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


A design-bid-build approach aligned the best elements

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

Tony and Melissa Colangelo lived happily in a house Tony bought in Great Falls, Virginia when he was single. Then came the birth of their twins, the need for more space and a legacy to leave to the children one day. So Tony, 58, and Melissa, 52, set out to find new accommodation.

“That was the start of the whole effort – a long-term, multi-generational project,” says Tony, who runs his own government contracting business.

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

Their home was located on a lot that would have been cramped for a new two-story home. A teardown has therefore been removed from the list. They visited other places, but did not like the style or the multi-tiered life.

We made the biggest purchase of our lives, on sight

“We were trying to avoid stairs – single-story living is where it’s at,” says ob-gyn Melissa. “The more we talked about it, the more our options sucked.”

So the couple tapped into the knowledge bank of the local realtor and secured 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 lot, but a fire had damaged it years earlier. The house was never repaired and ended up being demolished.

Further questions posed to the referral network led the family to architect James McDonald, principal of Great Falls-based James McDonald Associate Architects.

McDonald had worked with Tony on a small bathroom renovation in his old house, but it was a bigger project. The couple showed McDonald pictures of homes they liked, including villas in Florida.

“They were looking for one-level living, lots of indoor-outdoor interaction, and a place for their offices,” McDonald says.

The custom-built ranch offers tranquility and friendliness for a 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 6,000 square feet of living space on the ground floor. not to mention 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 have been learned along the way.

“I wish I had hired an interior designer earlier in the process,” says Melissa. “Some things got custom two inches or two feet, when we could have used standard sizes, if we had known.”

Martha Vicas, director of DC-based MS Vicas Interiors, was tapped to help guide the project toward completion. Although the Colangelos admit to having slightly different tastes, Vicas wasn’t offended.

“It’s rare to find a couple that’s completely style-aligned,” says Vicas. “I try to give everyone a bit of what they want while doing what suits the space.”

A referral from Vicas led the family to the next member of the design team, Jordan Clough, senior partner at Joseph Richardson Landscape Architecture, also based in Washington. Part of Clough’s job was to gracefully frame the vast house on the site.

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

Terraced walls and a raised entrance are lined with hardy native plantings, including river birch and southern magnolia, as well as catmint and creeping juniper. Future plans include a trail system for children.

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

A circular car lot provides access to the ever-changing estate with custom touches from the 11-foot pivoting front door. Tony links the single gateway to a post seen on Pinterest. A barrel-ceilinged hallway illuminated by hidden cove lighting beckons towards the main living area. Melissa’s office is on the left and features a tray ceiling and an accent wall covered in abstract patterned wallpaper. There is a combination of built-in drawers and open shelves for storage. Further down the hall there is a powder room, a lift to the basement and a cloakroom.

All floors on the ground floor are prefinished engineered European oak. The hallway opens into the great room, which shares an open plan with the dining room and kitchen. The great room has 15 foot ceilings with a wall of window facing the back yard. Inset sliding doors open to a framed loggia fitted with electronically controlled screens which can be dropped during insect season.

The screens proved particularly difficult, as the family room leads to an arched loggia, says Steve Yeonas Jr., partner at Artisan Builders.

A home renovation that started in the laundry room

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

The great room’s accent wall features banquettes on both sides of a stone fireplace and a combination fireplace designed by Vicas.

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

The living room has two sitting areas with the dining area separating the space from the kitchen. Once again, the family tapped into their network and hired Tysons, Va.-based Lobkovich to handle the kitchen design tasks.

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

J. Paul Lobkovich, president of the kitchen design company, was commissioned to come up with an oven hood that could match the fireplace in the living room.

The hood is considered the “face of the kitchen” because it’s an important element in many kitchen designs, says Lobkovich. The kitchen is directly across from the fireplace in the living room and “we wanted to reflect the design of the fireplace without being literal,” he says. So we interpreted the design and created a unique metal hood that references the design of the fireplace to give a certain balance to the space.

A “20-year life cycle”

The right wing of the house has two bedrooms for the children, a guest suite and the master suite with an exterior door to the loggia. The master bathroom includes a rain shower in a thresholdless enclosure with side sprays and a stand-alone tub. There are two matching painted wood vanities with nickel inlay trim and quartzite tops. The window coverings in the master bathroom have been replaced with electrochromic windows that become frosted at the press of a button.

Manage a teardown to build a dream house

The left wing of the house includes the double garages, each with an 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 is also a personalized armillary (a sphere of objects) that tells the time with inscriptions of children’s birthdays. The basement includes a wine cellar, a games area and a home theater. The Colangelos want to keep construction costs private, but returning the fully custom estate doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

“When we were making decisions about what to do with the house, whether it was a structural element 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 think strategically, not tactically.”


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