Instead of tearing down their small colonial to build a McMansion, Bethesda homeowners Geoff Sharpe and Laurel Hatt preserved the existing 1940s structure as the centerpiece of their expanded home. “We liked the character of the house and wanted to provide a sense of continuity with what was here before,” says Hatt, a public health economist.
The original brick façade is still discernible under a coat of white paint; it now extends to a new, brick-clad wing with a garage. Around back, a boxy addition with stained-cedar siding and large windows presents a contemporary contrast away from the street.
“The idea was to build a garden and put a house around it,” says Sharpe, a landscape architect who now works as a real estate developer. “We wanted to create a strong connection between the indoors and outdoors.”
Hatt and Sharpe bought the three-bedroom colonial in 2010 to reduce their commuting time to jobs in Bethesda and accommodate their two young daughters, Madeleine and Abigail. “This is a family-friendly neighborhood with good schools, and we knew the size of the lot would allow us to build an addition in the future,” says Sharpe.
By 2014, the two began interviewing architects to translate their ideas into a detailed design that would expand the house. They selected Foundry Architects based on the firm’s “unabashedly modern portfolio and willingness to listen to us,” says Sharpe. Construction commenced in 2015 under the direction of Bethesda contractor AllenBuilt, Inc., and was completed a year later.
“The design process was a very collaborative effort and sketches were traded back and forth,” recalls architect Matthew Compton of Foundry. “Geoff and Laurel approached us with a fully formed concept for the backyard. That led to a well-defined layout for the home from the start.”
The new, L-shaped design incorporates the original home’s living room and study on the main floor and two bedrooms on the second floor. The refurbished basement provides a playroom and areas for storage and utilities.
A new brick wing, comprising the garage and second-floor master suite, joins one side of the house. On the opposite end of the original house from the garage, a modern addition extends into the rear yard to complete the home’s L shape. It contains a new kitchen with two guest rooms above.
“The original home’s massing and proportions dictated the form of the new construction, but much of the interior was altered to bring in more natural light and provide spaces that better match the homeowners’ daily life,” says Compton.
For Hatt and Sharpe, a new kitchen topped the list of must-haves. “We wanted a bigger space for cooking and hosting people while we cook so it would feel celebratory,” says Hatt, recalling how she and her husband had to prepare meals in the “tiny galley kitchen with a fold-up extension of the counter.”
Now, a generous, marble-topped island provides plenty of prep space and room for seated family and guests. Meals are enjoyed at a walnut table in a dining area within the spacious room. “The kitchen is where we spend most of our time,” says Hatt. “We do more entertaining now.”
Tall Jeld-Wen windows and glass doors provide abundant daylight and access to the canopy-shaded outdoor dining space on the patio just outside the kitchen. White-oak flooring, pale paint colors and a high ceiling reinforce the airy feeling.
“We took advantage of a grade change in the rear yard by stepping down the new addition to provide the kitchen and dining room with just a bit more ceiling height than the existing home, while keeping the addition at a scale that is compatible with the neighboring houses,” says Compton.
Another skillful maneuver was to relocate the staircase next to the kitchen; it connects to a hallway on the upper level that acts as a bridge leading past the kids’ bedrooms in the original house to the new master suite above the garage. Slots of open space between the hallway and the walls allow daylight into the center of the house, as do the open risers and the glass panels that flank the staircase.
The master suite incorporates a large bedroom, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with a freestanding soaking tub. On the second floor of the kitchen wing, the guest suite features corner windows overlooking the backyard, where Metro’s Purple Line is under construction just beyond the property line.
Once that light rail is completed, the homeowners expect to carry out their plans for transforming the back garden with a swimming pool, trees and plantings according to Sharpe’s design. Says Compton, “We are excited for the second phase to be implemented and for their full vision of the property to be realized.”
What is the easiest way to give a traditional house a contemporary design?
MC: The glib response would be to “paint it white,” but the actual process of arriving at an answer is complicated. Accomplishing this goal depends on the unique circumstances of the particular house and the owners’ needs.
What are the best ways to fit a contemporary design into a neighborhood of older homes?
Careful material selection and building at an appropriate scale and proportion are the most obvious ways. The overarching principle is respect for the neighborhood and its inhabitants.
What assets do older traditional homes offer in terms of design? What parts of these homes should be preserved and why?
Consider a simple fireplace and hearth, and think of all the conversations families and friends have had around it, the hands that have built fires in it, children that have played around it–even the mason that laid the brick and the brickyard that fired it. So, it takes some very good reasons for us to conclude that preserving such elements isn’t the most appropriate response to a renovation.