Fergus Donaldson and Grayden, 5, bask in the light. Three skylights and the reflective quality of the white cabinets contribute to the brightness of the new kitchen. Photos by Stacy Zarin-Goldberg

Too Much to Too Perfect

Kathy and Cabell Williams had a problem getting the right amount of natural light into the Bethesda house where they’d lived since 1988. Previous owners had added a small TV room onto the back of the house, behind the kitchen, and too much sun streamed in.  “I love light,” Kathy says, “but it would also really cook the room.”

The Williamses added retractable canvas awnings, but those blocked too much light and most of the view.

Then they called Bethesda architect Jim Rill. At the time, they wanted a somewhat larger family room and a better way to control the light. But Rill saw other issues, such as a large but inefficient kitchen that didn’t feel open to the rest of the house.

He presented a variety of plans, and in the end, the Williamses decided to renovate the kitchen; tear down the former TV room and build a breakfast room in its place; add a new family room off to the side of the breakfast room, where a deck had been; and add a new deck out back.

They also added a “man cave” in the basement. Cabell, a partner in two Chevy Chase private-equity firms, Williams & Gallagher and Farragut Capital Partners, hunts and fishes, and he keeps his rods and gun collection down there.

The renovation began in 2008. In the breakfast room, Rill placed windows along two walls, with a roof overhang to block the direct rays of the sun. Then he created a pyramid-shaped ceiling topped with a lantern-style cupola, and added wood to the ceiling for warmth.


The ceiling provides an elegant touch. “A flat roof wouldn’t be nearly as ‘wow,’ ” Kathy says. And the low ceilings of the adjoining rooms make the breakfast room ceiling seem to soar.

A bonus, she says, is that the “lantern,” which has windows on four sides, brings in enough reflected light to brighten the breakfast room and the adjacent kitchen.

The family room features floor-to-ceiling windows along two walls to give the illusion of an enclosed front porch.


“If I one day ever get to where I have time in the afternoon to sit and read,” Kathy says, “it will be really nice to have that light coming in.”

Marilyn Dickey is a former managing editor of Washingtonian. To comment on this story, email comments@bethesdamagazine.com