Tearing down and rebuilding in Bethesda is not, typically, a unique task. But faced with an original house sited at the rear of a three-quarter-acre lot with a swimming pool in the front and a mature, elegantly landscaped yard surrounded by a high brick wall, architect Mark Sullenberger of Custom Design Concepts found that a recent project presented a few conundrums. “The house had a lot of input from the site and a few challenges,” he says. “So that was the fun part: finding solutions for all these.”
Zoning requirements were the least of the dilemmas since the owners wanted their new home sited essentially in the same spot as the original so as to preserve the landscaping, trees and pool, as well as retaining walls and an existing guest cottage. Unlike many homeowners embarking on new construction, these clients wanted “to build only what they needed,” reports Sullenberger. “They didn’t want a lot of extra square footage.” The requisite two-story foyer and formal living room were not on the wish list and the couple with two sons asked for only four bedrooms. The result is a custom home with 5,500 square feet on the first and second floors, plus a three-car garage on the basement level.
The clients were attracted to images of homes in Brittany, so references to French Country-style emerged on the exterior: stone and stucco with wood trim, wrought iron details and random-width shingles to counter the formality.
The pool in the front yard fostered an innovative floor plan. A hallway extends across the front of the house, joined to a mud room/changing room that combines sophistication with utility to accommodate storage needs and guests coming in, dripping from a swim. An office is located to the left of the front door with a hallway and powder room separating it from the formal dining room. The family room, casual dining area and kitchen are integrated into one living space. French doors in the family room open out to a pergola at the far end of the house, which provides another access point to the front yard. From the dining area, more French doors lead to a screened porch. McHale Landscape Design was tapped to ensure that the existing landscape would blend with the new home. McHale’s plan called for adding features such as the front steps and refacing the brick retaining walls with stone to better complement the architecture.
The family typically enters the home through the garage into a gracious lower-level hallway. An elevator connects all three levels.
This active family with two large dogs is committed to living an orderly life, so an abundance of storage was essential. In addition, the couple has diametrically opposed style preferences; the husband leans toward the clean lines of modern furnishings while the wife prefers a more traditional approach.
Luckily, those style differences were not an issue in the master bedroom suite, where the couple agreed on a more contemporary look and hired Vincent Sagart of DC-based Poliform | Sagart Studio to create a sleek yet welcoming bedroom with dark wenge paneling and built-ins against coffee-colored walls. “They wanted a contemporary solution for a bedroom interior with traditional architecture,” says Sagart, who also designed a clean-lined dressing room with paneled built-ins to conceal clutter. Spacious his and hers baths were added by Sullenberger.
Both the hallway and the family room boast dark, traditional moldings and cabinetry while the furnishings tend toward contemporary. In a reversal, the white kitchen leans toward the sleeker trends of today, but a farm sink, chandelier and hefty cabinet legs beneath the island buffer its modern attitude. Throughout the house, this counterplay of traditional and contemporary, rustic and refined, lends a subtle contrast to a neutral palette.
Exquisite walnut flooring, distressed to appear hand-planed then finished with tung oil, coordinates with cherry paneling and moldings that conceal the accoutrements of everyday living. These, along with coffered ceilings and rustic beams of reclaimed wood that have been refined and polished, create the bones of the house— “the interior architecture,” as Sullenberger notes. The stone fireplaces in the breakfast room, the family room and the porch echo a common form, yet each mantel is notable, from rustic to refined.
Interior spaces were created with the clients’ outstanding photography collection in mind. Prior to the design, Sullenberger’s team measured several works—including a Richard Avedon piece now in the entry hall and three Murray Bognovitz photos on display in the hall near a powder room—then delineated and defined the art on the walls with moldings. Custom Design Concepts also designed some of the furnishings in the home, including the console table below the Avedon photograph, the storage shelf below the trio of Bognovitz photos and a desk in the family dining room. “Integrating the custom design of the furniture,” recalls interior designer Miriam Dillon, a former member of the Custom Design Concepts team, “and blending the architecture and the millwork and the interior design with the art” made the project very special.
According to Sullenberger, construction on the project was difficult. “We didn’t have a lot of staging area because we were trying to save so much of the existing landscaping,” he says. It was worth the trouble. Now, the tall old trees and mature shrubs and plants make the house “look like it has been there for years.” It is a spacious, elegant and gracious home—just what the homeowners wanted.
Contributing writer Barbara Karth resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Kenneth M. Wyner is a photographer in Takoma Park, Maryland.
ARCHITECTURE: MARK SULLENBERGER, AIA; Custom Design Concepts, McLean, Virginia. INTERIOR DESIGN: MIRIAM DILLON. CONTRACTOR: Sandy Spring Builders, Bethesda, Maryland. LANDSCAPING: JULIE PATRONIK, McHale Landscape Design, Inc., Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
**Out of the array of interior design magazines, Home and Design magazine stands out as a primary idea source for luxury home design and building/remodeling features. Wonderful visuals of custom homes and eco-friendly resources are combined with expert advice to provide a fundamental reference point for bringing amazing home interior design and remodeling projects to life.