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Potomac Country House Tour

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Re-Imagined Williamsburg Colonial

Featured in 2014

Design surprises are everywhere in the dynamically renovated home of developer/architect Tracy Vargo and his wife Mary. The Vargos purchased this 1977 Brendan O’Neill Colonial in 2001 and collaborated with Jim Rill Architects on a meticulously planned renovation. Retaining many original elements, the renovation  increased square footage from 2400 to 12,000 and “greened” the home with geothermal heating/cooling and energy-efficient windows. The center stair Colonial “footprint” has been cleverly reversed, with the dining room and foyer having exchanged places. Note the laser-cut compass of stained oak, maple, cherry and walnut in the entryway floor:  playful yet precise, it marks the exact latitude and longitude of this sailing family’s home. An eclectic collection of art, with emphasis on 20th century and contemporary painting, photography, wood and glass sculptures reflects the owners’ fondness for maritime locales and natural forms.

Bull’s eye glass transoms here and throughout soften transitions room to room. The original family room, which retains its initial plank ceiling and corner fireplace, opens to the stunning new Great Room. Here a 24 1/2’  high tongue-in-groove fir ceiling with exposed rafters and floor-to-ceiling local stone fireplace create a dramatic but irresistibly warm environment, with favored Stickley and Thomas Moser furniture setting an elegant and lived-in tone. The room’s versatility is reflected in the integrated bar, constructed from flooring “scrap” wood stained to complement a Stickley cabinet, a handsome 1895 restored Steinway piano, concealed shades and two media screens which drop from the ceiling.

The kitchen’s design recalls the nautical theme of the entryway. Its latched cabinets are set high along the wall and spaced for an open seagoing feel.  A central honed granite island is both gathering spot and efficient workspace, with built-in bookshelves and adjustable pulley lights overhead.  The spacious breakfast room with rustic stone fireplace, originally the garage space, seats 18 at a long pear wood table with storage window benches. The harbor-scene rug was custom made for the space by Claire Murray of Nantucket. Wall-length windows frame the shaded private pool area and grounds, with flagstone walkways connecting a screened gazebo and fir-lined potting shed. A replicated 3rd century legendary “Terracotta Warrior” from century Xian, China, presides serenely nearby.

Ascend the wide-planked quarter-sawn white oak stairway to the transformed bedroom suites.  Upstairs ceilings were “popped” to break the traditional 8’ standard and create constant variations in height. The master bedroom has a deliberately “porch-y” ambiance, its quiet sitting area adjacent to a cozy curved-ceiling balcony.   The master bath features custom cut sprial -patterned marble flooring, with an Italianate floral inset. The three children decorated their own bedrooms. Each has a distinctive loft accessed by individualized spiral staircases. The middle son, an architecture student, designed a special surprise for entering visitors!

On the lower level, an extensive Rec Room and enviably equipped Exercise Room incorporate additional decor and design novelties. An ornately carved 19th century pool table, acquired from the old Boeing executive retreat in St. Louis, is the oak twin of the mahogany table used by President Obama and predecessors at the White House. Marvel at the workmanship of the slate and marble walk-in spa shower and sauna in the Exercise Room, which opens to the outdoors with a sideways push of garage-style doors.

From there view the cedar-shingled “Silo” tower housing Tracy’s office and guest suite with full kitchen, cozy seating area and bedroom. The hung spiral staircase leading up to it is made of reclaimed barn wood from Frederick.  Exit through the original bricked breezeway, now closed in, wondering at the adventuresome re-imaginings of this owner/architect team.