The dining room reflects Johnson's fresh approach with dramatic Artistic Frame chairs.
The foyer mixes a Beauvais Carpets rug with a Robert Abbey chandelier.
Teo González artwork adorns the dining room.
A walnut-stained fireplace and built-ins enhance the library.
A signed Andy Warhol lithograph hangs above a Worlds Away bar cart.
The kitchen countertops combine marble and honed limestone with KraftMaid cabinets.
An Arteriors chandelier hangs above a Saarinen tulip table.
The great room invites conversation with a sofa and chairs from Stewart Furniture.
A slipper chair occupies a corner of the master bedroom.
A settee winningly combines floral and linen velvet fabrics.
The serene master bath features basketweave tiles on the floor.

Modern History

Mike Johnson updates a Chevy Chase farmhouse to reflect the fresh style of its new owners

When then-newlyweds Spence and Renata Patterson purchased a century-old house in Chevy Chase, Maryland, in 2009, they planned to update the kitchen and move right in. But the project soon spiraled into something much bigger. By the time the couple took up residence two years later, they had renovated and outfitted the entire place. Through it all, their mantra remained constant: “Respect the bones of the house.”

“The home has this big wraparound porch and great street presence,” explains Renata. “We couldn’t see ourselves walking into super-contemporary spaces.”

Instead, they envisioned an old house “jazzed up a bit,” as Spence says. Modern, but respectful.

The dwelling’s past certainly warrants the tribute. In the late 1800s, DC developer Harry Martin bought land bordering Cummings Farm, the last working farm in Chevy Chase, and began selling lots. The Pattersons’ abode, built in 1916, is one of the originals in the community now known as the Village of Martin’s Additions.

1997 remodel by previous owners preserved the farmhouse-style exterior and, through a three-story addition, increased the size to 4,200 square feet. But inside, it left a legacy of chopped-up spaces and dated features. The Pattersons brought together architect Mark Giarraputo and builder Patrick Keating to reconfigure and rejuvenate the interiors while preserving the home’s architectural lineage.

Except for a small mudroom added onto the back, the project stayed within the home’s existing parameters. The design team knocked out walls to improve the flow and open up the kitchen; added and replaced windows; and relocated the great room’s fireplace to an interior wall to capture the backyard view. The kitchen and all five bathrooms underwent total transformations. And crisp architectural elements, such as new ceiling treatments in the dining and great rooms, now reinforce a modern sensibility.

The homeowners, who both work for the federal government, reached their project-management limit about six months into the design-build process. “There’s an overwhelming number of decisions you have to make,” reveals Renata. “We hit the point where we couldn’t do it anymore. It was a full-time job.”

So they approached designer Mike Johnson, formerly of DC-based Lori Graham Design + Home. One meeting convinced them to bring Johnson on board. “Mike walked around and said, ‘We could do this and we could do that.’ It terrified me, but I kind of liked it, too,” admits Renata.

Johnson helped them choose materials, finishes and fixtures that, he explains, “appreciate the older house.” The kitchen redesign, for example, features time-honored marble countertops on the two islands and hand-scraped, wide-plank oak flooring. Stacked stone replaced overpowering river rock when the fireplace shifted to its new position in the great room.

Before the dust cleared, Johnson began an interior-design plan “to play up the home’s character but reflect an updated feel,” he says. Sophisticated hues went a long way toward creating the desired look. “We suggested a neutral palette,” he continues. “The gray tones work well with the materials used in the house. The only color is from art and fabrics.”

Indeed, vibrant artwork—including a Teo González abstract commissioned for the dining room—is sprinkled throughout the house. Andy Warhol lithographs from his “Endangered Species” series hang in the repurposed living room, now a cozy, grasscloth-clad library off the foyer. “They’re perfect on the dark grasscloth,” explains Johnson. “Additional color in the room would fight with them.”

Creating an environment for guests was paramount, as friends and family visit often. “We didn’t want a cold, sterile house,” says Renata. “We like to have people over and didn’t want them to feel like they couldn’t sit down.”

Johnson’s design scheme is approachable, yet dramatic. The foyer combines a playful, geometric rug with glamorous, glass-bauble lighting. A spirited interpretation of a classic wing chair invigorates the adjoining dining room, while a shimmery, Capiz-shell pendant offsets relaxed furniture in the main gathering area. But the most dramatic space by far is the upstairs master bedroom, where the designer challenged his clients’ comfort zone with bold moves, such as marrying two fabrics on an upholstered settee. The new suite wasn’t ready when the couple moved in, so they slept in converted-attic guest quarters on the third floor for the first six months.

For the Pattersons, the long wait paid off. “We were on vacation when Mike installed the master bedroom,” recalls Spence. “The coolest part of the entire process for me was walking into that room. It looked so spectacular. I thought, ‘Okay, six months of living on the top floor? Totally worth it.’”

Writer Catherine Funkhouser is based in Arlington, Virginia. Kevin Allen is a photographer in Washington, DC.

ARCHITECTURE: MARK GIARRAPUTO, Studio Z Design Concepts, Bethesda, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: MIKE JOHNSON, Lori Graham Design + Home, Washington, DC. BUILDER: PATRICK KEATING, PKK Builders, Garrett Park, Maryland.