A modern classic
How Chevy Chase Village homeowners renovated an 1890s house to accommodate their busy family life
After buying the house, the Grahams purchased the Zantzingers’ plans and hired the couple along with Barnes, whose firm they had used when updating their Bethesda colonial, to complete the renovation with some design changes.
“We greatly expanded the plans for the basement and covered the new porch at the back,” Debra Graham says. “Ankie has an eye for classical architecture and did a nice job of creating rooms with character.”
Barnes preserved the original spaces at the front, while replacing a more recent rear addition with a back porch and a new wing for the kitchen and the owners’ bedroom suite.
“It was a compelling house to renovate, on one of the best streets in Chevy Chase,” the architect says. “The real assets of the house were the original living room, library and dining room, each with good proportions and a fireplace sharing the same chimney. But the flow between the different floors was terrible and needed to be improved.”
Structural problems compounded the layout challenges. “The existing house was in much worse shape than we anticipated,” Richard Zantzinger says. “It had been renovated multiple times, and most of the work was subpar. It started its life as a fairly simple foursquare and morphed from there.”
Also, foundation settlement had caused severe movement within the wood-frame structure. “We had to reframe most of the walls and level the floors. Essentially, we rebuilt the structure from the inside out—not easy,” he says.
The exterior’s existing stucco finish was changed to wood siding, which also covers the rear addition so it blends into the rest of the house. “While removing the stucco, we found original wood siding under it, so we were glad to know our choice respected the original architecture,” BarnesVanze project manager Ellen Hatton says.
Slate roofing atop the addition matches the existing roof. New double-hung windows are wooden with divided panes on the upper sashes to match the original fenestration.
The interior renovation started with improving the circulation throughout the house. The original stairs near the grand street entrance—refreshed with simple wood railings and balusters—led past the Palladian window, but only to the front bedrooms on the second floor.
So another staircase was added to the area of the original kitchen to better connect the main level to the basement and the refreshed bedroom suites on the second floor and in the remodeled attic. Converting this part of the house left space for a powder room and generous storage closet on the main floor next to the new stairs.
While adding a new staircase seemed like a simple solution, designing it presented difficulties in meeting building code requirements and providing enough headroom. “It was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle,” Hatton says. “We were challenged by the existing roof slope, so we had to create a second landing at the second floor to fit the stairs under the roof.”
From the second floor to the attic, the stair treads are angled to squeeze in the number of stairs required to get to the top and leave enough room to access a corner guest room on that level.
“You are always going to find quirky stuff with an old house renovation, and we always end up doing structural work to accommodate a new floor plan and fix existing problems,” Hatton says.