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This Industrial-Modern Lake House Near DC Used to Be Dark and Dated

Designer Lauren Liess and Architect Jim Rill totally transformed it.

This Industrial-Modern Lake House Near DC Used to Be Dark and Dated
Jim Rill prefers dark exterior paint in woodsy settings because deeper hues “meld with nature.” Photograph by Stacy Zarin Goldberg.

Year built: 1978

Team: Jim Rill, architect; Lauren Liess, interior designer; Woodhaven Contractors, builder

Timeline: One and a half years

When empty-nesters Art and Leslie Richer bought their house on Reston’s Lake Thoreau, it almost seemed to be hiding from its waterfront location. “You had all these little rooms with no view,” says Art. That floor plan wound up undergoing a major reconfiguration; upstairs and downstairs additions totaled about 300 square feet.

The Richers chose architect Jim Rill because his portfolio included projects with the modern but warm vibe they loved. He referred them to a contractor. The couple didn’t plan on involving an interior designer, but once the drawings were done and they started considering materials, they realized they needed help. Lauren Liess developed the industrial, schoolhouse-inspired aesthetic they were envisioning but couldn’t quite articulate.

Lauren Liess’s advice for anyone planning a remodel? “Add as much light and as many windows as you can fit and afford. Natural light is one of the most important things.” Photograph by Stacy Zarin Goldberg.
Photograph by Stacy Zarin Goldberg.
The original floor plan was designed around a tree, cutting a swath of square-footage out of the main level. The tree was relocated and the space claimed for the living-and-dining-room addition. Photograph by Helen Norman.

Though the Richers spent nearly twice their initial budget, it was mostly by choice—higher-end finishes, adding luxuries such as a heated bathroom floor—and not due to unforeseen problems. They say it was all worth it. “Our pet name for the house is ‘the retreat,’ ” says Art. “It is incredibly relaxing.”

Rill created the larger primary suite by adding over an existing open deck. An unexpected challenge (and expense) was finding the right stain for the wood ceilings. “We did it over and over,” says Leslie Richer. “If you want what’s out there on the shelf, that’s one thing. If you want it just a little bit warmer, you’d think that could be easily done, but no.” Photograph by Helen Norman.
The old galley kitchen was reoriented and expanded to run the length of the former kitchen and dining room combined. Liess designed it with unusual details, such as a soapstone sink surround set into a wooden island and backsplash tile visible through glass cabinet doors. Photograph by Helen Norman.

This article appears in the October 2021 issue of Washingtonian.

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 as a staff writer, and became a senior editor in 2014. She oversees the magazine’s real estate and home design coverage, and writes long-form feature stories. She was a 2020 Livingston Award finalist for her two-part investigation into a wrongful conviction stemming from a murder in rural Virginia.