Family history plays a strong role in the story of this Bethesda renovation. The sprawling brick house had been in the Straus family since its construction in the mid-1960s by Betty Brydges Straus; since then, the children had grown but always returned for those milestone events that draw families together. Meanwhile, the house—already a stylistic hodgepodge—became cluttered and outdated, gradually settling into disrepair.
It was son David Straus, along with his wife Courtney, who decided to come back to stay. However, while the Strauses loved the idea of moving back into David’s childhood home, the couple, investment managers with a grown child, knew the house was in dire shape. With its stunning location on three bucolic acres, it seemed ripe for a teardown. But the emotional connection for David was strong; ultimately, they decided to renovate the existing structure. “We needed to gut everything,” says Courtney Straus. “But we wanted to keep the bones in place.”
They contacted Mary Anne Antonides of Posh!, Inc., who in turn led them to builder Chip Gruver of Gruver Cooley and architect Bruce Hutchinson. With an enthusiastic, unified team in place, the Strauses felt comfortable surrendering the reins of the project. “We work full-time,” explains Courtney. “We didn’t have time for it, so they came in and took it over.”
The result of such capable teamwork—and flexible, open-minded clients—is a stately, stucco-clad structure embellished with Italianate elements that perfectly reflects the homeowners’ sensibility. All the double-hung windows have been replaced with larger, two-paned casements that bring in light and enhance the home’s new style. The original Spanish tile roof—which never matched the former brick façade—seamlessly complements the new stucco siding. Landscape architect Howard Cohen of Surrounds, Inc., refurbished the pool and added pavers and slate, an outdoor fireplace and kitchen. He also re-positioned the back steps.
Inside, the bones of the house remain, though walls and doorways have shifted. “Renovations encourage creativity of design,” says Chip Gruver, alluding to the dramatically refurbished main entry, which now sets the tone for a serene environment with elegant lines and rich finishes. In order to eliminate what Gruver describes as “a feeling of cavernousness,” the original vaulted ceilings were lowered. The squared-off staircase was replaced by one with a gently curved banister.
In the once narrow family room, the exterior wall was bumped out about eight feet to add more usable space—the only change to the home’s footprint. The wall separating the family room and kitchen was opened up to create better flow; since it was a major bearing wall, this was a challenge requiring “a steel beam that took 15 people to install,” says Gruver. Hutchinson designed decorative columns to add further support.
The kitchen and breakfast room changed positions so the family can enjoy the view outdoors during meals; the kitchen, once wallpapered in gingham with pink cabinets, is now a clean-lined, modern space with white cabinetry, marble countertops and an expansive island in the center. The breakfast room leads out to a large screened-in porch overlooking the backyard.
The ground-floor master bedroom suite also underwent a transformation. A series of smaller rooms was gutted to create a large bedroom with a sitting room nook that houses a breakfast bar. The bedroom opens onto an intimate covered loggia with a view of the woods. At the other end of the bedroom, a polished marble corridor lined with closets ends in a spacious bath with soaking tub.
The home’s interiors are harmonious and soothing—the perfect environment for relaxing after a hard day at work, says Courtney Straus. To convey a sense of calm and tranquility, Antonides selected a neutral palette for the interiors. Polished limestone floors and cream-colored faux finishes—executed by artists with Antonides’s design firm—on the living room and entry walls create a muted backdrop for crystal chandeliers, gold-leaf embellishments and richly textured fabrics. The living room boasts a limestone fireplace and silk carpets. Walnut-stained, hand-hewn oak floors in a herringbone pattern from Majestic Wood Floors in Frederick, Maryland, delineate the dining room. Custom-cast crown moldings and walls faux-painted with silver leaf add to the luxurious effect.
A bolder color scheme sets the family room apart as a more casual space. Upstairs, four bedrooms, each with an en suite bath, have been redecorated; a fifth was converted to a sitting room and a spacious room over the garage now houses a paneled library with a walnut fireplace Antonides ordered from England.
According to the owners, the team worked “hand-in-glove” to complete the home and they are more than satisfied with the results. “Our home is updated yet comfortable now,” says Courtney Straus. “It’s exactly our style.”
Photographer Mary Parker is based in Round Hill, Virginia.
CONTRACTOR: CHIP GRUVER and MIKE JULE, project superintendent, Gruver Cooley Corporation, Leesburg, Virginia. RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: BRUCE HUTCHINSON, AIA, Hutchinson + Associates, Rockville, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: MARY ANNE ANTONIDES, Posh!, Inc., Vienna, Virginia. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: HOWARD COHEN, Surrounds, Inc., Sterling, Virginia.
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