Lexington by Design: Graham Pohl, Barry McNees, Joe Cox

Lexington by Design: Graham Pohl, Barry McNees, Joe Cox


There’s nothing like a March ice storm to get you thinking about spring. No words ever rang truer for Joe Cox. After the smoke cleared, he and his wife Anne woke up to an uninvited guest-a limb had impaled the roof of their home in Chevy Chase.

Even though spring hadn’t quite arrived yet, the Coxes welcomed this unexpected opportunity as a way to turn their rainy day dreams of a home addition into reality.

Architect Graham Pohl (r)
consults with Joe Cox.

photo by Julie Wilson

But with some temporary roofing as his only barrier between Mother Nature and the inside of his house, Cox needed to convert this dream to reality, and fast. So Cox enlisted the help of Graham Pohl, a partner in the architecture/design firm Pohl Rosa Pohl. While the roof is in limbo, they’re going to tackle the second floor addition, which will either become a media room or laundry room.

The Challenge

Cox is the exception to the rule. For most home owners, a more long-range plan is customary (and recommended), but for the most part it boils down to these three: style, time, and money. What look are you going for? How much time will it take? And just how much is it going to cost?

Obviously Cox knew of these questions beforehand. He came in with photos and simple drawings to document the existing condition of the house as well as to give Pohl an idea of what he wanted to change.

Follow his example: there’s no such thing as too much information.

Come with any ideas you’ve ripped out from magazines, sketched, or envisioned. The more the architect (or designer or painter or contractor…) has to work with, the more likely you are to get the results you’re after.

And now the big question: “The biggest challenge is always to ascertain the level of service the client wants,” said Pohl. So the two met to agree on the direction of the project. They talked about everything from the basic structure of the addition (“A new truss or simple stick framing?” asked Pohl) to suggestions on the latest model Jacuzzi.

It’s at this point that Pohl suggested his clients make a “pie in the sky” list for the room. “Make a list of the stuff you’d like to accommodate,” he said. If Cox’s wife Anne has her way, the addition will allow her to come out of the basement and do the laundry in a well-lit space. However, they also like the idea of having the family computer and audio/video equipment in a central location as opposed to being scattered throughout the house as it is now. This is the kind of forward thinking Pohl recommends.

Cox and Pohl concur; they both agree on the direction that follows: a site visit, a basic set of floor plans, and construction. Contracts are in the mail as we speak, and the project’s rolling forward.

Dream Home

Remember the style question? For many people, it’s easier for them to convey what they don’t like than what they do.

Pohl’s stylistically challenged clients get the benefit of his clairvoyance (a.k.a. computer modeling).

“We model everything on the computer now,” he said. So we go over to his work station and check out a house still in the planning phase. Since most of us visualize in 3-D, this computer program gives the client a better idea of what’s in store.

With the click of a button, the house on the screen is rotating, giving the client a view of every nook and cranny of the house-to-be. From the angle of the deck to the design of the landscaping, it’s all there in living color.

Not crazy about the color of the brick? It turns from a rusty red to an earthy brown in seconds. It’s this ability to help clients truly see their house’s potential that makes the actual construction phase go more smoothly.

You Can Always Get What You Want

It’s also a lot easier to know what to expect in a remodeling project when the home owner is a contractor. Barry McNees, who also pulls double duty as a realtor, knows the contracting game. He enjoys the process of finding a house and remodeling it to suit the needs of his client. Only this time, he was the client.

He and his wife Lynne recently purchased a house on the outskirts of Georgetown and were pretty much happy with everything as it was. There were no major overhauls to be done before they moved in; just a few personal touches and they were ready to call it home.

But when you’ve got the know-how, you might as well use it. So McNees looked at the bathroom in the master suite and decided it had more potential than was currently being acknowledged. In layman’s terms, this means gutting the place.

“The one thing that drew us to the house was the natural elements and use of wood throughout,” said McNees. Even the master bath had natural wood flooring. “But wood is not good in the bathroom,” he said. “Water is a big enemy of it.”

So they toyed with the idea of carpet or tile, but McNees knew he could do one step better. He ripped up the wood and tiling surrounding the bath tub and added heated slate floors. A flooring of heated wires was laid and slate tiles will be placed on top. “The thermostat will turn on about 20 minutes before we wake up,” he said (drowning out groans of envy all around).

The small corner shower that occupied the master bath is no more. Gone are the fixtures, cabinets, toilets, and pretty much everything else that makes a bathroom a bathroom. Even some of the walls were shifted to make way for a larger shower.

Moving the shower to one side meant moving the toilet to another, no small feat as McNees realized. As he sat on the roof realizing that he was going to need more than willpower to run the new pipe and ventilation, he climbed down and headed to the local hardware store for a rappelling rope. Oh what some homeowners will do to achieve the perfect living space.

But it will all be worth it as Lynne settles into the oversized bathtub for a relaxing bubble bath, looking out of the large window…Wait a minute. Looking out of a large open window onto their vast green space is one thing, but having the ability to look IN to that same space is another.

Room by Room

When it comes to a home’s interior style, ask yourself these questions: What kind do you have? What kind do you want? And what kind best suits the space?

Again, you may need to seek expert advice in this department as well.

Joe Richardson, vice president and manager at the design firm Hubbuch & Co., recommends setting aside a good 60 minutes for the initial meeting with an interior designer. This not only gives him time to brainstorm ideas with the client, but lets him see into their real personality. Like a good therapist, Richardson can read whether someone who claims they’re gung ho for contemporary is really a traditionalist at heart.

The heated bathroom
floor awaits the slate
tiles to be laid.

photo by Julie Wilson

This session will save the home owner from trouble down the road. “They’re going to live there and be there 24 hours a day, so they need to be comfortable with it,” he said. “They come in saying ‘Wouldn’t red or turquoise be fun?’ but in two months they’ll be sick of it.”

