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

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When you have a blended family with six kids ages 3 to 23, you might think a multilevel house would be ideal for some generational separation. But for Aisha Williams, a senior leader in health and social policy and innovation, and her husband, Frank Major, an IT executive, a ranch-style house in McLean, Va., with one-level living was ideal.

“We have a friend in Greenwich, Connecticut, with a ranch-style house that has an in-law suite on one side of the swimming pool that inspired our ideas for our house,” Williams says. “This house is just comfortable for everyone. We entertain often and our house is kind of like ‘Cheers’ with our friends and family showing up at the mudroom door and being welcomed inside at any time.”

Major, who worked with AARP before his present job, says one-level living is ideal for everyone, especially for eventually aging in place. During the pandemic, Williams’s mother came to live with the family in a private guest suite with its own kitchen, family room, office or guest room, two bathrooms, and a screened porch. The 6,133-square-foot home also has a lower level with an additional bedroom, a fitness room and casual entertaining space.

“We have a lot of family nearby, and it’s important to us to have a nice flow for entertaining inside and outside,” Major says.

Major and Williams worked with Anthony Wilder, founder of Anthony Wilder Design/Build in Cabin John, Md., to bring their vision for their home to a level beyond their expectations.

“We have three kids at home who are 3, 9 and 16,” Williams says. “We also have three in college or recently graduated who are 19, 22 and 23, so we needed space for everyone to have some quiet and privacy as well as a big enough open-floor plan for us to be together.”

A major renovation yields a multigenerational home on Capitol Hill

One-level living is becoming increasingly popular with Wilder’s clients, he says. He and his wife live in a one-level house, too. But finding the right property in the crowded D.C. area can be a challenge.

“We initially wanted to be in North Arlington, but the lots were too small to design a house with a guest wing or guesthouse,” Williams says. “We found this corner lot in McLean that had a small house on it that we initially intended to remodel, but eventually we realized that it would be simpler to knock it down and start from scratch than to try to incorporate it into our vision.”

The family moved into their home in 2018. In 2020, the house adapted easily into a workplace and education center for their preschool, elementary school, high school and college students.

“Designing and building a custom home like this could cost around $2 million,” Wilder says, which does not include the land or landscaping.

Serenity in a family-centric household

While you might anticipate a household that occasionally has all nine family members in residence could be chaotic, the design of the home with wide hallways, high ceilings, warm materials and expanses of glass walls provides an unexpected serenity.

“We deliberately designed this house with high ceilings that aren’t too high,” Wilder says. “These are about 10 feet high. Ceilings that are 12 feet high would be too tall and create an echo.”

Wilder worked with Williams and Major to develop the vision for the home, while Sean Mullin, an architect with Anthony Wilder Design/Build, drew the plans.

The charm of the house is immediately apparent, with its width stretched across the one-acre lot and facing a semicircular driveway illuminated by gas lanterns. A cupola crowns the white brick-and-stucco property, and stone stairs lead to the front entrance.

A home renovation that started in the laundry room

A leaded glass window above the gently arched wood front door adds an old-fashioned element of romance to the home. To the left of the foyer is a graceful formal dining room with a picture window, pocket doors to the kitchen, and plenty of room for family and friends to gather.

“We favor the ‘less is more’ approach and simple elegance,” Williams says. “Anthony really understands that and brought our ideas to life.”

As Wilder explains, “Good design is invisible.”

In the main family room, which is open to the adjacent kitchen, a two-sided gas fireplace is set into a floor-to-ceiling wall that separates the room from the hall and is visible from a home office through glass doors.

“The fireplace wall is made of a synthetic metal that looks like stone, which provides both a contemporary and an old-world visual impact,” Wilder says. “We deliberately placed the fireplace at eye level when people are seated so it’s not hidden by the coffee table.”

The open kitchen is the “nerve center” for the household, says Williams, with plenty of space for her and her mother to cook and for caterers when they entertain.

