The brick colonial is a Washington classic. From College Park to Silver Spring to Bethesda to McLean to Alexandria, they are everywhere. Some are more elaborate than others, some are bigger than others, some have wood-sided gables. But all are essentially the same box with a roof. The obvious challenge of the colonial is to make it more personal and less predictable.
As predictable as the exterior may be, the interior is even more so -- a shallow foyer is met by steps rising steeply to two to four bedrooms and one or more baths. If the living room is to be left of the foyer, the dining room is to the right, with the kitchen behind. There may be a powder room behind the living room. There are endless variations on the theme, with slightly different porches, entrances, garages, dens and popped-up rooflines.
Wilfrid Worland is responsible, by his own estimation, for thousands of Washington brick colonials. The design has endured, says the 73-year old architect, because "many people move here from someplace else. They feel that they need something with a background. The brick colonial is sort of a blanket -- it provides security, a feeling of having been established in a community. and it holds its value."
The many brick colonials for which Worland can claim design -- Woodacres, early sections of Montgomery Village, Old Farm, and Falls Mead in Maryland; Lake Ridge and Falcon Ridge in Virginia, to name a few -- are not really patterned after colonial homes, he says. "Basically, they are contemporary homes with colonial facades and they have changed a lot over time."
Worland remembers that the big selling point in the 1930s for his Bethesda Woodacres homes was that they had built-in kitchen cabinets. Previously, he says, kitchens usually meant a sink against the wall, a range, a refrigerator and little else.
But despite the graceful and growing changes that colonials have picked up through the years, most owners continue to personalize and change the design. The homeowners represented on these pages have taken notable approaches to reshaping their homes, approaches that adapt the uncomplicated appeal of colonial homes to individual tastes.
Carol and Ron Ridker decided to give the colonial they brought in 1970 a contemporary, and simplified, flair. "The first day we moved in," Carol said, "Ron took a crowbar and just pulled the phony Williamsburg fireplace off the wall."
Neighbors who waw the columned mantlepiece leaning against the side of the house rescured it to install in their own home. "It just goes to show you," Carol said, talking about the neighbors' passionate plea for the trashed mantel, that "one man's garbage really is another's treasure."
Ron boxed the barren fireplace with a 3-inch-wide strip of wood, making a plain frame without mantel. The Ridkers removed the elaborate valences over each window and put up handwoven fabric shades purchased when they were living in India. They added recessed spotlights to shine on Carol's work as a potter, painted the walls white and stained the floors dark to complete the feeling of a contemporary, art-filled environment.
A few years later, dissatified with their 12-by-12-foot breakfast nook off the kitchen, they talked with architect C. Wayne Smith about altering the house to add a studio in the garage for Carol, linked to the house with an expanded family room/dining room.
Smith traded his plans for a few of Carol's choice porcelain pots, and the read work began. The slate-roofed breezeway between the house and garage was enclosed and a new entryway was added for access to the pottery studio. A few steps up from the breezeway, over the old breakfast nook foundation and a new foundation, they built a 22-by-24-foot room with a cathedral ceiling. The exterior brick wall of the breakfast nook was samed as an interior wall and painted white.
The spacious new dining room/family room has a south-facing wall of double-glazed windows and a door opening to a redwood deck that runs the length of the addition.
One side of the room has banquette seating, the other side has a dining table. With the kitchen serving as an isthmus, the Ridkers can seat eight to 10 people in the addition for dinner as well as an equal number in the old dining room.
The traditional dining room was also a focal point of change in the colonial home of architect Steve Swaney and his interior-designer wife Carol. The chandelier was replaced by a circular tube flourescent lamp, the walls were covered in a camel vinyl suede cloth and the windows and ceilings were painted a stronger camel as an accent. A glass dining table rests on a berber wood rug, completing a contrast of soft and hard textures with neutral tones. The only color in the room comes from a few plants, food and guests.
Upstairs, the Swaneys' bedroom has a similar contrast in textures and tones. The room has walls covered with striped wool, a single wall of mirrors and a platform bed with built-in night tables. A rich gray carpet picks up the tones in the wall coverings.
"When we began decorating the house," Carol says, "we just decided to ignore the exterior and deal with the interior spaces in a way that was appropriate to our tastes." The result of that commitment in the 4,000-square-foot home is an upbeat and sophisticated tone.