In Great Falls, a family estate rises with a team effort

In Great Falls, a family estate rises with a team effort

A design-bid-build approach aligned the best elements

Tony and Melissa Colangelo built a one-level home on two lots in Great Falls, Va. Landscaping elements and terraces help frame the house on the site.
Tony and Melissa Colangelo built a one-level home on two lots in Great Falls, Va. Landscaping elements and terraces help frame the house on the site. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg)

Tony and Melissa Colangelo were happily living in a home Tony bought in Great Falls, Va., when he was single. Then came the birth of their twins, the need for more space and a legacy to leave for the children one day. So Tony, 58, and Melissa, 52, launched a search for a new home.

“That was the beginning of the whole effort — a long-term multigeneration project,” says Tony, who runs his own government contracting firm.

At first, all options were on the table. Renovate the bachelor pad. Find a new house. Build the custom home of their dreams. No matter what, no stairs.

Their home sat on a lot that would have cramped a new single-story house. So a teardown was crossed off the list. They toured other places, but either didn’t love the style or the multilevel living.

We made the biggest purchase of our lives, sight unseen

“We were trying to avoid the stairs — single-floor living is where it’s at,” says Melissa, an OB/GYN. “The more we talked about that, our options were zero.”

So the pair tapped into the local real estate agent knowledge bank and got a lead on two adjacent five-acre lots a few miles away. They bought both in 2018 for $2.5 million. A house was already on the land, but a fire damaged it years earlier. The home was never repaired and ended up being demolished.

More questions posed to the referral network led the family to architect James McDonald, a principal at James McDonald Associate Architects, based in Great Falls.

McDonald had worked with Tony on a small bathroom remodel at his previous home, but this was a more ambitious project. The pair showed McDonald images of homes they liked, including Florida villas.

“They were looking for one-level living, a lot of interaction between the indoors and the outdoors, and a place for his office facilities,” McDonald says.

Custom-built ranch provides tranquility, togetherness for family of 9

During a two-hour design charrette (a period of design or planning activity), McDonald sketched out the basics of what would become a home with a 6,000-square-foot main-floor living area not counting a full basement, two three-car garages and an indoor swimming pool.

The design process took a year. The construction lasted 16 months. Several lessons were learned along the way.

“I wish we had engaged an interior designer earlier in the process,” says Melissa. “Certain things became custom by two inches or two feet, when we could have used standard sizes, had we known.”

Martha Vicas, a principal at D.C.-based M.S. Vicas Interiors, was selected to help shepherd the project toward completion. Although the Colangelos admit to having slightly different tastes, Vicas wasn’t vexed.

“It is rare to find a couple that is completely aligned on style,” Vicas says. “I try to give each person a bit of what they want while doing what is right for the space.”

A referral from Vicas led the family to the next member of the design team, Jordan Clough, a senior associate at Joseph Richardson Landscape Architecture, also based in Washington. Part of Clough’s job was graciously framing the expansive house onto the site.

“The house is a one-story but has some good size to it,” Clough says. “We wanted to bring the house back down to scale in the landscape and soften the transition from the Great Falls vernacular of horse paddocks.”

Terraced walls and a stepped-up entrance are bordered by tough native plantings including river birch and Southern Magnolia trees, along with catmint and creeping juniper. Future plans include a trail system for the children.

The family decided to go with a design-bid-build scenario to put the house together. The arrangement separates the contracts for design services and the builder, who in this case was Artisan Builders, based in McLean, Va.

A circular motor court provides access to the still-evolving estate with custom touches starting at the 11-foot, pivoting front door. Tony ties the unique gateway back to a post seen on Pinterest. A barrel ceiling hallway illuminated by hidden cove lighting beckons toward the main living area. Melissa’s office is to the left and features a tray ceiling and an accent wall covered in an abstract-patterned wallpaper. There’s a combination of built-in drawers and open shelving for storage. Farther down the hall, there’s a powder room, an elevator to the basement and a coat closet.

All the floors on the main level are prefinished, engineered European oak. The hallway opens into the great room, which shares an open plan with the dining room and the kitchen. The great room has 15-foot ceilings with a window wall looking out onto the backyard. Recessed sliding doors open onto a framed-in loggia equipped with electronically controlled screens that can be dropped during bug season.

The screens turned out to be especially challenging, because the family room leads to an arched loggia, says Steve Yeonas Jr., a partner at Artisan Builders.

A home renovation that started in the laundry room

“We had to search the country to find the screen that goes up in the middle of the arch,” Yeonas says. “It’s about 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide, and there was only one guy in the country that would even do it.”

The great room accent wall includes banquette seating on both sides of a stone fireplace and chimney combination designed by Vicas.

“We wanted to create something that we had never seen before,” Vicas says. “We settled on a wall of oak slate, limestone and different types of custom leather and suede panels. The result is tons of subtle texture that drove the design of the entire room.”

The living room has two seating areas with the dining room separating the space from the kitchen. Once again, the family tapped their network and hired the company Lobkovich, based in Tysons, Va., to handle kitchen design duties.

The refrigerator is Sub-Zero and there are two cooktops both by Wolf, a combination of an induction unit and a 15-inch gas unit. The double wall ovens are also Wolf, and there is a steam oven by Miele. The dishwashers are Bosch. The kitchen countertops are quartzite.

J. Paul Lobkovich, president of the kitchen design company, was tasked with coming up with an oven hood that could match the chimney in the living room.

The hood is considered the “face of the kitchen,” because it is a prominent feature in many kitchen designs, Lobkovich says. The kitchen is directly opposite from the living room fireplace, and “we wanted to mirror the design of the fireplace without being literal,” he says. So, we interpreted the design and created a unique metal hood that references the fireplace design to give the space some balance.”

A ‘20-year life cycle’

The right wing of the house includes two bedrooms for the kids, a guest suite and the main suite with an exterior door to the loggia. The main bathroom features a rain shower in a curbless enclosure with side jets and a stand-alone soaking tub. There are two matching painted wood vanities with nickel inlay trim and quartzite tops. Window coverings in the main bath were nixed in exchange for electrochromic windows that turn frosted at the push of a button.

Managing a teardown to build a dream house

The left wing of the house includes the dual garages, each with office space above. The year-round indoor pool measures 18 by 65 feet and is tucked behind the garages. A Victorian-style greenhouse imported from England stands on the property. There’s also a time-telling, custom armillary (a sphere of objects) with markings of the children’s birthdays. The basement includes a wine room, play space and home theater. The Colangelos wish to keep the construction costs private, but flipping the totally custom estate doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

“When we were making decisions about what to do on the house, whether it was structural or a design element, we were thinking about a 20-year life cycle,” says Tony. “We weren’t constrained by the need to flip the house — we’re thinking strategically, not tactically.”