Cape Cod, Take Two

Cape Cod, Take Two

When two Bethesda neighbors undertake similar projects, they end up with two stunningly different homes-and one friendship to last a lifetime

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Dan and Dana Rice spent six years debating whether to put an addition on their small, 1937 Cape Cod in Bethesda.

By the spring of 2010, they’d interviewed 16 architects and design-build firms and chosen a team to create a new, three-level wing elegant enough to satisfy Dana’s love of gracious entertaining, yet sturdy enough to withstand three active boys.

Even as the house grew from 2,500 to 5,300 square feet—from three bedrooms to five and three baths to six, with an expansive new kitchen and family room—the Rices were determined not to dwarf their existing 75-year-old home.

Moreover, the couple—Dana, 44, is a full-time mom and Dan, 44, is a principal with a professional services consulting firm—insisted that the three-level, $800,000 project honor the exterior modesty of Bethesda’s Westgate neighborhood, which is known for its many small Capes.

“You can’t get too pretentious when you share a driveway with someone who lives 12 feet away,” Dana says.

Two streets over from the Rices, Jason and Kirsten Scott—he’s a 42-year-old veterinarian whose family owns the Potomac Animal Hospital; she’s a 40-year-old mother of three—were mulling over a far simpler project: topping the garage with a kids’ playroom. But before the Scotts could start on that room, their 1939 Cape Cod caught fire in April 2010 and suffered extensive fire, smoke and water damage.

Forced to undertake a far more ambitious project, the Scotts decided to reconfigure the first floor into an open, contemporary, minimalist space and add upstairs bedrooms and baths for their growing family. (Son Fletcher arrived six weeks after the blaze.)

It was serendipitous that while the Scotts were dealing with insurance adjusters and relocation, the Rices were obtaining permits and financing for their project.

Previous owners had enlarged the Scotts’ house, bumping out the kitchen and family room on the main level and building an upstairs master suite in 1991. The Scotts’ $650,000 project would further expand their living space, from 1,700 to 2,600 square feet, from three bedrooms to four, and from two and a half baths to three and a half. They’d also add that playroom for sons Kildee and Fletcher and daughter Indianola, now 10, 2 and 8, respectively.

To update the red brick exterior, the couple opted for pale gray paint, which they also used on the siding. “Sure, we could have put up a modern façade,” Kirsten says, “but that would interfere with the whole charm of the neighborhood.”  

Although the two projects had different origins and aesthetics, the moms—already friends through their children—formed an alliance to navigate the complex world of construction decisions, from furnace capacity to grout color. It helped that they led relatively parallel lives: a husband, three kids, two dogs, a live-in au pair and a love of entertaining. It also helped that both rented homes nearby during construction, allowing them to oversee their own contractors and keep up with each other’s progress.

They soon discovered that teamwork spared loved ones endless, eye-glazing discussions about faucet finishes and tub depths. The collaboration also produced emotional benefits that neither could have imagined, especially for Kirsten, who was still reeling from the fire.

Ask the two friends today to describe their 15-month projects and they’ll finish each other’s sentences like an old married couple.

“Kirsten and I had each other’s backs, something we needed when arguing with the painter or plumber or electrician,” Dana says. “We were on the phone together weekly. We attended a few of each other’s construction and architect meetings, reviewed each other’s plans, visited the tile store together, and yet we both ended up with completely different homes.”

Kirsten picks up where her friend leaves off. “The one thing Dana and I had together is that she was my sounding board when I was dealing with the minutiae,” she says. “It was like a support group. If you are in it together at the same time, you go step by step. One week it’s tile, one week it’s lighting or where to put the electrical outlets.”  

Kirsten even marched a contractor over to Dana’s to show him why a brush trumps a roller when painting trim. (Alas, his first rolled coat could not be concealed by later brushwork.)

Dana, the traditionalist, hired Dimond-Adams Design Architecture of Alexandria, Va., to plan her addition. The firm, which focuses on historic homes, did what she considers a smashing renovation for a friend, and Stephanie Dimond, a mom herself, brought some child-friendly tricks. She suggested three homework drawers in the kitchen island for sons Kai, Cole, and Erik, now 14, 10 and 8, respectively; a main-floor mudroom with a washer, dryer and storage for the boys’ gear; and an adjoining powder room with a dog wash—a separate knee-level faucet and hose with a floor drain for rinsing muddy paws and human feet.  

