Debra Merrill had visited the front field of Fairfax Station’s Sunshire Farm many times; she used to bring her daughter there for Dominion Valley Pony Club lessons. But, she had never seen the house or the barn. So, when the property at 10817 Windermere Lane went for sale in 1999, she and her husband, Dean, decided to take a peek.
“We crossed a bridge over a creek and rounded a curve in the driveway. Then, all of a sudden, we saw the pond and the house and an open expanse of horses grazing in pastures and, well, we bought it the next week,” said Debra, who is on staff at Christ Church in Fairfax Station.
The 3-level, 5,000 square-foot post-and -eam deck house was custom built in 1986 by Phil Noggle, its original owner and designer/architect. Noggle had also re-contoured the land to create a one acre, spring-fed pond, and sited the house on the property to maximize the pastoral vistas.
The house, built with walls of windows in the south-facing front and almost none in the back, “is all about the views, views, views,” Debra said.
Although they loved the property and the basic layout of the 4-bedroom home, Debra and Dean, Vice President of information technology company CGI-AMS, didn’t like its interior. They had always lived in traditional homes and it took “a different thinking” to imagine how the contemporary house would work for them.
“At first, Dean hated the house, and we even considered knocking it down to build a Colonial,” Debra said. “But I had a vision of how it could look if we expanded on the design Phil [Noggle] had created. I asked Dean to trust that I could picture something wonderful.”
In 2000, the couple hired Case Design/Remodeling, Inc. to take the house down to the studs and renovate it, while keeping the original footprint. Debra and Dean chose not to rush into the overhaul, but to live in the house for a few months to get a feel for what would work best. Debra says they’re glad they waited, because they changed directions several times.
One change was the master bedroom. “At first we explored with Case building a big, grand master bedroom suite above the garage, something many people like,” Debra said. “But after staying in the [existing] bedroom for awhile, we realized we preferred the cozy feel of the room, all the angles and beams. It feels like a mini B and B.”
The couple set some basic goals for the remodel. One was to maximize the views and natural light for the interior rooms. The home had been originally built with an open floor plan and half-walls defining the separate spaces for some of the common rooms. The Merrills kept that concept. “The half-walls took some getting used to,” Debra admits. “But you have a view no matter where you are in the house.”
Where there are full walls between interior and exterior rooms, instead of traditional doors the couple used view-friendly, sliding glass doors to connect them. An example is the lower level recreation room, which has sliding glass doors that open to the game room, which, in turn, has walls of windows overlooking the deck and pond. This design allows light to pass from the outer ring of rooms, such as the game room, to the interior ring, including the recreation room.
Since the post-and-beam construction creates sharp angles, the couple softened the angularity with a large, round foyer window that overlooks the pond and “morning deck” where Debra enjoys her daily coffee. The home has several large, Trex decks offering ample room for outside entertaining, including 70 guests at a 90th birthday party for Dean’s mother.
Debra put her own stamp on the house with faux painting. As the former owner of a faux painting company, Just for the Faux of It, she had painted many homes in the Clifton area. In her renovated kitchen she created a faux slate tile border in the breakfast area to match the natural, rough-hewn slate tiles on the backsplash. In her master bathroom, Debra painted a subtle, shadow image of a tree on a tall wall. “The painting is of a tree that’s outside the bathroom window,” Debra explained. “When you look out the window, the image on the wall lines up with the real tree outside.”
Although the house is non-traditional, it works for both Debra and the skeptical Dean. “When he saw the piano in the half-walled music room he fell in love.” Debra said.
While the house absorbed much of their attention, the Merrills also had 11 acres of farmland with a horse barn to tend. “We were like Mutt and Jeff buying a farm,” Debra said, laughing. “Neither of us grew up on a farm, so we had no idea what we were doing.”
But they did own two horses, which they had been boarding, and were excited to be able to keep the animals at home. Since the barn has six stalls, the Merrills also board four horses on a co-op basis. In 2010, Sunshire Farms won the Clean Water Farm Award from the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District.
The couple’s grandchildren love the farm, especially riding the tractor with Dean. “We wanted to have the coolest grandparents’ house,” Debra joked. But the Merrills also have made it a “personal ministry” to share the delights of country living with others outside their family, allowing community children to catch-and-release fish in the pond or ride horses.
Recently, the Merrills decided to downsize and simplify for retirement. They have listed Sunshire Farm for sale for $1,398,000 through Carol Hermandorfer of Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc.
Debra said it will be very hard to leave their farm retreat. “Two foxes live with four raccoons in one of the fields, and every evening between 8 o’clock and 9:15 we can see them all together,’’ Debra muses. “There are red tail hawks, and we know where their nests are…. Three pairs of mated geese and four pairs of mallards live at the pond, and they always hatch near Mother’s Day weekend. It’s been a real privilege to watch the rhythms of nature from season to season over the past 12 years.”