Poetry in Architecture

An award-winning renovation breathes new life into a Bethesda Colonial


Brenneman added a new two-car garage and a second-story
library to the home.

The Bethesda, Maryland, neighborhood where Bob and Joyce Gwadz live has undergone a renaissance of sorts. Older homes on nicely sized lots have been renovated, refurbished or torn down to make way for newer, larger residences. Watching all of the changes—specifically a dramatic transformation two doors down of a neighbor’s home (Home & Design, Fall 2004)—the Gwadzes began looking at their 1930s brick Colonial with a fresh perspective.

When they decided to renovate, Joyce Gwadz met with residential architect Dean Brenneman, whose firm designed and built their neighbor’s renovation. They spent two days talking about how her family lives. “He really wanted to know how we used our living spaces to determine how and what to provide,” says Joyce Gwadz.

Brenneman and architect Michael Ullrich devised a plan that would create a spacious new kitchen in the home’s former family room. The small galley kitchen would become a butler’s pantry between the dining room and the new kitchen, while an enclosed breezeway would lead to a new two-story wing housing a large family room over a relocated garage.


The new kitchen was built in the home’s former family room.
A center island with a black antique finish contrasts with the
cherry cabinetry.

“I didn’t want a ‘great room,'” explains Gwadz. “I wanted a separate kitchen and family room. My husband’s and my taste in music are not always the same, so I wanted there to be a separate, private space. The walkway connects the original house to the family room wing and creates a sound barrier from one part of the house and the next.”

Once the plans were finalized, the couple’s outdated, dark-paneled family room was stripped down, leveled and converted into a stunning new kitchen with a large, granite-topped island. “We set about creating a kitchen that really worked for their lifestyle and pattern of living,” says Brenneman. “Bob Gwadz is a serious chef, so function was paramount. At the same time, Joyce really wanted an elegant space that could withstand the onslaught of active grandchildren.”

Beyond that, the work of designing the kitchen focused on fit and finishes. The center island was stained with a black antique finish to complement the fireplace and contrast with the perimeter cherry cabinets. Converted to gas-burning, the fireplace was updated with a new mantel. Brenneman selected beaded inset doors and barrel hinges appropriate for the age of the home. Black Impala granite reminiscent of soapstone tops the perimeter counters, while the backsplash is covered in an antique clay ceramic tile. They refinished the family room’s original oak floors. Windows were put in the rear on either side of the existing fireplace to bring in light and open up views of the back yard.

When the kitchen was finished, the architects and builders set about transforming the former galley kitchen into an exquisite new butler’s pantry. Cabinetry in the same style as the kitchen’s is finished in off-white eggshell for a traditional built-in look. One of the architect’s greatest challenges was connecting the main house with the addition while maintaining easy access to the Gwadzes’ back yard, where they enjoy a pool and a screened porch.


The home’s former galley kitchen is now a convenient
butler’s pantry.

Before the addition, the couple was accustomed to arriving home, parking in the garage and entering the house through the back kitchen door. With a new garage planned to go under the family room addition, Joyce Gwadz wanted to be sure she’d still have this convenience. “I didn’t want to have to park in the front, then walk around the addition,” she says.

The architects came up with the idea of a floating breezeway, or bridge, between the existing house and the addition. It would allow visitors to come up the driveway, walk under the breezeway and up a few steps to the back of the house.


An arcade provides covered passage to the breezeway.
The space includes a beadboard ceiling, a blue stone
sidewalk and brick arches and columns.

Architecturally, says Brenneman, the bridge serves the function of what has traditionally been called a “hyphen.” Colonial homes of the past often feature the central mass of the main building, with the architecture fanning out with “hyphens” leading to other pavilions. Explains Brenneman, “We treated the hyphen as a subordinate piece of the building in that it is composed of windows and architectural trim as opposed to brick, which makes it lighter and draws a bit more attention to it as punctuation.”

The soaring, two-story addition serves as a library, a getaway for Bob Gwadz and an entertainment/game area for the couple’s grandchildren. Bookshelves hold Gwadz’s collections of trains and African artifacts. Dormers in the front of the addition let in light and offer views of the surrounding canopy of trees.

Careful thought also went into planning the exterior look of the addition and selecting garage doors, which would face the street. “We didn’t want the garage doors to dominate or overwhelm the front elevation of the house,” remarks Brenneman, “so we set them back eight feet from the house and created an arcade.” The arcade lines up with the new breezeway and allows visitors to walk from the garage to the basement entrance the project included an addition to the original center-hall Colonial. under cover. It also serves as an architectural feature that makes the garage appear more like a carriage house.
“For a project like this to succeed, it should look like the old structure and the new addition were built at the same time,” Brenneman says. “You achieve that by unraveling some of the existing building first, and then weaving it all back together. You have to be willing to undo some things around the project. We re-roofed the old house and upgraded all of the gutters and downspouts to copper. We painstakingly matched the brick and mortar to the original structure. We redesigned the landscape around the new and existing structures to unify the entire composition. Architecturally, we are sculpting the space and determining the path of how the eye travels along that space. That’s really the poetry of architecture.”


From a stone landing, visitors can enter the kitchen or the
light-filled library addition.


The finished library boasts oak floors stained to match
70-year-old planks in the kitchen.
 


Bookshelves hold Bob Gwadz’s collections of trains and
African artifacts.