The Element of Surprise

A renovated Chevy Chase Village home looks like it fits right in with the traditional neighborhood—until you step inside



Photo by Angie Seckinger, see more in the gallery below.

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Newlyweds Sarah Williams and Peter Mali liked the cottage look of the 1938 home they bought in Chevy Chase Village 12 years ago. They also appreciated the fact that it had recently been renovated. It needed no immediate work aside from painting, “which was comforting to us as first-time homeowners,” Williams says.

But by 2009, Williams, a writer, and Mali, who works in communications for the Department of the Interior, had three young boys. They found themselves spilling out of the tiny kitchen. An adjacent room had become a parking lot for strollers. And the entry overflowed with shoes, coats and backpacks.

It was time to make a decision: Add on and renovate? Or move to a bigger house?

“All of our friends had logged one [move-up] purchase or renovation,” Williams says. But “we were new to it.”

Ultimately the benefits of their location—walking distance to Metro and Somerset Elementary School, and proximity to shops and restaurants along Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues—persuaded them to stay.

But this time they had a long list of priorities. “We both realized our tastes were slightly different from when we bought the house,” Williams says.

They found themselves drawn to modern styles, though they still loved the traditional structure of their house. “We wanted more contemporary, but [to] have it fit in with the neighborhood,” Williams says. And “we wanted more light and flow.”

Also part of the equation was their desire to display Mali’s family-heirloom antique furniture, as well as pieces from Williams’ childhood home and her brother’s modern, abstract paintings. At the same time, they wanted to infuse the place with colorful, Moroccan design, inspired by their first joint trip to that country in 1998. The 18 ceramic bowls they bought in Morocco—as well as an ornately carved bench purchased during their 2000 honeymoon in Bali—put them in the mindset for an interior filled with color and pattern.

It then became a matter of assembling the right team to help them fulfill those requirements.

The couple first hired architect Michael Bruckwick of Katinas Bruckwick Architecture in Georgetown, who had worked on a friend’s home. He immediately assessed what the project required from an architectural standpoint.

“We had to connect the rooms better and make them livable for how a family of five lives today,” Bruckwick says. “But Sarah and Peter still wanted distinct rooms—they didn’t just want an open expanse.”

For the exterior, he adopted the vernacular of Chevy Chase Village. “I very much enjoy dropping a piece of modernity next to a colonial, but they didn’t want that,” Bruckwick says. He and Williams toured the village, identifying architectural details from the neighborhood’s prewar homes that they wanted to use in their design, such as shingles, and columns to flank an entry.  

The next order of business was deciding how much they could expand the house, which had been through previous additions and had nearly reached its lot limit. With architect Matt McDonald and Joe Lodmell of JML Remodeling Inc. in Silver Spring, Bruckwick ultimately designed a three-story addition that went out just 8 feet. It was “like a Lego piece,” Williams says. But that sliver gave them more basement storage, an expanded master bedroom and bath, and on the main floor, a spacious foyer, a proper mudroom and a powder room.

For the interior, Bruckwick urged the couple to hire a designer to assist them in selecting the numerous materials, finishes, lighting and fixtures that the project required. Williams was hesitant. “I was worried I would end up with someone whose tastes were different than mine,” she says, “but Michael was getting a little bit frustrated. I was stalling [on making decisions], so clearly I needed help.”

Bruckwick recommended designer Tracy Morris, who recently relocated her offices from Bethesda to D.C. and had worked with him on several projects. Morris is known for her youthful, contemporary style. “We clicked instantly,” Williams says.

As the project moved forward, “we picked out every hinge, every door handle, every light,” Morris says.

The first-floor renovation entailed widening openings between rooms, taking down a wall between the kitchen and the eating nook, and converting the “stroller parking lot” into a formal dining room. Morris then stepped in to help the couple choose colors and fabrics that would coordinate with their furnishings and art.

The Bali bench, strewn with colorful pillows, is now the focal point in the foyer. An oversize painting by Williams’ brother, Los Angeles-based artist Walter Williams, hangs on the wall facing the new front door.

Morris added a vibrant rug from Timothy Paul Carpets + Textiles in Northwest D.C. to tie it all together. The foyer remains tidy thanks to the adjacent mudroom, where the family stores the daily clutter of shoes, coats and bags.

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