Liz and David Muhlbaum purchased their 1960s Bethesda rambler in January 2007 with the intention of expanding the cramped and outdated home. They moved in with their two young daughters, and while they got a feel for the space the couple interviewed design/build firms, ultimately engaging The Levine Group of Silver Spring, Maryland for the job. They moved out for the renovation in January 2008 and returned in July to a charming, two-story cottage-style home.
The original rambler had three bedrooms in one wing, including a master bedroom with its own bath, followed by two bedrooms and a hall bath. A parallel wing contained the living room, dining room and kitchen, followed by a sunroom. The renovation would rework the entire first floor, creating a new kitchen, a mudroom, a guest suite and a conversion of the ground-floor bedrooms into a family room. A partial second story was added with three new bedrooms and two baths. The project won a finalist Contractor of the Year award in the category of whole-house renovation from $500,000 to $1,000,000.
The Levine Group’s architects and designers were sensitive to the scale of the neighborhood, retaining the home’s original footprint and building up. They were able to add 1,200 square feet to the home while minimizing its mass with batten dormers. As the house expanded upward to accommodate a master suite, two bedrooms and a bath for the couple’s two girls, a staircase was created just inside the main entrance. “There was just a wall there,” explains Alan Field, the Levine Group’s design director. To add the stairs, “we bumped into the living room about 18 inches.”
In the kitchen, dining and sunroom wing, the designers opened the kitchen and dining room up to the living room. “The Muhlbaums like the open-plan living,” Field says. “They want to communicate with their friends and guests.” The kitchen had been recently updated, so the couple had its components recycled through a local non-profit agency.
The new kitchen’s focal point is an island with a cook top on one side and seating space on the other; the island is deep enough so that the children cannot reach the cook top. “I am actually enjoying the kitchen because the kids can sit up here at the island and do their homework and arts and crafts and participate in the process,” Liz Muhlbaum says. The countertops are Carrara marble while the kitchen backsplash is a continuation of the beadboard wainscoting that surrounds the adjacent dining room. It is also repeated on the ends of the island.
At the far end of the kitchen is the mudroom—a priority for a family with two dogs and two cats. This space with its own entry helps keep the house clean and its two-legged family members well organized. The Levine Group also added a front porch at their clients’ request. “I have always wanted a front porch,” explains Muhlbaum, “A front porch, to me, means home.” The property’s original bluestone steps and stoop remain; the porch was built onto them, with space for the storage of gardening equipment underneath.
The soft gray exterior of the house blends into the landscape as white horizontal trim emphasizes the lines of the house. “The challenge here was in integrating the new roof lines with the existing roof shapes, preventing a boxy feel,” says Field. “There were also structural challenges—how to support the new roof using the existing bearing walls and ceiling joists—that we solved with clever layout and truss design.”
Black shutters on the windows over the garage balance the row of new windows above; latticework visually breaks up the three-story mass of the wing. Throughout the house, two-over-two windows replace six-over-six windows to allow more light and better views of the outdoors from within.
Working with The Levine Group team, Muhlbaum selected a cool gray for the living areas, in contrast to bright, punchy tones for the auxiliary spaces; the couple’s lively and colorful upholstered furniture brings it all together, and those hues are repeated throughout the home’s interior.
In the original bedroom wing, walls were torn down to make room for an expansive family room, with one end for arts and crafts and the other for games and TV watching. The former master bedroom is now a guest suite. “In this floor plan, our family spends more time together,” says a delighted Liz Muhlbaum. “I never once believed it would make that much of a difference.”
Contributing editor Barbara Karth is based in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Alan Russ is a photographer with Hoachlander Davis Photography in Washington, DC.
RENOVATION DESIGN: Alan Field, ASID, The Levine Group, Silver Spring, Maryland. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: The Levine Group, Silver Spring, Maryland.