Home & Design

Poetic License - It’s a reality that small, older houses in DC’s established neighborhoods are steadily giving way to larger homes with contemporary layouts.

In most cases, that means razing the original and building brand new. But Eric and Joseph Bernstein, Potomac natives who head a small development company founded by their father Brad, see value in preserving what they can. That was the case when Joseph, a real estate agent, wrote to his then-neighbors in Friendship Heights, asking if any of them might be willing to sell.

When the owners of a 1940s-era Colonial said yes, the brothers acquired the home with a plan to transform and resell it. “We loved the neighborhood—it’s got great walkability—and we knew the house and lot had potential,” says Eric, who heads design and building for BradBern Construction.

First, he called on DC architect Jonathan Kuhn to orchestrate a gut renovation and expansion that would celebrate the home’s original architecture while modernizing it for future owners. Kuhn was impressed with the Bernsteins’ willingness to allow him nearly free rein over the design. “They gave us poetic license to have fun with it,” he reflects. Kuhn’s plan preserved the original home’s footprint on the front and sides and replaced the existing porch, which had jalousie windows, with a new screened version; its wood slats cleverly reference their glass predecessors.

An addition stretches out in back, but the home’s original brick rear wall remains exposed in the new kitchen and family room. “The brick back wall lends to the story,” the architect explains. “You have a little bit of the history of the house on the interior.”

The real story, however, is about reimagining the house for future owners. “My vision called for a contemporary, treehouse-like feel,” Eric recalls. “Jonathan came up with a really good design pretty much on the first try.”

Kuhn sought to “stitch” the old and new together by cladding the third-floor addition in wood siding that comes down over the original brick façade, straddling the second-floor windows. Wood softens the new, modern look, relates Kuhn, pointing out that repeating brick on the third floor would have looked “relentless, and would [make the house] seem even taller than it is.”

In the back, he broke up massing to avoid a single, three-story “box” by designing two separate volumes: One is three stories high while the other is two levels topped with a roof deck. The addition contains the kitchen, family room and dining area on the main level, two new bedrooms (for a total of three) on the second floor, and the new third-floor owner’s suite.

Inside, Kuhn avoided the modernist default to large, open spaces. On the main level, he preserved the original front living room but created a widened foyer and stair hall, followed by a transitional area—a horizontal corridor housing storage closets, a powder room and a mud room with a side entry—leading to the family room and kitchen.

This area steps down from the original house, allowing for 11-foot ceilings. “We played with geometries to create different shapes and spaces,” says Kuhn. Eric Bernstein chose kitchen finishes that echo the home’s light and dark exterior.

Two separate staircases connect the levels—a move, says Kuhn, that fosters circulation and creates “a visual, physical and psychological break.” He upgraded the existing stair to the second floor, which now arrives at a large landing framed by a wall of glass. A new stairway around the corner leads to the owner’s suite.

Upstairs, Bernstein wanted to make a statement in the owner’s bathroom, envisioning “a big open concept, with a shower large enough so you don’t need a door.” It took four men to (carefully) haul the shower’s enormous glass partition up the stairs to set it in place.

Soon after the project was completed in 2019, Scott Nash, owner of Mom’s Organic Market grocery stores, purchased the home. “The layout was amazing and the windows are spectacular,” he enthuses. He was also taken with the roof deck, which is accessible from the owner’s suite, and the home’s industrial accents. The three bedrooms on the second floor perfectly accommodate his three children, ages 15 to 20, who have had space to spread out during the shutdown. Says Nash, “It’s just been a delight to live here.”

Renovation Architecture: Jonathan Kuhn, AIA, LEED AP, Jonathan Kuhn Architect, Washington, DC. Contractor: Eric and Brad Bernstein, BradBern Construction, Rockville, Maryland. Landscape Design: Carlos Uman, Green Fields Landscaping, Sterling, Virginia.

How do you soften a modern look?
JK: Incorporating materials such as wood makes a home more inviting. It’s associated with warmth and nature, and people respond in kind.

What do you think about open-plan living?
It’s intended to make a space feel larger, but in fact has the opposite effect. Defining spaces—not with small, dark rooms but with clues both built and implied—makes for a functional, livable home.

How can you modernize a Colonial?
It’s about transforming the bones without losing the “home.” First, visualize the new layout—floor plans, flow and function. Then, bring the outside in with windows and outdoor spaces—both enclosed and open.

Poetic License - Why not tear down and start fresh?

We enjoy the challenge of re-using an existing home and weaving it into the new. It may seem limiting on the surface, but it pushes you to look at things differently, to make something new out of something old.

Soft Power - Washington’s mayor granted several television interviews from her home in Colonial Village in 2018, all in the wake of adopting her baby daughter, Miranda Elizabeth.

Each time, she used her living room’s blush walls and contemporary furnishings as a backdrop to discuss the importance of balancing work and motherhood. “I love my home, I love my neighborhood and I love that I’ve made my house really work well for my daughter and me,” Muriel Bowser says of the renovation she orchestrated the year before Miranda arrived. Since then, she’s welcomed a steady stream of family, friends and guests through the main level, which includes an open living/dining room and an adjacent TV room.

Bowser credits DC designer Trystin Kier Francis with remaking these spaces, replacing what she calls a “hodgepodge” of furniture she’d collected over the years. And because she uses this floor in her official capacity as mayor, she needed the area to work hard and wear well. “I’ve probably had over a thousand people at various events,” says Bowser, who requested plenty of seating options. “I also have elderly parents so I had to have comfortable seating for them.”

Francis met the mayor after she admired custom cabinets he’d designed for Lee’s Flower Shop on U Street downtown. “They were made on-site by a local cabinetmaker who’s from Grenada—the simplest little cabinets ever, but she loved them,” says the designer, who internalized these details as he went about fashioning Bowser’s home with clean lines and restrained style.

The mayor had already painted her walls in Sherwin Williams’ Angora, so Francis worked within that scheme. Another starting point was Bowser’s eclectic and colorful art collection, including a historic print depicting a colonial-era Caribbean plantation—a scene that reminded Francis of Martinique, where his grandmother grew up. For Bowser’s part, the print has sentimental value. “I bought it for my very first apartment, and I’ve just taken it with me every place,” she says.

Adds Francis, “It’s so whimsical. The fact that she had something like that in her home really spoke to her appreciation for culture. I needed it to be front and center, representing who she is as mayor of a city comprised of people from so many different nations.”

Muriel Bowser grew up in DC’s North Michigan Park, where her parents still live. After attending Chatham College in Pittsburgh and earning a master’s in public policy at American University, she was elected to the city council in 2007, filling Adrian Fenty’s seat when he became mayor. In 2015, Bowser was elected mayor herself; she became Washington’s first woman to gain a second mayoral term in 2018.

As she was completing her first term, Bowser gave Francis just 29 days to finish the makeover of her home, in time for an event she was hosting for former classmates in a leadership program. “It was like a race against time, and could have been a great episode on HGTV,” Francis says. The timeline meant he had to rely on available furnishings from online retailers. He honed in on neutral, contemporary pieces with plush, patterned rugs in feminine colors and fluffy, fringed throw pillows for texture and personality.

To impart character, he painted a vintage bar cabinet black—a strong juxtaposition against chunky brass handles—and transformed Bowser’s existing brown credenza with a coat of purple paint and gold-painted hardware. “It’s the star when you walk in; it gives the room sparkle,” he says. “Purple and gold represent royalty. I wanted it to be really rich-looking.”

The design also includes reminders of friends and constituents. A colorful tea set she acquired on a trip to the Far East enjoys pride of place, and she discovered one of her favorite artworks, a drawing of two dancers, at DC jazz singer Esther Williams’ former thrift shop in 16th Street Heights. “It was a find, a diamond in the rough. I really like that a lot,” she says. Francis reframed the piece, which now makes a bold statement above a console he painted black for contrast.

Bowser admits she didn’t have specific requirements for the redesign, giving Francis free rein to make decisions. “She entrusted me to make her home beautiful,” he recalls—so he turned to another powerful woman for inspiration, channeling the curves and geometry of the late architect Zaha Hadid’s work. He felt Hadid’s presence in the angles of a metal accent chair, the notched round base of the dining table and swooping wood frames of the chairs that surround it.

Between the mayor’s art collection and the sculptural furnishings that fill these spaces, Francis says the project now befits a public figure whose home is both suitably official and comfortably intimate. “This space is 100 percent Muriel Bowser,” he reflects. “It’s a modern space for a modern mayor who makes big decisions, but it’s also got a Calgon effect—as in, ‘Just take me away after a long day.’”

Soft Power - Interior Design: Trystin Kier Francis, The Kier Company, Washington, DC.

Bethesda’s Tulip Hill, nestled into rolling hills above the C&O Canal and filled with its namesake tulip poplars, was at the top of Erich and Amanda Cabe’s list when they decided to move out of their four-story townhouse in DC’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood. “We wanted to spread out a bit, and we wanted a two-level house,” says Erich, a broker with Compass Real Estate. A circa-1957 rambler stood out to them for its ample (and flat) front and backyards—a plus for sons Max and Brooks, now five and seven. “But it needed some work. It was a typical ’50s house—very compartmentalized and chopped into tiny rooms.”

The couple turned to Anthony Wilder and the firm’s senior architect, Sean Mullin, for help transforming the dated home into a true modernist abode with airy spaces and light to invite its bucolic surroundings inside. It was clear from the beginning that the small rooms needed to be opened up, the roof vaulted for ceiling height and the windows enlarged. “We took cues from Mid-Century Modern architecture,” says Mullin, “but we didn’t change the footprint at all.” Similarly, they preserved existing window locations but made them larger.

As for determining the soul of the new design, Wilder instantly identified with Amanda, a stay-at-home mom who, like himself, grew up in California. “I’ve always been drawn to stucco,” she says of the material that’s more common amid the Golden State’s Spanish-influenced homes than on the Colonial-filled East Coast. Plus, Mullin adds, the state was home to mid-century master Joseph Eichler, whose residential architecture is distinguished by broad, sloping roofs like the one they opted for in the redesign.

