Home & Design

BEFORE: front façade.

The existing home was updated with contemporary design elements.

BEFORE: The surviving brick shell is pictured during construction.

In the family room, a DellaRobbia sectional faces a gas fireplace, with the screened porch beyond.

An island with Knoll stools anchors the minimalist kitchen, illuminated by Kuzco pendants.

An ipe deck affords treetop views.

A new stairway leads to second-floor bedrooms and the new third floor.

A study awaits on the third floor.

A modern vibe prevails in the dining room via crisp-white walls, mid-century chairs and a custom table from Baltimore Fallen Lumber Co.

The second-floor primary bedroom harbors a floor-to-ceiling window wall. A cherished vintage-leather bed frame is bookended by mid-century Heywood Wakefield nightstands.

The couple’s sleek new bathroom features an integrated tub and shower, Kountry Kraft vanities and tile from Architessa.

The renovation of a 1941 Colonial in Tenleytown created a modern abode partially contained within the home’s original brick walls. The four-story rear addition celebrates light and sweeping views.

Strong Foundation

Behind three 1941 brick walls in traditional Tenleytown, a modern home rises

In 2003, two newly married lawyers bought their first home, a three-story, red-brick Colonial in Northwest DC’s Tenleytown neighborhood. At 1,960 square feet, the three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath abode desperately needed an update. The couple waited until 2007 before embarking on a renovation that enlarged and refreshed the bathrooms;  finished the attic and basement; and enclosed the back patio to create a new kitchen, dining and family room area. Those changes brought the home to 3,400 square feet.

As it turns out, the construction was not what it should have been. By 2008, says the wife, “kitchen tiles started moving and loosening.” A consultant cited construction and installation issues; though they replaced the tile in 2012, it cracked again—indicating continued flaws.

As the years went by, the couple and their two teens faced a choice: Move to larger suburban digs or turn their starter house into a stylish forever home. They opted to stay put within walking distance of schools, favorite shops and restaurants and the Metro. In 2017, they engaged Eric Carle, co-principal of Runningdog Architects, to implement a whole-house redo that would enlarge and modernize their living space while remedying structural issues. In fact, tearing down and replacing the troubled house would have been easier, but would have required long waits for permitting and more time spent in temporary quarters.

“We tore down everything but the three original brick walls in front and on the sides, to respect Tenleytown’s modest 1940s homes,” Carle notes. “Inside and behind that brick exoskeleton, we built a new, 6,050 square-foot, four-level modernist residence.”

The architect teamed with contractor John Allen whose firm, AllenBuilt, Inc., overhauled the foundation and attached the surviving walls to new construction. “Metal rods were epoxied into the brick and then bolted to the wood framing,” Allen explains.

With its foundation correctly designed and executed, the home today is roughly the same 30-foot width as the original. The existing brick front has been subtly contemporized with minimalist, metal-framed Andersen windows and the same vertical, cement-board siding accenting the roofline. Meanwhile, its modern rear addition—clad in white stucco and vertical, steel-look cement-fiber-board slats—is intentionally concealed from the street of traditional dwellings. 

Inside, the front staircase—once a hindrance to sightlines and circulation—was relocated to an unobtrusive back corner within the original footprint. The new center hallway leads back unimpeded to the open family room and kitchen. A fireplace in the dining room was removed to create a wall for art.

The main level of the addition encompasses the open kitchen/family room. Carle collaborated with Sugarloaf Kitchen & Cabinet Works on the expansive, streamlined kitchen featuring Kountry Kraft cabinets topped by white quartz counters. In the adjacent gathering space, a gas fireplace and flat-screen TV tucked into a ceiling-height stucco surround front an L-shaped sectional—the perfect spot for cozy movie nights. Glass doors open onto an inviting porch, partly screened for bug-free dining and partly open for grilling and chilling. The backyard—reachable by a staircase of ipe wood planks and steel railings—was leveled to accommodate a sport court.

The expanded second floor boasts a large primary bedroom and sleek new bath, plus en-suite bedrooms for the kids; a laundry room; and a pair of hall closets for the couple. The new third level includes a guest room, full bath, the husband’s office/library and access to a deck offering drop-dead panoramas. “I can’t stop taking pictures of the amazing sunsets,” says the husband. The basement now includes a bedroom, bathroom, gym, mud room and laundry.

Following the renovation, the family finally moved back into the home in late 2020. Since a neighbor’s oak was toppled by a storm, their view expanded to take in acres of woodland, the winding Potomac and the Tysons skyline along with those gorgeous, ever-changing sunsets.

“The end result is fantastic,” says Carle. “It’s a lot of house built in a tight space. It’s unpretentious, with an open plan and great views. It’s made for a real family.”

Renovation Architecture & Interior Design: Eric Carle, AIA, principal, Runningdog Architects, Kensington, Maryland. Renovation Contractor: John Allen, AllenBuilt, Inc., Bethesda, Maryland. Kitchen Design: Sugarloaf Kitchen & Cabinet Works, Ijamsville, Maryland. Structural Engineer: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Washington, DC.



How do you keep a big, modern project from clashing in a modest, older neighborhood?

Eric Carle: Contextualists take design cues from the style and scale of nearby homes, but sometimes the architect or owner wants something that will stand out. Since this is the clients’ home, we listen to their wishes first and turn them into architecture.

What is your go-to building material and why?

EC: We come from the world of commercial architecture, so we always look at glass. That material informs every design decision we make. We consider the impact of light and shadow in a space; how it affects the way one feels; and the ability to bring the outdoors in and vice versa.

As someone who does a lot of modern work, what is your approach to traditional commissions?

EC: Leaning modern relates to plan layouts, circulation and window arrangements. But we approach every project as a design opportunity, no matter the style.

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