Bethesda Magazine | November-December 2017

Inside Three New Homes

When renovations can't do the job, residents are building custom homes to get what they really want

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After years of living in modern condos in the District, Trent Heminger and his husband, Adam Sean Younoszai, moved to Bethesda in 2010 so their twin girls, now 9, could attend better schools. They liked the midcentury aesthetic of their 1963 home, but it was too closed in for their taste.

“It was a nice house, but the 8-foot ceilings I couldn’t handle,” Heminger says. After living in condos with 10-foot ceilings, lower ceilings felt downright claustrophobic. So in the spring of 2013 they purchased a home in the South Bradley Hills neighborhood of Bethesda with the intention of replacing it with a custom home that better suited their style.

Heminger, a real-estate agent, and Younoszai, a physician, are among a contingent of homebuyers who are commissioning homes with features they either can’t find on the market or achieve through renovation—including bigger windows and doorways, higher and detailed ceilings, and special entryways and mudrooms.

Heminger and Younoszai worked with Thomson & Cooke Architects, based in the District, and Finecraft Building Contractors, in Gaithersburg, to construct a home with an open layout and ceilings higher than 10 feet. “That’s something you can’t get through renovations,” says architect Neal Thomson. The height allowed for an expanse of French doors and transoms that reach up 9½ feet, opening the family room and kitchen to an outdoor living and dining area. “That’s the impetus for new construction—you get more light, you get more drama, you get more of that inside-outside feeling,” Thomson says.

Demand for blended indoor-outdoor living space has increased each year since 2015. According to The American Institute of Architects’ first-quarter 2017 survey of residential architecture firms, 62 percent identified it as a client priority.

“People today want to be outside as much as they want to be inside,” says architect Jim Rill, who designed a European country-style cottage in Potomac for Sheri Turnbow and Carlos Lastra. Rill designed the foyer as a breezeway between the front courtyard and the rear terrace—the same slate floor, stucco walls and wood-beam ceiling continue from the front portico through the interior foyer and out to the terrace. Such conventions, Rill explains, define “the symbiotic relationship between inside and out.”

Elise Becher’s two teenagers tease her that they have to wear sunglasses in their modern house in Bethesda’s Edgemoor neighborhood, but that’s exactly why she contacted Sandy Spring Builders and architect Robert Gurney. After living in a dark and cramped 1930s colonial for 10 years, all Becher wanted was open space—and as many windows as possible. “I don’t want to live in a house where I have to turn on the lights during the day,” she says. She’s not alone: A 2017 trends report in Custom Home magazine reported that windows, once viewed as an afterthought, shape “a significant portion of a home’s design, building envelope, and overall experience.”

Meanwhile, the most recent Houzz & Home Report on found that homeowners are splurging on ancillary spaces such as entryways, mudrooms and laundry rooms. Heminger and Younoszai asked for custom-paneled, closed-door storage cubbies in the mudroom to hide everyone’s clutter. The soft green cabinetwork pops against walls lined with white shiplap—horizontal grooved-wood planks—which the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) identified among this year’s top-trending interior details.

NAHB also noted a growth in secondary kitchens and pantries. Rill designed Turnbow and Lastra’s pantry with countertops for large appliances, a sink for caterers, and even a niche for the cat’s food and water bowls. “This is a big trend—continuing the kitchen outside of the kitchen,” Rill says, “so you can entertain in your [main] kitchen and not have all the junk on your counters.”

Jennifer Sergent is a home and design writer based in Arlington. 

Step Inside

Photo by Michael Ventura

Architect Jim Rill used the same slate, stucco, lighting and ceiling treatments to create a flow from the front porch, through the foyer, and out to the rear terrace of Sheri Turnbow and Carlos Lastra’s Potomac home. “It’s like unwrapping a present,” Turnbow says. “You come into the foyer before you step into [the main living space], and it’s a really beautiful surprise.”

Country Cottage


Photo by Michael Ventura

“This is a one-room house,” Rill says, describing his open layout for Turnbow and Lastra’s home. Pendant lights and a slightly lower ceiling define a gallery that traverses the main level between the kitchen and office. French doors lead to a generous deck perched over a wooded lot, enhancing the indoor-outdoor connection.

Do Not Disturb

Photo by Michael Ventura

Turnbow and Lastra chose to buck the trend of blending the kitchen within a living and dining area. “There is some formality to not having the kitchen completely open,” Rill says. Pocket doors can hide a cooking mess, but the doors neatly disappear when Turnbow and Lastra use the island as a buffet.

Photo by Michael Ventura

The vaulted library looks like a separate building from the outside and has its own roof and windows on three sides. This way, the house “doesn’t become one big mass” like many of the large homes being built these days, Rill says.

Hello, Sunshine

Photo by Michael Ventura

Tall casement windows that stretch nearly floor to ceiling in the breakfast room open outward, creating the feeling of being right on the terrace. “We eat breakfast here every morning,” says Turnbow (pictured with Lastra). As with every other carefully planned space on the main floor, Rill says, “You’re conscious of the exterior when you’re inside the house.”