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A Chateau in Clifton

Private 27,000 square-foot retreat features seven bedrooms, nine baths.

Ron and Cheryl Hubbard live in a chateau. Their 27,000 square-foot home, with a three-story grand foyer, seven bedrooms, nine baths, and an art gallery, was inspired by classic European architecture. It is their dream home, a gated, private retreat off a pastoral road in Clifton, and it was all designed by Ron.

Ron, president of the architectural consulting firm, C+H Associates, Inc., is an architect who specializes in non-residential design, particularly embassies and hospitals. He bought the 5-acre Clifton property in 1987, began sketching his home in the mid-1990s, and completed his drawings by 1998. It was the first time he had designed his own home.

What Ron envisioned was a far cry from the Northern Virginia center hall Colonial in which he and Cheryl, a senior director with United Way Worldwide, were then living. The expansive home was inspired by houses he and Cheryl had seen while traveling for several years through Europe.

“European architecture is built to last forever; you can come by in 100 years and still ‘get’ the design,” Ron explained. “Contemporary architecture can be interesting, but it also comes in and out [of style].”

Initially, Ron and Cheryl did not agree on whether to build the home on the Clifton property. They had purchased a 6-acre lot in Fairfax Station and Cheryl preferred to build at that location. However, the Clifton property had been relatively inexpensive to purchase, so building there would allow them to put more money into the house.

“It was a trade off,” Cheryl noted. “We ended up selling the Fairfax Station property and building in Clifton. I feel it was absolutely the right decision. The commute [to Alexandria from Fairfax Station] would have been horrendous.”

She added, “I like my privacy after working all day. When I come home I don’t want to hear traffic or my neighbors cutting their lawns, and I get that privacy here. In hindsight, Ron was right.”

Change of Plans

The original plan was for the back of the house to be very dramatic, with a basement level walk-out leading to huge expanses of patios. But during excavation, the crew hit rock, so much and so hard that some of the construction equipment was damaged in trying to remove it. 

“It was too much to justify the walk-out,” Ron said. “We changed the plans and …used 2,000 trucks of dirt fill to level the [excavated area of the] yard. There was a train of trucks lined up the road coming one after the other to dump their fill.”

Although the backyard plans changed, the house as built offers more than 3,000 square feet of outdoor living space, including multi-level balconies and stamped concrete patios, along with two man-made ponds, one with a covered bridge to a small island. The property also features a golf green with four holes and two sand traps.

Sweat Equity

Ron was not only the home’s architect, but also its hands-on general contractor. In 2000, after a three-bedroom apartment over one of the garages was finished, Ron and his college-age daughter moved in for a few weeks to work on painting the rooms.

“While we worked on it, we used the Porta-John [toilet] outside,” Ron said. “We got the water to brush our teeth from a hose.”

Ron’s work on the house also included some heavy lifting. All of the home’s floors have structural concrete with steel bars and heavy, 8’ x 20’ mesh sheets. Ron personally pulled many of the mesh sheets to the roof level himself, using a rope. “I wanted to get things done faster,” he explained.

On many evenings, Ron spent hours retrieving unused, self-feed screws left behind by workers using screw guns, then re-attaching them to screw strips so that they were not wasted. “One night I did 50 strips of screws with 50 screws on each strip,” he recalled.

Color It Green

The Hubbards’ home includes several green features. Three geothermal fields are used to heat and cool the house, which has radiant floor heating. And, instead of using slate for the roof, Ron used roofing made from recycled tires. “It looks like real slate but weighs and costs much less,” he noted.

All the downspouts of the home empty run-off into 6-inch pipes that lead to the two ponds. The 1,000 tons of rock that were excavated during construction also were recycled: they were crushed and then used for the driveways.

Family Size Living

The house is very large, with 27,000 square-feet of interior space, 13,500 of which are currently finished. It has two wings, one of which houses the apartment and the other an indoor pool. There are three kitchenettes and two full kitchens (one in the apartment) plus the plumbing and wiring to accommodate two more full kitchens. Eight cars can park in its two attached garages. In fact, the house was designed to accommodate extended family. So, it is not surprising that the couple’s daughter, husband, and children live in the three-bedroom apartment.

“They came thinking that it would be temporary, that they would stay a year, until they built their own house,” Cheryl said. “But five years later they are still here, and it’s been so nice to have them. It’s like in Europe, where people take care of their families.”

The couple has made some accommodations to having their grandchildren in the house. They specifically chose family room furniture that would accommodate kids jumping on it. And, the 22’ x 46’ art gallery is being used as the children’s playroom/family room, with a pool table and big-screen television.

The Hubbards also designed the home as a long-term residence, by building it to accommodate wheelchairs. There is an oak-paneled elevator off the foyer, and all of the hallways and doors are wide enough for wheelchair access.

Interiors

The chateau’s main level features large, mostly formal rooms filled with traditional furnishings. The grand foyer has colorful marble floors and ceilings that soar three stories up; balconies from the second and third floors overlook the foyer. The unusual, double staircase is crafted of hand-hewn oak that was milled on the property.  

A gourmet, eat-in kitchen sits behind the foyer. On one side of the foyer is a library with floor-to-ceiling oak bookcases, a 41’ x 19’ family room with a kitchenette and a stone-faced fireplace, and an exercise room with sauna. The other side of the foyer has a formal dining room, a parlor, and a formal living room. All of the main floor rooms have ceilings that are 12 feet high. Those on the second and basement levels are 10 feet high, while the third floor has both 10 and 12-foot ceilings

In furnishing the rooms, the couple often began with a rug, and then furnished the rest of the room around the rug’s colors and designs. One of the most striking rooms is the formal living room, which the couple calls “the Egyptian Room.”

“When we were in Egypt looking for furniture, I walked past a room and it caught my eye,” said Cheryl. “I told Ron 'This is perfect, this is it.'”

The pieces that attracted Cheryl were ornate Louis XV and XVI reproductions. The furniture, including a large marble table, was custom-made for the room, which also features Egyptian art.

The Egyptian Room’s focal point is the fireplace. (The house currently has five fireplaces, but it was built to allow as many as 13).  The fireplace has a graceful, swag-style plaster surround with a floral design, and the couple had the room’s plaster crown molding made to match it.

The trim moldings in other rooms differ, so that there are a variety of styles, a choice made to create an impact.  

“We wanted there to be three things to say “Wow!” about in each room,” Ron noted. “That could be something like molding, built-ins, or rugs.”

Moving On

After over a decade of living in the chateau, the Hubbards have decided to downsize, and hope to find a lakeside property to build a smaller home.

“We thought we would live here forever,” Cheryl said. “We didn’t think about maintenance and taxes and being so tied to the house.”

Ron said his next home will have a different look.  “This new home will definitely not be classic architecture,” Ron said. “You look at many things, including the exposure, the wind, and the site when designing a home….The next one will likely be contemporary with a lot of glass to take in the views.”

Will it have an Egyptian room? “The Egyptian Room furniture was made for this house and won’t make the move to the lake,” Cheryl said. “It just won’t work there.”

The house is for sale through Meghan Wasinger with Jobin Realty.

Robert @ architectural mesh June 27, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Hauling mesh sheets by himself, wow. Way to go C&H architectural firm! reuse, recycle.

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