendly fabrics, including ultrasuede, for many of the heavily used furnishings. “The living room was designed to be the main location for the family to gather,” says Vicas. “We had a long custom sofa made to accommodate the entire family.” But the stars of the show in the living room are two nesting cocktail tables, custom designed and crafted with bronze, smoked glass and petrified wood.
Because Vicas knew the homeowners wanted their master bedroom suite to feel like a serene getaway, she compartmentalized everything—laundry, wet bar, closets and storage—so that the bedroom is a relaxing chamber with merely one piece of furniture: a custom live-edge walnut bed with built-in nightstands. The room is a lofty testament to a shared vision of design, color, furniture and landscape perfection—all coming together to define a modern masterpiece.
Thomson & Cooke Architects
Martha Vicus Interiors
Joseph Richardson Landscape Architecture
Tables and chairs, living room
Julie Dasher Rugs
Custom rug, living room
Chairs, dining room
Cameron Design House
Chandelier, dining room
Table, outdoor deck
Danish Design Store
Chairs, outdoor deck
Photography by: Anice Hoachlander