When Rui Ponte and wife Jean Assuncao bought the dilapidated 1940s Cape Cod house in Bethesda’s Edgemoor neighborhood in 1995, it didn’t even occur to them to tear it down and start over—even though they probably should have. “People just didn’t do that back then,” Ponte remarks. “It was a different era.”
Instead, they opted for a major overhaul, gutting the house and adding a 12-by-40-foot addition to accommodate a new kitchen and dining room. Ponte’s design opened up the interiors and introduced a more modern aesthetic, relocating the stairs to the center of the house and installing a skylight above to bring in natural light on both levels. First-floor bedrooms were moved to the second floor, which was completely rebuilt. A crawl space was dug out to create a full-size basement.
“The renovation was what was current at the time,” Ponte says. “We had a heavy fieldstone fireplace in the family room and an entertainment center with a big, wide TV where everything was exposed.” In the kitchen, blond cabinetry was paired with dark granite counters and stainless-steel appliances.
After the couple’s two kids left for college, they decided to update the kitchen and family room. “We were ready to simplify our lives,” says Assuncao. “Part of this was getting rid of the big, heavy stuff—the oversized couches, the big fireplace. We purged a lot and that was nice.”
The timing was also influenced by advances in technology. Ponte was waiting for Control4 home automation systems to be perfected, and when—in his view—they were, he explains, “it seemed like it was the right time to do it. We really wanted Internet-based, integrated technology. We were installing a lot of it in our clients’ homes so we saw how it was evolving.” Integrating whole-house technology would allow them to control all aspects of the lighting, heating and audio/video systems via one device. Ponte turned to Bobby Caras of Multi-Systems, Inc., in Vienna, Virginia, for the installation, then moved on to the renovation design.
Concealing the clutter and detritus of daily life had become a major priority for the couple, who found themselves attracted to a design with sparer lines. “Our aesthetic changed,” Assuncao observes. “It’s simpler now, more crisp and clean.”
The bulky fieldstone fireplace has been replaced with a sleek one clad in a textural tile from Porcelanosa and panels of dark macassar wood; the existing copper chimney has been partially wrapped in macassar to unify the look. The wall that held the giant TV and a messy, inefficient cupboard now contains only a flat-screen TV and a streamlined macassar cabinet. Spare, contemporary sofas by Italian manufacturer Incanto keep the room airy, and mechanized Lutron shades control light and impart privacy.
The kitchen, which had begun to look dated, has been transformed. Custom cabinetry by Wood-Mode combines cherry lower cabinets in a dark walnut stain with white-lacquered upper cabinets. Countertops are Calacatta Venato marble, and the one topping the long, rectangular island has waterfall edges that emphasize the cool, gray cast of the marble. A backsplash of Porcelanosa tile is imprinted with a subtle linen pattern. Xenon and LED lighting replaced incandescent bulbs, and a dropped ceiling above the island holds lighting so pendants aren’t necessary.
“The idea was to hide everything,” Assuncao says. “The dishwasher, the refrigerator, the ovens. We concealed everything as much as possible and made it look like furniture.” She points to the water dispenser, which is tucked inside a slide-out cupboard with another one beside it for spare bottles, while Ponte reveals a cabinet inside a niche that houses a full bar.
“It’s a very functional kitchen,” he says. “When we have people over it all flows easily with the family room.
“The house now is more about how we live,” he continues. “Before we started, we asked ourselves, ‘What are the rooms that are important to us?’ That’s what has been incorporated.”
The original Cape was brick with two dormers. Ponte’s 1995 design created a two-story structure with a whole new stucco exterior. The front façade has a subtle, modern edge reflected by a gently curving portico and unadorned windows. The look is still fresh almost 20 years later; the house stands out from the surrounding homes in its neighborhood, yet still seems to belong.
“We didn’t want to do anything too far out—we wanted it to be contextual,” Ponte explains. The home has been a hit in the neighborhood: To date, Ponte Mellor has renovated or custom-designed six other homes on the block—and counting.
Photographer Kenneth M. Wyner is based in Takoma Park, Maryland.