Designer Rebecca Penno layers refinement and a rustic vibe in a McLean custom home
As empty-nesters Cathy and Phil Horvitz weighed possible sites for their dream home, McLean’s newly minted Mackall Farms neighborhood stood out. “It’s a bespoke community,” says Phil, a technology executive. “Each house has a different philosophy.”
The couple scooped up a tree-laden lot there in 2015—with their own philosophy in mind for the roost that would follow. “A rustic yet refined atmosphere was what we were going for,” reveals Cathy, a homemaker.
Architect Mark Sullenberger and builder Mitch Racoosin translated that credo into a French Country-style abode, concocted of natural fieldstone, stucco-coated brick and stained cedar. They carried the aesthetic inside with reclaimed-oak ceiling beams and a fieldstone fireplace surround, among other agrarian accents. These soulful details swayed designer Rebecca Penno, who joined the team during construction, as she wove a cohesive color story throughout the three-level home and appointed the main-floor spaces.
“I kept going back to the interior architecture—the rough-hewn timbers, the different tones in the stone,” Penno recalls. “The neutrals we used have warmth to them. We love incorporating browns and taupes with ivories, making rooms a little cozier, but in this case we left the wall colors fairly light to keep them bright.”
Creating a relaxed vibe reigned supreme. “I really wanted it to feel comfortable when you come in the front door,” says Cathy. “I wanted traditional-but-fresh interiors, nothing too formal. Rebecca knew how to bring those elements in to make it a little bit fresher.”
The designer established the palette and approach in the entryway, where a hand-knotted rug embodies her penchant for earthy shades. An eye-catching lantern, with its aged-iron finish and fanciful curves, encapsulates the rustic-to-refined ratio. The center table is one of several pieces from the owners’ existing collection that Penno worked into her furniture schemes (it displays a pair of Foo dogs from Cathy’s prized collection).
The foyer leads back to a decidedly unstuffy dining room, replete with pattern and texture. Above the wainscoting, which stretches two-thirds of the way up the walls, Penno installed a graphic, tone-on-tone Phillip Jeffries grass cloth. A stylized damask print from Stroheim enlivens wingback chairs that preside over the dark wood table. As the designer notes, the space “is not overly formal but it’s still refined.”
The kitchen lies to the right of the dining room, down the hall. Emily Neifeld of Lobkovich Kitchen Designs conjured the homespun space, mixing time-honored ingredients—from a subway-tile backsplash to honed-marble countertops—with touches of rusticity such as the bleached-walnut panels on the Sub-Zero refrigerator. The goal, Neifeld reveals, was “to create a kitchen that is bright and traditional with rustic charm.”
Penno collaborated with Artisan Builders on a built-in banquette to fit the curved breakfast area. Acknowledging her clients’ “no-fuss way of life,” she covered the fronts of the side chairs in easy-to-clean vinyl; a trellis-patterned textile from Kravet dresses the less-spill-prone backs.
Laid-back, generously scaled furnishings inhabit the adjacent gathering space. “This room has the volume ceiling with timbers and stone on the fireplace, so it wouldn’t take delicate furniture,” the designer states. A sectional sofa from CR Laine, clad in Crypton fabric, offers ample seating when the Horvitzes’ two grown children visit.
Phil’s study and the master-bedroom suite sit on the opposite end of the first floor, to the left of the entryway. In designing the study, Penno took her cues from its clubby, white-oak wall paneling. “I wanted this room to feel masculine, playing off the oak,” she explains. A plaid, leather-bound rug, custom-crafted from broadloom carpet, launched her vision.
The master suite epitomizes the home’s traditional-yet-fresh milieu. A Cowtan & Tout grass-cloth wall covering, bolstered with metallic shimmer, graces the suite’s vestibule. Cathy refinishes furniture as a hobby and the hall’s antique cabinet is a product of her handiwork. The bedroom’s lattice-patterned Wilton rug hits a classic note, while its painted furniture and upholstered bed keep the design from veering toward stodgy.
“There are little nods to tradition here and there, but it’s not too fussy—or too casual,” asserts Penno. “That’s the story behind all the interiors. They are a happy medium.”
Completing the custom home, from architectural drawings to relaxed décor, took more than three years. According to the Horvitzes, the outcome justifies the commitment. “It was a lot of work,” admits Phil, “but we enjoyed the adventure and couldn’t be happier with the end result.”
Architecture: Mark R. Sullenberger, AIA, Custom Design Concepts Architecture, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Interior Design: Rebecca Penno, Penno Interiors, McLean, Virginia. Kitchen Design: Emily Neifeld, Lobkovich Kitchen Designs., Vienna, Virginia. Builder: Mitch Racoosin, Artisan Builders, McLean, Virginia.
Rebecca Penno’s Trade Secrets
How do you impart personality to a space?
There are many ways to tell your story. Replacing light fixtures can change a mood entirely, or using wallpaper in unexpected places. Incorporating millwork, such as a coffered ceiling, will add a dimension.
What makes a neutral palette sing?
When working with a tone-on-tone interior, I tend to keep the eye moving by layering patterns and textures so nothing appears flat or dull.
Go-to paint color for walls?
I use Sherwin Williams’ Natural Choice quite often. It has a nice, creamy undertone without going yellow and works great with both warm and cool tones. We used it in the Horvitzes’ public spaces.
Thoughts on mixing metals?
Combining metals like aged brass and bronze often gives a collected-over-time appearance. If that is outside your comfort zone, use different finishes of the same metal, such as polished and brushed nickel.