In 2014, a tree toppled onto the back of a home in Northwest DC. A beloved addition housing the kitchen was badly damaged—windows were broken, the roof caved. The owners asked Mary Douglas Drysdale, who designed the addition in the late 1990s, to come to the rescue.
In fact, over the years Drysdale had completed many other architectural-design and decorating projects for the couple—from adding on a front porch to creating a bedroom suite upstairs for their then-school age daughter. Later, she spruced up the interiors for the same daughter’s wedding.
“They are perfect clients for me because they allow me to do the fluff and pretty part as well as the nitty-gritty of planning,” Drysdale says.
Situated on a lot that drops steeply in the rear, the home was a typical Washington 1940s-era center-hall colonial with a living room on one side and a dining room and kitchen on the other.
Drysdale’s 1990s renovation broke the colonial mold, relocating the kitchen to the addition off the back, where a giant window bay frames a veritable wall of trees. Drysdale says the owners were so thrilled with the space that “they would come home, go straight to the kitchen and stay there. They said it felt like they were in a tree house and they loved the connection to the outside.”
As repairs to the kitchen progressed, the tree catastrophe became an opportunity to make further outside-the-box improvements. “I asked my clients what they liked best about the house,” the designer recounts. “They felt captivated by the experience of the kitchen, so I knew I needed to share that with every other gesture. My intention was to bring the outside in.”
Entering the front door of the completed home, it’s clear that Drysdale achieved her goal. The foyer leads past the existing staircase to the back of the house, where a modern, glass-enclosed staircase suffused with natural light has replaced a dark powder room. To the left of the staircase, Drysdale pushed out the back wall to incorporate a narrow existing deck, leaving intact a wider deck to one side, where the couple loves to congregate and grill year-round. This secluded spot is accessed on one side of the new staircase and is visible through glass from the kitchen on the other.
The new staircase descends to a renovated lower level, entirely above ground at the back. Drysdale enclosed an open area beneath the kitchen to create a light-filled family room. A rec room became the guest bedroom where the daughter and her kids stay when they visit; pocket doors close it off for privacy, but when open, it faces a wall of windows out to the patio in back. The lower level spills into a backyard designed by DCA Landscape Architects, where a diminutive stone patio and dramatically lit water features afford an arresting nighttime view.
Another improvement took shape in a largely unused spare room off the living room, which Drysdale divided into functional parts: a hall closet; a powder room complete with bookshelves and an existing fireplace; and a sunroom opening onto the deck.
Upstairs, Drysdale updated the master bedroom, exchanging windows for French doors that bring in the light. The husband’s bathroom was enhanced with fresh millwork. The daughter’s bedroom suite became an expansive personal suite for the wife—a pristine space clad in gleaming Thassos marble and glass that encompasses a bath and a dressing room with a desk. Accessed via a passageway from the bedroom, it opens to a narrow terrace boasting treetop views.
Throughout the home, Drysdale added signature touches that convey sophisticated style: glazed, bleached-oak floors, delicate floor stencils and Venetian-plaster and striped wall treatments—all created by faux painter Tom Hickey. Ledges and built-ins showcase sculptures and art. The front staircase is painted entirely white, while distinctive, custom-designed rollover shutters originally designed by Drysdale for the living room are repeated in the wife’s office.
On the lower level, honed-limestone floors echo the stonework outside. In the family room, located below the kitchen, the designer sought a monochromatic effect to make the room appear loftier. “Whenever you have a shift or change in color, it stops the eye and makes space seem smaller,” she explains. She designed a custom sofa and coffee table for the irregularly shaped room and glazed the paneled-oak walls in a gray that matches the limestone floors. A wide door pivots out to the backyard. “Part of the enjoyment of the space is not only seeing nature but hearing it,” Drysdale comments. “It makes everything feel open.”
Photographer John Cole is based in Silver Spring.
ARCHITECTURAL & INTERIOR DESIGN: MARY DOUGLAS DRYSDALE, Drysdale, Inc., Washington, DC. BUILDER: Falcon Construction, Rockville, Maryland. LANDSCAPE DESIGN: DCA Landscape Architects, Inc., Washington, DC.
LIVING ROOM Sofa & Chair by Fireplace: saporiti.com. Fireplace Design: marydouglasdrysdale.com. Fireplace Fabrication: unitedstatesmarbleandgranite.com. Wingback Chair: Owners’ collection. Wingback Chair Fabric: saporiti.com.
FOYER Stair Runner: J Brooks Designer Floors; 703-698-0790.
DINING ROOM Table & Chairs: Owners’ collection. Chair Fabric: donghia.com. Line Painting: adammarkovic.com.
SUN ROOM Table: atelierinternational.com.
KITCHEN Cabinetry: Custom. Countertops: Stone. Round Rug: vanderhurd.com. Sofa & Chairs: bebitalia.com. Counter Stools: jlambeth.com.
DECK Furniture: janusetcie.com.
MASTER BEDROOM Rug: J Brooks Designer Floors; 703-698-0790. Dresser & Bedstead: saporiti.com. Bedding: kravet.com. Duvet: macys.com. Armchairs and Matching Ottomans: Owners’ collection. Upholstery: kravet.com.
UPSTAIRS LANDING Sculpture on Ledge: Owners’ collection. Green Wall Color: Custom mix by risingtideinc.us.
UPSTAIRS TERRACE Boxwoods & Planters: newgrowthdesigns.com.
WIFE’S BATH & OFFICE Thassos Marble: architecturalceramics.com. Glass: Ultra Clear through showerdoorexperts.com. Vanity: robern.com. Vanity Sink & Soaking Tub: dxv.com. Desk: custom, lacquered wood to match the stone.
LOWER LEVEL Chair by Stairs: Antique, owners’ collection. Limestone: architecturalceramics.com. Sectional Sofa Design: marydouglasdrysdale.com. Fabricator: marksandtavano.com. Sofa Fabric: cowtan.com. Coffee Table: Custom by seanalandesigns.com. Twin Ottomans & Fabric: leeindustries.com.