When Pam Ellis and her family moved from Seattle, Wash. to Northern Virginia in 1991, she struggled with finding the right home. Pam looked at “a huge expanse of area, from Falls Church to Leesburg, and a zillion homes” but found them all too formal, too dark or both. “I didn’t want a house that had the formality of the East Coast,” said Pam, a Fairfax County employee. “I wanted a house that was very relaxed, with a lot of windows.”
After her Realtor suggested she consider building a new home, Pam’s search switched to finding the right property; it turned out to be a private, 5-acre wooded lot in Clifton’s Wyckland neighborhood. There, Pam built a six-bedroom, 6.5-bath home with an exterior that nearly replicates the Federal Greek Revival design of historic Rosedown Plantation in southern Louisiana.
“I went to school in the South and fell in love with the architecture there,” Pam noted. “So, the exterior design of my house was based on Rosedown but made bigger, with an extra window in the front and extended sides.” Pam’s 8,800 square-foot home is white with black shutters, and features verandas that extend the length of the house on the first and second floors.
The interior does not follow the Rosedown plantation house layout, Pam noted. With four children, spanning toddler to teens, she wanted a house that would offer a “very relaxed lifestyle, family-friendly and functional.” The main floor includes a gourmet eat-in kitchen, butler’s pantry, dining and living rooms, family room, master bedroom suite with a fireplace, and a library with custom built cherry cabinetry. The second floor, accessible via the foyer’s grand staircase and a back staircase leading from the kitchen, includes bedrooms and an all-purpose bonus room with a bank of desks that has served several functions over the years, including a study room for the kids, and Pam’s office.
The walk-out lower level features a recreation room with a wet bar, an exercise room, and offices. Additionally, to accommodate extended family, Pam included a lower level apartment with a separate entrance. Pam’s mother, as well as several aunts and uncles, have lived in the guest apartment at various times. “That apartment has been well-loved,” Pam noted.
Pam designed her 23’ x 23’ kitchen with large windows and light-colored, birch cabinets with a custom stain. “I went through so many stains for the cabinets,” she said. “I got very focused on getting the exact color combination with the granite counters, the ceramic floor, and the cabinets, in order to pull out the right tones.”
Choosing the right lighting was also important to Pam. In the living and dining rooms she installed up-lighting behind molding soffits around the rooms’ perimeters, about a foot below the ceilings. “The ceilings are tall, and this brings them down a bit, giving a cozier feel,” Pam noted. The lights also give the rooms a soft glow.
Pam, who has a textiles degree and runs an embroidery business literally put her personal stamp on the home by faux painting or stenciling several rooms, including the living and dining rooms. “It was a very time-consuming labor of love,” she noted. She also made all of the home’s drapes and upholstered some of the furniture. A graceful, antique chair in her foyer was headed to the dump when she rescued it from a friend and reupholstered it in red.
Pam’s talents extend to the outside as well: she and her husband do their own landscaping and gardening. After reading a book on the subject, Pam even built a retaining wall in the back yard. “If I don’t know how to do something, I want to learn how to do it,” she noted. “We enjoy doing things ourselves. We appreciate it more.”
One of Pam’s favorite features of the house is the front porch; in fact, the 170 guests at her daughter’s wedding were served dinner there. The wedding ceremony was held in the back yard, hors d’oeuvres were served on the upper level of the porch, and guests enjoyed dancing in the driveway.
The back yard and pool are another favorite. “Our kids lived in the back yard,” Pam said. “They found Civil War [artifacts] buried there.”
Despite the home’s allure, Pam said she is now ready for a change. “This is our 10th house and the longest we have stayed anywhere,” she said. “We thought this would be it. But we just don’t need this space, we want more freedom to travel.” She noted that her family may live at their home in Costa Rica for awhile.