Home & Design

Craftsman Redux

Kitchen designer Jennifer Gilmer and her architect breathe new life into a 1920s bungalow in Bethesda

Craftsman Redux

An antique chandelier and table in the dining room mark the transition between the original home and the renovation. Resin panels containing pressed leaves open to a full bar in the butler’s pantry.When Jennifer and Bill Gilmer purchased a charming 1920s Craftsman-style bungalow in Bethesda just minutes from their Chevy Chase kitchen and bath showroom, the roof was deteriorating and the upstairs floor was sagging. At a mere 1,400 square feet, the one-and-a-half-story home was too small for the couple, who frequently entertain family and friends. They knew a renovation was in their future.As fate would have it, soon after moving into the house Jennifer Gilmer discovered blueprints of a minor renovation made by previous owners. The document was stamped by architect Amy Gardner of Gardner Mohr Architects. Gilmer called her immediately. “We met and hit it off right away,” Gilmer recalls. The two set out to design a more ambitious renovation and addition that would honor the aesthetic of the Craftsman-style bungalow while bringing it into the 21st century, utilizing sustainable and recycled materials whenever possible.Gardner built upward a mere seven feet to create a livable second story to house a guest room, a master suite and an in-law’s suite. “The roof hugs the second floor,” she explains. Characteristic of the Craftsman style but composed of a recycled rubber material made by EcoStar, it sweeps down to envelop the porch.

“There was a little dormer here in the front that I really liked and wanted to keep,” Gilmer explains. This ribbon of windows was a distinguishing and identifiable characteristic worth replicating. In transitioning from old to new, the collaboration between client and architect became a “symbiotic mind meld,” says Gardner.

The porch, too, exemplifies an updated version of a ’20s-style bungalow. Gardner “reinterpreted the traditional using modern materials with real life in them,” she says. Piers of double columns in mahogany and steel are accompanied by large overhangs with open eaves. These convey a subtle Asian influence, a subtext of the architectural vocabulary. In addition, “because of the overhangs, the mechanical loads on the house are very low,” says Gardner, who is a LEED-accredited professional.

It’s fitting that the large opening between the existing living room and dining room—typical of the Craftsman style—paves the way for the open, multi-functional addition built off the back of the original home. Guests make the transition from old to new through the home’s former kitchen, now a super-functional butler’s pantry. One side of the pantry is occupied by a new staircase, the bottom of which is enclosed by resin panels encasing real pressed leaves. The panels conceal a complete bar, and as their height decreases, doors open to a closet with a small file cabinet holding Gilmer’s appliance manuals—something only a kitchen designer would think of. On the other side of the space, a cabinet-filled wall of knotty cherry hides a built-in espresso machine, an ice machine, a wine cooler and an under-counter refrigerator. Gardner calls the passageway “a reinvented inglenook and a gathering place.”

The focal point of the butler’s pantry is a limestone sink. “The sink is the first thing I bought for the house,” says Gilmer. “It looks like petrified wood. I didn’t know where it was going to go, but we bought it anyway and we found a home for it. We used it to pick colors; it was our inspiration piece.” Set into a copper countertop, it exemplifies her skill in blending materials.

In the adjacent addition, dining, living and cooking areas meld into one with Far Eastern influences at the forefront. In the open kitchen, Gilmer framed Macassar ebony cabinets with black ones and then selected Absolute Black, honed granite countertops for a horizontal visual connection. A light green back-painted glass backsplash adds a colorful contrast to the dark woods and stone. The hood is made of copper, a material reiterated on the butler’s pantry countertop, on the wall behind the wood-burning stove in the living room and on the stair risers leading to the second floor.

Gilmer’s kitchen is home to every appliance imaginable. Beside her five-burner cooktop, she incorporated a grill and a deep fryer. She has a large oven in addition to a Gaggenau steam oven, which “is wonderful. I recommend it to all my clients,” she says. A pantry on one end of the kitchen hides the microwave while an appliance garage plays home to the toaster and juicer. All of these small appliances are behind closed doors, keeping the space clean-lined and uncluttered.

Designed for serious cooking, Gilmer’s kitchen won first place in the medium kitchen category in the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s 2006 design awards. Though it’s not large, it is logically organized and designed for efficient use of space. “Watching Jennifer [cook], she barely has to move,” Gardner remarks.

Architect Amy Gardner reinterpreted the Craftsman style, adding a second story onto the home and replicating its original dormer. On the porch, piers of double columns are accompanied by large overhangs with open eaves.

A seating area on the far side of the island is deceptive. Not just a countertop, it is a custom table made of Macassar ebony that pulls out from the island, comfortably seating eight to 10 guests.

Windows in the addition mimic shoji screens; outside, an overhang above the deck reinforces the Eastern aesthetic. Random-width floors and trim in reclaimed oak are another nod to sustainability.

Gardner noticed early on that the Gilmers live outside as much as possible, which perhaps explains their attraction to the Craftsman style that celebrates the link between indoors and out. A screened porch at one end of the addition expands the space for outdoor living. “Part of the whole renovation involved how to make the best use of a small back yard and not make it useless,” Gardner says. She created a terrace with fill and built a retaining wall of limestone. “Our back yard got smaller, but because it is designed so well, we use it much more,” notes Gilmer.

Upstairs, the master suite takes full advantage of dormers with nooks for a sitting area, an office and, opposite the bed, a meditation room under Gilmer’s favored ribbon of windows. High ceilings and skylights instill drama, tempered with exposed beams that lend a sense of warmth and human scale.

The master bath is breathtaking, reflecting the serenity of the Asian aesthetic with split-bamboo tile. Two showerheads plus a rain shower and a tub make bathing a decision-making process. Gilmer installed a sink with a heated mirror between the showerheads so that her husband can shave in the shower. The mirror reflects the out-of-doors from the windows on the opposite wall, the lower halves of which are frosted for privacy.

Throughout this newly conceived space, Gardner and Gilmer have incorporated the spirit of the Craftsman ideals, juxtaposing materials with integrity and simplicity. The result is a one-of-a-kind home that marries its past with a fresh and contemporary sensibility.

Contributing editor Barbara Karth resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Celia Pearson is a photographer in Annapolis.

Architecture: Amy Gardner, AIA, LEED-AP, Gardner Mohr Architects, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Interiors: Jennifer Gilmer, CKD, Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen and Bath, Chevy Chase, Maryland.

The former kitchen has been transformed into a highly functional butler’s pantry; the limestone sink was the first item Gilmer purchased for the home.

The addition encompasses an open living and dining space. Floors and trim made from reclaimed oak recall the Craftsman era, while furnishings reflect a modern sensibility. The living room leads to a screened porch and rear dining terrace.

Macassar ebony cabinets conceal a microwave and other small appliances. The countertop and sink are made of honed Absolute Black granite; a sliding butcher-block cutting board makes food prep a breeze. A light green back-painted glass backsplash adds a dash of color. A pot filler and extra sink provide added convenience.

Jennifer Gilmer and Amy Gardner (left to right) slide the custom island into its full table position in Gilmer’s open kitchen. The space is a testament to Gilmer’s skill in blending form and function.

The guest bath combines Jerusalem stone, slate floor and shower tiles and a teak vanity. All sinks and tubs are Lacava.

A calm, Asian aesthetic prevails in the master suite.

A meditation area with a woven-paper tatami-style floor faces the bed.

In the master bath, Gilmer has positioned a heated mirror between the showerheads so that her husband can shave while he showers.

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