Stylish to a Tea

A kitchen-and-bath designer commissions a makeover for her Bethesda bungalow-and gets a Japanese teahouse for two

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In her 20-plus years as a kitchen and bath designer, Jennifer Gilmer has transformed countless neglected kitchens into light-filled spaces, but it wasn’t until 2005 that she undertook a major project for herself. That’s when she and her husband, Bill, decided to remodel their bungalow on Bradley Boulevard in Bethesda.

Built around 1928, the couple’s Sears kit home had been “somewhat improved” before they bought the property in 1997.

“It had all new wood floors, a new kitchen [good enough to live with], a new master bath and powder room,” says Gilmer, the president and owner of Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath in Chevy Chase. “At the time, we knew that we would eventually remodel the kitchen, but we didn’t plan on renovating the exterior.”

Years later, though, when the house needed a new roof, the couple was forced to rethink that decision. “The expense was so great that we had to decide if we wanted to expand the house or not before putting one on,” Gilmer says.

In 2003, they decided to explore the idea of renovating and expanding the house.

“Because I’m involved in the building industry, I know a lot of architects,” Gilmer says, “but I just wasn’t sure which one to use.”

Fate stepped in when Gilmer found permit drawings from the previous renovation while she was cleaning one day. The architect listed was Amy Gardner—one half of the Silver Spring-based firm of Gardner Mohr Architects. Gilmer thought Gardner’s familiarity with the house made her a good candidate for the job.

“I first did some work on the house in 1994 for the previous owner, and the house needed a lot of work [back then],” says Gardner, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. The house had major structural challenges, she explains, including inadequate support between the roof and the walls, bowed walls and badly sagging ceilings.

Jennifer and Bill, who is the service and delivery manager for Gilmer’s company, were clear on their requirements: a true second floor with a master bedroom, patio doors for easy access to the backyard, a screened-in porch and an eat-in kitchen, among other things.

“We originally thought that we were going to have a single-story addition on the back, but we felt like adding a two-story addition and maximizing the size of the home would pay off in the long run,” Jennifer Gilmer says.

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