A light-filled family room with an inviting hearth now connects the home to its secluded back yard.
BEFORE: The front facade of the house, prior to the renovation.
BEFORE: The back of the house, prior to the renovation.
BEFORE: The cramped and dated original kitchen.
BEFORE: The original living room was dark, with very little exposure to the backyard.
Light fixtures by Dana Creath Designs in the family room and breakfast nook tie the two spaces together.
The rear elevation shows abundant windows that flood the home with natural light.
The screened porch has a flagstone floor and fir ceiling.
The kitchen boasts custom maple cabinetry and honed, fossilized limestone counters.
In the dining room, a brick fireplace wall was replaced with simple molding and trim.
A new front door, railing and sidelight were installed.
A built-in desk area was added off the kitchen.

Back to Nature

A clever Chevy Chase renovation connects an outdated home to its lush surroundings

By the time a couple with three teenage daughters contacted Bethesda architect Jim Rill to design a renovation, they had spent almost 20 years living in a home that he calls “dysfunctional.” Though the owners had remodeled the house 15 years earlier, they were still contending with a number of shortcomings. The house lacked a connection to its idyllic backyard. In addition to its cramped rooms, lackluster galley kitchen and awkward flow, the “quirky” home even had two separate staircases leading to the basement, where they met at the bottom. “It was really bizarre,” the architect recalls.

Rill and his team devised a plan that would open up the interiors to the property’s glorious landscape, update the dining room and master suite and create a dream kitchen with a breakfast area and adjoining family room tailored to the way the owners cook and entertain. Though the finished home feels more spacious than before, the project only added about 15 percent to its overall footprint. Says Rill, “It was mostly re-organizing what had been done and wasn’t working.” 

Early on in the project, Rill tapped interior designer Erin Paige Pitts to help with finishes and furniture. The team held regular meetings with the owners, planning every element of the design collaboratively. 

Rill proposed a riff on the Prairie aesthetic in his approach to interior and exterior detailing. In the family room, a massive Old Spruce Mountain stone hearth with a flagstone mantel and subtle bands of trim on the ceiling reflect this Craftsman style. “We gave it scale and proportion without too much ornate detail,” says Rill. “We really wanted to play up the landscape.”

The architect likens the new living, dining and cooking space to a courtyard between the house and its private, park-like backyard. “The addition worships light and brings it into the house,” says Rill. “The owners can sit here on a winter, spring or summer day and feel like they’re outside.” 

Also taking cues from nature, Pitts selected a color scheme of steel blue, taupe and neutrals. “I like to take a strong color and weave it discriminatingly through a space,” says the designer. Two circular iron light fixtures by Dana Creath Designs make a bold statement in the facing family room and breakfast area. “Great lighting is like jewelry,” says Pitts. “It sets the tone. I wanted the two pieces to work together and love to use a circular fixture over a seating group. There’s an intrinsic joining of the space, kind of like an eternity band of a wedding ring.” 

The custom banquette in the breakfast room faces a spacious kitchen with an expansive island where kids and guests can pull up a stool while the wife—an avid home chef—whips up a meal. Pitts presented Napolina honed, fossilized limestone as a countertop and backsplash option—and the owners fell in love with the textured surface.

Rill took into account a long list of what the home cook wanted—and didn’t want—in the kitchen, designing a layout that would meet the family’s specific needs. The kitchen itself has plenty of room and storage for everyday food prep, cooking, baking and entertaining. Meanwhile, secondary storage options and functionality abound in the built-in desk area, walk-in pantry and butler’s pantry that connect the new kitchen and dining room. “When you cook and entertain, you don’t want it to be cluttered,” says Rill.  “In this kitchen, there’s a place for everything.”

In the dining room—once the home’s formal living room—the design team did away with the existing brick fireplace surround. Square and linear trim convey Prairie style. New drapes and blue upholstered chairs echo the home’s color scheme while a fixture with a round drum shade illuminates the table. From this revamped space, a wide gallery leads guests back to the new family room and the yard beyond. “We created the gallery to move you to the landscape,” say Rill. “The owners couldn’t believe they had lived here that long with no connection to the beautiful backyard. Their whole life has been transformed.” 

Photographer Kip Dawkins is based in Richmond, Virginia. 

RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: JIM RILL, AIA, Rill Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: ERIN PAIGE PITTS, Erin Paige Pitts Interiors, Gibson Island, Maryland. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: DAVID CLARK, Woodhaven Contractors, Ijamsville, Maryland.