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The ultimate do-it-yourself project: Designing and building your dream home

September 6, 2018 at 6:30 AM

Omid and Jennie Rokni were planning a major renovation, until an unused tennis court became available, allowing them to build their dream house. The Roknis, from left, Caroline, 8; Chloe, 2; Omid; Charlotte, 7; Beau, 5; Jennie and the family dog, Tucker. (Andre Chung/for The Washington Post)

Omid and Jennie Rokni, both 38, were living in a 1970s-era center-hall Colonial in Great Falls, Va., and anticipating a major renovation to make the house more conducive to their lifestyle, which now includes four children.

They were looking at a new kitchen and bathrooms, and possibly digging out the basement, when Jennie Rokni found herself in an intriguing conversation about an unused tennis court.

“It was a mailbox conversation with the previous owner of the tennis courts,” she said. “We were talking about renovating, and I said, ‘It’s expensive; we’d still love to build but haven’t found a lot.’ He said, ‘You can buy my extra lot if you ever want to.’ ”

The seller and future buyers did an appraisal, determined that the fair market value was $600,000 for the unused court, and a deal was struck.

Omid Rokni works in IT for Neustar, based in Sterling, Va., but also dabbles in real estate. Jennie Rokni is a stay-at-home mom with a keen interest in design, so the new home became a project to hone their design and building skills. They hired an architect whose work they admired, James McDonald of James McDonald Associate Architects, based in Great Falls.

“We went through a large dialogue understanding their tastes, their family needs, and settled on a farmhouse transitional feel both inside and out,” McDonald said. “We tried to give a nice, fresh look to a style where the market is starting to generate a trend with great taste.”

Omid and Jennie Rokni built their dream house in Great Falls, Va., on a former tennis court they purchased from their neighbor.
The Rokni family, from left: Chloe, 2; Omid, 38; Charlotte, 7; Beau, 5; Caroline, 8; and Jennie, 38. The seller and future buyers did an appraisal, determined that the fair market value was $600,000 for the unused court, and a deal was struck.
“It was a mailbox conversation with the previous owner of the tennis courts,” Jennie said. “We were talking about renovating, and I said, ‘It’s expensive; we’d still love to build but haven’t found a lot.’ He said, ‘You can buy my extra lot if you ever want to.’ ”
The farmhouse trend is subtly reflected in the Roknis’ new home, which features a large wraparound front porch supported by columns, a cross-gabled temple-style roof line and dormers.
The front door opens into a center hall, with stairs on the left and a window straight ahead providing daylight and offering a view into the back yard.
The family room has an exposed beam ceiling.
“We didn’t want a traditional living room,” Jennie Rokni said. “Instead, we wanted a bigger family room. One of the fun parts for me was getting to tailor the floor plan for how we live as a family, not trying to make a floor plan fit for our family, which we had always done when we bought somebody else’s home.”
The kitchen also got the beam treatment, and it includes an island with an apron sink and seating for five, along with another full-size dining table. A mix of pendant lighting fixtures from Rejuvenation powered by LEDs illuminates the space.
Upstairs, the master bedroom also has a beamed ceiling and plenty of closet space.
The master bath has a custom dual vanity, also made from painted maple. The vanity top is synthetic quartz, and the tile is honed ”First Snow” from Daltile. The free-standing tub is from Kohler and serves as a fully functional but sculptural element.
Black framed windows are installed throughout the house.
“Even with all of the decisions — about things like the window mullion grid profile, probably 300 decisions in just the powder room — it was a blessing that we got to do this,” Jennie Rokni said.
Photo Gallery: After finding the perfect lot, family of six could focus on custom designs to meet their needs.

The farmhouse trend is subtly reflected in the Roknis’ new home, which features a large wraparound front porch supported by columns, a cross-gabled temple-style roof line and dormers. The attached garage appears as a semi-disguised bump-out. The facade is a mix of cladding, including brick and cementitious siding — all painted white and offset by black-framed windows.

Related: [How one couple converted a split-level into a home they could live with]

It took the couple about a year to complete the design and permit process, and less than a year to build the home. The family sold the nearby house in which they were living in an attempt to time an upswing in the market, and then moved into a rental home while the new house was under construction.

