Home & Design

Melding Past & Present

A Kensington, Maryland architect and his wife tackle a historical-home remodel to make room for their family of six
Melding Past & Present

Architect George Myers and his wife Janine saw a diamond
in the rough when they purchased their turn-of-the-century
home in Kensington, Maryland.

With four kids, George and Janine Myers of Kensington, Maryland, needed more space. But the house they wanted to call home was in a historic district, and it required dramatic expansion. Myers, an architect at Bethesda-based GTM Architects, was faced with the challenge of completing a historical preservation while accommodating the housing needs of his large family. Together, the couple combined persistence and creativity with all the creature comforts of home, and the end result is a spacious abode steeped in history.

The Myers were initially drawn to the turn-of-the-century home’s site for its lot size, a desirable two-thirds of an acre. “We lived down the street from this home and really liked the neighborhood,” says Myers, who also served as general contractor on the project. “But this home had three times the lot space of where we were living so we bought it knowing we were going to expand.”

Although the plot easily allowed for increased square footage—at 4,000 square feet, the new home is nearly triple the existing structure’s above-grade footprint of 1,400 square feet—the existing home did present some design challenges for Myers. “It was protected by the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Com- mission because it was considered a major resource in a historic district,” he explains, “so we could not tear it down; otherwise, we probably would not have saved it.”

For the plans to be approved by the Commission, Myers had to adhere to a few stipulations regarding the turn-of-the-century structure. “We had to retain the character of the existing home and distinguish it from anything that we added,” he says.

To comply with these requirements, Myers’ strategy involved taking the streetscape point of view. “When you’re walking down the street, I wanted the existing structure to be seen in its entirety so that you really got a sense of the old house and its character,” he says. Janine Myers agrees. “It still looks like the existing home from the street,” she says. “It isn’t until you walk around to the back that you get a sense of just how big it is.”

Even though the addition is positioned in the background, it was still purposefully designed to match the original home’s details. Myers classifies the existing structure, a simple cross-gabled box, as a Dutch colonial with shingle-style elements, so in his design he incorporated four new Dutch gables to complement the three existing ones, and he utilized cedar shingles and siding on the new building.

Other design elements that echo the former structure include dormers and a built-in gutter detail that wraps around the entire home and porches. “There are open porches as well as a screened-in one, which is typical of the style of the home as well as what you would find throughout the neighborhood,” says George Myers.

But the preservation efforts did not end with the home’s exterior. To the extent possible, Myers kept the original foyer intact. The oak banister, stained-glass decorative window and heart pine floors on the stairs are original and have all been beautifully restored. Myers designed the trim work himself so that elements such as the crown molding and bead board complement the style of the period. He also chose wide-plank cherry floors for a farmhouse feel.

It was this farmhouse appeal that also influenced Myers’s open floor plan in the new space. “The rooms flow together,” he says. “There are no dead-ends in this home.” The couple also wanted a family-friendly home for their four kids, who range from seven to 14 years old. “We wanted to utilize all of the space in our new home so there is no formal dining area,” he says. Instead, he says, the kids usually eat around the large granite island in the kitchen, and when it’s time for a “family meal,” the crew heads to the large dining table adjacent to the kitchen. “The kids are everywhere in this house,” he laughs.

The children influenced other design decisions in the house as well. Off the side entrance, Myers added a powder room and mudroom, complete with lockers and cubbies for each of the kids. The family room, the couple’s favorite room in the house, is where they spend most of their time so there is ample seating in kid-friendly fabrics and a wood-burning fireplace with a hearth. “During the winter, we build a fire in there every night,” Janine Myers says. There’s also an office space near the kitchen where the kids have access to the home’s computer. “This is where they all do their homework and there is adult supervision while they are online,” she says.

She also keeps an eye on the kids from the large screened-in porch. “We use it from the spring to the fall as a gathering place, but I can also see the children while they are outside playing football or playing on the swing set,” says Janine Myers. This relaxing spot is also the perfect place for Mom to catch a well-deserved snooze. “It is so comfortable out there, I’ve been known to fall asleep and no one knows where I am,” she laughs.

Even the color palette was chosen with the kids in mind. According to Myers, Janine selected all of the paint, fabrics and furniture in neutral colors for a reason. “With the four kids, our house can be an extremely rowdy place,” jokes George Myers, “so she hopes the color scheme will bring about a sense of calm.” Janine Myers also wanted to honor the historical aspect of the home so she opted for hues from the Benjamin Moore Historical palette. “I chose mostly beiges for the walls and creams for the ceilings because they were very rich and just felt right for the style of the house,” she says. “And I also wanted the trim—which is painted a super bright white—to stand out.”

So what’s it like to be both the architect and homeowner on a project? “Brutal,” says George Myers. “I had to switch hats daily. One day I would come up with all of these great ideas for the design and the next day I realized I was the one who had to pay for them so I’d start crossing ideas off the list. It was very difficult.”

But there are lessons to be learned from his experience. “Always build a big contingency into the budget, especially when dealing with historic homes, because things always cost more than what you think,” he says. Fortunately, now that the historical-preservation project is completed and the family is enjoying its spacious new digs, George and Janine Myers couldn’t be happier with the outcome. “I love this house,” says Janine Myers. “We have a ton of space but it is still cozy and comfortable. That was exactly the kind of atmosphere I wanted to create—a space where guests as well as my kids felt that they could be in any room, sit on any couch and it would be okay.”

And it seems, too, that the man with the dueling hats is pleased with the finished product as well. “I don’t regret it at all,” says Myers. “It’s been wonderful. This has really been a great house for all of us.”

Subject to review by the Montgomery County Historic
Preservation Commission, the renovation Myers devised
preserved details from the original, including the Dutch
gables, cedar shingles and siding. The project nearly
tripled the square footage of the original home.

In the foyer, Myers painstakingly restored the home’s
original oak banister, stained-glass decorative window
and heart pine floors on the stairs.

The new family room boasts ample seating in kid-friendly
fabrics and a wood-burning fireplace with a hearth.

Myers designed the trim work himself so that elements
such as the crown molding and bead board complement
the style of the period. He also chose wide-plank cherry
floors for a farmhouse feel.

The couple’s four children often enjoy quick meals around
the large granite-topped island in the new kitchen—a vast
improvement over the original.

The family keeps organized by stowing backpacks and sports
equipment in the new mudroom, complete with lockers for each
of the kids.

The second floor now houses the master bedroom as well as a
bedroom for the couple’s daughter and bedrooms for each of their
three sons.

All of the bedrooms boast traditional molding and trim, as well as
convenient built-ins for storage.

A large screened-in porch offers a great vantage point for
watching the kids play in the yard. Says Janine Myers, “It
is so comfortable out there, I’ve been known to fall asleep
and no one knows where I am.”

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