Erich, the son of ski instructors, grew up on the slopes in Pennsylvania. His father is Austrian and his mother is from Vermont, so mountain life was in the family DNA. If it were possible to combine California cool with alpine comfort, the team sought to achieve it here, Wilder says. The new roof, as it turned out, closely resembles that of an Austrian ski chalet—though that wasn’t by design: Wilder originally chose it because it felt like the protective wings of a large bird. “We had a visceral feeling about the organic-ness of it,” he says, though it quickly became apparent that it bore the same lines as a classic chalet.

Inside, a gut renovation of the single-level home combined the kitchen and dining room into one space and converted a dated Florida room into Erich’s office. Grid-like shelving divides the living and family rooms, with staggered openings connecting the spaces visually. The project also added a Jack-and-Jill bath between the kids’ rooms and replaced a hall bath with a powder room off the foyer. The master bedroom was streamlined to make way for spacious walk-in closets and an expanded, updated bathroom.

Wilder kitchen designer Shannon Kadwell then stepped in with rustic, mountain-friendly details to contrast with modern, white-lacquered cabinetry. She selected a backsplash in an unexpected material:  high-end vinyl flooring that’s nearly indiscernible from hardwood.

Similarly, Mullin applied wood-like aluminum siding to a portion of the stucco façade to channel that warm chalet feel, but with none of the maintenance that real wood requires. “It’s a commercial product; Starbucks uses it,” the architect notes. Interestingly, it’s called Longboard siding—an unexpected reference to Erich’s passion for surfing and one of his sons’ favorite pastimes, skateboarding.

Also outside, Wilder expanded a front patio the Cabes had already installed so it would be accessible from the kitchen via new French doors, making impromptu entertaining that much easier during Front Porch Fridays, a neighborhood get-together introduced by the Cabes. He designed a visor-like roofline that stretches across the entry and patio to make the space more enjoyable despite its strong western exposure. “We put that little slice out there to keep the sun out of the front windows,” he says.

Wilder was on a mission to remake the entry into “a splash of awesomeness,” he says—triggered in part by a mistaken measurement for the new front door. Wilder’s team had ordered a standard 36-inch glass door, only to realize upon delivery that it was a half-inch too wide for the opening. The error turned out to be fortuitous, resulting in a decision to blow out the opening to 48 inches—the same width as the front walk and the glass opening above that fills the newly vaulted foyer with light. “The front entry is everything now,” Wilder says; as a bonus, the first door was reassigned to Erich’s sunny new office in back.

The finished home is exactly what Wilder and Mullin set out to achieve for this young, energetic family—and the project also won a Grand Contractor of the Year award in the category of entire house, $50,001 to $750,000.

The Cabes especially appreciate how Wilder and his team were able to incorporate details that channel both of their backgrounds. Says Amanda: “They combined what makes us both nostalgic. We got a nice blend of Mid-Century Modern—with Austrian roots!”



How do you translate a client’s personality into architecture?
While we are designing, I think, “How can I seize a moment in time?” Our design must have a lasting result so that it stays with our clients like a favorite childhood memory.

How do you achieve that result?
We ask clients where they travel, what they love in life—cooking? sports? theater?—and also what they want to change. We ask what their family life was like growing up, and also what are their present and future dreams.

What are some visual tricks to expand ranch-house spaces?
Scale of furniture is important—it can’t be too large or bulky for small space. You need lots of windows for light to create views and vistas through a house. In the Cabe house, high mirrors in the foyer create the illusion of space and light. And, where possible, expand ceiling height.

Renovation Architecture: Anthony Wilder, founder and principal, and Sean Mullin, AIA; Kitchen Design: Shannon Kadwell, CMKBD, Allied ASID; Renovation Contracting: Mike Marion, CLC, and John Botkin, CLC, Anthony Wilder Design/Build, Cabin John, Maryland.

There comes a time when only so much can be done to a house without starting over. “It was a never-ending ‘How do we make this house right?’” says designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey, who oversaw eight years of improvements to Craig and Kari Shapero’s former abode in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Alexandria. In  2016, in the midst of yet another renovation, a home with a more open floor plan, better suited for entertaining, presented itself just a couple of blocks away.

Originally built in 1935, the center-hall colonial had undergone extensive renovations in 2009 and checked nearly every box on the Shaperos’ wish list: There was a large dining room, a bright kitchen, space for a formal library—and an enormous gun safe downstairs that could be converted into a wine cellar. A bonus was the airy foyer that intersects with all the public spaces on the main level; one of the Shaperos’ neighbors aptly dubbed it “the lobby” after Cavin-Winfrey installed an inviting corner sofa and accent chairs. “Shazalynn’s design draws guests in as soon as they step through the door,” Kari says.

And that was the point, adds Craig, the chairman and CEO of Megin U.S., a brain-imaging device manufacturer. The couple, now empty nesters, “wanted a formal, grown-up house” that could accommodate parties and receptions of all sizes.

“We love dinner parties, having family for the holidays and hosting fundraisers,” says Kari, who sits on the board of Alexandria’s Child & Family Network Centers. “It’s nice to be the center of the action.”

Cavin-Winfrey started from scratch with nearly all the furnishings and art, adopting Kari’s favorite hues of teal and blue. “She’s a redhead and has beautiful teal eyes,” the designer observes. “It’s a color she really looks good against, so it was a jumping-off point.” Notes of teal crop up everywhere, but perhaps most dramatically in the dining room, where Cavin-Winfrey introduced a delicate, hand-painted wall covering by de Gournay depicting flowering branches and birds; it holds special appeal for Kari, an avid gardener.

The drama continues around the corner in the scullery—a space that’s part pantry, part china storage and part cleanup station, intended to keep the main kitchen free of dirty dishes during parties. Cavin-Winfrey selected teal cabinetry with antiqued-mirror panels to lighten the space—then clad the rest of the walls in identical mirrored tile. “It felt natural to continue the mirrored surface; it makes the space feel bigger and more reflective,” she explains.

In the adjacent kitchen—upgraded and improved for entertaining—custom wall tile with mother-of-pearl quatrefoils and gilded-glass accents is a showstopper. “I am a Van Cleef & Arpels fan. This is my kitchen jewelry,” says Kari, who during this writer’s visit sported the French luxury brand’s signature Alhambra clover-shaped earrings, a nearly identical complement to the backsplash tile. “When Shazalynn showed me this pattern, I loved it immediately. It’s so different, people often mistake it for wallpaper.” She adds that the kitchen’s gold-hued hardware and fixtures impart a special note of elegance to the space.

The kitchen is designed for cooking and hosting. A stemware cabinet and bar tray—where the Shaperos pour wines chosen from their 2,500-bottle cellar—greet guests as they enter from the foyer. Across the room, two refrigerator/freezer units flank a wall lined with drawers, shelving and a counter area, offering additional storage and work space outside the main cooking-and-prep zone.

An adjacent breakfast room flows easily into the family room, which boasts two daybeds that allow guests to face any direction, depending on the party flow. And not only that, Cavin-Winfrey says: “The criteria for the coffee tables was that Kari wanted to be able to dance on top of them.”

The homeowner notes that they’ve been put to the test many times. “We love to dance on the tables during parties!” she says.

The volume goes down in the library—formerly the living room—where a calm, sophisticated vibe prevails. Cavin-Winfrey transformed the space with paneled walls, shelving and cabinetry showcasing books, art and collectibles. Overhead, she installed a custom pendant light with a mirrored shade that references the tile in the scullery. Kari remembers when she and Craig first saw the room while touring the house. “We had this beautiful library in the other house, and I thought it could work here,” she says. “Shazalynn did an amazing job making it so cozy.”

The mood changes yet again on the enormous lower level, which Cavin-Winfrey separated into two seating areas with a flat-screen TV on one end and a drop-down movie screen on the other. A bar with six beer taps flows during sports-viewing parties and movie nights, or when the couple’s grown sons bring buddies home.

Friends often ask why the Shaperos chose to start anew in such an expansive home rather than downsize. “But we use every room in this house,” Craig avers. He frequently works from his home office, and points out that there are several guest rooms upstairs for visiting family, friends and future grandchildren. “Everything we’ve done is for the long term.”

Interior & Kitchen Design: Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey, SCW Interiors, Alexandria, Virginia. 



Wallpaper: degournay.com. Table: davidiatesta.com. Chairs: wisteria.com. Chair Fabric: grovesbros.com. Host Chairs: elkgroupinternational.com. Chandelier: circalighting.com. Buffet: formationsuasa.com. Rug: starkcarpet.com. Drapery Fabric: colefax.com. Drapery Trim: samuelandsons.com. Drapery Fabrication: Potomac Draperies, LLC

Round Rug: fibreworks.com. Rug Fabrication: carpetcreationsandflooring.com. Sofa: Custom. Sofa Fabric: lewisandwood.co.uk. Wood-Framed Chairs: Vintage. Chair Fabric: colefax.com. Art over Fireplace: Eduardo Cardozo through artful-living.org. Sconces: urbanelectric.com. Wall Covering: thibaut.com. Three-Tiered Table by Sofa: Owners’ collection. Stair Runner: Custom. Installation: prismcarpets.com.

Chandelier: Owners’ collection. Table: mrbrownhome.com. Chairs: cb2.com. Chair Upholstery: kravet.com. Wallpaper: phillipjeffries.com.

Built-In & Millwork Fabrication: builtincabinet.com. Loveseat: Owners’ collection. Fabric: cowtan.com. Coffee Table: tritterfeefer.com. Pair of Chairs by Built-Ins: leeindustries.com. Chair Fabric: colefax.com. Chandelier: urbanelectric.com. Rug: fibreworks.com. Painting between Windows: ramonvilanova.com.

