In the fall of 2010, interior designer Wendy Danziger had recently completed an extensive project in Rockville, renovating a master suite and selecting stylish new furnishings and draperies on the main level. “We had just installed the draperies, then ‘Snowmageddon’ struck,” recalls Danziger, referring to the unprecedented storm that crippled the DC area for weeks. The freeze created ice dams in the roof of the rambling, 1950s custom-built home. Unfortunately, the roofing company’s decision to use propane torches to melt the ice ignited a massive fire that destroyed the residence, where her clients had lived for 30 years.
The initial instinct was to rebuild a replica of their beloved 7,600-square-foot house, but the wife soon realized she was “30 years into my five-year-plan” and they decided it was time to make some sweeping updates. So they engaged Danziger to help them restore and redecorate their shell of a home. “We approached it with an eye toward the way we live today,” explains the owner.
Danziger and her assistant, Mary Biletnikoff, became more than designers. “I can’t say enough about Wendy and Mary. They were my sanity,” the wife remarks, recalling the sheer scope of the project. Using the original home as their guide, the designers, along with Jenkins Restorations, made suggestions that would improve the circulation, better apportion the four upstairs bedrooms and create a clean, crisp background for the owners’ collection of art and antiques. “Putting the house back together was a metaphor for family,” says Danziger. “It was important to restore that continuity.”
Though the footprint and the main floor layout were essentially unchanged, the kitchen and breakfast area were combined to create one space. Recalling the wall that once separated the working hub from the dining area, the owner says, “I felt that now that it was down, it was not going back up.” The other major change on the main floor was the addition of a back stairway with a skylight.
Upstairs, bathrooms were added to each of the guest rooms, and the master bedroom, bath and sitting area were reconfigured. Sliding glass doors in the master bedroom that led to the balcony were replaced with larger windows that afford treetop views; and its bowling-alley-shaped bathroom was reconfigured to allow for a generous walk-in closet.
Since the house had been furnished and decorated over a period of 30 years, the goal after the reconstruction was to re-create the home’s signature look as closely as possible. “We wanted it to feel like the furnishings had been developed, not bought recently,” says the wife. “That’s the genius of Wendy and the phenomenal tradespeople she works with.”
The fire was capricious in what it chose to destroy: The dining room table was damaged, but not the silver and crystal candlesticks on it. Most of the owners’ collection of pre-Columbian sculpture survived—some furniture did not. The library was not damaged; even the rugs survived the fire, so it is as close to original as any room in the house. All of the furniture in the sitting room off the master bedroom is new except for the couple’s treasured 18th-century linen press.
Since the fire started upstairs in their son’s bedroom, the lower-level family room sustained only minor damage. The art in that space was carried out by firefighters, for whom the homeowner has effusive praise. “They knew exactly what to do, what to save, what we’d want to keep,” she says.
One of the most amazing stories of restoration involves an antique baby grand Steinway piano that the husband had purchased decades ago. The fire damaged its case beyond repair, but somehow the inside workings of the instrument remained intact. The owners were heartbroken at the thought of losing this treasured piece. To their delight, a Steinway representative was able to find a case of the same style and vintage, and to install the piano’s workings in it for the family to enjoy in their new living room.
Eighteen months after the fire, the family moved back into their home. “In the end, it did feel like my home,” the wife says. “Not my old home—but I felt at home.”
Writer Jeanne Blackburn is based in Boyds, Maryland. Bob Narod is a Herndon, Virginia, photographer.
INTERIOR DESIGN: WENDY DANZIGER, Danziger Design, Bethesda, Maryland. KITCHEN DESIGN: DESIGN SOLUTIONS, INC., Herndon, Virginia. ARCHITECTURE & CONSTRUCTION: JENKINS RESTORATIONS, Sterling, Virginia.