A backyard view of Washington’s splendid National Cathedral is not a thing to be taken lightly. Seen from one particular home in Cathedral Heights, the massive Gothic structure rises unexpectedly beyond a landscape of traditional Northwest DC houses. A first glance inspires a quick intake of breath and a sudden “oh!”
Not surprisingly, this traditional American Foursquare on a tree-lined block lured a family of four trading up from a more modest abode. They bought the house and hired architect Chris Snowber to mastermind a whole-house renovation with an addition off the back that would capitalize on that breathtaking view.
Working with builder Mauck Zantzinger, Snowber embarked on an overhaul that encompassed remodeling existing bathrooms and adding others; finishing the basement, which involved a three-foot excavation to create 10-foot ceilings; reconfiguring the second and third floors to better accommodate bedroom and office space; designing built-in shelving and cabinetry throughout; and restoring original elements such as crown moldings, pocket doors and door casings. The millwork, banister and railings on the staircase were refinished and a coat closet installed near the stairs.
Outside, Snowber’s team removed aluminum siding to uncover the home’s original stucco and converted what was a raw concrete slab into a hospitable front porch. In the backyard, a smaller porch now flows out to a bluestone patio with a built-in grill—part of a landscape design by Amy Mills of DCA Landscape Architects.
A new, three-story addition replaced a choppy, earlier expansion. Occupying the main floor are an airy kitchen and adjoining office, with a master suite above and a family room below. All three levels feature window walls with slender frames painted black for an industrial vibe. “At every level, the cathedral becomes clearer,” says Snowber.
Designed by Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, the kitchen marries modern and traditional aesthetics. Opposite clean-lined white cabinets, a custom, built-in cupboard of walnut conveys a Japanese vibe with furniture-like embellishments. The cabinetry and central island are topped with black granite counters and the spacious breakfast area by the window wall is bathed in natural light.
While the structural work proceeded, designer Nestor Santa-Cruz devised interiors that complement the home while reflecting his clients’ eclectic sensibilities and international backgrounds; the wife is from India and the husband spent time in Africa. Santa-Cruz finished the oak floors throughout in a light hue and selected a pale palette ranging from off-white to medium gray. “The background is quiet so as to give attention to the objects in the home,” he notes. “Almost all the decorative elements already belonged to the owners.” These include rugs, art and accessories picked up on extensive travels through Asia and Africa.
Santa-Cruz introduced furnishings in a wide range of periods, aesthetics and materials. “My approach was to be a curator,” he explains. “I wanted the house to be a polyglot, to speak many languages. We mixed Scandinavian and American modernism, contemporary design, German, mid-century, Asian. Each room has some of everything.”
For example, the living room features a Jean-Michel Frank sofa, a Ming Chair, leather Safari Chairs by Danish designer Kaare Klint and an olive-wood coffee table handcrafted by Mira Nakashima—all grouped before a marble-and-stainless-steel fireplace by Chesney’s of London. A wall covering of handmade paper squares by Cannon/Bullock creates subtle texture in the dining room, where the owners’ ornate Indian console and mirror harmonize with a sleek Poul Kjærholm table—a favorite of the designer. Rich draperies with reflective silk borders in each room lend softness.
With input from both architect and designer, the owners outfitted the home’s six bathrooms with marble-patterned floors in different motifs and luxe Waterworks fixtures. Each a little jewel that is both classic and chic, they are emblematic of the care and collaboration that went into this project. “When you’re modernizing while preserving traditional elements, it’s a matter of finding the right balance between the two,” Snowber observes. “This project is a great example of what good design can do.”
Renovation Architecture: Christopher R. Snowber, AIA, principal; Michael P. Rouse, AIA, project architect, Hamilton Snowber Architects, Washington, DC. Interior Design: Nestor Santa-Cruz, NCIDQ, IIDA, LEED AP, Nestor Santa-Cruz Decoration, Washington, DC. Builder: Mauck Zantzinger & Associates, Inc., Washington, DC. Kitchen Design: Jennifer Gilmer, CKD, Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Amy Mills, ASLA, DCA Landscape Architects, Washington, DC.