Like the feeling you get when you slip on a pair of well-worn shoes or the security that surrounds you when you curl up in a soft blanket you’ve had for years, living in an older home evokes sentiments of familiarity and comfort that many homeowners can only dream about. “I’ve always had this fantasy about buying an older home and renovating it,” says a Bethesda homeowner. But instead of dealing with the headaches often associated with historical renovations, she and her husband decided two years ago to purchase a lot near downtown Bethesda and build their old house from scratch.
From the beginning, they knew they wanted a traditional layout rather than the open floor plans ubiquitous in most homes built today. “If a home is too open, there are no warm, cozy spaces,” says the homeowner. So the pair turned to architect Mark Giarraputo of Bethesda-based Studio Z Design Concepts, who formulated a plan with clearly defined rooms.
“Most of the homes we do have very open floor plans,” says Giarraputo. “Although this one definitely follows the lead of an older home, where rooms tend to be more compartmentalized, it really is more of a hybrid, combining the best of both worlds.” Rather than each room being closed off from the others, he points out, related spaces are linked to provide functional traffic flow. The dining room, for example, opens to both the living room and an adjacent screened-in porch.
The couple also relied on Bethesda-based interior designer Skip Sroka, principal of Sroka Design Incorporated, to transform what he deems an “East Coast classic” home into a comfortable yet sophisticated space. “There certainly are things about this home that feel like things you’ve seen in an older home,” says Sroka, pointing to architectural elements such as the Arts and Crafts-style columns defining the living room, the over-scaled paneling under the staircase and the chunky moldings surrounding the fireplaces. “That all has an eternal sense of what I call an American home, and in so many ways I think this is an American home, but it is this century’s version of an American home.”
To scale down the home’s ten-foot ceilings and make them appear “more human,” Sroka designed moldings that begin at eight feet,
drawing the eye downward. He accented the space above the moldings with geometric stenciling, painted by Catonsville, Maryland-based artist Edward Williams of Studio 33.
Maintaining a human scale was also a goal for architect Giarraputo. “We really wanted to minimize the overall effect this home had on the street,” he explains, “because it is in an older, very established neighborhood so we did not want to overwhelm the block.” The design of Giarraputo’s “shingle-style home with a ‘cottagey’ feel” incorporates a one-story roofline—quite a feat considering the interior has three stories—and a garage situated in front of the home. “So from the street, all you see at first is the smallest part of the [structure],” he says.
To complement the architecture, Sroka chose furniture reminiscent of days gone by, but was mindful to select pieces with fresh, modern interpretations. The traditional French chairs in the living room have been reinterpreted to evoke the feeling of a round-back chair, while the English-shaped sofa recalls the “contemporary essence” of a more traditional piece. In the dining room, the glass chandelier with frosted glass shades mimics the proportions of a brass Dutch chandelier. “It’s been reinterpreted in glass and is a contemporary version of a very traditional chandelier,” says Sroka. “This home honors the past but it certainly is not a slave to it. When it was time to innovate, we innovated. When it was time to respect the past, we respected the past.”
Opting for innovation was certainly appreciated with the selection of upholstered fabrics, especially considering the homeowners have two young sons and a pair of Labradoodles. “Everything in this home is dog- and kid-friendly and there is nothing in this home that isn’t bullet-proof,” says Sroka. “I am very big at looking at the wearability of a fabric before I select it.”
Perhaps the most durable feature in the home is the large built-in banquette in the breakfast room. Sroka upholstered the seat of the L-shaped bench with a terracotta suede fabric complemented by a commercial-grade floral pattern on the backrest. “You can spill ketchup and mustard on this and it wouldn’t matter,” he says. Exterior chairs made of woven vinyl provide additional seating around the oak trestle table. “You cannot find anything more practical,” he says.
Practicality is key, too, in the adjacent kitchen, where Sroka and Potomac-based kitchen designer Amy Collins collaborated on the design. From the hidden spice racks tucked away behind cabinetry near the stove to the cherry and glass hutch that separates the kitchen and breakfast room, the space accommodates family life. “This is a typical modern kitchen,” says Sroka. “It’s big but has no wall space. So we put the hutch there to make room for the daily dishes.”
The owners also wanted their home to take inspiration from nature. So Sroka incorporated organic forms into the design, from the undulating oak carving positioned over the fireplace in the breakfast room to accent pieces highlighting the mahogany dining table, to help strengthen the home’s connection to the outdoors. “I wanted our home to be in harmony with nature,” says the homeowner. “I wanted a welcoming, warm space that was comfortable and not overly ornate.” Even the bamboo floors were chosen for their sustainability. “That was very important to the homeowners,” says Sroka, “plus bamboo is hard so it’s great for holding up to traffic.”
Also reinforcing an earthy theme, Sroka’s color palette ranges from cranberry accents in the living room to camel and rust hues in the family room. But it is the warmth of sienna yellow in both the living and dining rooms that serves as the color connector throughout the entire home. “It branches off as it needs to, sort of the way a tree grows,” he explains. “A color becomes part of your framework but then it blossoms into other combinations as you go from room to room.”
Mingling a familiar feel with elements of nature certainly seems to be a winning combination. In fact, Sroka’s favorite element in the home is a fusion of both goals presented to him by the homeowners. “Hands downs, I love the window seat,” he says. Tucked away below an arch along the generously sized second-floor center hall, the spot harkens back to the cozy nooks of an older home but provides a tranquil view of the surrounding landscape. “It provides a great resting place from daily life,” he says.
Writer Kelli Rosen is based in Monkton, Maryland. Photographer Timothy Bell has
studios in Washington, DC, and New York.
Architecture: Mark Giarraputo, AIA, Studio Z Design Concepts, Bethesda, Maryland. Builder: Sandy Spring Builders, Bethesda, Maryland. Interior Design: Skip Sroka, ASID, Sroka Design Incorporated, Bethesda, Maryland.