Day Beds: Custom. Day Bed Fabric: duralee.com. Coffee Tables: bernhardt.com. Swivel Chairs: Custom. Chair Fabric: janechurchill.com. Club Chairs: Owners’ collection. Botanical Fabric: fschumacher.com. Rug: Custom by fibreworks.com. Rug Fabrication: carpetcreationsandflooring.com. Art over Mantel: Eduardo Cardozo through artful-living.org.

Tiles: renaissancetileandbath.com. Countertop: quartzite. Fabrication: rbratti.com. Cabinetry: christianacabinetry.com through scwinteriors.com. Shelving: Custom by akmetalfab.com. Sink: signaturehardware.com.

Countertop: quartzite. Fabrication: rbratti.com. Cabinetry: christianacabinetry.com through scwinteriors.com. Tiles: renaissancetileandbath.com. Range Hood: Custom by akmetalfab.com. Bar Stools: thibaut.com. Stool Fabric: grovesbros.com. Island Pendants: circalighting.com. Hardware: emtek.com, alliedbrass.com.


Visitors who walk into the kitchen of Polly and Robert Wiedmaier’s home in Kensington, Maryland, are generally surprised, says Robert. He is the Michelin-star chef behind nine restaurants in the DMV, Baltimore and Atlantic City, including his flagship, Marcel’s—one of the most elegant French-Belgian restaurants in the region. By contrast, the kitchen in the couple’s 1932 Cape is a humble affair with a slate floor and wood cabinets that have remained unchanged since the family moved in 17 years ago. “I think the kitchen [space] might be original,” Polly observes, noting that their only contribution was painting the walls.

“It’s not the huge kitchen that you’d think I would have as a chef,” muses Robert.

“It’s not fancy and modern,” Polly adds.

“That’s all,” Robert concludes, during a long conversation in which each spouse finishes the other’s sentences.

The Wiedmaiers enjoy all the accoutrements of a big kitchen for entertaining at their sprawling weekend retreat on the Chesapeake Bay, where they host most of their get-togethers and holiday meals (see the September/October 2014 issue of Home & Design online). They furnished their Kensington home, on the other hand, to be warm and intimate for time spent with sons Marcel and Beck (whose names each grace an RW restaurant) and close friends.

“It’s a perfect size for us,” says Robert. “When you come in, it’s country-feeling and very comfortable.”

Though the couple has done little to the home’s original layout, they’ve repurposed its main spaces to revolve around cooking and dining. A former family room attached to the kitchen is now a large dining area, where a 12-foot farm table takes center stage underneath framed family photographs—and a signed print of the makings of an apple tarte tatin created by the late chef Michel Richard.

The home’s former dining room, meanwhile, is a rich, chocolate-brown lounge that Robert and Polly call the “cookbook room,” since it contains more than 150 volumes, many signed by prominent chef friends. Robert’s favorite is a 1973 tome called The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth. “It’s a story of two sisters who live up in the Alps and what they cook every day,” explains Robert, who identifies with the quotidian comforts of simple cuisine described in the book because of his own upbringing in Belgium and Germany with his Francophile mother. “I was with her in the kitchen all the time and I got into cooking because of her. There’s nothing more nurturing than cooking for people and making them happy,” the chef reflects.

“Home is a special place,” adds Polly. “It’s where you get together and talk and eat. It’s important for us to sit down and spend time together.” Polly, who works from home as RW Restaurant Group’s chief marketing officer, usually helms the kitchen because Robert works most nights. She prepares family staples like chicken tarragon and potatoes au gratin; when Marcel, 21, is home from college, chicken tortilla soup is on the menu. But since she switched to a mostly plant-based diet last year, Polly admits to ordering “meat and potatoes” from a meal-kit delivery service several times a week for 16-year-old Beck while she makes a separate dinner for herself and Robert.

“There’s a big push on eating no meat,” says the health-conscious chef, who at press time had gone meat- and egg-free for three weeks. He notes that his wife’s new diet has also inspired more vegetarian and vegan entries on his restaurant menus,
like the Modern Lunch salads and grains at Mussel Bar locations in Arlington and Bethesda.

The past year brought other changes to their restaurant group: After closing the Michelin-rated Siren in DC’s Darcy Hotel, Robert continues to look for a new location for its revival. And last April, he opened the popular Keystone Korner jazz and dinner club with jazz master Todd Barkan in the former Mussel Bar space in Baltimore. “Keystone Korner is the most exciting thing we’ve done,” Polly affirms. And sure enough, along with hearty entrées offered at the critically acclaimed restaurant and music venue, the menu includes vegan tacos.

For designer Patrick Sutton, it was almost too much—the way the woodland surrounding his clients’ home sent dappled sunlight through its thick canopy. He thought, “I might as well be in the Shenandoah Valley,” rather than 20 minutes from downtown Baltimore. What’s more, the early-20th-century home featured multiple slate-shingled rooflines that capped charming dormer windows and stuccoed walls. “It feels like Hansel and Gretel wandered out of the woods, and all of a sudden you’ve landed at this fairytale home,” Sutton marvels. “It really does feel enchanted, as though wood nymphs and fairies might flit by a window at any moment.”

When his clients purchased the four-bedroom home about 10 years ago, its interiors didn’t live up to this storybook potential. So the designer has spent the past decade helping them rewrite the narrative room by room, transforming its dated finishes and white walls to create a moody refuge that celebrates its lush surroundings and highlights the owners’ vast art and antiques collections.

Sutton started in the oak-paneled family room, applying a cerused finish to the existing woodwork and textured chartreuse grass cloth to the backs of shelving. He hung striped drapery in a shade of green that fosters dialogue with the trees outside. Green-linen pillows adorn oversized lavender sofas, he says, “to dress the room up a little bit and make it cozy for the owners and their kids who watch TV there.”

Once the family’s gathering spot was established, Sutton embarked on a more complex phase: reworking a problematic arrangement of rooms across the front of the house that had relegated the kitchen to a tiny galley and an office to a large vaulted room that lay adjacent to a bare, little-used sunroom. Letting nature dictate a new order, Sutton moved the kitchen to the office, which has its own mansard roof over exposed trusses. He expanded the views by replacing the side wall with an old industrial, steel-framed window; a new skylight in the roof illuminates a large kitchen island. The former kitchen now houses the office, plus a pantry and potting area.

Where a warren of rooms existed before, direct sight lines now connect the expanded foyer to the dining room and backyard beyond, and the new office/pantry to the big kitchen window.

Sutton reworked the sunroom into a leafy retreat for casual dining, reading and homework. He painted the window trim black to draw the eye outward, then paneled the ceiling in white oak. Decorative green floor tiles further emphasize the natural connection.

Over the sunroom table, Sutton added a pendant light made with vintage electrical insulators—an eclectic detail, he says, that creates a “happy tension” between his client’s antiques and more contemporary gestures. This contrast plays out in the kitchen, too, where an antique chair under an Old World painting stands in relief against a concrete-washed wall and shelving made with gas piping. “They really have a nice mixture of things that are old and traditional with an affinity for things that are a little more contemporary,” Sutton says of his clients. “Their interests span a lot of genres, which I love because it shows depth of character.”

The designer took cues from the home’s existing details for recent upgrades to the dining and living rooms. Deep, blue-green floor tile was original to the dining room, which is bathed in natural light via a side window—a setting that inspired Sutton with thoughts of a Vermeer painting. To accentuate this vision, he highlighted a formerly diminutive fireplace with a marble surround and set it into an entire wall of white oak. Then, he applied a shimmering, green-gold glaze to the remaining walls, and topped the room with an Art Deco-era crystal chandelier. With the owners’ impressive collection of Delft porcelain on display, the room easily conjures an imagined Dutch still life.

The living room also got an architectural makeover that complements the home’s wooded locale. “We were looking for warmth and tactility,” says Sutton, who covered the fireplace wall in stone and applied oak across the ceiling and around a bulkhead that frames a wall of sliding-glass doors. “It’s that hovering ceiling that makes the room feel warmer and lodge-like, like you’d expect to see in a cabin in the woods,” he says.

That “cabin” now properly celebrates its history and surroundings, as well as its owners, Sutton says—fulfilling the potential he saw from the start. “This house already had a story it was telling us, with that mature woodland and that Northern European quality, like you see in Vermeer or the modern interiors of Axel Vervoordt,” he explains. “We heightened that feeling, which drew these people in the first place.”

Interior Design: Patrick Sutton, Patrick Sutton, Baltimore, Maryland. General Contractor: Matthew Kurrle, Case Builders LLC, Lutherville, Maryland. Styling: Eleanor Roper.


Drapery Fabrication: draperycontractors.com. Decorative/Faux painting: artstarcustompaintworks.com. Oak Wall/Ceiling Panels: Case Builders LLC; 443-829-0951.

Console, Table & Chairs, Small Chest: Clients’ collection. Chandelier: 1stdibs.com. Fireplace Surround: Belgian bluestone through Case Builders LLC; 443-829-0951. Fabrication: Case Builders LLC.

Leather Wing Chairs: leeindustries.com. Chest under Circular Painting: antiquerowstalls.wordpress.com. Circular Painting: Clients’ collection. Sconces in Bulkhead: objetonsolite.com. Sofa: verellen.biz through patricksutton.com. Green Chairs: lawsonfenning.com. Sofa & Chair Fabric: hollyhunt.com. Coffee Table: paul-delaisse.squarespace.com through patricksutton.com. Hand-Knotted Custom Rug: starkcarpet.com. Drapery Fabric: elitis.fr. Poufs & Round Side Table Base: hickorychair.com. Table Top: Fior de Bosco marble through marmistone.com. Pouf Fabric: Vervain through fabricut.com. Table Lamps: bdantiques.com. Wide Upholstered Chair: arudin.com. Chair Fabric: Romo.com. Cube Table: bojayinc.com. Writing Desk: theodorealexander.com. Table Lamp: bedfordstreetantiques.com. Table between Green Chairs, Desk Chair & Painting over Sofa: Clients’ collection.

Sofas & Fabric: verellen.biz. Roman Shades: hinescompany.com.  Wallpaper in Shelves: phillipjeffries.com. Rug: Siphon through society6.com. Side Table: kravet.com. Marble-Topped Coffee Table: bolierco.com. Pillows: houseofcindy.com.

