When a family with two teenage daughters followed the husband’s new job as a college professor from Minnesota to the DC area, they had to make a quick decision: Should they buy a house and renovate it themselves, or buy someone else’s renovation? The couple, with a preference for older homes, opted to purchase a center hall Colonial in Chevy Chase that needed work—and a lot of it.
“I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into,” recalls the wife, a child psychiatrist. “The house was built in 1936 and had never been touched. The windows were small and ceilings were very low. There was no molding anywhere, no charm.” Feeling overwhelmed, the owners contacted Muse Architects for help.
“It was a typical postwar revival style without the right spaces for modern living,” says William Kirwan, an architect at the firm. “They needed added living space and a new kitchen, baths, a master suite and a finished basement.” Also on the list of improvements: better traffic flow; a reconfigured stairwell bathed in natural light; a back hall and mudroom; a screened porch; and architectural detailing.
For Kirwan and his team, the lot presented a challenge. “The house was tucked into a hill,” the architect explains. “We had to dig into the hill and add a retaining wall to accommodate the addition, which was narrow and ran across the whole back of the house.” Landscape architect Lila Fendrick designed a patio bound by a six-foot-high retaining wall, above which a terraced band of land gives the family dog space to roam.
Once the remodel was complete, the owners faced the challenge of making the home a reflection of their personal style. After months of choosing everything from lighting to hardware, the task seemed daunting. “I couldn’t handle any more details,” says the wife. “I had most of my furniture and art from my last house and the question was, ‘How do I use it here?’”
It was a meeting of the minds when the couple turned to Nestor Santa-Cruz for help. “Nestor’s architectural view is like mine,” the wife says. “It’s spare but not modern. He took all my old things and pulled everything together.”
Santa-Cruz describes his mission: “She had seen my work and wanted me to bring a personality that was missing to the interior design. She was stuck, wanting to reuse what she had but not really knowing how to do it.”
Throughout the house, the designer repurposed furniture and accessories, reupholstering and rearranging pieces and shifting art from room to room. He took cues from the renovation; for example, the owners wanted Spanish-style arches to separate the kitchen and dining room, so Santa-Cruz used that ethnic sensibility in other parts of the house. He set a casually elegant and eclectic tone that reflects his clients’ aesthetic within a traditional vernacular. He also selected a small number of new furnishings and accessories that he purchased through Casamidy, an artisanal furniture company based in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. “I spread them around the house so the language would connect from room to room,” the designer says.
In the large foyer, which formerly housed a cramped dining room and kitchen, a velvet-covered settée and a wrought iron mirror from Casamidy are grounded by a rug from Timothy Paul. An adjoining alcove leads to a powder room embellished with an accent wall of textural wallpaper, personal to the wife because it came from her mother. The foyer leads to the living room, where Santa-Cruz moved the pale blue Oriental rug to the master bedroom, replacing it with a more casual one of woven hemp from Restoration Hardware.
Straight back past the broad stairwell, the 2,000-square-foot addition encompasses the kitchen, dining room, mudroom and screened porch. The wife hired Minneapolis kitchen designer Tricia Bayer to implement a classic Beaux Arts kitchen design, to which Santa-Cruz added finishing touches including sconces and stools. He also updated the dining room table by staining the top black for a “Country Biedermeier” effect, and selected a screen from Casamidy to enliven the space.
With its luminous blue rug and reupholstered furniture, the master bedroom is both restful and elegant. “On this project, it was interesting to not be the one selecting everything,” observes Santa-Cruz. “It was my job to finalize the house correctly, to find the solutions. I took the house to the next level.”
Photographer Angie Seckinger splits her time between Potomac, Maryland, and Spain.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: STEPHEN MUSE, FAIA; WILLIAM KIRWAN, AIA, LEED AP, project architect, Muse Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: NESTOR SANTA-CRUZ, NCIDQ, IIDA, LEED AP, Nestor Santa-Cruz Decoration, Washington, DC. KITCHEN DESIGN: TRICIA BAYER, BelleDesignBuild, Minneapolis, Minnesota. CONTRACTOR: McNamara Brothers, Silver Spring, Maryland.