With two young children, the owners of a vintage abode on a cramped Chevy Chase lot were looking to spread their wings. After a long search, they purchased a property in Bethesda, intending to replace the existing circa-1970s house with a spacious new custom home—traditional but with a modern, family-friendly layout. They turned to GTM Architects for the job. “We drove around Bethesda checking out new homes and GTM seemed to have designed the ones we liked best,” relates the wife, an educator who currently stays home with their kids, ages eight and five.
She and her husband, a real estate developer, worked with GTM partner Mark Kaufman on the project. The firm, which also designs speculative homes, had a portfolio of house plans at the ready. “We started with a standard plan, then customized it to their program goals and needs,” Kaufman explains.
The nearly 7,000-square-foot house features a formal dining room and small, secondary living room flanking the wide front foyer. An open kitchen/family room lies straight back past a generous central staircase. Behind the kitchen, a mud room-cum-back hall is delineated by a black-and-white ceramic-tile floor and shiplap siding; it leads to the garage, home office and an additional staircase up to the kids’ rooms. The kitchen and family room flow onto a screened porch with plenty of outdoor-living space.
Classical architectural elements, including millwork, moldings and tray and coffered ceilings, abound. “The woodwork is on the traditional side,” Kaufman says, “but we nodded to a more modern look with the open floor plan and widened case openings between spaces. We also eliminated the dividers on the windows at the back, making it feel more connected to the outdoors—another modern concept.”
The wife had a strong vision for the kitchen, which showcases white custom cabinetry by Walkers Creek Cabinet Works topped with double-thick slabs of white quartz; a marble backsplash adds subtle contrast. The island seats four while a breakfast nook features a built-in banquette. A convenient butler’s pantry connects the kitchen and dining room; it adds a dash of color with dark-blue cabinetry and an antiqued-mirror backsplash that makes the space feel larger.
The couple hired interior designer Elizabeth Spratt Cooper to help them establish an updated feel against the home’s traditional backdrop. “They wanted a modern take on classic appeal,” Cooper says. “They’re young and social and gravitated to a fun, pop-art vibe.”
Furnishings in blues and grays impart a transitional sensibility. “We tried to be classic enough so that there would be longevity,” notes the designer. “We were aiming for approachable, put-together, family-friendly, yet stylish.” Dark-stained oak floors contrast with crisp-white woodwork and built-ins; eye-catching light fixtures, mainly by Visual Comfort, introduce an edgy attitude.
Working with The Art Registry, Cooper and her clients selected bold, playful pieces that pop against neutral walls and furnishings. A large-scale piece painted on site by street artist KeyHan was commissioned for the living room, where it dominates the space. The family room displays whimsical Cory Oberndorfer paintings of popsicles. “Most of the art is local,” says the wife. “We enjoyed finding and meeting local artists.”
Kaufman and his team created a sense of openness throughout. The main staircase was bumped out to make room for a built-in window seat on the landing, while the airy upstairs hall is flanked by the master suite and guest room; it eventually narrows into a corridor leading to the kids’ rooms. “The thing we enjoy the most about the house is the openness,” the wife observes. “We don’t have to be on top of each other, but we can feel like we’re all together.”
Mark Kaufman’s Trade Secrets
What factors do you consider when siting a house?
On larger lots, the biggest considerations are solar orientation and views. For infill lots, garage location is important; the garage is usually placed on the less desirable side of a site and can help retain steep sloped lots.
Compare natural versus synthetic building materials.
Natural materials are preferable when they can be enhanced, like stained wood. When the plan is to paint, synthetics such as closed-cell PVC or fiber cement are better because they are not susceptible to rot.
What sustainable features are clients requesting?
High-efficiency HVAC systems and thermal envelopes; geothermal and solar heat; and low-VOC and high recycled-content materials. We’re also providing 220V 50-amp chargers in garages for future electric cars.
Advice for people embarking on a custom-build project?
Put together a great team. Building a home is very personal, and trusting in the people helping you is critical.
Architecture: Mark Kaufman, AIA, RA, LEED AP, GTM Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. Interior Design: Elizabeth Spratt Cooper, Art & Design Partners, LLC, Washington, DC. Builder: ERB Properties, LLC, Beltsville, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Kevin Campion, ASLA, Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, Annapolis, Maryland.