Dining & Side Tables: Custom by hubbardcabinetmakers.com. Sofa: leeindustries.com. Lamps: bdantiques.com. Dining Chairs: hickorychair.com. Chair Fabric: sunbrella.com through hickorychair.com. Floor Tile: annsacks.com. Wing Chair: Clients’ collection. Chandelier & Chest: bedfordstreetantiques.com.

Custom cabinetry & Shelving: duncancabinetry.com. Shelf Design: patricksutton.com. Fabrication: Case Builders LLC. Counters & Backsplash: avantitilestone.com. Range: bluestarcooking.com. Hood: subzero-wolf.com. Cabinet Hardware: rockymountainhardware.com. Stools: arteriors.com



A poster depicting the Vitra Design Museum’s iconic mid-century chair collection hangs in Christina Boy’s studio, located on her father-in-law’s farm in rural Madison, Virginia. These iconic chair profiles and the studio’s bucolic setting have both come to influence Boy’s work: The German native grew up loving Bauhaus and Scandinavian design, and that pared-down simplicity informs the furniture she builds with hardwoods sourced from the rolling Virginia countryside and nearby environs.

“I love the less-is-more approach, but I also love pattern, texture and color,” says Boy, 40, whose studio faces a pastoral horizon ringed by the Shenandoah mountains. “The colors I use a lot in my work are those I have all around me. They speak to me.” For example, some of her chairs and tables are striped in multiple hues of sanded-down milk paint. The rustic stripes remind her of aerial shots of fields and landscapes, like rows of freshly cut hay cross-hatched with tire tracks.

Boy trained as an apprentice at a commercial furniture and design showroom in Bonn, Germany, where she learned how to draft. Then Virginia Commonwealth University’s crafts and materials program lured her to the States. “I wanted to learn how to make the furniture, not just sell it,” she observes. Boy interned with Arlington designer Julia Overton for a year before starting school in 2003. After graduating, she honed her furniture-making skills with a two-year fellowship in woodworking at the Penland School of Craft near Asheville, North Carolina.

A major part of Boy’s studio work begins before she cuts the first piece of wood. “I keep a sketch book. Sometimes I’ll sketch something 20 times, and every time the angles change just a little bit,” she explains. Recent commissions include a clean-lined coffee table made with white oak sourced from Montpelier, the nearby estate of James Madison; a shelf under the tabletop is framed with a knobby, whitewashed border. “I draw the pattern on the wood, then cut it freehand using a band saw,” Boy says. “It’s very meditative once you get going—one little cut after another.”

She employed a similar method on walnut end tables whose sides are lined with brass-studded poplar slats and textured with sanded layers of blue-green, orange and black paint. “I always try to find a way to keep the lines simple, but I love to add a little bit of funkiness,” she reveals.

Boy built her studio—an addition to an existing building on the farm—with her husband, Robert Turner, who works in his family’s construction business by day but shares her artistic sensibilities. They took pottery classes together when they first started dating, and Turner has since begun to make jewelry, which he sells while she’s displaying her work at area craft shows.

As Boy fabricates each piece, she recycles nearly all of its byproducts: Sawdust goes to the barn as bedding for the cows, and wood scraps go to Turner’s aunts and uncles as kindling for their wood stoves. The artist uses other leftovers to make decorative items for her home, located down the street—a modern A-frame that was the first house Turner ever built.

As someone who professes to get bored easily, Boy’s work is constantly evolving. She’s currently exploring new disciplines, such as weaving Danish paper cord, rope and leather to form seats on benches and barstools. “It’s another way for me to add texture to my pieces,” she notes. She’s also taken classes in blacksmithing and welding with noted metalworker Vivian Beer and hopes to collaborate with local blacksmiths to design furniture in the future. Whatever the medium, Boy’s ongoing fascination with new methods and materials resonates with clients who cherish her one-of-a-kind pieces—in the same way Boy relishes the design profiles of the chairs on that Vitra poster she’s had since she was 19: “It’s been a huge source of inspiration. Even 21 years later, I still find details I’ve not noticed before.”

Christina Boy will exhibit her work October 5 and 6 in Williamsburg’s “An Occasion for the Arts” show; and October 11 to 13 in Easton’s Academy Art Museum Craft Show. For more information, visit christinaboydesign.com.

Tom and Nancy Stout have always loved hosting parties, but it wasn’t easy in the Oakton home they shared for 18 years, where typical gatherings of extended family and friends meant moving furniture and setting out multiple coolers. “Neither one of us wanted to leave Oakton,” Nancy says, but the spread they envisioned didn’t seem possible in an established suburb.

Serendipity struck one day in 2013 when Nancy came across a lot for sale that backed up to Fairfax County parkland. The owner lived on the adjacent lot—and promised to sell them her remaining parcel when she retired.

They waited two years to acquire the second lot that gave them two acres of forest-lined land, all the while assembling ideas for their new home and party compound—and the team to make it happen. “They had a unique opportunity to do something really special,” says their architect, Tom Flach.

High on the Stouts’ wish list was a pool and pool house, a spacious screened porch and a lower-level play space for all ages complete with table games, a sophisticated wine room, a bar and a golf-simulation center—a top priority for Tom Stout, a former corporate controller for AOL.

In his plan, Flach set out to relate the home to the context of the neighborhood and provide visual and physical connections to the landscape. Meeting his clients’ requirement for plenty of entertaining space, he says, “The challenge was creating a house that was comfortable for two people but scalable for 20 to stay over—or a party for 100.” Despite the home’s 11,800-square-foot size, he designed clearly defined public rooms that don’t feel cavernous when visitors are not around and a master wing on the main level that serves as the Stouts’ private retreat.

The overall architecture was influenced by both Shingle-style and Arts and Crafts abodes. “I find inspiration in the material palette, the complex roof lines and the scale of these homes,” says Flach. “I wanted the house to evoke memories of more traditional homes while feeling comfortable in a suburban neighborhood.”

Interior designer Sandra Meyers came on board early to ensure that everything from the interior architecture to the furnishings and décor suited the couple’s aesthetic. “They wanted a casual but sophisticated house,” she explains. “Everything is user-friendly, everything is easy—and coming to visit for the weekend is like going to a resort.”

Meyers chose elements that are attractive yet durable, such as distressed-finish cabinetry and stain-resistant fabrics. The Stouts had asked for a mostly gray palette, but Meyers broke it up with shots of black and white. Wood and heritage metalworks imparted warmth and a sense of timelessness. She selected walnut ceiling beams and built-in shelving to add character to the family room and chose exposed-steel I-beams instead of drywall on structural-support columns in the basement. “When you mix materials,” the designer comments, “it creates longevity that you don’t get when you walk one style line.”

If one color stands out from the mix, it’s the teal cabinetry in the pantry at the heart of the main level—easily accessible from every interior space and the outdoor grilling area. “It’s basically a Tiffany box,” says Nancy Stout, a former member of AOL's marketing team. Since the pantry is so central, it allowed Meyers to extend shades of teal and turquoise outward into the kitchen’s seating area, on accent pillows in the family room and onto the dining-room rug.

Also critical to the design was maintaining a seamless transition between indoors and out. Flach worked closely with landscape architect Howard Cohen to achieve that goal. “It’s one of the most comprehensive processes I’ve ever gone through for a landscape,” Cohen reports, noting that his team helped site the house and engineered grading on the property in addition to designing the pool house and pool. “The landscape is in scale with the house,” he says. “You want the house to have a nice presence on its site.”

Meanwhile, builder Arjay West found a way to make Nancy’s beloved screened porch an integral part of its surroundings: Both motor-controlled screens and clear vinyl panels designed for cooler weather roll up to create a covered terrace that perches over the pool. Beside it, a picturesque fountain sends water running down over a black-granite boulder. “The porch might be Nancy’s favorite space,” West says. “It really can be a four-season room—we installed infrared heaters on three sides and electric floor heat.”

West takes pride in the quality of the home’s construction, noting small details that have big impact such as the slender steel collar ties supporting the pitched roof in the master-suite library, which appear as decorative metal rods in the wood-paneled ceiling. The wine room’s glass wall panels were embedded in the floor and ceiling to avoid visible tracks or brackets. And when closed, a sliding door to the master bathroom is indistinguishable from the bedroom’s wall paneling. “It’s the most complete and fantastic project I’ve ever been involved with,” West says.

Behind the scenes, the energy-efficient home boasts an extensive, remote-controlled network of lighting, sound and video systems both inside and out. Says Atlantic Multimedia principal Thomas Rogers, who installed the system, “There’s a lot of electronics and engineering in this house that you don’t notice.”

In fact, all the Stouts notice these days is their ease of living and entertaining—whether it’s family gatherings at holiday time, when 20 or more spend the weekend, or their grandchildren’s basketball and soccer team parties. “We keep telling everyone, ‘Yes, we’ll host your party,’” says Nancy. “That’s our purpose in life!”

Architecture: Thomas Flach, AIA, Kohlmark Flach Architects, Burke, Virginia. Interior Design: Sandra Meyers, Sandra Meyers Design Studio, Rockville, Maryland. Kitchen Design: Patty Whitman, Reico Kitchen & Bath, Springfield, Virginia. Builder: Arjay West, West Homes LLC, Falls Church, Virginia. Home Automation: Thomas Rogers, Atlantic Multimedia, Fairfax, Virginia. Landscape Architecture: Howard Cohen, Surrounds Landscape Architecture + Construction, Sterling, Virginia. 



Windows: jeld-wen.com through wdshowplace.com. Millwork and Built-Ins: dimitriosandcompany.com. Ornamental Metalwork: metalspecialties.biz. Wood Countertops: marylandwoodcountertops.com. Hardwood flooring: wideplankflooring.com. Home Automation: atlanticmm.com. Paint: benjaminmoore.com. Window Treatment Fabrication: leangsinteriors.com.

