The Perfect Fit

A Chevy Chase couple tailors a historic home to suit their lifestyle

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On a tree-lined street in Upper Northwest D.C., Sarah and Bryan Carey’s 1920s-era house sits alongside other cottages and bungalows of the same vintage. The charming exterior looks as it did 80 years ago, but the inside has been updated and customized for modern living. 

Sarah, 41, an interior designer, and Bryan, 45, a lawyer, have owned the home since 2008, but they waited until 2016 to embark on a major renovation. “We love our neighborhood and knew we wanted to stay,” Sarah says, “but we needed to live here for a while in order to make smart, thoughtful decisions.”

The four-level, five-bedroom house, which they share with their 12-year-old cockapoo, Bailey, had plenty of space, but the room arrangements and sizes weren’t working for them. “We didn’t need more square footage, we just needed to reallocate it,” Sarah says.

The couple interviewed several design/build firms before deciding on D.C.-based Four Brothers, a company with experience in reconfiguring the interiors of older homes. They collaborated with team leader Ben Johnson and his architects on the design, with a common goal of respecting the home’s architectural character while improving it. “We see ourselves as the caretakers of the house while we live here,” Sarah says. “We wanted to make it our own, while embracing its original beauty and bones.” They devised a plan that touched almost every room in the house—from major modifications that included the gutting of two upstairs bathrooms, to simple but impactful changes such as adding built-in storage and new lighting. 

 As a design professional, Sarah follows a philosophy of helping clients focus on measuring the time and energy spent in a room versus the money spent on it. “Whether your budget is $25,000 or $250,000, each decision should align with the value of the space as defined by the homeowner,” she says. She used this approach in her own project. Since she loves to cook, it was worth it to her to splurge on a high-end, custom-built French range. But she didn’t have strong feelings about the kitchen backsplash, so she saved money by opting for a standard, less expensive tile. 

The three-month renovation was finished on time and on budget. “Bryan and I like to be together, even when we’re doing different things,” Sarah says, “and now the house blends the right combination of open and defined spaces for how we spend time here.”

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