To find their dream home, a Montgomery County family had to partially tear down and rebuild a 1909 structure.
The family, which includes two children, moved to Bezda in 2018 and started looking for something to buy. “We spent about six months in a rented house,” says Jane, 42. When the family was in Florida, they thought of buying a mid-century modern house in the shape of an “L” and the idea stuck. She and her husband Lee, 45, both work as technology executives.
The prospect of finding a modern L-shaped house in Bethesda seemed remote, so they called Colleen Healey, principal of DC-based Colleen Healey Architecture, and called for the family to start looking at teardown options. Healey had known the homeowners for years and was clear about their limited options. “‘When we look at your budget, we have to find a lot of things that nobody else wants, come to a consensus and figure out how to create,'” says Healey.
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While scrolling through the details, Jane landed on a possibility. “The house was in a funny shape at the time, and the price was low,” she says. The lot hosts a carriage house that was converted to living space with a rear addition years ago. It sits back from the main house on the property and is bordered by seven lots. Haley gave the thumbs up and the purchase went through in 2019 for $615,000.
The town of Oakmont was formed in 1918 by three neighbors to bring municipal services to what was then a remote part of Montgomery County. Oliver Owen Kuhn, managing editor of the Evening Star, was one of its founders. Walter “Big Train” Johnson, AC Peter of Washington Senators, lived nearby, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt had friends in the area. The town has two streets and consists of about 60 houses on 18½ acres. The city has a design review board that encourages “housing,” but found no objections to the Odes family’s unusual plans.
The design was quickly hatched in six months when Hayley and Jane decided to keep a red maple tree on the side of the property and three walls of the carriage house. The compound will be demolished and rebuilt. A “galley” shoots at an angle of 90 degrees and connects a new part. The L-shape creates a courtyard that serves as an outdoor recreation area and playground for children.
Demolition began in September 2019, with the family planning to be in their new home before their two-year lease was up. Six months later, the epidemic struck. The principals of Cabin John Builders in Cabin John, MD, as well as friends of the homeowners, signed on as employees and quickly began climbing the learning curve associated with contemporary design. “Modern details should be done at the framing stage before you get to the finishing touches,” Healy says.
Delays began to affect the project and their livelihood as the family realized they would have to vacate the rental before the new house was completed. They moved in with Lee’s parents for a while, then packed up the family car and set off on a road trip to Florida, stopping on an Airbnb so the kids could take online classes. The road’s life lasted about eight weeks until the builders and the owners agreed the house was good enough to be foreclosed on.
The driveway runs to the side of what used to be the main house of the property and ends at the front of the carriage house. A circular transept window was part of the existing structure. The large window that looked into the kitchen was a horse-sized entryway. Although the carriage house could be demolished, the strategy was to leave it in place.
“People might think we’re crazy for holding anything,” Haley said. “Because of the zoning, we were able to stay four feet forward because we protected some of that.” One of the carriage walls was removed and replaced by a window wall on the courtyard. The roof was raised and extended into a shed configuration, giving way to clerestory windows.
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The front door to the house is off the side of the driveway and opens into the foyer. There is a mudroom to the right and a small study to the left. The great part is straight forward. Initially, the family planned to separate the living and dining areas and the kitchen with a split wooden partition, but the plans changed. The kitchen is to the right, tucked behind the back wall of the kitchen with the butler’s pantry.
The main living space is placed in the original walls of the carriage house. The space that was the addition has been converted into two children’s rooms, each with their own full bath. There is also a hangout area and a powder room. The floors in the old room are all poured concrete.
The kitchen is defined by an island with seating for three seats and gray, lower cabinets. The range and refrigerator, both from Jane Air, are framed in a built-in wall unit that includes a line of upper cabinets. The sink faces the outer wall, which is lined with whitewashed oak base cabinets. All cabinets come from Downsview Kitchens in Ontario, Canada. The island and countertops are a mix of painted black granite and white Corian.
The far wall of the great room is trimmed with wood and leads the guests to the gallery, which acts as a passageway to the new part of the house. Early in the design phase, the gallery was going to be all glass, but plans were pushed back, and it’s now covered in carved wood. The new room is on two levels, the lower level is reserved for the guest suite. Upstairs is the master suite, which includes an office, bedroom and closet leading to the master bathroom. The master bath has a separate water closet and a curbless shower with three heads. The light of the sky above lights up the place.
The main room offers a quiet retreat and a nice view of the red maple tree that survived the restoration process. The exterior color choices are a mix of bright colors and black, which made one of the neighbors ask the owners of the house if they are building a funeral parlor. Not counting the snarky comments, the quirky neighborhood welcomed the new arrival, once switching streetlights from the original resident’s front porch.
“It’s unexpected. It seems like a very small space and then it opens up to you,” Healy says.
“It’s very different for the area. You can see that there are different ways to upgrade and different ways to upgrade. There are other answers and other lifestyles.
The owners chose not to disclose the cost of the renovations, and their price per square foot is high compared to other homes in the area — but that’s offset by the home’s modest 3,300 square feet.
Reselling is not a problem at this point, even if another job opportunity arises in Florida. “We don’t care because we don’t move,” says Jane. “If we were moving, we would keep the house. It’s not too big but it dials exactly what we want.
The experience was life-affirming for the homeowners, says Jane. “It was challenging to face the unknown, but I loved the story. We recreated the rooms of the house and it was fun to do it with close friends. It was meaningful to us,” he said.