Pool House: newenergyworks.com. Furniture: gloster.com. Throw Pillows: sandrameyersdesign.com

Sectional: arudin.com through michaelclearyllc.com. Sectional Fabric: markalexander.com through romo.com. Pillows: blackedition.com through romo.com, kravet.com, fabricut.com through jlambeth.com. Light Fixture: hubbardtonforge.com through dominionelectric.com. Rug: starkcarpet.com. Coffee Table: salvationsaf.com through americaneyewdc.net. Drapery Fabric: casamance.com through michaelclearyllc.com.

Light Countertops & Backsplash: fairfaxmarble.com. Dark Countertops: marylandwoodcountertops.com. Cabinetry: woodharbor.com. Blue Stools: vanguardfurniture.com, jerrypairleather.com through romo.com. Stools with Backs: rjones.com. Fabric: kerryjoyce.com through hinescompany.com. Island Pendants: techlighting.com through dominionelectric.com. Marble Backsplash: akdo.com through architecturalceramics.com. Refrigerator: subzero-wolf.com. Roman Shade Fabric: romo.com.

Cabinetry: woodharbor.com. Cabinetry Color: customcolor.com. Harlequin Wallpaper: hinescompany.com. Sink: thompsontraders.com through ferguson.com. Faucet: rohlhome.com through ferguson.com.

Rug: starkcarpet.com. Benches: wallsupholstered.com. Bench Fabric: blackedition.com through romo.com. Lighting: bonesimple.com. Console: bakerfurniture.com.

Rug: starkcarpet.com. Light: sonnemanawayoflight.com through dominionelectric.com. Coffee Table: keithfritz.com through michaelclearyllc.com. Recliner: americanleather.com through americaneyewdc.net. Sofa: arudin.com through michaelclearyllc.com. Sofa Fabric: kirkbydesign.com through romo.com. Fireplace Wall: islandstone.com through architecturalceramics.com. Mantel: silestoneusa.com through gmexpress.com. Roman Shades: conradshades.com through hinescompany.com.

Wallpaper: cole-and-son.com through kravet.com. Table: keithfritz.com through michaelclearyllc.com. Chairs: bakerfurniture.com. Chair Fabric: blackedition.com through romo.com. Lighting: carlylecollective.com. Rug: starkcarpet.com. Mirror + Console: mclainwiesand.com through hinescompany.com.

Bed: vanguardfurniture.com. Bedding: yvesdelorme.com. Headboard Fabric: hollandandsherry.com. Loveseat: centuryfurniture.com. Loveseat Fabric: blackedition.com through romo.com. Armchairs: ef-lm.com through hinescompany.com. Armchair Fabric: kerryjoyce.com through hinescompany.com. Nightstands: vanguardfurniture.com. Lighting: curreycodealers.com through dominionelectric.com. Drapery Fabric: hollandandsherry.com. Table Lamps: mrbrownhome.com through americaneyewdc.net.

Bathtub: fergusonshowrooms.com. Mosaic Tile: marblesystems.com. Tile Source: marblesystems.com. Chandelier: minkagroup.net through dominionelectric.com. Cabinetry: woodharbor.com. Mirrors: steelcityglass.net.

Sectional: hickorychair.com through michaelclearyllc.com. Sectional Fabric: leejofa.com. Armchairs: arudin.com through michaelclearyllc.com. Armchair Fabric: jimthompsonfabrics.com through hinescompany.com. Coffee Table: palecek.com through americaneyewdc.net. Wall Sculpture: mgbwhome.com. Small Table: bernhardt.com. Pool Table: premiumspasandbilliards.com. Pendant over Pool Table: techlighting.com through dominionelectric.com. Bar Stools: arudin.com through michaelclearyllc.com. Golf Simulator: aboutgolf.com.

Custom Redwood Racking: oaktonwineshop.com. Island Countertop: marblesystems.com.


Modern Redux RunningTo a casual observer, the Federal-style Kalorama row house would have seemed move-in ready: Its stately brick façade opened into well-proportioned rooms with crisply painted walls. However, as architect Eric Carle points out, the owners “didn’t buy it for that. They wanted to make it theirs.”

The couple, executives whose jobs have taken them from Chicago to New York and Washington, share an urbane aesthetic with a fondness for European modernism. Constance Mueller, their Chicago designer who completed their previous homes, immediately noticed a disconnect between this one’s traditional public spaces and its contemporary upstairs rooms. “It didn’t flow at all,” she says. To achieve a more cohesive interior for the owners’ collection of modern art and furnishings, they assembled a team that included Carle, the founder of runningdog Architects; Vincent Sagart of Poliform | sagartstudio; and Al Royer of Gibson Homes.

The most dramatic transformation was in the rear, where the team redesigned the kitchen with three sets of French doors opening to newly expanded decks off the kitchen and the guest room above it, and over the detached garage. “They wanted to have the more outdoor presence,” Carle says, “and the kitchen didn’t take advantage of the southern light it had. This allowed for a lot more penetration of light into the rest of the house.”

The airy update only left Sagart one full wall for the kitchen’s functional area. He selected dark, gray-oak cabinetry that frames a sleek Miele range and coffee center. A pale Caesarstone island features a gray-oak top that floats on a thin sheet of steel, which maintains a sense of openness.

“That is very much a character-defining element,” Sagart says of the island’s design. “This is a deceivingly spacious-looking kitchen, despite the fact that it’s only 12 feet wide and needed to accommodate an island-wide enough for wine storage and the bar top.”

As the renovation proceeded through the rest of the house, Carle found evidence of a past electrical fire behind the walls and also discovered that the stairs weren’t structurally sound. With this knowledge, the owners decided to gut all four levels of the home. During the process, electrical and plumbing systems were replaced and new ductwork rerouted to eliminate soffits and bulkheads protruding from walls and ceilings.

Carle is most proud of the new stair he designed at the home’s core, lit from above with a large skylight. “It’s the main architectural element that pulls the entire project together,” he says of the warm oak treads and rails that rest on coated-steel bars. Openings in the walls surrounding the stairway visually lighten its monumental presence. “It’s a way of creating ‘view corridors’ that allow each space to stand on its own, but have connections with other spaces,” he adds. The architect employed a similar technique in the master bathroom, where glass transoms near the ceiling allow light to flow into the adjacent den. “You’re limited, with no windows on the east and west sides, so you try to open these row houses up to get as much light as possible,” he explains.

Throughout the home, Mueller selected finishes—such as pale white-oak flooring with a warm gray wash—that would complement the owners’ existing collection of modern European furniture. She replaced a traditional fireplace mantel with an entire wall of Ann Sacks Silver Cream marble slabs, flanked by custom, Mondrian-like columns of built-in shelving. And instead of formal crown molding, she opted for contemporary trim on the dining- and living-room ceilings. She and Sagart also designed sleek wardrobes in the master bedroom and master-bath cabinetry—all by the Italian firm Poliform.

The openness and light of the new floor plans, says Carle, dovetails perfectly with the owners’ style. “We wanted to have as many sight lines through the house as possible,” he notes, “so nothing feels small or closed in.”


How do you bridge a historic façade with modern interiors?
Eric Carle: Small exterior elements can set the stage. Sometimes it’s as simple as contemporary light fixtures or front-door hardware. These details suggest a change is coming.

How can you carve outdoor space from cramped city dwellings?
EC: If you can build a roof deck, go for it. If you can add or increase the size of your decks, then do so. But keep the furnishings and landscaping simple and clean.

How does your commercial background inform your residential work?
EC: I urge my clients to make finish selections before construction begins to avoid delays. In the commercial world, we would have every aspect of the job specified—finishes, hardware, fixtures, etc. That way, the project timeline is far more predictable.

How do you make small spaces live largely?
EC: Creating sight lines between spaces will expand their presence. When rooms are vertically challenged, a taller baseboard pulls your eye up. But avoid large crown moldings so space doesn’t feel too heavy.

Renovation Architecture: Eric Carle, AIA, runningdog Architects, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Interior Design: Constance Mueller, Studio CM, Chicago, Illinois. Kitchen Design: Vincent Sagart, Poliform | sagartstudio, Washington, DC. Renovation Contractor: Al Royer, Gibson Homes, Bethesda, Maryland.

Smart Makeover Seamless Style While contemplating the renovation of the house where his client grew up, David Neumann’s first instinct was to tread lightly—especially with demolition. But he needn’t have worried: The couple, who purchased their Vienna, Virginia, home from the husband’s parents, was fully on board for a complete makeover.

The 1913 abode had suffered from a slapped-on, one-story addition in the 1980s. “I asked if they were willing to remove it,” Neumann says. “The answer was an unequivocal ‘yes.’ There was no discussion.”

But that was just the first step in a process that would reorient the home ’s corner-lot façade and nearly triple its original size with a new wing built beside the original structure. Style-wise, Neumann wanted to complement the “eclectic farmhouse,” with its Queen Anne Victorian overtones. He also wanted it to blend with its surroundings: The house sits at the edge of Vienna’s historic district facing two other homes that were built in the same era.

The couple tapped Atlanta designer Heather Hogan Roberts—a childhood friend of the wife—for the interiors. Both women hail from Massachusetts, and the original house reminded them of classic New England clapboard homes. Roberts factored this in as she explored finishes and architectural details. “A lot of the selections really mimic a Nantucket house,” she says.

The young couple—who had a baby and toddler in tow—requested that the new addition encompass an open-plan kitchen/breakfast/family room and a screened porch on the main floor. The original cellar was enlarged to create an expansive rec room and gym opening onto a patio and terrace, while a second level holds a master suite, nursery, and laundry room. “They didn’t want anything to get in the way of having a house that really functions for them,” Neumann notes.

The goal was a seamless design in which the new section would be indistinguishable from the old. That meant moving the main entrance around to the side so it would open into the “hyphen” connecting the old and new structures. “Entering in the middle gave us the opportunity to create furnishable spaces to each side,” Neumann explains. Had the front door remained at one end, he points out, long hallways would have been necessary to connect the spaces, consuming valuable square footage and shrinking the living spaces.