In addition to thinking about styles, Richardson encourages his clients to take their home’s location into consideration.

Let’s say you live in one of these subdivisions along Man O’ War where each house is large enough for its own zip code yet looks oddly similar in design to its neighbors. It’s probably not befitting to rip off the brick and paint the sides UK blue. “The style can change some, but not be glaringly different from the rest of the neighborhood,” advises Richardson.

As Nora Ephron says, everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but not everybody has good taste and a sense of humor. Unfortunately, neither can be purchased.

If a client insists on adding some detail that doesn’t quite fit, Richardson recommends going with pieces that aren’t permanent. “You have to consider of the resale value of your home,” he said. “So change the pillows, paint the walls, buy a new chair.”

This is sound advice says Derek Downing, owner of Modern Details. He is all for accessorizing to add drama. “The best way to make a statement is with color,” said Downing. “You don’t have to fill up the wall with art or other pieces. You can do a lot more with less.”

Words to live by, especially for the sensibly chic.

Design on a Dime

So you’ve got the space picked out and an idea of how you want it to look. Now it’s time to cough up the bucks.

Because a redesign isn’t exactly cheap, it’s always a good idea to go in with a battle plan (read: budget) in mind.

Are you talking Prada or Payless?

Someone with a hefty budget for an interior design job might not flinch at the thought of hiring a professional, but those on a shoestring budget may have some reservations.

Richardson is the first to sing the praises of combining old with new. “The ‘get rid of everything’ approach is not what you do,” he said. “Add old with new and it can take on a fresh new feeling.”

Downing recommends investing a good part of your shoestring budget on one quality item. “Get one unique piece, a focal point,” he said. This could be a new sofa or chair to add impact to your newly-designed space.

Still, you get what you pay for.

Consider durability, longevity, and whether or not a piece is an investment or a trend. “It’s pretty safe to say that you will get more quality from an $800 couch than a $400 one,” is his advice.

For those freaking out right now because $800 was more than your entire budget, there’s still hope. Think slipcovers. (No, not a sheet.) Some actually look like a pricey upholstery job. Invest a little time looking for one if you have a sofa that’s well-made and sturdy, but needs a face-lift.

Downing also recommends another source for finding furnishings on the cheap, a place you wouldn’t exactly expect from someone who owns a highly celebrated contemporary furnishings store. “Shop for unique items at flea markets, junk stores,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to find.”

And this may be where you might want to enlist the help of your friendly Home Depot staff or a friend who doesn’t mind getting their hands dirty. A dresser for $50 at a flea market could be a deal, depending on how much time you’ll invest in sprucing it up. If it’s days away from being put out to pasture, but you’re in love with the style, you could break out the power tools and rebuild. Or you could simply repaint it and add new hardware (drawer pulls or knobs) to give it some character.

Time for Trading Spaces

You’ve settled on the style and pinched the pennies to create a realistic budget. Now when’s it going to be finished? From the time the concept is approved, Cox’s project will take about six weeks according to Pohl’s estimations. McNees is setting aside two weeks to have the new bathroom painted, tiled, and ready for action.

But for those weekend warriors with the redesign itch, you’ll have enough time to change a room’s lighting and maybe paint the walls.

For someone changing, say, their entire living room, Downing recommends setting aside one month. This will allow time for special orders to arrive, new carpet or hardwood flooring to be installed, and window treatments to be put up. But, a word to the wise: “Be patient,” said Downing. “Things always take more time than you think.”

Be pragmatic: only bite off as much as you can chew. The folks on such shows as Trading Spaces make remodeling an entire living room look as easy as a click of the remote. Just don’t forget-they have a behind-the-scenes crew of support, an “emergency” bank roll, and the magic of the camera to make everything look picture perfect.

But you don’t need all that. You know that “reality TV” isn’t really reality. All you need is to heed the advice of the experts, a little creativity and, perhaps, a good sledgehammer.

Julie Wilson is the editor of Spa Magazine and a contributing writer for Ace. Her new column profiling local spaces will begin in next week’s April 3rd edition.

Experts interviewed for this story include those selected by Ace readers in the annual Best of Lex poll as the best in their categories. Winners included: best architectural firm: Pohl Rosa Pohl; best interior designer: Hubbuch &Co.; best landscape architect/landscape designer: Hillenmeyer Landscape Services; and best contemporary/modern furnishings: Modern Details.

“Ground Rules”

Many homeowners look into landscaping their home to add some additional curb appeal (as well as privacy), especially in the spring.

Even such green thumbs as the Hillenmeyer crew are doing some projects on their own property, including the office front at their Sandersville Road location.

According to landscape architect Stephen Hillenmeyer, if you are thinking about even the slightest landscape project, he can help you easily answer the time question: now’s the time to get moving on it.

“We lost a month due to the snow and ice storm, so the weather changed the initial start-up time” he said. “Now’s the time to start planning again.”

Just as a brick-and-mortar architect would suggest, Hillenmeyer recommends thinking big picture. If a large project is planned that involves some kind of construction (arbor, lighting, irrigation), he suggests calling in the experts at least for some detailed instruction, even if you are a renowned green thumb. “This has nothing to do with green,” he said.

So tackle the construction first, then move on to the greenery. “The icing on the cake is the planting,” said Hillenmeyer. This is where someone on a small budget can really add some impact. But first, the not so fun part. “Spend some time cleaning up,” he said. “Get rid of leaves, cut the dead out, get rid of the winter blahs. It’s time for a good, old-fashioned spring cleanup.”

Some things to do on the cheap are add new mulch and plant hardy pansies for color.

And although Lexington is famous for experiencing a last-minute cold snap, now is still the time to invest in your green space.