Avenel, an enclave of sprawling brick homes on wide, tree-lined lots, would be anyone’s idea of a great place to lay down roots and raise a family. So when a play date lured a Chevy Chase mom to the Potomac, Maryland, development, it wasn’t surprising that she fell in love with a particular street as she drove along. “I called my husband and said ‘this street is where we need to live,’” she recalls. The couple had been wanting more land for their kids to play in and space for a pool. So when a house came on the market on the very street the wife had fallen for, they decided to buy it.
The original plan was to renovate, and the couple eventually tapped Rui Ponte of Ponte Mellor Architects for the job. After contemplating the 1980s house with its low ceilings and poorly conceived addition however, they decided to tear it down and start afresh. “This was what we wanted,” the wife says, “to design our dream house.” As luck would have it they were able to rent the house next door for the 18-month duration of construction.
The architect’s first task was to jump through the necessary hoops to satisfy Avenel’s planning board. “It was the first teardown in the community and they were very particular,” he recalls. They dictated, for example, the brick exterior of the home, which Ponte enhanced with creamy stucco and a slate-and-copper roof to create an English manor look. “Part of the challenge was to make the house distinct in a neighborhood of similar houses,” he explains. He built the new house on the footprint of the old one and retained part of the two-car garage from the original structure.
The homeowners, too, were particular, and their long wish list included an additional two-car garage, a walk-in pantry, an office with a view to the family room for the husband (who frequently works at home and didn’t want to feel disconnected from his family), a dedicated playroom on the main level, a mudroom, elevator and coffered ceilings at a height throughout of 10 and a half feet.
Ponte also had to reconcile a more casual sensibility on the wife’s part with a desire for something more formal on the husband’s. “There needed to be a public and private side to the house,” Ponte says. “The entry was very important to [the husband]; he wanted a sense of entry in the foyer.” To create this drama, Ponte designed the space symmetrically, with matching arched doorways to either side, leading to tastefully appointed living and dining rooms. A curved staircase flanked by a simple but elegant wrought iron rail leads upstairs while in the living room, a custom, cast-stone fireplace offers a striking focal point. “Those were the two elements that took the most time to plan out,” says the wife.
With two acres of picturesque property to play with, Ponte designed an 11,000-square-foot house that is wide but fairly shallow to ensure that every window would have a view. Sightlines from the front entry straight back to the family room reveal views of the backyard—now complete with patio and outdoor fireplace, pool and pool house and a play area for the kids—all against the backdrop of a sweeping lawn and bucolic stands of trees beyond.
Flanked by a wall of French doors, the family room is spacious at 28 by 18 feet and opens into the kitchen and breakfast nook; to divide the two spaces visually and to create a more formal appearance, Ponte placed pillars at the entry between them. “They should look like two distinct rooms though they are connected,” he says. The Wood-Mode cabinetry, topped with limestone counters, extends to the crown moldings all around the room for a more cohesive look, while a butler’s pantry connects the kitchen with the dining room.
When it came time to decorate, the wife turned to her long-time interior designer, James Hawes of Caldwell-Beebe, to create the look she wanted. “I am a tone-on-tone person,” she says. “After years of working with Jim, I trust him completely.” Hawes envisioned interiors that are perfectly in sync with the home’s exterior style: classic but with a transitional flair. Shades of cream, beige and butterscotch impart warmth to the living, dining and family rooms, while the office boasts wood paneling punctuated by walls upholstered in brown Ultrasuede. Upstairs, the master suite is a restful vision in creamy white and beige, divided into a comfortable sitting room with a fireplace and a spacious bedroom. Sweeping views to the backyard are visible from both ends of the room.
While wide-plank, quarter-sawn white oak covers most of the floors, beyond the kitchen, a more private, slate-floored wing of the house is revealed. This area provides access to the garages, the back staircase, the elevator (installed largely for the benefit of grandparents), the mudroom and the kids’ playroom, which is separated from the kitchen by French pocket doors so the kids “can be seen but not heard,” says the wife.
The finished basement, which includes a gym, TV room, playroom and en suite guest bedrooms, is also accessible from this end of the house. Future house plans are centered on this lower level, where the couple—who are expecting their third child—have ensured that space for a movie theater and a bar stand ready for the next phase.
Kenneth M. Wyner is a photographer in Takoma Park, Maryland.
ARCHITECTURE: RUI PONTE, AIA, LEED AP, Ponte Mellor Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: JAMES BEEBE HAWES II, Caldwell-Beebe, Ltd., McLean, Virginia. CONTRACTOR: JEAN ASSUNCAO, Estoril Construction, Bethesda, Maryland.