March-April 2020 | Home & Garden

Love it or leave it

When homeowners outgrow their house, it’s time to make a decision

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Jeff and Jenna Smith decided to knock down their 1928 dwelling in Bethesda and build a new house on the same lot. Photo by Michael Ventura

While some unhappy homeowners remodel and others move, Jenna and Jeff Smith waited 16 years to take action on their property in Bethesda’s Brookmont neighborhood: They chose to knock down their 1928 dwelling and build a new house on the same lot.

Jenna originally purchased the 2,500-square-foot bungalow as a starter home in 2003. After marrying Jeff in 2009 and welcoming two boys, now ages 7 and 9, the family was starting to feel constricted in the once “quaint and cozy” house. Originally built as a summer home for Washingtonians, the 90-year-old property needed major updating. There was also a water issue in the basement, and the structure’s low ceilings had never been ideal for Jeff, who’s 6 feet, 6 inches tall. “It felt like everything was starting to go,” says Jenna, who thought a simple remodel was out of the question because of the age and condition of the house.

Photo by Michael Ventura

Though the Smiths were looking for a home upgrade, they loved their family-friendly community and didn’t want to leave Brookmont. “Our neighborhood is so comfortable. All the kids play in the street. Everyone still plays outside, and when it snows they all sled” on the Brookmont Village Green, says Jenna, describing the neighborhood’s vibe as refreshingly old-fashioned. “People stay once they come into the neighborhood. I don’t think that’s typical of this area.”

Though they could have looked for another home in Brookmont, the Smiths were partial to their lot, which is adjacent to the C&O Canal, offering both privacy and abundant light. “Behind the house, it drops down to Canal Road,” Jenna says. “You can see the Potomac and the houses on the McLean [Virginia] side. We wanted to take advantage of that and the sunlight that comes with that.”

The Smiths worked with GTM Architects and Castlewood Custom Builders, both based in Bethesda, to create a three-story colonial that capitalized on their prime location and catered to their preferences. In July 2019, after throwing a demolition party that included letting neighborhood kids loose in the house with paints and Sharpie markers, the family moved into an apartment in Friendship Heights and began the construction of their new home.

The house will have four bedrooms and three bathrooms on the top floor, and a finished basement with a guest suite, workout room and playroom for the boys, Jenna says. The main floor will feature an open floor plan with a family room that opens onto a large screened-in porch. Custom touches will include a kitchen sink designed to overlook the canal, and a family heirloom chandelier hanging in the formal dining room. Building a custom home allows the Smiths the opportunity to incorporate pet projects, which include a top-of-the-line shower in the master bathroom for Jeff and a master suite Jenna had never had, along with a mudroom to help keep the house tidy.

Jenna is counting down the days until she can move her family into their new home in April. “I hope the house creates a place where the boys will bring friends over, and they will all be sitting at the big island together [in the kitchen] doing homework and playing,” Jenna says. “Now being away from the house, it makes me realize how much I want to be back in the neighborhood.”