It’s a common refrain in the Washington, DC, area: How do you reconcile modern tastes with traditional style during a home renovation?
An Arlington couple was faced with this question when they bought their 1942 side-hall Colonial on a street of homes from the same era. The house featured a one-story addition from the 1980s containing a dated kitchen. Small rooms made the original structure feel cramped. After living there for two years—with baby number three on the way—the couple was ready to renovate. The goal was to modernize their abode while retaining its fit within the neighborhood. They contacted architect David Ricks to spearhead the effort and soon after, interior designer Tracy Morris came on board.
“The owners described the look they wanted as transitional,” recalls Ricks. “They wanted to keep the exterior traditional with a new design that would be responsive to the old house.”
The consensus was that the first addition had to go. In its place would be a three-level addition: kitchen and family room, master suite and finished basement.
The architect created an open design combining the kitchen and family room in one 1,200-square-foot space. The husband, an attorney, and the wife, a French literature professor, both love to cook. “They needed a large kitchen for two proficient cooks as well as for entertaining,” says Ricks.
Morris helped select dark-stained bamboo cabinetry, white Caesarstone countertops and stainless-steel vertical backsplash tiles. “They wanted a modern look but not too cold or surgical,” Morris says. “And they were very specific. [The husband] wrote down what he wanted to keep in each drawer.”
In the family room area, a sectional and coffee table from Room & Board face a freestanding wall of walnut shelves that divides the seating area from stairs leading to the new basement. “The shelves are open and don’t go to the ceiling, so they let the light in,” explains Ricks.
The older part of the house presented its own challenges. “The addition has more of an open plan,” he continues. “Everyone thought the renovation would be more successful with some major change in the older part to make it commensurate.”
Since changing the footprint of the older structure was not an option, the team removed the wall between the living and dining rooms to create one large space. In the original floor plan, the front door faced the stairwell and a hall led back to the kitchen, with doors on one side opening to the living and dining rooms. Now, the doors are gone, replaced by wide entryways that flood the first floor with light. An upstairs closet by the stairs was removed—its floor included—making the stairwell airy and open. A wider opening between the hall and the addition invites visitors to the back of the house.
Morris reframed and repurposed the owners’ art collection throughout the house and helped them purchase almost
all new furniture. “They have amazing taste,” the designer observes. In the living/dining room, a mix of antiques and custom pieces creates a minimal, uncluttered look. The dining table by Mecox is paired with chairs from Furniture From Scandinavia. A former window well is now a niche showcasing a cupboard by Julian Chichester in the living area. The sofa is by Cisco Home and the rug is from Timothy Paul Home.
Beyond the fireplace in the former living room, a drab home office has been transformed into a charming alcove with built-ins lining its walls and a pitched roof with exposed support beams. “The clients had an antique Dutch art table that fits perfectly under the window sills, so we built everything around it,” Morris says. The fireplace is now clad in a limestone surround with an oak mantel that matches the dark-stained oak floors throughout the house.
Upstairs, the master bedroom feels airy, with a vaulted ceiling and a balcony. The luxurious, travertine-clad master bath includes a curb-less shower and a Caesarstone tub that incorporates bookshelves into its base.
On the exterior of the addition, Ricks created a stepback to separate the stone volume on the ground level from the clapboard room above. It’s a seamless transition that mirrors the home’s interiors: elegant and understated.
In fact, the renovation is exactly what the owners wanted. “We love it,” says the husband. “It really reflects who we are and how we live. We’re very happy with it.”
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: DAVID W. RICKS, AIA, design principal; Steven T. Crawford, RA, project manager, DW Ricks Architects + Associates, PC, Arlington, Virginia. INTERIOR DESIGN: TRACY MORRIS, Tracy Morris Design, Washington, DC.