In their 35 years in the brick Cape Cod house in Northwest Washington, Fitzgerald and her family had added on a garage and a garden-view kitchen and breakfast room, all white and glass, a cheerful setting for an accomplished cook and baker. The dining room had a tailored, contemporary look, crowned with a sparkly modern chandelier; the living room was well appointed and large enough for sofas flanking a fireplace and a baby grand piano in one corner. Only the upstairs had been left behind.
Then last year, with six months of consultation and construction, the spacious master suite became an “after” picture.
Much of the perimeter of the room is now lined with custom cabinetry all veneered with elegant sycamore. The wall behind the bed is faced with the pale wood as well, its lively figuring dancing in the light. The paneling behind the bed continues across the ceiling to form a kind of modern canopy. In fact, it’s the focal point of the room.
A small master bathroom has been enlarged, entered through a mirrored-closet dressing room, glamorous to be sure but eminently practical as well. A drab second upstairs bath was also lightened up and given a contemporary look. And all without changing any plumbing or adding one square inch of space.
Fitzgerald, you see, suffered from an unusual condition, especially for Washington homes: The upper floor of the 1952 house simply had too much space. Like many Cape Cods, it is called a one-and-a-half-story house in public records; when built, the upper floor had lower ceilings that sloped attic-style, and dormer windows and had been left virtually unfinished by the builder. Like many homes in this style, the unfinished attic was finished and made into a livable second-story space.
As Bob puts it, “When we moved in, the upper level was two big spaces, running the full depth of the house.” He raises his arm to indicate the two bedrooms where their boys grew up. “We cut one side in half, a room for each of them.” The rooms for the two boys, now grown, still register as large.
Opposite the boys’ rooms, the master bedroom took up the entire space, from the front of the 3,000-square-foot house to the back. Well, “took up” is an exaggeration: The bed floated in the center of the space, and there were a couple of chests of drawers and in one corner a writing desk. As is the case with most dormered Capes, the ceiling sloped along the left and right sides of the house and then angled down toward the rear of the house at the back of the room. The front wall was interrupted by those dormers, making for a busy-feeling room, even with the minimal furniture.
It was an awkward space, to say the least.