The next major issue was the ceilings. Though most new homes have ceilings up to 10 feet tall, the addition had to match the old structure’s ceilings, which are less than nine feet high. “The second floor had to be uniform, and that dictated the ceiling height for the first floor,” explains the architect, who also had to support the expansive addition with deeper joists than in the older section—making the new ceilings even lower.

“That was one of the big challenges: How do we give the illusion of more height?” Neumann recalls.

Coffers were the answer, with their added bonus of delineating the addition’s wide-open spaces. Neumann visually heightened the kitchen ceiling with extra-tall cabinetry sourced by Eric Lieberknecht Design, using beadboard and flat trim instead of full coffers. For her part, Roberts says, “we went light on everything—it’s ethereal, light and coastal on all five walls, which includes the ceiling.”

The owners, who now have a third child, appreciate how Neumann’s layout has evolved over time.  “He was thinking about space long-term,” the wife comments. A play space adjacent to the family room, for instance, has become an area for the older kids to do science and craft projects, while the youngest son can still pull out his books and toys. Upstairs, the nursery has become the wife’s office.

The couple also loves the easy circulation between the old and new sections. “David was thinking about how you make your way through the house in the course of a day,” the wife explains. “The elements of his plan allow for an easy flow for our family, regardless of the season.”

The admiration is mutual. “The best part was taking something that’s approaching 100 years old and giving it another 100 years. It’s gratifying that they had the resources to do it,” Neumann observes. He points out the home’s location among similar vintage houses. “They extended the fabric of this historic district—and in my view, that was to their great credit.”



How do you decide whether an old house is salvageable?
David Neumann: Beyond utility and cost-efficiency, does the house contribute positively to the character of the neighborhood? Is there sentimental or historical value? We are biased to reuse whenever possible.

What inspires you the most about century-old houses?
DN: Extending the life of an old house through thoughtful alteration and addition is gratifying as a commitment to sustainability.

When a remodel amounts to a gut job, how do you establish a design direction?
DN:  When most or all of the exterior is being kept, we look to its character as the starting point. We endeavor to create interiors that draw design inspiration from the exterior while embracing the requirements of our client’s modern life.

How do you determine the layout and flow in a design that’s based on an existing structure?
DN:  I take care to avoid turning existing rooms into pathways to an addition. A layout should yield attractive, furnishable and conversation-supportive spaces in both the new and reworked portions of the house.


Renovation Architecture: David Neumann, FAIA, principal; Erich Stanley, AIA, project architect, Neumann Lewis Buchanan Architects, Washington, DC. Interior Design: Heather Hogan Roberts, Ivy, and Vine, Atlanta, Georgia. Builder: Staats Developers, Vienna, Virginia. Landscape Design: Sharon Davis, Garden Gate Design, East Orleans, Massachusetts.

Portfolio Beach Chic After years of renting houses and descending on relatives in Bethany Beach, Delaware, a Potomac couple finally decided to build a vacation home of their own in that popular beach town, where they could spend entire summers with the doors open to friends and extended family. Maryland designer Erin Paige Pitts and architect Christopher Pattey, frequent collaborators, created a residence that leveraged its beachfront environment to accommodate the owners and their three teenagers in comfort.

“It’s an upside-down house,” Pitts explains, noting that the main living areas and master suite are on the top floor where the views are best, while the kids’ rooms and hangout spaces are below. As for the interior design, she adds, “they wanted the subtlety of the beach without overt references like shells.”

Using a palette of pale blue and beige, Pitts incorporated an understated ocean feel throughout the home. Just inside the front door, she enlisted Baltimore-based Twin Diamond Studios to paint wavy lines of blue and tan on the wall. “You know it’s an oceanfront house, even if at that moment you can’t see the ocean,” the designer says. A blue Venetian plaster treatment on the dining area wall, layered with silver dust, makes the surface dance like water. Pitts asked builder Timothy O’Hare to carve waves into the millwork over the living-room fireplace, so the ocean would be present even after sunset. Meanwhile, the kitchen’s reflective glass-tile backsplash evokes the light and color of the sea. Says Pitts, “The clients gave me a lot of poetic license in terms of the selections.”

While she channeled the outdoors with finishes and fabrics, Pattey (pronounced PAY-tee) designed a floor plan that would frame vistas both large and small. “It’s not only the ocean horizon,” he explains, “but it’s the views up and down the beach—we had to capture those.” He interspersed large windows with smaller ovals and squares, which add character while offering vignettes of the shoreline and neighborhood. He also capped the open living/dining area with large “eyebrow” windows that admit volumes of light—from east to west— into the home’s central core. “I just love natural light. It makes you feel good and it makes space feel good,” he observes. A cupola over the screened porch fills that area with light from above.

On the top floor, soaring ceilings enhance the master bedroom and open living and dining areas, while a coffered ceiling and beams define the kitchen. Pattey also created an enclosed observation deck capping the stair tower on the north side; it offers dramatic, 360-degree views of the Bethany Beach community and the ocean beyond.

The new getaway replaces a mid-century-era, ranch-style home; Pitts salvaged siding from the latter and incorporated it into the new home’s stairwell paneling. She carried the weathered theme through the house, ensuring nothing was too precious. “Durable can be beautiful,” says the designer, who chose an indoor-outdoor upholstery and stress-free furnishings, such as a stone-topped coffee table and a distressed-wood dining table that is forgiving of spills. Even the dining room host chairs are slipcovered for easy clean-up. “No muss, no fuss,” Pitts quips.

The clients first hired Pattey of Becker Morgan Group, which has several offices on the Delmarva Peninsula, because of his expertise with shore-side architecture. “It’s an awareness of the conditions we deal with, weather-wise,” he explains. “You have to build the house as if you’re building a boat.”

And that “boat,” while standing up to moisture and storm surge, also had to be sensitive to its site. Environmental requirements dictated that the foundation couldn’t infringe on the fragile dunes, so Pattey worked with structural engineer Jim Baker to design a steel structure that would cantilever the house beyond the setback line, giving the owners additional square footage and protecting the dunes at the same time. “There’s a big, steel superstructure that holds the house in midair over the dune line,” Pattey says. “The entire first floor can wash away, but the two upper floors will stay intact.”

Whether it’s storming or sunny outside, the home Pitts and Pattey created remains inextricably linked to its surroundings—from the huge screened porch with prime views of the beach to a sunset deck on the west side. “We were trying to make the seamless transition between the interior and the exterior,” Pitts says. “It all just kind of blends with the sand and the sea as you look out.”

 Jennifer Sergent is an Arlington-based writer. Photographer Geoffrey Hodgdon lives in Deale, Maryland.

ARCHITECTURE: CHRISTOPHER L. PATTEY, Associate AIA, Becker Morgan Group, Salisbury, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: ERIN PAIGE PITTS, Erin Paige Pitts Interiors, Gibson Island, Maryland. BUILDER: TIMOTHY O’HARE, Timothy B. O’Hare Custom Builder, Inc., Ocean View, Delaware.

Color + Contrast At first, there was only supposed be an addition. “We chose the house knowing it was too small,” says Kristin Handwerger of the Wesley Heights home she and her husband Mark had purchased, drawn by the privacy of sprawling woods across the street. Permitting was moving along for a new wing with a family room and kitchen on the main floor; a garage, gym and wine room below; and a master suite above. Then, the polar vortex of 2014 arrived, with frigid temperatures bursting all the pipes in their home.

“Water was cascading down from everywhere. It was like a rain forest,” Mark remembers. When their contractor informed them that it would be cheaper to rip everything out than to repair the damage, the Handwergers’ project doubled in size overnight. That’s when Kristin asked designer Erika Bonnell to coordinate the interior design as the construction and renovation took shape.

Bonnell worked with Alan Field of Saltbox Architecture & Construction to develop a scheme that would erase the lines between the original structure and the addition. “It was like a new build in a way, because I never saw a finished space to start with,” she observes. Beginning with a blank canvas, Bonnell set out to fulfill her clients’ wish for a family-friendly environment with a healthy dose of drama. “My job was to read between the lines,” she explains. “We got a very livable home with touches of approachable glamour.”

The designer used color and contrast to reflect the Handwergers’ busy lives (they have five teenagers from previous marriages). “I pulled out that energy with black-and-white floors, black doors, and white walls,” she says. Then she layered in color, starting with purple—Kristin’s choice for the dining room—and moving on to the spectral blues of the Caribbean, which recall fond memories of the couple’s travels.

The arresting black-and-white foyer serves as an axis for the boldly hued rooms. “I wanted a solid, cohesive shell with an infusion of strong color coming off it,” Bonnell notes. “I developed this scheme to have that main-level focus on purples and vibrant teals.”

Kristin’s dining room is awash in the soft lilac she desired. “It has that high-gloss, purple-lilac color. It’s really about the saturation,” says Bonnell. Careful not to get too feminine, she seized on Mark’s vintage Moët & Chandon poster, swapping out an old wooden frame for an acrylic mounting. “Erika was able to incorporate the poster so I could identify with the room more,” he says appreciatively.

Bonnell combined masculine and feminine notes in the kitchen as well. A dark-stained island and black perimeter countertops mingle with mirrored pendant lights and a custom turquoise range hood that creates an element of surprise. “When you’re in the street, you can see this blue hood—and it’s trimmed in the mirror,” says Kristin, a personal trainer and pilates instructor. To protect against heavy use, Bonnell added wipable acrylic bar stools and opted to repaint the existing dining table and chairs. A new banquette and rug bring shades of turquoise into the breakfast area.

Comfort and durability were the goals for the family room, which accommodates a family of seven when all the kids are there—and many more guests when the Handwergers entertain. “We had to check a lot of boxes with that room,” Bonnell comments. Kristin had seen a great room online featuring two sectionals and asked Bonnell to do the same thing here—a tough assignment given the room’s smaller dimensions. “We had to do petite sectionals to create a path through the middle for access to all areas of the room,” Bonnell explains. She upholstered them in a sandy-hued fabric to mask smudges, and reserved blue accents for the chairs and window seats. The real punch comes from built-in shelving painted a deep teal shade. “It keeps the space from being too neutral, too boring,” the designer notes.

