From split foyer to French colonial: Innovative solution tops national competition -- Gazette.Net


Tastes can change; So, too, can an owner’s requirements of their home.

In the early 1960s, for instance, no floor plan seemed better suited to the demands of modern life than the split-level—which divides interior space into sleeping zones, family gathering rooms and service areas. Designers next introduced the “split foyer,” which directs traffic up and down from a locale between two floors—giving equal value to kitchen and bedrooms above and family recreation and laundry below.

But such schemes aren’t for everyone and, after years of application, restrictive rules—like walls—can wear thin.

Gini and Bob Mulligan are 25-year occupants of a circa-1960s split foyer situated on a wooded setting in Fairfax.

“We were really attracted to the extraordinary country setting when we bought this house in 1988,” said Gini. “We were less attracted to the house itself, but thought, well … we can make some changes once we’re settled in.”

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and the rethinking process is still under way.

“We solicited ideas from a lot of remodelers, but modifications to a split foyer that worked for us weren’t easy to come by. In the end, we decided that our surroundings called for a farmhouse with a big welcoming porch. Unfortunately, the conceptual drawings we received mostly just showed we weren’t being heard.”

Compounding the issue was the couple’s extensive wish listwhich included a large master bedroom suite, a gourmet kitchen, substantially enlarged living and entertainment spaces, private places for billiards and studio painting, and lots of natural light and visual continuum in all directions.

Ranked above all this, however, was a call to dramatically redesign the front facade.

“A spilt foyer puts the front door midway between the first and second levels,” said Gini. “How do you modify a feature like that?”

Enter Craig Durosko, founder and chairman of Sun Design Remodeling.

“A split foyer is a fascinating challenge,” said Durosko. “For starters, you have to eliminate the mid-level front-facing stairwell, and create alternatives that really advance the owner’s vision. Typically, this is going to entail structural changes and a redefinition to the home’s basic architecture.”

The starting point is to concentrate on solving functional considerations, according to Durosko. This then drives the search for an architectural language that satisfies a broad criteria, including the appropriateness of the home’s design to its setting.

What evolved was a rural variant of French colonial style, a language associated with Louisiana and the Delta states—places where the indoor-outdoor component is a lifestyle essential.

“Relocating the front door to the second floor main level wrapped by a porch called for distinctive front stairs,” Durosko said. “We designed the pavilion roof to reconcile the porch to the higher pitch of a new third-level hipped roof. Three dormer windows—needed for natural light—followed from this.”

The new entry portal is a glass-facing double French door. Six divided light windows now grace the reimagined front elevation. Porch support piers are perfectly aligned with its roof columns. The broad flaring stairway narrows toward the top. Old brick was deployed to extend the existing chimney.

Durosko and his team created an evocation of a “raised rural” French colonial style, originally created in the 18th century for a country setting.

By contrast, the remade interior explores open floor plan sensibilities. A footprint above the garage is allocated to a sizeable master suite with 15-foot cathedral ceilings and generous views of the leafy lot from front and back. Three small bedrooms on the home’s south side are converted into a generous guest suite complete with its own rear entrance. Front-facing rooms are converted into a library, which accesses both suites, and the new locale for a mid-house staircase linking both the existing lower level and a new third floor.

Other small changes dramatically expand the home’s primary living area. Removing just 90 square feet of mid-level foyer permitted designers to reconfigure the living room and dining room into an L-shaped great room wrapping a new gourmet kitchen, which opens on two sides.

The kitchen’s cathedral ceiling—crowned with an extensive window wall—invites natural light. Gini said any seat in the primary living area is visually linked to the wooded setting from all sides.

Relocating the stairwell and opening some walls transforms the lower level into a far more light and airy family entertainment center. The third floor also gains light from front and back dormers.

“Rocking on the front porch in the morning or the evening surrounded by trees is just deliciously satisfying,” said Gini. “The house is a perfect realization.”

The makeover was recently named the nation’s best residential addition in the $100,000-$250,000 category by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Sun Design Remodeling Specialists frequently sponsors tours of recently remodeled homes, as well as workshops on home remodeling topics.

For more information, call 703-425-5588 or