Ambassador’s Potomac Mansion Renovation

Today’s design inspiration comes from a diplomatic ambassador’s wooded, hillside mansion overlooking the Potomac River in McLean, Virginia. The 20,000 square-foot residence was completely redesigned over the course of a comprehensive renovation which included the altering and customization of nearly every floor, wall, and ceiling within.  The result being an expansive and personalized, art-filled contemporary home.

Built into the hill and arranged over four floors, the home is designed for both private casual family living and entertaining, as well as for public formal entertaining on a large scale with separate spaces dedicated for each.  Throughout, the mood is light with an open and airy flow and a warm, neutral color palette. The extraordinary level of customization and quite sophisticated design is where this home really shines.

The renovation was largely an interior transformation, designed from the inside out, with the interiors informing the architecture, taking its lead from the Los Angeles based interior designer Joan Behnke, whom the owner selected to realize his vision with her signature level of understated elegance.  David Cooper, principal of ACG Architects in McLean was selected for the architectural work, with BOWA, a McLean area contractor organizing and facilitating the project.

The mix of elegant internationalism and comfort are evident the moment guests enter the home’s foyer (photo above), with its barrel ceiling and custom finished walls.  The space includes a Eurofase chandelier with cascading glass bubbles, along with an eclectic mix of art and custom furnishings.


In the living room, four Ingo Maurer pendent light installations inject a contemporary feel in an otherwise traditional room.  The Ambassador is young, sophisticated and worldly, and the designer assembled a collection of furnishings, objects and art from around the world that reflects that.  The design’s mostly neutral palette of golds, creams, and coppers complement the dark, cerused oak floors.  The furnishings gather on a rug by Tai Ping, here and in the adjoining room below.


Custom furnishings with clean lines are both contemporary and comfortable.  Behnke designed and placed these throughout the public and private spaces.  Here, a pair of Pendent lights by Satori Light Sculptures illuminate the room.  All of the lighting fixtures through the home were chosen for their sculptural quality. They function like jewelry in each space.  Each of the rooms designed for public entertaining have their own character yet flow together seamlessly.


The elegant contemporary formal dining room was designed to host formal dinners.  Behnke upholstered the walls with luxurious Alpaca wool from Peru.  The cabinets feature a washi paper hand-made in Japan inserted into the face and lighted from behind.


A formal breakfast room was included in the new renovation which is furnished with a custom table and occasional chairs.  In every case available, the architect created floor-to-ceiling windows as well as lift and slide doors with the ability to slide and stack to the side to take advantage of the natural views and open the interiors fully to the outdoors.


The main level is complete with a service kitchen which was designed for entertaining purposes and catering meals.  It is equipped with multiple stainless refrigerators, dishwashers, and cooking appliances as well as ample preparation spaces.


The home’s media room includes a 108-inch television within a custom sleek, mill-work surround that is finished with eight coats of enamel.  The designer furnished the room with a custom sofa and ottomans along with a sculptural iron table by Philip Norman.  I love the collection of pendent lights of various styles grouped together.


In the adjacent billiards room, a custom aquarium designed to handle a two-ton load was carefully added.  A crane was required to hoist the tank over the house and lower it in through the side that pitches downhill to the river.  It is supported by a structural beam and maintained by equipment housed below in a separate 10-by-20-foot room.  The colorful tank mirrors the habitat of a saltwater reef with special lights that simulate sunrise, daylight, and sundown.  This is one of the extra highlights of the new renovation.  The same cabinetry used around the television in the media room has been used here as well.  The room also features a pool table custom created in Spain.


The homes private kitchen is located off of the media room as well and has been designed for casual meals and hanging out with personal friends.  This kitchen features Ceasarstone counter-tops and custom dining table.


The home office occupies the entire top level of the residence.  It features a barrel ceiling and walnut built-ins that have been polished to a furniture-grade finish.  The floor to ceiling glass windows and doors frame a perfect view of the Potomac.


The master bedroom is a haven of calm with access to the outdoor terrace.  It has been furnished with custom contemporary furnishings with clean lines and simplicity of form.  Every piece in the home was custom created to meet the owners taste and needs.   Custom furnishings with bespoke design require more time and effort, but it’s worth it to get exactly what you want.  Don’t you agree?



The master bathroom is the contribution of the second interior designer involved with the renovation, Tony Chi & Associates.  It features Italian glass mosaic tile floors and limestone walls.  The vanities were imported from France and are covered in shagreen.  The glass walls along the center are enhanced with custom verre eglomise designs in platinum leaf, and lead to a sculptural limestone tub from Mexico.  An open shower with both rain and waterfall fixtures connects to a traditional Hinoki wood Asian sauna.  The designer took his design inspiration from the many luxury hotels that the ambassador has stayed around the world.


The home’s spacious state-of-the-art gym was created by re-configuring several of the guest rooms in the main house.  Walls of retractable windows open the space fully to the outdoors and gives access to the balcony with a glass balustrade which provides unobstructed views.




The owner frequently entertains his friends down on the lower level in the pool cabana space which opens to the pool and outdoor entertaining areas.  The space includes a lounge and dining area that can accommodate a small crowd, and was expanded to include a cloistered wine storage and tasting room.  It is a very charming, relaxed informal space but even here, no detail was left untouched.





The pool terrace was expanded and enveloped with a new glass balustrade system from Scandinavia.  The standard pool was replaced with a new wet-edge pool with three successive infinity edges and eight laminar jets shooting water across the pool’s surface.  The outdoor entertaining areas include an al fresco kitchen and dining area and a fire-pit with seating area.  The terrace appears to be just suspended in the air along the tree tops and is a favored gathering place for visiting friends whose accommodations the renovation has relocated into the home’s self-contained, fully functional guest house which make up the following photos and is packed with design inspiration as well.








The home exudes a delightful mix of contemporary international flavor.  Most of the transformation was able to be completed in less than a year with the work occurring in 3 phases.  In addition to the architect, contractor, and two interior designers noted, there were also subcontractors, craftspeople from all over Europe and the United States, art consultants, lighting consultants, civil and electrical engineers, and on and on.   This completed home renovation is the product of well executed collaborative design involving a team of professionals at the very top of their fields and is an excellent source for our design inspiration today.

Ambassadors Mansion Renovation Overlooking the Potomac

That concludes our post for today my friends.  I hope you all enjoy and have found much design inspiration for your next project.  Let me hear from you all in the comments.  Thank you so much for reading along.  Have a great day!

For more design inspiration from the principle interior designer involved with this project see my post:  Deco Inspired Villa by Joan Behnke – a grand Beverly Hills Italian style villa with Art Deco inspired interiors.

Architecture:  ACG Architects @

Contractor:  BOWA @

Principle Interior Design:  Joan Behnke @

additional Interior Design: Toni Chi & Associates @

photography:  James Tetro Photography


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