“We have a very clean and simple white kitchen with a gray tile backsplash because we wanted a modern look,” Williams says. “The big island is the most important thing to me because we have lots of activity around it in the morning when everyone is eating breakfast and getting ready for the day.”

The kitchen includes a triple-bowl stainless-steel farmhouse sink with Waterworks fixtures and a six-burner Thermador range with a grill. Adjacent to the center island are a glass dining table and a butler’s pantry with extra storage and a built-in wine rack. The table is set in front of a wall of glass with a view of the pool and trees in the back of the house.

The home embraces a backyard with a swimming pool, hot tub, outdoor fireplace and landscaping by McHale Landscape Design, based in Upper Marlboro, Md., which provides both an attractive view from inside the house and privacy.

Ditching the dining room for a family-friendly kitchen

“The entire house feels like its sitting in nature because of the landscaping outside,” Williams says. “When it snowed earlier this year, we opened all the windows so we could feel like we were integrated into nature. We built a ‘snow lady’ outside in the patio with apples for lips.”

Major says one of his favorite aspects of the house is the sunshine throughout the rooms.

“I love to sit in the sun, and I even work outside when I can,” Major says. “In the evening, we can put the gas fireplace outside on and the landscape lighting is beautiful. It feels like a retreat without having to leave.”

The couple is having new landscaping planted in front of their house to replicate some of the backyard plantings.

Suites and space for everyone

Beyond the kitchen and casual dining area is the mudroom, which is outfitted with closets, hooks and benches to accommodate the family and guests. The side entrance into the mudroom provides a stepless flagstone entry to the home along with an elegant wood door that echoes the main entrance. Inside, a door leads from the mudroom to the private guest suite where Williams’s mother lives.

The guest suite includes a family room with a wall of windows facing the swimming pool and patio. The family room is open to an elegant white and gray kitchen with a large island that resembles the main kitchen.

“My mother cooks with us most of the time and the kids are in and out of her space, so there’s very little separation between us,” Williams says. “But she has her privacy when she wants it.”

The suite includes 10-foot-high ceilings, a bedroom in use as an office, and a full bathroom that connects to the hall of the suite and the second bedroom. The suite’s main bedroom includes another full bathroom and access to a private screened porch.

On the opposite side of the main kitchen, a wide hallway leads behind the family room and includes doorways to the home office and bedrooms for the couple’s younger children. The light-filled hallway includes a tall window at the end of the house. Just below that window is an opening to the fitness room on the floor below to allow plenty of natural light into that space. A clear glass panel was installed instead of a low wall at the end of the hallway above the fitness room to allow for more light to fill both spaces and for a connection between the two levels.

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For busy parents and professionals like Williams and Major, a sanctuary space is essential. Their primary suite rests on a wing off the main level and feels almost like a private home. Two glass doors flank the fireplace and connect the room with the vanishing-edge pool, patio and hot tub.

“In the summer we can hear the waterfall in the pool when we’re falling asleep,” Williams says.

The bedroom has a vaulted ceiling with floor-to-ceiling glass on the rear wall, which faces trees, plants and a landscaped rock walkway. Three more windows above the bed fill the room with even more natural light. The primary bathroom has a sculptural free-standing bathtub set under a window and an oversize shower. All the showers in the house have been designed as no-threshold showers.

“We stayed in a hotel in Barcelona once that I just loved, so I asked for the shower to be designed like that one with as many shower heads as possible,” Williams says.

The aboveground lower level includes another guest bedroom with a full bathroom and private access to a quiet patio with seating that is also accessible from the main family room.

“We used this downstairs area as a school room when schools were closed and brought in a gymnastics coach for our daughters, too,” Williams says.

The lower level has a large open space for casual entertaining and family gatherings, a media room, and the fitness room with glass doors and the opening to the main level.

“This is a well-used house,” Williams says. “I’ve lived in bigger homes, and there can be a fine line between too much space and a comfortable home. We use every bit of this house, and we can even use my mother’s guest suite for other family members when she’s traveling.”

With the help of Wilder and Mullin, Williams and Major created a welcoming home that embraces everyone who enters it.