An older house is like a broken-in pair of boots—so comfortable that it’s easy to overlook the scuffs and worn spots until suddenly you grasp that it’s time for an upgrade.
Such an epiphany struck the owners of a center-hall Colonial in DC’s Foxhall neighborhood. “It was on Thanksgiving in 2018 that I realized for the first time there was nowhere comfortable for people to be,” the wife says, describing the home she and her husband and their two children had shared for six years. “Even though everything was ‘fine,’ the house wasn’t suiting our family dynamic. We decided to elevate it, to make the spaces warmer and more our style.”
Though endowed with high ceilings and generous proportions, the 1990s abode’s layout left much to be desired. Standard, builder-grade doors and closed walls separated the main-level living spaces, limiting circulation. And the finishes, fixtures and windows were outdated.
The owners invited architect David Benton to assess the situation. “The house was getting a bit tired and the flow was off,” Benton opines. “The living, dining and family rooms were all dead ends. It needed a contemporary refresh.”
He was hired to remedy these flaws on the main level and recast the staid interiors with what the wife refers to as “a modern take on classic style.” Benton forged stronger connections between the foyer and living and dining rooms in the front of the house and the kitchen, breakfast and family rooms that span the back. New double French doors replaced a single wooden one in the foyer, opening up sight lines to the breakfast room. Where there was once a solid wall of bookshelves, two glass pocket doors now link the living and family rooms. “Before, it almost felt like the back of the house was an addition because it was really cut off from the rest,” the architect explains. “Now, you can actually circle the whole first floor.”
Black muntins on the new interior doors and Andersen replacement windows installed throughout the four-bedroom home instill an industrial vibe. Existing hardwood floors, previously stained an inky black, were sanded and coated in a warm, natural finish, brightening the material palette. Another deft move took place in the transition from the living room to the family room. By extending the walls between the new pocket doors, Benton created a niche for floating shelves and a flat-screen TV. As he explains, “We made it look like it was part of the room, as opposed to a tacked-on built-in.”
Upgrades to the better-connected family room and adjacent kitchen and breakfast area created the relaxed gathering space the owners craved. Benton bumped up the kitchen’s style quotient in practical, family-friendly ways. He retained existing cabinet frames, updating them with new door and drawer fronts and hardware. He and his clients selected durable, stain-resistant Caesarstone countertops in two material looks—marble on the island and slate on the perimeter. The porcelain-tile backsplash also mimics marble. “It’s a cost-effective way to add luxury to a space,” says Benton. “They used to have a microwave-range hood, which was very apartment-looking. We put a stand-alone microwave into an existing pantry and installed a nice new hood over the range, making it a focal point from the family room.”
The architect replaced the old island with a larger one equipped with a second sink for food prep. It also serves as a wet bar for entertaining and a spot for easy family meals. Pendants and a chandelier in the kitchen and breakfast room, all from Circa Lighting, make bold statements. “It’s a joy to be in the kitchen now,” says the wife. “It’s so much more functional.”
She and Benton collaborated on refurnishing all main-floor interiors except the dining room. “She wanted a non-fussy, traditional look that leans toward contemporary,” the architect says. They landed on a mix of retail finds that blends warmth, texture and a natural palette to chic effect. “We don’t want our kids to think any room is off-limits,” the wife reflects. “David understood that we’re not a formal family, but we like a polished look. Working together, we went beyond the old-fashioned idea of spaces being too precious.”
She and her family are thrilled with the results. “We pinch ourselves that we did this before covid,” she marvels. “The house has completely transformed our dynamic. We can be together without being in each other’s way.”
Renovation Architecture & Interior Design: David Benton, AIA, Benton Architecture & Interiors, Washington, DC. Renovation Contractor: Impact Construction, Washington, DC.
What guides your renovation-design process?
David Benton: It’s so easy to get distracted and fall for the next big trend. I tell clients to find a half-dozen inspiration images that they really love so we always have a clear vision of what they like.
How do you integrate color into a makeover?
I like the backdrop to be neutral, then integrate hints of color throughout a house. As long as the colors are something you’d see in nature, they definitely work in doses.
Are most homes worth renovating?
Most homes have potential. There are ways to improve a house without having to completely start over. It’s a matter of rethinking the interiors so they function better for today. How has covid affected clients’ priorities? Home is much more important to them now because it’s where they’re spending their time. Since people aren’t traveling, they have a little extra money and are focused on investing in their homes.