From the outside, this elegant brick colonial in the leafy Kenwood neighborhood of Chevy Chase looks like any other single-family home on the block. But it’s actually two households in one.
Drs. Leslie Simmons Warner, an OB-GYN, and O.G. Warner, a dentist, occupy the main portion of the house with their three children, ages 21, 18 and 13. Her parents, Dr. Robert and Sylvia Simmons, live in an adjacent unit. Think of them as one big, happy family under a single roof, with separate living areas. It’s a new approach to an old-fashioned concept.
It all started when Warner’s father died a few years ago, and the couple starting thinking about the future. “My parents were getting older, and we had to think about plans for their living situation,” Simmons Warner says.
Around the same time, she and Warner were outgrowing their home in Chevy Chase Village and planning to expand it, but they faced some remodeling obstacles due to historic trees that had to stay put.
Her parents offered a solution: The younger family could take over their own large house and renovate it to suit their needs; and the older couple could stay in the home they’d loved for 30 years and downsize at the same time. It seemed like a good plan.
The Warners previously had admired the work of Bethesda’s GTM Architects, and even had the company’s president, George Myers, draw up plans for their old house. “We liked his technique of blending the new parts of houses with the old,” Simmons Warner says.
So the couple and Simmons Warner’s parents had an initial consultation with the GTM team about how to blend the two households. “Our goal was a place where we could be together but separate,” Simmons Warner says.
One surprise that emerged at the meeting was the need for two kitchens. Simmons Warner’s father revealed that he planned to do more cooking when he retired, and her husband wanted his own culinary domain.
“The original house was amazing,” Myers says. “There was already so much square footage, and plenty of room to make a situation like this work.”
His plan was to create separate living quarters for the two families, adding 1,400 square feet of new living space to the 4,526-square-foot, 70-year-old home.
“The front was so nice that we didn’t want to change it at all,” Myers says. “It already sort of looked like a main house and a guest house.”
He’s right: An original courtyard spans the space between the house and the garage in the front.
The architect designed the new section for the grandparents to be like a large, two-bedroom apartment. They enter it through the brick-walled front courtyard, and French doors open to a pair of well-appointed living areas and a full-size kitchen beyond that. Upstairs are two spacious bedroom suites and a sitting room. “We jokingly call it the West Wing,” Simmons Warner says.
Through Myers, the family found builder George Papaheraklis, president of Finecraft Building Contractors in Gaithersburg. He and Myers are longtime friends who have collaborated on projects throughout the area for more than 20 years. Papaheraklis “struck me as an honest guy and a straight shooter,” Simmons Warner says. She also came to value the builder’s flexibility and patience, as her parents lived in the house throughout the renovation, which at times was an emotional process.
The project took 11 months, and some of the old house had to go to make way for the new. An original back porch was demolished to allow for bump-outs in both living spaces. A large rear addition houses an open-concept plan in the main house, with a kitchen, breakfast area, family room and screened porch on the first floor, and a master bedroom for the Warners on the second.
In addition to that spacious new master suite, with its generous walk-in closets and balcony overlooking the yard, the second floor of the main house contains a new laundry room and three original bedrooms, each with an en suite bathroom.
Papaheraklis built a new staircase leading to the third floor, and converted an unfinished attic to usable space. Now an open guest floor, it has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sitting room and a workout space.
Even the basement was given new life. On the senior couple’s side, there’s a study for Robert Simmons, as well as designated space for his collection of memorabilia. On the younger family’s side, there’s a recreation room, home theater and lots of storage.
There are three connection points for easy access between the households—one on the first level near the butler’s pantry, one off the second-floor hallway and one on the lower level.
Everything in the old house was tweaked and refreshed—new paint, lighting, refinished floors, updated bathrooms and even the removal of a wall between the living room and dining room. The transition from old to new is seamless, as the addition features the same detailing and generous proportions—wide passageways, 12-foot ceilings—as the original house.
Papaheraklis duplicated the crown molding and chair rails, and even made impressions of the 1940 rosettes and replicated them in the new rooms. As a dentist, Warner says he has a special appreciation for the impression technique and the resulting custom detail.
Even with all this attention and energy paid to the interior, the family didn’t neglect to overhaul the backyard. The three-quarter-acre lot was large enough to accommodate the rear addition, as well as a new fully landscaped yard, patio with a fireplace and swimming pool.
“My husband and kids wanted a pool, but I didn’t want it to dominate the yard,” Simmons Warner says. “I wanted to look out my kitchen window and see flowers.”
The designers at Olive Tree Landscaping in Gaithersburg helped Simmons Warner orchestrate the concept. Although she’s busy with work and family, she finds time to garden and had definite opinions about the design. The new backyard includes a large flagstone patio with a seating area that serves as an outdoor room for entertaining, lots of flower beds, and the pool. “My mom loves to swim, and uses the pool more than anyone,” Simmons Warner says.
Simmons Warner’s favorite spot in the new house is the screened porch, which is accessible through two sets of doors in the family room. “I love porches, and knew this house would not accommodate a front porch.” She likes to sit out there and enjoy the good weather. “When we open both sets of doors, it creates great flow for parties, too,” she says.
Like most things new, adjusting to the living arrangement is a work in progress for all three generations. “We’re learning to respect the boundaries, and it’s been really nice for us to be together,” Simmons Warner says. “Our kids interact with their grandparents on a weekly basis, which is much more than most kids do.”
To make the childhood home feel fresh for her own family, Simmons Warner wanted to start some new traditions. The first Christmas in the house she hosted a big party with immediate family, cousins and friends. She used the dining room table as a buffet and set up smaller tables throughout the first floor. “It was great. My mom made a turkey and everyone brought a dish,” she says. “It was a potluck Christmas.”
Now that all the dust has settled, Simmons Warner says she occasionally thinks about the future and wonders if any of her kids will want to live there with her. If they do, there’s plenty of space for everyone.
Carolyn Weber is a freelance writer specializing in home design. She lives in Silver Spring.