Tucked into a neighborhood of 1950s split-level homes in Bethesda, Maryland, Adina and Mike Liuzzo’s mid-century house stands out just enough. While it still retains the essential form of a split-level, its front façade has been enhanced with contemporary touches that set it apart from the surrounding houses, yet still allow it to blend. “We wanted it to be clean and modern but still of the neighborhood,” Adina Liuzzo says.
The Liuzzos moved into the house in 2002. Back then, small windows left the rooms dark, an inconvenient layout created unusable spaces, and a cramped kitchen made family gatherings impossible. Once the couple’s son was born, the house was simply too small.
A solution to the problem came from architect Amy Gardner of Gardner Mohr Architects in Chevy Chase, whom the Liuzzos tapped to renovate their home. The project ultimately included a complete reorganization of the ground and main floors, first- and second-floor additions and a deck that would make the backyard more accessible; it enlarged the home from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet. “I didn’t want a big house,” says Adina Liuzzo, “I just wanted everything to be efficient.”
The couple also wanted to update the look of the property, imparting a sensibility Adina describes as “clean and contemporary, but warm.” As Gardner explains it, the challenge was “to give them their voice yet still make sure the house fit in. We had to figure out a palette of materials and elements that would accomplish that.”
Though building green was not the couple’s first priority, the Liuzzos ended up creating a showcase for sustainable design. “Their goals were to do the right things,” Gardner says. “They just happened to be in line with a sustainable approach.” The result is a highly efficient home that beats every energy code by 30 percent. Energy-saving elements include radiant floor heat, a super-efficient cooling system and new foam insulation. The design takes advantage of passive solar gain through an abundance of natural light from both picture and clerestory windows.
Eco-friendly materials abound. The floors throughout the renovated first level are engineered Hevea, made from the scrap lumber of rubber trees. All the wood trim is sustainable Plyboo bamboo, while the dark-stained walnut staircases come from already-fallen wood gathered by a local sawyer and milled in a solar-powered facility. Lighting is all low-voltage. A long bamboo shelf below the clerestory windows in the new living room reflects natural light up to the ceiling, where it bounces down to better illuminate the space.
The redesign of the kitchen by Jennifer Gilmer of Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath provides a focal point, separating the living room addition from the original house. “It was an interesting space to work in,” she says. “I had fun playing with the angles to get it right.” With its sleek, sculptural countertops, warm woods and saturated color, the new kitchen perfectly mirrors Gardner’s modern design. According to Gilmer, “Amy made it easy. She had already thought out the space.”
The kitchen leads directly to the loggia, which Gardner designed to connect the old and new sections of the house. Poured concrete flooring, a ceiling of engineered Hevea wood and translucent Kalwall insulating panels reminiscent of Japanese shoji screens lend interest to the room; it also functions as Adina’s home office and conveniently adjoins her four-year-old son’s playroom.
Above the loggia lies the master bath, a calm and spacious retreat with sandstone floors and Kalwall panels to admit light. Eco-friendly PaperStone surfaces offer shelving and countertop space.
Outside, a cypress deck provides an exterior room. Like the house, the small backyard has been transformed—as have the lives of its owners, who are thrilled. “With sustainable design it’s not just design and materials,” Gardner says. “It’s the way it gives the homeowner the opportunity to live differently.”
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: Amy E. Gardner, AIA, LEED AP, Gardner Mohr Architects, LLC, Chevy Chase, Maryland. CONTRACTOR: Smith Design/Construction, Bethesda, Maryland. STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Robert Silman Associates, Washington, DC. KITCHEN DESIGN: Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, Chevy Chase, Maryland. LANDSCAPE: Stock Brothers, Inc., Nurserymen, Beallsville, Maryland.
Photographer Jim Tetro is based in Vienna, Virginia.