Rooms to Roam

A bright, two-story addition modernizes how a family lives in a 1940s colonial.
By Linda Hales
Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunlight dapples the kitchen counter where Casey Seidenberg begins her day making sure the family -- husband Nick and two boys, ages 6 and 4 -- gets a healthy start. Two skylights filter morning rays through towering hemlock trees. It's a subtle but significant detail that reveals how nature and good design work in harmony in a two-story addition that has transformed the Seidenbergs' 1941 brick colonial in Northwest Washington.

"Coming downstairs in the morning is really nice," she says.

From her station at the deep professional sink, Casey, 37, a holistic health counselor, can see the divide where the center-hall floor plan used to end, and where living and dining rooms still provide a stage for antiques and Audubon prints. But now, instead of gravitating to a screened porch with inherited Astroturf, the family gathers in the relaxed elegance of an expanded kitchen and sunlit family room the width of the house, nearly 32 feet, by 13 feet deep. A bit of board and bead remains, as does a whitewashed brick wall, but now there's year-round space to enjoy, with a built-in corner bed for their Labradoodle pup.

"The old screened porch was the center of the house," Casey says.

The addition mostly maintains the footprint of the porch, while offering great views of the existing slate patio through a 22-foot expanse of high-efficiency double-hung windows under transoms. White walls, an ebonized wood floor and simple but stylish furniture from IKEA set a youthful tone. Hydronic radiant heat beneath the bare 4.5-inch floorboards makes the space welcoming for small running feet.

The 18-month remodeling project was managed by an unusual design and construction team. Noah Blumberg of Ark Contracting, a good friend of many years, provided construction and design expertise as well as value engineering -- as in "Let's not have more than we really need." Casey's father, architect Andrew Sheldon, whose residential practice was based in New Jersey, served as lead designer.

"I really trusted Andy on the size and proportion of the addition," says Nick, 38, who works in commercial real estate. "The original screened porch did not flow with the rest of the house. It felt separate and closed off, and seemed to be wasted space. Now the garden feels [like] part of our home instead of a room away."

The architect immediately saw an opportunity to open up a "dead-end corridor" between the living and dining rooms so that family and visitors could "experience the outdoors as they move through the house." He suggested widening existing doorways and eliminating a powder room to enhance the view through the addition. The old kitchen became a new side entry hall and mudroom. Upstairs, Casey got an airy window-walled office with space for the children to play. The exterior brick wall, now interior, was left exposed but sealed, a thoughtful nod to history and a warm counterpoint to the contemporary red and white color scheme of built-ins and furnishings.

Blumberg, whose company recently won an award for green building from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, prefers to let clients choose how green they want to go from a checklist of sustainable materials, believing that "green construction really is good construction, keeping water out, keeping mildew from growing and being energy efficient."

The Seidenbergs put the focus on healthy materials and energy efficiency. The foundation and walls were insulated with spray foam made from organic materials and impervious to water and mold. Paints are free of volatile organic compounds. Traditional white kitchen cabinets passed the green test three ways: They are made from formaldehyde-free solid plywood, harvested from certified sustainable forests and painted with no-VOC paints. Sheldon and Blumberg call them a "trifecta" of healthful building products. Countertops were fabricated from 80 percent recycled marble and granite dust baked into sheets three inches thick. The Seidenbergs chose cutting-edge LED and halogen lighting over fluorescents based on the quality of light they wanted.

Outdoors, the distinction between the existing house and the addition is subtly blurred. The side entry is sheltered by a columned portico that would make Thomas Jefferson proud. From the patio, the addition shows off a rhythmic pattern of partial columns and trim. The precision woodwork ties the house and addition together.

"At the end of the day," Sheldon says, "you have hopefully confused the old and the new."

The kitchen remains the heart of the home. The hood over the DACOR cooktop was designed by Sheldon and custom-fabricated in New Jersey. Pale green tiles from Ann Sacks create a niche of 20 percent recycled glass in the backsplash and are Casey's "one indulgence."

Casey's father, who has relocated to Alexandria, is on site to monitor the space on a weekly basis. "I color with my grandchildren at the kitchen table," he says, "and get to enjoy the sunlight as it sets through all of the windows."

Linda Hales, former design critic at The Washington Post, writes about architecture and design. She can be reached at

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