Joe and Nancy Garcia purchased their 1970s traditional home in the heart of Washington, DC, knowing they would need to adapt it to their own personal style. They realized that the spacious house with a beautiful garden in the back had potential, but couldn’t decide where to begin. Fortunately, Nancy bumped into fellow interior designer Kary Ewalt of Anthony Wilder Design/Build, at a local American Society of Interior Designers function. “Even though Nancy is an interior designer, she remarked that they had recently purchased a home and were at a loss as to how to make it comfortably their own,” recalls Ewalt. “I told her to come by and see us, that we could help them figure it all out.”
Several weeks later the couple met with owner Anthony Wilder to explore their ideas, thoughts and dreams, which marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration. It was clear that the Garcias felt the home was too dark and closed in. They didn’t know how far they wanted to take a renovation, but they did know they wanted to begin with the kitchen. While the room had upgraded flooring, stainless-steel appliances and relatively new cabinetry, the Garcias only thought of the space as “small, dark and very brown.”
Ewalt came up with a plan to blow the space out. “I showed them how, if we removed the back wall [between the kitchen and the living room], we could run the kitchen the length of the home to a bank of windows that would bring in a tremendous amount of light and show off their garden,” she says. The Garcias enthusiastically embraced the idea. So much so that, before long, a whole house remodel was underway. Working closely with architect Maria Fanjul and Ewalt, the Garcias were soon approving plans to open up existing windows and add new ones, knock down walls, widen doorways and rip out supporting columns.
They even gave the home’s exterior a makeover. “We wanted the house to feel very open and contemporary, yet welcoming,” says Ewalt. They painted the dated brick exterior a decidedly more modern soft gray/green. “Nancy looked at houses all over town trying to find a color that she thought would suit the home,” says Ewalt.
“We replaced all of the window casings, making them much more of a feature,” adds Fanjul. “We added a portico to the front entry, creating a focal point. Before, the front door seemed like an afterthought.”
They also knocked down a small brick half wall, then widened and extended the sidewalk. “We created a courtyard feel that can be seen from the new picture window on the left of the entry,” says Ewalt. Beside the front door, Fanjul cut a unique oval window into the brick.
Behind the new doors and windows is a remarkable, reimagined home, tailored to fit the contemporary lives of its owners. What was once a warren of small, dark rooms is now a bright, uninterrupted space extending from the foyer to the living and dining areas. The old carpeting was replaced with new oak flooring throughout. Walls and ceilings were painted in closely matching, soft shades. And unlike many home renovations, crown moldings were actually removed instead of added. “It brings a greater sense of height to the rooms,” says Ewalt. “The barrier between wall and ceiling is removed from the sight line. It makes the home seem even more open.”
That’s not the only barrier that was removed. In the new library/dining room, Fanjul tore out retaining columns by running steel beams inside the ceiling to hold up the second story. A bank of windows was widened, and a dramatic floor-to-ceiling window was carved into a once unremarkable corner. “We wanted to create a special effect there,” says Fanjul.
The old traditional English wood fireplace was also given a facelift. Now a contemporary, burnished bronze surround makes a decidedly modern statement. Accompanying frosted glass sconces were added to lend balance and even more light. “I wanted to create a simple form so that everything else looks beautiful against it,” says Ewalt.
In the kitchen, the room that started it all, gone are the dark brown cabinets. The new space is a breathtaking change. Where there were formerly two small windows, Fanjul added a bank of nearly floor-to-ceiling glass. “The windows are full view with a grid only along the top to allow unobstructed views out the back,” she adds. Ewalt chose crisp white cabinetry combined with a backsplash of white subway tiles in a subtle crackle finish. Manufactured stone countertops in soft beige lend even more drama and balance. Towards the back, Ewalt brought in additional storage cabinetry and floated a thick glass shelf along the top. “The green in the glass now plays off the green from outdoors. It’s a wonderful effect,” she says. Behind this is a bright seating area ideal for taking in garden views or watching television.
The home’s once dark and dated bathrooms are now, like the rest of the home, bright, relaxing and airy. The little oval window that Fanjul added near the front door now brings plenty of light into the old powder room. The Japanese-style sycamore cabinet was custom designed for the space. Stainless-steel tube lights reinforce the contemporary style.
In the home’s guest and master bathrooms, a luxury spa-like atmosphere prevails. Both now feature opulent stone floors and shower walls—Durango marble for the guest bath and Travertine marble for the master. In each, they used larger slabs on the floor and mosaic tile in the showers. “This treatment lends consistency but adds textural interest,” says Ewalt. Bathtub decks and vanities were fashioned out of corresponding stone-slab materials. In the guest bath, maple cabinet features an under-counter shelf that accentuates the spa feel. In both spaces, the showers and floors are uninterrupted thanks to some engineering by Fanjul that allows water to slope toward the center while keeping the adjacent floors dry. “It’s a really remarkable touch,” says Ewalt, “that lends itself to that contemporary, spa-like atmosphere.”
The only space that actually required building a wall was in the master bedroom. “It was just a huge room with a lot of wasted space,” says Ewalt. “We built a three-quarter wall that now makes the bed a feature, while behind it gives the owners an open dressing area. We didn’t want to lose the light from a corner window, so the wall doesn’t meet the ceiling and we did not include a door. I think it’s a wonderful look that now truly utilizes the space without sacrificing the light,” says Ewalt.
Nancy Garcia selected a pale gray/blue hue for the walls and ceiling. “It’s now such a serene room. We added soft beige carpeting as well, which brings in even more softness,” she says.
Now complete, the Garcia’s home is virtually unrecognizable from when they began. “The Garcias are thrilled with the final result, and so are we,” says Ewalt. It’s now a functional, open, warm and very livable space, tailor-made for its owners.
John D. Adams is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Virginia. Timothy Bell is a photographer with studios in New York and Washington, DC.
The designers built a portico onto the front entry widened
and extended the sidewalk.