A crunching gravel drive, uplit Zelcovia trees, and flickering gas lights enhance the European feel of the Donohoes’ stucco house.
In the foyer, charcoal trim on the windows corresponds to iron details like the stair railing and the lantern.
The house was built over the course of 18 months ending in 2005—a smooth process thanks to Mary Jo’s preparation. She laid out the floor plan and, just as she tells her clients to do, gathered images, like one of a Parisian doorway with a curved iron balcony above it. She sketched a stone fireplace mantel from a château they had visited. "I think you should teach yourself what you want your home to look like," Mary Jo says. "It’s such a cliché, but it helps to sort through and organize your design philosophy."
Light oak woodwork with a waxed finish gives the library a bright aura. The sconces over the fireplace mantel are from the cottage that originally sat on the property.
The antiques and reproductions Mary Jo and Jim have collected during their 37-year marriage were the foundation for Mary Jo’s design plan. The breakfast-area banquette above, for example, was built to seat people at an oval dining table they’ve had for 30 years.
Mary Jo says of the windows in the breakfast area, "I kept sending drawings back with arches drawn in until [architect David Neumann] said, Those curves aren’t going away, are they?"
A furnished landing makes a quiet space.
French doors leading to the terrace flank the master-suite fireplace. The painted cabinet is Italian.
Bed linens show off the color scheme of blue-greens and corals, reminiscent of a handful of fragrant imported bath soaps.
"My father had flair. He loved design and was flamboyant in what he drove and how he dressed, so it’s no wonder that three of his eight children became interior designers," muses Mary Jo Donohoe. To friends and clients she’s known as "MJ," which has the lack of pretense for which her work is known. A designer for 30 years in the Washington, D.C., area where she grew up, Mary Jo draws on the historical roots of the nation’s capital while catering to the busy lives of her clients. "There’s always balance in what I do," she says. She’s adept at transforming a rigidly Neoclassical-style house into a relaxed launching pad for book-club meetings and kids’ birthday parties. As her life has evolved from young wife to raising children to feathering an empty nest, so has her design work moved from stately to easy to confident.
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Translated from the French
The feel of an old French barn is captured in a voluminous Bethesda home
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Mary Jo and Jim Donohoe could picture what they wanted their grown-up house to be. Different from the Georgian Colonial where they had raised their two children, this house would have plenty of entertaining space, a first-floor master suite separate from guest bedrooms, and what Mary Jo, a designer, calls "volume."
"We wanted something more fun than a flat-ceilinged house," she says. Pedaling by on bicycles, the Donohoes had photographed structures in the French and Italian countryside. They didn’t want a literal translation in their established Bethesda, Maryland, neighborhood, but they asked architect David Neumann to capture the feel of an old French barn.
The focus of their great room is the 16th-century limestone mantel from France, decorated with French confit pots and local artist Steve Tidball’s rendering of a famous National Geographic photograph. The tufted "Fender" sofa is a handy perch for mingling guests. The beams along the 15-foot-high ceiling came from Vermont. "They transformed the space so it feels like an old barn instead of a big box," Mary Jo says.
Architect: David Neumann, Versaci Neumann and Partners Inc., 202/775-4881, versacineumann.com. Now, Neumann Lewis Buchanan Architects, 1350 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 401, Washington, D.C. 20036; 202/775-4881; fax, 202/775-4882,
Interior design: Mary Jo Donohoe, MJ Interior Design Inc., 7204 Glenbrook Rd., Bethesda, MD 20814; 301/656-5370.
Builder: Potomac Valley Builders, 301/605-2803.
Landscape architect: Bob Hawkins, Hawkins Signature Landscape, 301/652-4117.
Decorative paint: Lenore Winters Studio, 301/654-6004.
Photography: Gordon Beall
Produced by Eileen A. Deymier
Sofa ("The Fender Sofa’’ by Tomlinson): J. Lambeth & Co., 202/646-1774, trade only.
Sofa fabric ("Boxed Velvet’’): Robert Allen, 800/333-3777, robertallendesign.com, trade only.
Coffee table (custom): by Salvations, 301/445-1400.
Pyramid on coffee table: Interiors Market, 404/352-0055.
Glass ball on coffee table: Niermann Weeks, 202/488-1220, niermannweeks.com, trade only.
Table to left of sofa: Holly Hunt, 312/661-1900, hollyhunt.com, trade only.
Table lamp (antique): Marston-Luce, 202/333-6800.
Iron chandelier (custom): Paul Ferrante Inc., 323/653-4142, paulferrante.com, trade only.
Mantel (antique): DHS Designs, 410/827-8167, dhsdesigns.com.
Fire screen: Architectural Accents, 404/266-8700.
Urn holding logs: Crate & Barrel, 800/996-9960, crateandbarrel.com.
Sconces above mantel: J. Lambeth & Co., 202/646-1774, trade only.
Art on mantel: by Steve Tidball, 301/365-0063.
Chair and ottoman to left of fireplace: antique.
Chair fabric ("Oliver Velvet,’’ discontinued): Brunschwig & Fils, 212/838-7878, trade only.
Chair to right of fireplace (vintage): August Georges, 202/337-5110, augustgeorges.com, trade only.
Chair fabric (#92004-10): Rogers & Goffigon Ltd., 212/888-3242, trade only.
Upholstered chair to left of sofa (CBS Furniture): J. Lambeth & Co., 202/646-1774, jlambeth.com, trade only.
Table between chairs to left of fireplace; table lamp; corner cupboard: owner’s collection.
Carpet ("Tisca Tweed’’ with "Irish’’ borders): Floor Covering Resources, through MJ Interior Design Inc., 301/656-5370.
Paint (custom faux finish, "Soft Stucco’’): Lenore Winters Studio, 301/654-6004.