French colonial

The biggest challenge for Sun Design Remodeling is the mid-level front door. Raising the entry half a level and introducing a wrap-around elevation porch ultimately proved an appropriate choice for taking advantage of the home’s wooded setting.

Tastes differ, so do an owner’s preferences for their home.

In the early 1960s, no floor plan concept seemed better suited to demands of modern life than the “split level”--which deployed half-levels to neatly apportion interior space into sleeping zones, family gathering rooms and service areas. Carrying the social engineering mission one step further, designers next introduced the “split foyer,” which directs traffic up and down from a locale between two floors—giving equal value to both floors: kitchen and bedrooms above, family recreation and laundry below.

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

Consider, for instance, the case of Gini and Bob Mulligan, 25-year occupants of a circa-1960s split-foyer located in a lovely wooded setting in Fairfax.

“We were really attracted to the extraordinary country setting when we bought this house in 1988,” Gini explains. “It’s very private, wooded acreage that really brings your attention to the beauty of nature. 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 re-thinking process is still underway.

“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. It was very frustrating.”

Compounding the issue was the couple’s extensive wish list – which 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 everything, however, was a call to dramatically re-design the front façade.

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

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

“A split foyer presents a fascinating challenge,” Durosko acknowledges. “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 re-definition to the home’s basic architecture.”

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

Interesting, then, that what evolves out of a routine space-planning exercise is 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 explains. “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.”

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

In its essence, Durosko and team create a spot-on evocation of a “raised rural” French colonial, a look originally created in the 18th century for just such a country setting.

By contrast, the remade interior explores “open” floor plan sensibilities-- emphasizing uncluttered sight lights and easy circulation. A footprint above the garage is allocated to a sizeable master suite with 15 foot-long 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 a 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. Deleting 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 availability and visual continuum and as Gini Mulligan tells it: “any seat in the primary living area is visually linked to the wooded setting from all sides.”

On a similar note, relocating the stairwell and opening some walls transforms the lower level into a far more light and airy family entertainment center. The third floor—which Gini plans to use as an art studio—likewise, gains pleasing light from dormers in both the front and the back.

For the Mulligans, though, what really matters is how well the new house validates a long-forestalled personal vision.

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

On this point, others concur. The makeover was later 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 design and remodeling seminars, as well as tours of recently remodeled homes. To register for an event, visit http://www.SunDesignInc.comn/events/. Headquartered in Burke, the firm has a second office in McLean, VA

John Byrd has been writing about home improvement for 30 years. He can be reached @ 703-715-8006, or Send photos of interesting remodeling projects to:

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