Work on the 75-year-old home was complicated, Dimond says, because original elements such as the electrical wiring no longer met building codes, and because the Rices’ desire for high ceilings required steps between several rooms. To save money, Dimond had woodworkers in her native Wisconsin make the kitchen cabinets and drive them to Bethesda for installation.

The house retains its original red brick façade, and the exterior cladding on the new wing is painted a soft ivory.

Inside, a yesteryear vibe is evident throughout. The original “winder” staircase is the focal point of the foyer. To the left, a former bedroom now serves as Dana’s office, and to the right, the living room has been turned into a formal dining room. French doors lead to the retro-looking kitchen.

“I wanted it to feel like you just walked into your grandmother’s,” says Dana, who hid several appliances and generous storage inside ivory-painted cabinetry.

Counters are sandy-colored granite, with several walls tiled in white, tan and brown glass. A corner banquette and table anchor one side of the kitchen, and the other segues into a somewhat formal family room, its windows framed by persimmon draperies, with comfy furniture covered in leather or chenille. The old-school décor extends to an antique-style easel that holds the requisite flat-screen TV.

Directly above the new kitchen and family room is a master suite that includes a walk-in closet and, across from the bed, a floor-to-ceiling stone wall with a gas fireplace and flat-screen TV. Overhead is an impressive chandelier.

The adjoining master bath is all pale tile and dark cabinets. Because Dan Rice routinely drinks water in the middle of the night, Dimond ran a pipe through the wall from the bathroom to the bedroom, where a glass sits at the ready on an end table directly beneath a stylish faucet.

Down the hall, two new bedrooms and bathrooms accommodate the boys.

The existing basement was expanded under the kitchen and family room, and deepened another two feet to accommodate a “man cave” and media room in the new wing, and au pair quarters grew from a simple bedroom to a two-room suite with an updated bath.

The modernist Scotts hired Beltsville-based Minkoff Co., which specializes in fire, flood and storm remediation. “Our job was to leave no reminder that there was ever a problem here—no smell, no dampness, nothing,” company Vice President Greg Minkoff says.

The Scotts’ goal was to take advantage of their misfortune by creating the open spaces both loved. And they accomplished that. The center staircase in the foyer is slightly wider at the bottom for a more contemporary look. To the left is the new dining room, with a door leading to Kirsten’s study (the former living room and screened porch). To the right, the original dining room is now a cozy lounge where Kirsten often savors her morning coffee.

But the real focus of the main level is the kitchen: exposed stainless steel appliances amid sleek cabinets that are dark on one side of the room and white on the other. The kitchen overlooks a new step-down family room with soaring ceilings, a fireplace, wide-screen TV and leather sectional.

Light streams into the back of the house through tall, folding, cantina-style glass doors that evoke Kirsten’s native New Mexico. They open onto the patio and outdoor kitchen, where the wood-burning pizza oven was one of the few objects to survive the fire.

Upstairs, off a long hallway, are all four bedrooms and baths, as well as that new playroom.

Despite their opposing design sensibilities, Dana and Kirsten found common ground—literally—at least once. They used identical wood flooring on the main level of each house.

John McAuliffe, a Westgate neighbor and owner of Admiral Hardwood Floors in Bethesda, gave both jobs to one crew. “Dana always said, ‘Make it look older,’ ” he says, so 7,000 hand-hewn nails were hammered one at a time into beveled, random-width, white oak planks that were stained “dark coffee brown” with a splash of black dye. Kirsten—who used the same lumber minus the bevels, nails and dye for a sleeker, lighter look—“always said make it more modern.”

The women parted ways on decorating. Kirsten and her husband ordered almost all their clean-lined furnishings online, while Dana used Rene Schleicher, a designer friend who splits her practice between Annapolis and Emmaus, Pa. “She was able to find things that I never would have found, and give me the look I wanted,” Dana says.

The two families moved into their renovated homes in mid-2011, and the women cherish their friendship today. But their collaborating days may be over.

Trained in horticulture, Kirsten wants to tackle her large backyard, while Dana, having put in a “basic patio garden,” is done. Of course, that probably won’t stop them from discussing their plant selection.

Former Washington Post and staffer Annie Groer writes widely about design, culture and politics, and is working on a memoir.

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