Home & Design

Vintage Style

Jonas Carnemark transforms a lackluster home in Chevy Chase into a light-filled family retreat

Vintage Style MARCH/APRIL 2010

Vintage homes are full of charm. Their innate sense of history and architectural integrity more than make up for such typical shortcomings as outmoded kitchens, twisted floor plans and closets seemingly built for elves.

That’s how Carmen MacDougall, a communications specialist, and her husband, energy executive Paul Allen, felt about their 1936 home in Chevy Chase. Nevertheless, their patience for its cramped kitchen, poor circulation and lack of natural light was wearing thin. The couple considered moving, but thought twice when they saw the quality of finishes in several new homes for sale. “We wanted to make the choices in terms of quality,” says MacDougall. They decided to renovate instead.

The owners presented designer Jonas Carnemark, principal of Carnemark systems + design, inc., with their old-house woes. For lack of a proper foyer, guests entered the home and were “trapped” between stairs leading up to the bedrooms or down to the living room. The pathway to the kitchen went through the dining room, which became a “giant foyer where everybody just piled things onto the table,” laments MacDougall. Upstairs, the master bedroom was centered around a spiral staircase; this 1970s-era novelty leading up to the third-floor office made furniture placement a nightmare. “The bed could only go in one place and you had to be so careful walking around it,” says MacDougall.

Carnemark devised a plan that would provide the updates his clients wanted within the confines of the home’s existing footprint, as dictated by zoning laws. The program converted the existing two-car garage into a new dining room; a dormer above it added more space to the master suite. The plan also created a large and welcoming foyer by shifting the front entry of the house to the left; it opens to what was the former dining room. A passage framed by waist-high bookshelves topped with tapered columns now leads past the new dining room into the kitchen. 

The home’s small galley kitchen was replaced by a much larger one, complete with an island, stainless-steel appliances and plenty of storage and counter space. By relocating a staircase leading down to he basement, Carnemark created a new mudroom off the kitchen—which functions perfectly for a busy family with a seven-year-old son and three grown kids. 

“A lot of the program was dictated by how to use the existing space in the smartest way,” says Carnemark. “We kind of tweaked the puzzle. Creating the entry was really important, but that dictated what we could do in the kitchen.”

The living room was untouched, but a bump-out in the adjacent sunroom on the right side of the house created more space for a family computer room and office bathed in natural light. Upstairs, a reconfigured master suite, minus the spiral stairs, now includes a luxurious master bath and walk-in closet. A new staircase leads to the attic-level office, where an additional dormer was built. 

“The clients’ decision to let us rethink the flow presented the biggest challenge,” recalls Carnemark. “After we got the flow going, it was fun picking finishes and putting things into place.” Carnemark suggested eco-friendly options to his clients whenever possible. The kitchen features renewable cork flooring and recycled tile; the project also incorporated spray-foam insulation and a high-efficiency HVAC system.

Material selection and detailing on the home’s exterior reflects its Tudor style. A new covered entry boasts a copper roof and sturdy mahogany door. The Spanish slate roof, new bay window and copper gutters and trim echo the home’s architectural origins. For continuity, Carnemark used vintage bricks salvaged from the rear of the home on its expanded front façade, rather than new bricks, which are more angular than the rounded old ones. In the backyard, new terraces off the kitchen create a welcoming area for relaxing and entertaining outdoors. 

The owners are thrilled with their rejuvenated home, which won a 2009 Contractor of the Year award for whole-house renovation. “Before, the house was kind of dark and stuffy,” says MacDougall. “It’s been completely transformed. It still has a traditional feel, but it doesn’t feel like an old home any more.” 

Photographer Morgan Howarth is based in Manassas, Virginia.

DESIGN & RENOVATION CONSTRUCTION: Jonas Carnemark, Carnemark systems + design, inc., Bethesda, Maryland.

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