Initially, Mark admits, he was skeptical about the need for an interior designer. “I was suspicious of the whole process,” says the entrepreneur and bar owner, lounging on a swivel chair Bonnell selected for the family room. “But Erika was very sensitive and tolerant. I got to the point where I just trusted her.” And his opinion of designers now? “You absolutely need one if you want to tie everything together,” he says. “I have come around 180 degrees.”

Jennifer Sergent is an Arlington-based writer. Photographer Stacy Zarin Goldberg resides in Olney.

RENOVATION DESIGN: ALAN FIELD, ASID, NCIDQ, Saltbox Architecture & Construction, Washington, DC. INTERIOR DESIGN: ERIKA BONNELL, Erika Bonnell Interiors, Haymarket, Virginia. BUILDER: MATT WEBB, Sycamore Design Build, Rockville, Maryland.



THROUGHOUT  Drapery Fabrication: pauldaviddesign.com.

FOYER  Console: bernhardt.com. Vase: homegoods.com. Art on Console: antique. Ceramic Urns: legendsofasia.com.

BREAKFAST AREA  Table & Chairs: Owners’ collection. Bench: leeindustries.com. Bench Fabric: kravet.com. Rug: crateandbarrel.com. Drapes: harlequin.uk.com. Chandelier: horchow.com.

DINING ROOM  Table: vanguardfurniture.com. Host Chairs: crlaine.com. Host Chair Fabric: kravet.com. Side Chairs: sherrillfurniture.com/mrandmrshoward. Side Chair Fabric: schumacher.com. Rug: greenfront.com. Chandelier: olystudio.com. Sideboard: worlds-away.com. Lamps on Sideboard: bradburngallery.com. Drapery Fabric: brunschwig.com. Mirror over Sideboard: emporiumhome.com. Wall Paint: Amorous; benjaminmoore.com.

FAMILY ROOM  Sofa: kristindrohancollection.com. Sofa Fabric: kravet.com. Coffee Table: curreycodealers.com. Armchair: lee industries. Armchair Fabric: duralee.com. Occasional Table: olystudio.com. Game Table under Window: Clients’ collection. Chairs Flanking Game Table: sherrillfurniture.com/mrandmrshoward. Chair Fabric: kravet.com. Rug: starkcarpet.com. Throw Pillows on Sofa: Custom, westelm.com, homegoods.com, anthropologie.com. Sconce by Window Seat: curreycodealers.com. Shelf Paint: Cloudburst; sherwinwilliams.com.

KITCHEN  Cabinetry: warrencustomcabinetry.com. Countertops & Backsplash: marblesystems.com. Countertop & Backsplash Fabrication: alpinestoneusa.com. Fixture over Island: worlds-away.com. Acrylic Stools: cb2.com. Window Treatment Fabric: brunschwig.com. Range: thermador.com through ferguson.com. Hood: Custom by ventahood.com through ferguson.com.

MASTER BEDROOM  Bedstead & Nightstands: bernhardt.com. Bedstead Fabric: TK. Faux-Fur Throw: etsy.com. Carpet: prestigemills.com. Armchairs by Fireplace: leeindustries.com. Armchair Fabric: TK. Fixture: crystorama.com. Table Lamps & Floor Lamp: curreycodealers.com. Wall Paint: Slate Blue; benjaminmoore.com.

MASTER BATH  Wallpaper Leading into Bath: lindsaycowles.com. Ottoman: pbkids.com. Floor & Tile: marblesystems.com. Vanity Chair: hickorychair.com. Vanity Chair Fabric: kravet.com. Light Fixture: crystorama.com. Window Treatment Fabric: duralee.com. Fringe: robertallen.com.


Rays of Light The 1992 contemporary house had fallen into disrepair by the time Bethesda architect Jim Rill was called to its sweeping shorefront on Maryland’s Gibson Island, south of Annapolis. Its new owners, Houston transplants with a passion for design, could see its modernist potential. Rill could see its bones—and liked what they foretold.

“It had a big idea, but there hadn’t been follow-through,” says the architect. He draws a picture to show how a series of structural walls seemed to emanate from an invisible center like rays, widening out toward vistas of the Chesapeake Bay. Small windows, oddly placed walls and even the kitchen cabinets obstructed what could have been open sightlines to the water, with its ever-changing colors and passing wildlife. As Rill began to rethink and reorganize the home’s layout, those structural walls—along with a dramatic circular stair tower—became the foundation for his redesign. Everything else was gutted to emphasize the layered, open spaces with radiating views that expand outward from the entry along those rays. “The idea was to express the connection to the landscape,” says the architect.

First, he reclads the synthetic-stucco exterior with natural materials: stone for the stair tower, metal for the window casements and overhangs, and cement panels to highlight the strength and structure of each ray. These panels, he says, “look like stronger elements that hold the lighter materials.”

Achieving the right scale was paramount: The existing, standard-height glass doors topped with small, square transoms sliced and diced the water views; Rill replaced them with single-pane windows and doors that reach heights of eight to 10 feet. He also moved the front door from the side of the house to the center, within a two-story glass façade that he enhanced with much larger windows. Motorized shades throughout the home offer privacy.

Formerly, the front door—reclaimed from a temple in India—had opened into an enclosed vestibule where visitors were greeted with a wall. The new glass-door entry lets guests see through the house and out to the water before they even step inside. The temple door, meanwhile, holds a place of honor in the new basement-level wine room.

Rill reorganized and streamlined the interior layout, removing unnecessary entryways and hanging kitchen cabinets, for example, to emphasize the views from front to back. He even gave the first-floor master suite its own terrace and glass “front door,” through which one can see to the wall of windows in the back. The second floor houses three additional bedrooms, while the basement includes an exercise room and spa.

The architect worked closely with his clients to design ample display space for their extensive art collection, amassed over decades of traveling the globe.  He created a neutral backdrop with creamy-white walls to keep the focus on the elegantly framed art. But his most dramatic gesture was replacing a traditional spindle-lined staircase with a new, curving stairway that emulates the one at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, which the wife has visited often. “We wanted it to be a sculpture in itself,” Rill says.

Another imperative was establishing an art studio for the wife, who started painting as a second life pursuit in 2010. Initially a figurative painter, she recently began portraying all manner of birds that fly over the water and through her gardens. “I never gave birds a second thought” before moving in, she says, but her home’s pristine setting has inspired her art, which now reflects a new appreciation for eagles, great blue herons, hummingbirds, goldfinches and monarch butterflies. “I work with nature as a subject,” she explains. In fact, she even painted the doors to the bar and pantry closets in her new kitchen to reflect its waterfront views during autumn.

The couple wanted each room to be designed around existing furniture and other belongings they have collected over the years. Even before his clients moved to Maryland, Rill visited them in Houston to take an inventory. He measured each piece of furniture, created a plan for where wall art and sculpture would be placed, and designed custom cabinetry. As a result, the couple didn’t need to purchase much furniture before moving in—and they knew where everything would go.

The renovation hewed closely to the home’s original footprint, save for some small but significant additions. Rill extended the two outer rays in back to frame a wider deck and accommodate an outdoor kitchen and enclosed a covered porch so he could expand the master suite. He also added a second garage—a bonus, the wife says, because her husband can keep all the tools in his while she hangs art in hers.

The best “art,” however, is the unfolding view outside the great expanses of glass Rill incorporated into the design. “The structure itself frames a series of environmental scenes as you walk through, and each outdoor scene is so beautiful,” the wife marvels. “Each day, a new picture is created by the re-ordering of the natural environment and light.”

Jennifer Sergent is an Arlington writer. Photographer Helen Norman is based in White Hall, Maryland. 

Architecture: James F. Rill, AIA, Rill Architects, Bethesda, Maryland.

Weekend Oasis There wasn’t much to the low-slung, ’50s-era rambler beyond where it sat: on a point overlooking San Domingo Creek with easy access to downtown St. Michaels. But for owner Jeanne Ruesch, the dark rooms and aging, red-brick exterior didn’t matter; after working with architect David Jones and designer Thomas Pheasant to transform her home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, she knew they could work magic on her weekend house.

“She and I had the vision that we could make enough changes to transform it,” Jones says. While none of the rooms took advantage of the views, the house itself was sited correctly. From there, it was a matter of reworking the interiors and façade to make it as gracious as the surrounding landscape. “The layout was in the right position. The idea was for it to be open, clean and bright—with lots of water views,” the architect says.

Working with Pheasant, Jones and architect Wouter Boer recast the humble rambler into a stately affair reminiscent of a Southern plantation house. The exterior boasts wide porches adorned with Chinese Chippendale accents. Inside, well-proportioned rooms are ideal for entertaining.

Jones and Boer evened out the home’s footprint to give the house more classic dimensions. They designed a new second floor devoted to the master suite as a tall, central anchor for two “hyphens” on either side: One contains guest bedrooms while the other houses a new kitchen that links to the family room, situated in a perpendicular wing. “The challenge really was to make this house feel like an old house,” Boer says. Full-length shutters across the front and curving mullions on the dormer windows help accomplish that goal. Thanks to modern technology that allows for bigger, better-insulated windows, he adds, “We made a lot of openings to the outside so you could really focus on the view.”

Meanwhile, Pheasant tackled the interiors. At its core, he explains, the owner “wanted this house to be an oasis from the city, a calm place where she could relax. Sometimes there are crowds, but sometimes it’s just her.” That meant breaking up large spaces with intimate seating areas—and making the second-floor master suite totally private, with its own balcony overlooking the creek—“the kind of space where you could just go upstairs and close the door.”

In their preliminary discussions, Ruesch mentioned using blue as one of the design elements. “She probably thought I would do it sparingly,” says Pheasant, who is best known for his neutral interiors, “but I just decided to go for it. Besides, it’s perfect for the water.”

