Newfangled design trends are considered ahead of their time—until, suddenly, they’re not. Case in point: the sunken living room.
One homeowner considered hers a hip twist on tradition when she purchased her brand-new Bethesda townhome back in 1999. But almost 20 years later, she and her husband found this relic—and the rest of the abode—sadly out of date. The floor plan was choppy, the kitchen small and inefficient. And although they’d established a lush garden behind their end-unit residence, a shortage of windows meant they could barely enjoy the view.
In typical townhouse parlance, the front living room led to a dining room; a separate kitchen and family room followed in the back. “We never used the living room and used the dining room only on holidays,” recalls the wife. “And the house was dark because everything was closed-off.”
She and her husband, who have grown children and grandkids, first considered moving. But nothing they saw on the market could beat their home’s location—a few minutes from downtown Bethesda and the husband’s dental office—or their private backyard oasis. So they decided to renovate, hiring designer Skip Sroka to reimagine the entire three-level abode and craft contemporary spaces that would suit their lifestyle now and in the future.
On his first visit, Sroka was full of ideas. “The house had the right amount of space, decent ceiling heights and nice views, but it was all builder-grade,” he explains. “They wanted a higher level of finish.” He presented several plans that would gut the original interiors, open up the main level and introduce more functional space.
The owners opted for a ground-floor layout that delivers an expansive living room on the entry side of the home; beyond, a spacious kitchen/dining room and breakfast nook—with plenty of new windows—celebrate views of the garden. “We created and simplified volumes of space,” says Sroka. Architect Carib Daniel Martin was tapped to complete final drawings and contractor Joel Flax to handle the build-out.
In the completed project, two deep, arched doorways dividing the living room and kitchen/dining area establish sight lines from the entry to the backyard. Within the walls flanking these arches, Sroka and Martin cleverly concealed two upgrades on the owners’ wish list: an elevator and a walk-in pantry.
Channeling his clients’ aesthetic, Sroka accentuated the interiors with crisp millwork and rich textures and finishes. “Some of the architectural vocabulary gives you the sense that this is a larger home even though the space has not increased at all. When you walk in, there’s a great stone fireplace with a big built-in on each side,” he points out. “It creates a statement and gives you a sense of place.”
The wife, an avid cook, loves her chic and efficient new kitchen, designed in collaboration with kitchen designer Mikayla Proctor. Ceiling moldings complement the Wood-Mode cabinets and delineate the kitchen and adjacent breakfast room. A central island/bar caters to grown-up guests and grandchildren alike. Its surface, which resembles natural marble, is actually stain-resistant quartz in a three-inch-thick slab, a material also used on the backsplash. “The kitchen’s lines are super-clean, but we wanted it to be timeless,” says Proctor. “It also has a touch of glam.”
In the dining room, additional Wood-Mode cabinetry in a dark-wood finish is tucked into a niche so that it resembles built-in furniture. And a handy bar, with additional storage below, doubles as a coffee station and serving buffet.
Another dramatic improvement transformed a dated, three-story stairway. “It had a million colonial-style, wooden spindles,” Sroka laments. “I urged my clients to change them out to glass.” Painting the trim, wooden steps and risers white also helped set a clean, contemporary tone.
Other deft moves reconfigured the upper and lower levels. A laundry room was relegated from the second floor to the basement to enlarge the guest room and its en-suite bath upstairs. And downstairs, ample new storage space was carved out along with a gym.
The elevator ascends directly into the revamped master suite. Sroka applied wallpaper on the tray ceiling for subtle, tone-on-tone texture. Elegant bedside tables of his own design rest beneath mirrors that reflect light throughout the space.
Here and throughout the home, the designer balanced the wife’s preference for smoky, natural hues with the husband’s penchant for brighter colors. Though some of the owners’ existing furniture was reupholstered after the makeover, they also invested in new finds. From the sculptural alder-wood breakfast table designed by Sroka to the bed upholstered in luxurious Kravet chenille, these recent acquisitions speak to refined style and comfort.
The owners sing the praises of Sroka and their newly transformed home. “Skip understood what we were looking for and made the square footage as usable as it could be,” marvels the wife.
Both are glad they decided not to move. “We hear the stories about how people fix up their house before selling it,” the husband recounts. “Why not fix it up and enjoy it?”
Renovation Architecture: Carib Daniel Martin, Carib Daniel Martin Architecture and Design, Kensington, Maryland. Interior Design: Skip Sroka, ASID, Sroka Design Inc., Washington, DC. Kitchen Design: Mikayla Proctor, Amy Collins, LLC, Glen Echo, Maryland. Renovation Contractor: Joel Flax, Joel Flax Associates, Rockville, Maryland.