Design Cabinet Honors ‘Signature’ Spaces And Places – Leesburg Today

The winners of the Loudoun County Design Cabinet’s 2015 Signatures of Loudoun awards were celebrated Wednesday, first in front of the Board of Supervisors and then during an awards program at Lightfoot Restaurant.

This is the 11th year for the Signatures of Loudoun Design Excellence program, which recognizes projects for their community significance in a variety of categories.

The 2015 design category winners were:

• Legends: Mt. Zion Church;

• Makeovers, Leesburg Diner;

• Public Spaces and Students’ Choice: One Loudoun;

• Details: Newton-Lee Elementary School’s Virginia Timeline Mural;

• Familiar: Salamander Equine Center;

• Interiors, Neustar and Middleburg Library Addition; and

• Pace Setter: NVCC Learning Commons.

The Vision in Design lifetime achievement award went to developer Bob Buchanan.

Co-presenters Milt Herd and Martha Mason Semmes presented the awards to the winners, who discussed the scopes of projects, from the whimsical to the grand. Some of the stories were poignant, including that relating to Newton-Lee Elementary, winner in the Details category for its Virginia Timeline Mural created by Atlanta-based Stacy and Stace Ridgeway, of Mural Mural on the Wall.

Retired principal Carol Winters said the school was named in memory of two Loudoun men who died in the 9/11 Pentagon terrorist attack. Newton’s widow was instrumental in the effort to create a mural in the school foyer that took “something sad” and turned it into a positive for the future in Loudoun. Stacy and Stace Ridgeway accepted the award in person.

Mt. Zion Church, winner of the Legends category, was hailed by former Loudoun County Parks, Recreation and Community Services staff member Debbie Heimburger, who recalled the 1999 project to repair a bowed wall on the historic structure. It took seven years and a whole lot of discoveries within its 19th century walls before the project was completed.

Michael O’Connor, owner of Makeovers winner the Leesburg Diner, quipped, “You had only one bowed wall?” He described the architectural history of the South King Street restaurant and ice cream establishment that dates to 1865. Noting the first owner’s love of ice cream that led him to buy a herd of cows for the cream, O’Connor described the discovery of a “beautiful old freezer, hidden in pieces in the wall.”

The project to restore a piece of Leesburg’s history, while also making it a friendly contemporary eatery, took a year rather than the originally contemplated four months. But it was worth it, he said.

A panel of students—high-schoolers Cami Brinton, Charlie Shields, Paria Parhami, Kelsea Champ, Alex Lanham, Jay Wieland, Yousuf Rehman, Andrew Fitz, and Megan Mazzatenta— joined the Design Cabinet’s selection committee in selecting One Loudoun as its choice for Public Spaces. Herd congratulated them for their creativity and contributions. “You’re amazing,” he said, noting the mentorship between the Design Cabinet and students is two-way.

Accepting the award, Bill May, partner in Miller & Smith, said the award was gratifying in that it represented public recognition after a “long, hard trek” of more than 11 years that endured the recession before starting to market the project in 2011. He was particularly pleased that some major planned features were deleted, including the plaza, eventually went back into the plan and are what the public sees today. “It came full circle,” he said.

The Salamander Equine Center was recognized for its design approach to make a new project look as if it has always been a visually harmonious member of its surroundings. Semmes, Middleburg’s town administrator, said the center “takes its cue from its surroundings, but it doesn’t copy—it enhances.”

Accepting the award, designer Regina Miller and General Manager Reggie Cooper said the design builds on the strong imprint owner Sheila Johnson has placed on her Salamander Farm, the nearby resort and spa, and the prevailing equestrian flavor of the Middleburg area. Cooper said the equine center was the first structure to be built at the resort. Owners can bring their horses to be stabled at the center, guests can take trail rides and even join in “yoga on horseback,” he said.

There were two very different winners in the Interiors category.

Neustar was recognized its Interplan Inc.-designed soaring contemporary look. Interplan designed a “wonderful new space, very modern,” that was flexible and allowed a complete project.

The Middleburg Library addition was honored for its faithfulness in continuing the look and feel of the county’s smallest library. Middleburg architect Tim Clites and Semmes alluded to the efforts of the Middleburg Library Advisory Board to raise $750,000 in private money, a key factor in persuading the county to allow construction of the addition and then run the library when completed.

In accepting the Pace Setters award for Northern Virginia Community College’s Learning Commons, Provost Julie Leidig drew laughs as she described her role, as a new provost in 2010, in incurring the wrath of “six angry men.” She persuaded her superiors to redesign the project for the then-called Learning Resources Center that was already on the boards. Its name was “old-fashioned,” and she did not think the layout was right. “Can we talk about this?” she recalled asking.

About design, the president of NVCC asked her, “Is it really important to the students and the future of the campus?”

When Leidig said yes, he funded a redesign of the whole first floor to include multiple activities. “It works beautifully—this is what a college campus is supposed to be,” Leidig said.

Design Cabinet President Al Hansen presented the Vision in Design award to Bob Buchanan for his “lifetime of great work in the county.”

Buchanan accepted the award flanked by his team. Buchanan Partners operates in 11 districts, but “no other county has such a sense of itself as Loudoun,” he said.

He also said he was touched to see the cabinet include the input of “so many young people” in its awards program.

Buchanan began working in Loudoun in the 1980s, finding an appreciative community that supported and encouraged the company. Two of his early projects were in Sterling—Loudoun Tech Center and Lakeside. Several members of the team called Buchanan a visionary for his more recent work in the Rt. 606 corridor, starting at a time when there was no water or sewer in the relatively rural area, then “just a goat farm.”

The team hailed the Loudoun Tech Center project as the forerunner in the attempt to bring other developers into the eastern Loudoun to encourage people to come to county to live and work. It also was visionary in introducing mixed uses in the building instead of being home to just offices.

Buchanan also was instrumental in the establishment of the Rt. 28 Tax District and had served on the county’s Economic Development Commission.

Hansen noted the idea of a lifetime achievement award came from a lunch meeting he had with land-use lawyer Colleen Gillis at Ford’s Fish.

“She said, ‘I’ve got an idea: We spend a lot of time complaining [about lack of vision] … why not just reward vision in design?’” The inaugural honoree last year was the late Bruce Brownell.

Hansen said he was astounded to realize that Buchanan after work went home to Maryland. “After the incredible time and love he has put into Loudoun County, I wouldn’t have believed he didn’t live here,” he said. The Buchanans also are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and Hansen got the crowd to its feet to sing “Happy Anniversary” during Wednesday’s program.

The Design Cabinet is composed of design-related professionals living or working in Loudoun. Members volunteer their services through the county’s Department of Economic Development to encourage and recognize the highest-quality design across the locality and to provide a forum for discussion and advice on design-related issues, often through community charrettes.

“Loudoun County looks like success,” Economic Development Director Buddy Rizer said in a prepared statement about this year’s awards. “That look is reflected in the leading-edge interior spaces of a tech company like Neustar, and also in the traditional look and feel of the brand-new Salamander Equine Center. The fact that excellence is exhibited even in the design of Loudoun workplaces shows the caliber of our business environment.”

For more information, call 703-777-0426, or see

Staff writer Jonathan Hunley contributed to this story.


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