The design team made a few unusual choices along the way, one of which was not including a formal living room in the floor plan.

“We didn’t want a traditional living room,” Jennie Rokni said. “Instead, we wanted a bigger family room. One of the fun parts for me was getting to tailor the floor plan for how we live as a family, not trying to make a floor plan fit for our family, which we had always done when we bought somebody else’s home.”

McDonald sees the death of the living room as another trend driven by the market.

“Their needs didn’t ask for one, and the market really isn’t requiring one,” he said.

Space saved from the living room was used in other casual living spaces. The front door opens into a center hall, with stairs on the left and a window straight ahead providing daylight and offering a view into the backyard.

Off to the right is a formal dining room that survived the floor plan. The home’s common areas and the master bedroom all feature faux beams made of Douglas fir stained a natural brown. The ceiling in the family room is sheathed in tongue-and-groove fir paneling that originally was going to also be stained brown. The ceiling finishing evolved along the way.

“The flooring guy ended up doing the ceiling,” Jennie Rokni said. We couldn’t find anyone who had done this. This is done all day long in California. We painted the Douglas fir white because it was too dark — but the original plan was to stain the ceiling.” The family room includes a fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows that look onto the backyard.

The kitchen also got the beam treatment, and it includes an island with an apron sink and seating for five, along with another full-size dining table. A mix of pendant lighting fixtures from Rejuvenation powered by LEDs illuminates the space. The floors throughout the house are white oak, and all the appliances are Thermador, except the drawer-style microwave, which is a Sharp.

The large wraparound front porch is supported by columns. (Andre Chung/for The Washington Post)
The master bedroom also has a beamed ceiling and plenty of closet space. (Andre Chung/for The Washington Post)

The custom cabinets from Shiloh are maple — a mix of dark painted fronts on the base cabinets under the island mixed with white uppers and base around the perimeter. The countertops are also a mix of man-made white quartz on the island and honed Absolute Black granite around the perimeter. The cabinet pulls have a brushed brass finish.

Related: [A D.C. rowhouse keeps its vintage nature while stepping into present]

A sliding barn-style door with exposed black steel hardware in the kitchen hides a throwback to the homes of old — a “keeping room.” Originating from traditional house styles, a keeping room was designed to keep guests near the kitchen and the warmth provided by the hearth, but away from the person doing the cooking. The Roknis use their keeping room to help keep the kids amused.

The house has a full basement, complete with a bar, another TV room and a golf room, where Omid Rokni works on his swing. The 7,800-square-foot home has six bedrooms, six full baths and three half-baths. A mudroom on the ground floor is equipped with five cubbies offering each child their own space for coats, boots and backpacks.

Upstairs, the master bedroom also has a beamed ceiling and plenty of closet space. The master bath has a custom dual vanity also made from painted maple. The vanity top is synthetic quartz, and the tile is honed “First Snow” from Daltile. The free-standing tub is from Kohler and serves as a fully functional but sculptural element.

The ceiling in the family room is sheathed in tongue-and-groove fir paneling that originally was going to also be stained brown. (Andre Chung/for The Washington Post)

The home was custom-designed and made for its inhabitants, but saving money by building from scratch was never in the cards. “It was more about getting exactly what we wanted,” Omid Rokni said. “I also knew this was a project for her.”

Jennie Rokni enjoyed the design process and considers herself lucky she got to go through the gantlet even while pregnant with the family’s fourth child. “Even with all of the decisions — about things like the window mullion grid profile, probably 300 decisions in just the powder room — it was a blessing that we got to do this.”

Despite some unconventional floor plan choices, the Roknis don’t intend to occupy their dream home forever, and lessons were learned along the way. Omid Rokni was in charge of the budget and admits he underestimated “soft costs,” such as land engineering, architecture, permitting, carrying costs and septic design.

But even with the low estimates, the couple think if they had to sell out, they could reap somewhere “in the mid- to high 2 millions” and come out with enough to start the whole process over again.

“We’re passionate about this process, and we have a burning desire to do it again,” Jennie Rokni said.

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