Managing a teardown to build a dream house

A Maryland couple focused on what they’d gain through the process

David Medine and Carol Weil razed their existing house in Bethesda, Md., and built a new one on the same land. The rear patio contains an open section for plantings.
David Medine and Carol Weil razed their existing house in Bethesda, Md., and built a new one on the same land. The rear patio contains an open section for plantings. (Anice Hoachlander)

David Medine and Carol Weil were planning their future around single-level living but were striking out. “We looked for two years and could not find anything that we loved. But the process was valuable because it defined what was important for us,” says Weil, 62, who retired as a program director with the National Cancer Institute.

While they were searching, they walked through a house for sale in Northwest Washington that came close to hitting the mark. The developer told Medine and Weil that the house was designed by Kube Architecture based in D.C., which wasn’t correct.

“The developer kept telling people we designed that house, but we didn’t do it,” says Janet Bloomberg, principal of Kube. Despite the confusion, the homeowners and the designer talked on the phone and hit it off, which led to a social invite. “We went to their Halloween party, and it was love at first sight,” says Medine, who is 68 and a retired data protection expert.

At a more serious sit-down and site visit, the design team learned that the family was living in a two-story Colonial with an attached garage in Bethesda, Md. They bought the house in 1992 for $473,480 and raised their family. They’d done a few small renovation projects over the years but to get the main suite, living area and laundry on the same floor was going to go way beyond a bump-out.

Resurrecting a neglected neighborhood property

“One of the big issues even before going into the house was how high they had to climb to get up the driveway, it was very steep,” says Andrew Baldwin, project designer at Kube. “They wanted to remove that challenge and the steepness of the site.”

The house backs up to a wooded section buttressed by a brick retaining wall. The homeowners also wanted to take advantage of nature views. To make the backyard more accessible, address the driveway and get everything on one level, the existing house had to come down.

Rather than wrestle with the emotional trauma of demolishing the family home, the homeowners focused on what they’d gain through the process. “The teardown was an opportunity to do something we wanted to do, which was to have a more contemporary house,” Medine says. “It was a great house and a great neighborhood, but it was also a chance to do something that was in the back of our mind.”

Teardowns can often raise concerns in established neighborhoods when a McMansion suddenly arises in a collection of bungalows. The design team didn’t want that to happen. “We didn’t want it to look like a UFO just landed in their yard,” Bloomberg says. “We looked at scale, proportion and massing.”

Starting from scratch, the designers worked within the confines of the site and began presenting conceptual drawings that eventually became reality. “Janet laid out three floor plans, and we picked the one we liked the best,” Medine says. “It was a back and forth with her throughout — we didn’t have to go to Home Depot once.”

Demolition started in May 2018 with the homeowners moving into a rental house within walking distance. They used a local salvaging company to take the existing house apart piece by piece and recycle the components. As excavation got underway, the design team discovered something that nobody planned for. “There was a lot of rock on the site,” Bloomberg says. “Solid rock, which is probably why they put the driveways in the way they did.” Removing rock created delays and ended plans for excavating the basement level to increase ceiling height.

Construction lasted 18 months with the family returning in November 2019. The transformation starts on the driveway. A gentle slope replaced the steep climb as board-formed retaining walls help preserve a beloved silver maple tree in the front yard while offering easier access. The new home followed the same proportions relative to width as the old one with the garage and the front door in the same locations.

Entering through the front door offers a look through the house and into the backyard. “The kitchen and dining are pushed off to the side and as soon as you get in the front door, you’re hit with the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out the back,” Baldwin says. “We worked on having that axis when entering the house.”

Former embassy becomes a stylish residence

Turning left reveals a formal dining room occupying the front of the house that’s big enough for large family gatherings. “We did a custom dining room table in there,” Bloomberg says. “It’s nearly impossible to find a dining table that will fit 12 people.”

Fabrication on the single pedestal, glass-topped table was handled by Steve Prudhomme of Metal Specialties based in Lorton, Va. A floating glass sideboard offers additional room for food.

Turning right from the front door leads to a coat closet, powder room, laundry, mudroom, an office large enough for both homeowners and the main suite. Because all the active spaces for the home are on one level, the main bedroom and bath were purposely placed at the far end of the house. The main bedroom includes a sitting area with views and access to the backyard. There’s also a low-profile gas-fired fireplace for chilly evenings.

The main bath is in the front of the house. To bring in natural light, high windows were cut into the exterior walls that provide views to the outside while still ensuring privacy. The bathroom floors and walls are defined by shades of gray tile from Stone Source. There’s a curbless, doorless, two-headed shower and a free-standing, resin soaking tub from Allene. The two-station vanity is topped with Dekton and includes a makeup station.

The basement layout features a second family room, workout room, storage, full bath and a second office. The steps leading upstairs are illuminated by handrails and a vertical wall panel powered by color-changing LEDs. Upstairs are three guest rooms, a shared full bath and a half-bath. Thinking ahead, the family left room for an elevator that can be installed that would connect all three floors if needed. They also went with geothermal heating system that works via radiant floor heat.

The heart of the home is the main living area, which works on several levels. There’s a wet bar just past the foyer, which can be hidden by floor-to-ceiling natural wood panels. The same panels also close off the mudroom as needed. The smaller, informal dining area floats in the middle of the space. A butler’s pantry complete with backup refrigerator, storage and counter space is adjacent to the main kitchen.

The kitchen appliances include a Sub-Zero refrigerator, Thermador cooktop, Miele oven and steam oven. The cabinets came from the German Kitchen Center in D.C. and the countertops are a mix of dark Dekton and white Corian. The floors on the first level are all engineered wood. The kitchen island includes a sink and a lower-level peninsula big enough for morning coffee and a laptop.

Moving from the kitchen into the living room reveals a wall of glass with a nod to Mondrian’s patterns of rectangles looking out to the backyard and a shed-roof ceiling treatment that expands the view to the outdoors in jaw-dropping fashion. The fireplace facing is made from a combination of custom millwork and Viroc. A TV hides behind the decorative panels.

The backyard was resculpted by adding a concrete retaining wall that terraces down from the original brick, which frames a nested patio. All the landscaping was handled by Campion Hruby Landscape Architects based in Annapolis, Md. The builders were Peterson and Collins, based in Bethesda, Md.

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“Everything feels very scaled,” Bloomberg says. “It has a warmth to it even though it’s a very modern house — there [is] lots of wood, which helps make it very warm and welcoming.”

The homeowners say they are happy with the outcome and thankful there has been no neighborhood backlash.

“We didn’t build it as an investment, we built it as our forever home,” says Medine, who declined to divulge the renovation costs. “We didn’t go through that same calculus that you might have if you were planning on living in some place for two years and selling it. We were budget-constrained just like everybody else, but the return on investment in the short term was not our major consideration at all.”

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