Photography: Jim Tetro

Remodeling: Case Study

Tree House Charm: Gardner Mohr Architects revives a dilapidated house in the woods with sustainability and style

Remodeling: Case Study It was a trade-off: A run-down, poorly constructed house, circa 1969, was located on a spectacular site in Bethesda. The owners were forced to either raze or remodel their home when burst pipes rendered the place uninhabitable; zoning constraints and a goal of preserving existing trees made them opt to remodel. They called on Amy Gardner of Gardner Mohr Architects to create a space that would answer their wishes for a modern, energy-efficient abode with a strong connection to the outdoors.

“The position and orientation of the house were ideal for views and passive solar and natural ventilation, as well as the creation of secluded outdoor spaces,” Gardner says. Located on a sloping lot, the home had a tree house feel to it that the owners wanted to preserve. Gardner and her team designed a whole-house overhaul that would “improve the general building fabric and systems, extend the sense of living outdoors to all seasons and add strategically, staying within the original footprint.”

Doors and windows were enlarged and, in most cases, relocated to capture views. New porches and decks forge a connection to the outdoors, while the new, modern kitchen and baths—including a master bath that cantilevers over the south deck like a tree house—add convenience.

In the interest of preserving the existing structure, Gardner and her team removed, refinished and reinstalled the cedar siding using a rainscreen assembly. Next on the list: a landscape plan that will preserve the wooded site while creating an oasis of native species and a bird garden.

RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: Amy Gardner, AIA, LEED AP, Gardner Mohr Architects, Silver Spring, Maryland. CONTRACTOR: Charlie Berliner, Berliner Construction, Annapolis, Maryland. PHOTOGRAPHY: Jim Tetro.


  • I often recommend an energy audit at the beginning of a renovation, in order to study performance and value. Starting with such information can guide aspects of the project, including significant budget decisions. 
  • Create a tiered list of goals: must-haves, desired options, wish list. Let it evolve during the first schematic design phase of the project, when options arise that can impact those original goals.
  • Develop an understanding of the interconnectedness of elements within the house. We find this to be among our clients’ biggest challenges when managing scope and budget.
  • Summarize a project budget that includes construction, permit costs, contingency funds (often overlooked in the creation of a budget) and professional fees.