With white and ivory tones as a foundation, pale and powdery shades of blue infuse every space, offering a natural connection to the waterway. Pheasant specified beadboard for the tall tray ceiling in the family room as a casual touch, while ceiling beams formalize the great room. A Rose Tarlow table, flanked by custom benches, acts as a soft room divider in the large space—and offers an extra dining option during parties.

Landscape architect Jay Graham curated the grounds to complement both the riverfront and the new architecture. In response to Ruesch’s desire to respect the shoreline ecosystem, he replaced an aging bulkhead with a gently sloped “living shoreline,” covered in native grasses that invite more wildlife onto the property while serving as a natural barrier against rising tides. Graham also had an existing pool excavated and a new one built farther back, in deference to that sensitive area. “It was always with this idea of being responsive to the land,” he says.

Soft plant colors and native varieties keep the focus on the water. “Blue and white flowers are much calmer,” Graham explains. “I don’t like to put bright colors between somebody and their view.” Although he didn’t know it at the time, the landscape architect was using the same palette outside that the interior designer was using inside—not really surprising, given that the team was working toward the same goal. “This house is very much a place to breathe and relax,” Pheasant observes. “It’s taking the beautiful elements from the outside and bringing them in.”

Jennifer Sergent is an Arlington, Virginia-based writer. Photographer Gordon Beall is based in Bethesda, Maryland.

Renovation Architecture: David Jones, AIA, and Wouter Boer, AIA, Jones & Boer Architects, Inc., Washington, DC. Interior Design: Thomas Pheasant, Thomas Pheasant, Washington, DC. Landscape Architecture: Jay Graham, Graham Landscape Architecture, Annapolis, Maryland. Contractor: Accent General Contracting, Rockville, Maryland.

All In The Details It’s a perennial question among couples who have bought their first house in DC’s close-in neighborhoods, where small, pre-War homes are the norm: When babies arrive and you need more space, do you move—or renovate?

The answer was easy for Dean and Amanda Zang, who had settled in one of North Arlington’s small older homes when they got married. “For us,” Dean says of their property with a large park and the shops and restaurants of Clarendon within a three-block radius, “it was an irreplaceable location.”

Once they had a toddler and a second baby on the way, the Zangs chose to stay put and remodel their shingled 1929 home. They called on David Ricks, whose work they’d seen elsewhere in the neighborhood, to create a design that would evoke the architectural era of the original house while doubling its size and modernizing its interiors.

“We wanted to integrate those shingles with a more modern look,” Dean says, adding that he and Amanda also loved the interior moldings, trim and arched room entries. “We wanted to take that style to a more casual, comfortable form.”

Those ideas resonated with Ricks, who used the home’s shingled exterior as an impetus for his design. “Shingle style is considered the true domestic style of American architecture,” he remarks. The architect would call on the turn-of-the-century vernacular in creating simple, gabled forms in the renovated home.

The first step was deciding what shape the new house would take—especially at the top, which would house the third floor with a study and sitting room, two new bedrooms, a full bath and multiple storage areas. Placing all that space under a single gable would have looked too massive, so Ricks broke down the scale with a series of intersecting rooflines. That way, he explains, “You get a very striking silhouette and bold, geometric forms.”

Getting to the point of construction, however, was not going to be easy. The new building was confined to the original footprint and to meet local requirements, builder Trip Carder had to retain the front wall and the original side-den structure as the bigger house took shape around them. “It’s so much easier to knock down and start anew,” Carder observes. “Here, you’re dealing with old construction, crooked construction, and you have to go back and make everything straight.”

That den is now the dining area; its original, sagging floor was replaced with one that’s level with the new, open-plan living/dining room. Out back, there was enough space for an addition that extended the house from 40 to 80 feet deep. The additional space on the main floor allowed Ricks to move a coat closet and powder room from the original foyer back into a new hallway near the kitchen, thus creating a more spacious entry marked by tall wainscoting and a wide staircase. He echoed the original home’s arched passageways in a wide hall that leads to the expansive kitchen and family room, which are located two steps down from the front of the house to allow for taller, coffered ceilings. The result is an open floor plan from front to back that nonetheless feels intimate.

“The ground floor is a meandering series of spaces defined by different levels and furniture groups,” Ricks says. The coffered ceiling, he adds, serves more than just an aesthetic purpose. “A flat ceiling would be severe for such a large space. There’s nothing more monotonous and mundane than a contiguous, flat drywall ceiling.”

The family room area flows seamlessly into a screened porch, which is used up to eight months of the year thanks to heaters built into the ceiling. Sliding glass doors with dark moldings and transom details handsomely mark the passage outside. “The porch is my favorite space,” Dean Zang says. “The îpe flooring feels like interior flooring, and space is lounge-y, but utilized in a more formal way.” Above the porch, a roof terrace is accessible from the master suite. The parquet grid of îpe on the porch ceiling can be removed when the roof needs maintenance.

Though the new structure extends far beyond the original house, Ricks and Carder ensured that the family would have ample yard space for their two boys. Zoning allows outbuildings at the lot line, so Carder took down the original detached garage and built a new one 16 feet back. “It was really important to them to have that play space,” he says.

And as the boys get bigger, so will the house. The still-unfinished basement will one day hold a rec room and au pair apartment with its own entrance. The Zangs aren’t sure when that will happen, but they’re not going anywhere. As Amanda says. “This is our forever house.”

Jennifer Sergent is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Virginia.

RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: DAVID W. RICKS, AIA, principal, DW Ricks Architects + Associates, Arlington, Virginia. BUILDER: TRIP CARDER, Ralph Carder Company Inc., Fredericksburg, Virginia.


Full Circle Andrew Marks and his wife, Susan Esserman, had their eye on the future when they started looking for a new house. They loved their Bethesda neighborhood, but unlike most empty nesters, wanted to upgrade rather than downsize.

“It was a great kids’ house,” Esserman says of the home where they spent 22 years raising three sons, now 23, 27 and 30. “But it wasn’t a house they could come back to as adults with spouses and children.”

Both prominent Washington attorneys, Marks, and Esserman had spent some time looking at properties without much luck—until one evening Marks saw a for-sale sign in their neighborhood; the house was set so far back, he’d never noticed it even though they’d lived less than a half-mile away. Upon further investigation, he says, “I was struck immediately by the setting—it was extraordinary.” They made an offer and the house was theirs.

Built in the 1940s, their new Bethesda home is set on 1.75 acres—a wooded landscape exploding with azalea, rhododendron, hydrangea, roses and all manner of meticulously landscaped plantings and flowering trees. “The natural forest setting and beautiful landscape are what drew us,” Esserman says. But they needed more convincing about the house itself.

“The whole place looked like a funeral home,” recalls Washington designer Susan Vallon, who consulted with the couple before they bought the house. She had decorated their three previous homes and understood their needs. Despite its drawbacks, Vallon saw potential and advised them to purchase it.

“Susan’s imagination and vision helped us see how we could change the inside, which was really not us at all,” Esserman explains, noting that she and Marks had trouble seeing beyond the black marble fireplaces in three public rooms, the dark and dated cabinetry in the kitchen and the mustard-yellow walls in the family room—all the result of a previous renovation.

As she set out to revamp the house to suit her clients’ style, Vallon’s overall plan incorporated neutral grays and clean-lined furnishings that would not compete with the outdoor views. She also lightened the mood by replacing dark fireplace surrounds with white marble and installing recessed lighting throughout. It’s a vibe that is more modern than the couple’s previous homes. “There’s a serenity to a more streamlined look,” the designer comments.

“We were ready for something more contemporary,” Esserman agrees, “but it also seemed to fit the house.”

Though neutrals prevail, Vallon packed a colorful punch in the living room, where she chose a carpet by Rug Art International with profusions of purple. “I saw it in a magazine, cut it out and said, ‘Somebody needs this rug!’” she recalls.

Marks and Esserman were happy to be the recipients. “It defines the room, and also what we put in it,” Esserman says, pointing out the glass-top coffee table, textured silver vessels and abstract art. The grand piano, too, is a fittingly dramatic complement.

Early on, Vallon proposed switching the home’s original dining and family rooms. The domed ceiling in the family room, for instance, works much better over a dining table. And the space that had served as the dining room could accommodate a large sectional, bookcases and a television better than the existing family room. “I was able to get an ocean of seating in there,” Vallon says.

The designer also gutted the kitchen, installing pale Tiger’s Eye maple cabinetry and milky granite counters. She cleared away several above-counter cabinets, consolidating them into a custom armoire for more efficient storage. The brighter, more open plan takes better advantage of the light coming in from the breakfast area, which is surrounded by three walls of windows overlooking the patio and gardens beyond. “I’ve always called this an inside-outside house,” reflects Esserman on how her new home engages with the landscape.

The house now functions as the owners envisioned. The property is ready to welcome their sons, eventually with future spouses and children. And it’s also the perfect venue for the political, business and charitable events that the couple frequently hosts.

To make the home function better for guests, Vallon transformed a study and coat closet on the main level into a guest suite; the lower level accommodates additional guests. She also converted the second bedroom upstairs into a study where both Marks and Esserman can work at home.

As for entertaining, Vallon found a dining table that’s casual enough for the family and expands to seat 18. She also ripped out the room’s existing dark shelving to make way for pale gray built-in sideboards The new dining room arrangement is perfect for much larger receptions, which easily spill out to the rear patio and deck—a space that needed no improvement beyond Vallon’s well-chosen outdoor furniture.

“We’ve done up to 100 people here very comfortably,” Andrew Marks says.

Vallon, who’s known her clients since their sons were babies, figures that her work with them has come full circle. “I knew their last house was going to be the big family house,” she concludes. “They really want everyone to come back.”

Writer Jennifer Sergent is based in Arlington, Virginia. Gordon Beall is a Bethesda, Maryland, photographer. 

INTERIOR DESIGN: SUSAN A. VALLON, Susan A. Vallon, Ltd., Washington, DC. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: Stroba Inc., Hyattsville, Maryland. LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR: CLARE SIEGEL, Land Art Design, Inc., McLean, Virginia.

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