What ended with a 1950s- and 1960s-themed party for an entire neighborhood began with a simple desire to upgrade a tired kitchen.
When Silver Spring residents Amy Dibner and her husband Bruce Marshall expanded their small Cape Cod house to accommodate a larger kitchen and dining area, a sunroom and a patio with a landscaped back yard, they thanked their neighbors for living through the six-month construction period by throwing a midcentury modern party in keeping with their home’s aesthetic.
Dibner and Marshall moved to the Washington region from Cleveland a decade ago, attracted to what they considered the perfect neighborhood: a cluster of small single-family homes nestled along tree-lined streets within walking distance of downtown Silver Spring.
“We love it that we can walk to restaurants and shops and the Metro, but at the same time, we live in a quaint neighborhood,” says Marshall, a Unitarian chaplain who works at Riderwood Village, a retirement community in Silver Spring, and author of “Meaning and Spirit in Aging.”
The couple, who share a love of midcentury modern furnishings and decor, found that the 1933 house worked well for them even when all four of their grown children visited, but after six or seven years, they realized the kitchen needed updating and that storage was a challenge.
“We talked to a contractor about just updating the kitchen, and that company pointed out that we had space behind our house to expand our living space and bring in more light,” says Dibner, a commercial architect with the DLR Group in Washington. “We love the huge willow oak tree in front of our house and the weeping cherry tree in the back, but we were craving more light.”
With the help of Tahani Share, an architect with Landis Architects/Builders in Washington, and Jeffrey Potter, a horticulturist with J&G Landscape Design, the couple added 475 square feet to their main level along with a flagstone patio and landscaped yard for outdoor living space. The couple paid $625,000 for their home in 2007, and the addition, completed in late 2015, cost $440,000, including a master bathroom renovation, a new patio, fencing and professional landscaping. The existing house had 1,000 square feet on the first level that included a living room, two bedrooms, a full bathroom, a kitchen and a dining area. The house also has a finished lower-level family room and a dormer level with a master suite.
“Amy and Bruce wanted to enlarge their kitchen and dining space and create a sunroom, but they also wanted to stick with the simple design of their home,” says Share. “We were able to maintain the appearance of the front of their house and expand the back of the house by 13 feet across its entire width.”
Dibner and Marshall were clear on what they wanted: an addition that would complement and not overpower their home.
“Tahani designed a space that works as an interpretation of midcentury modern style,” says Dibner. “It was such a pleasure for me to be on the client side of the table and yet also understand the process and the cost of different decisions.”
Share used a 3-D design program to show Dibner and Marshall their existing home.
“We used drawings and 3-D modeling to design the addition right from the beginning, including space to accommodate the furniture they have and what they wanted to buy,” says Share. “Technology makes the process easier and even helped us create a demolition plan and a construction plan.”
The main goal was to create an uninterrupted flow of space in the kitchen, dining area and sunroom.
The original kitchen and dining area is now devoted to an open dining area and a wall of pantry shelving and closets.
“Tahani designed the pantry and the kitchen cabinets to match, with a band of glossy white cabinets and a band of matte wood cabinets,” says Dibner, who enjoys the fact that even 18 months after the project was completed, they have yet to fill all their shelves.
Next to the pantry is a dining area with a white midcentury modern table and chairs. Nearby are a side window, a glass door to the side yard, a staircase to the lower level and a remodeled staircase to the upper-level master suite.
“When we started the project, we discovered that the stairs to the upper level were not up to code, so we redesigned them and added a railing,” says Share. “We also had to put in a steel beam to support the existing joist to support the upper level.”
The new addition includes hardwood flooring sanded to match the original flooring. A large center island includes dark cabinetry and a white quartz top that matches the countertops. A gray-and-white tile backsplash extends to the upper cabinets on one wall. Dibner and Marshall chose Bosch stainless-steel appliances for their clean lines and efficiency. Dibner requested plenty of drawers for lower storage, including numerous drawers on the island. She picked handles from Ikea that are simple in design and blend with both the dark and light cabinets.
“We asked to have the island raised to bar table height since we’re both tall,” says Marshall. “It’s easier to cook that way, and we’ve found our friends like to stand at the island, too.”
The island includes electrical outlets to make it easier to work on a laptop in the space, too. The outlets throughout the kitchen are hidden under cabinets and below countertop edges.
Orange and steel modern bar stools add a pop of color to the space and pick up on the adjacent exposed brick wall, which has been painted orange. This was the original exterior wall of the house and now forms the back wall of the sunroom.
“We wanted to keep the window from the exterior of the house to bring in natural light to the bedroom,” says Dibner. “Tahani designed shelving and put in frosted glass so that the bedroom has both light and privacy. The cool thing is that it creates silhouettes on the bedroom side of whatever you have on the shelves in the sunroom.”
Share says the initial plan was to design the sunroom with glass on the side wall as well as across the back, but the homeowners wanted to have that side closed off so they could use that wall for some of their furniture.
In addition to carefully placing studs in the exterior wall to match the places where Dibner wanted to attach shelves, the design included space for a folded dining table she found on the 1stdibs website.
“I knew I wanted a big table that could accommodate as many as 12 people so we could have big family gatherings and entertain, but I didn’t want that table taking up space all the time,” says Dibner. “The table fits perfectly into the dining area when we’re ready to use it.”
The table folds up to a depth of six inches and, when not in use, functions as a shelf that complements the midcentury modern shelving purchased from Design Within Reach.
While the footprint of the addition covers what was a deck with a hot tub, Marshall and Dibner say they feel they have more space to enjoy outdoors now that the yard has been redesigned and the exterior of the house as well as the fencing on three sides has been improved.
“The light-and-dark motif in the kitchen are carried through to the outside, where we used Ipe wood to contrast with the white Hardie siding,” says Dibner. “J&G Landscape Design looked at the plans for the interior of the house and kept them in mind when they planned the flagstone patio and steps.”
The upper-level siding was replaced to match the siding on the addition.
“Our neighbors contributed to the side fences since they were getting new fencing, too,” says Marshall. “A key part of this project was to talk to the neighbors before the plans were started because the work impacted them too, but they weren’t getting all of the benefits. Sometimes the alley behind the house was blocked.”
The back fence has horizontal boarding that mimics the horizontal siding on the back of the house, while the sides have vertical board-on-board fencing for extra privacy.
Dibner inherited a set of midcentury modern outdoor furniture from her parents, which echoes the furniture inside the house visible through the row of picture windows in the sunroom.
“J&G even designed a pole to hang our bird houses that fits in with the rest of the house,” says Dibner. “They also landscaped everything so it blooms sequentially and added four raised garden beds to our portion of the alley because that’s where we get the best sun for vegetables and flowers.”
The home’s back lawn was originally sloped, so the landscape plan included leveling it and putting in a central pea gravel walkway that leads to a gate to the alley, where the couple has a detached one-car garage. An apple vine climbs the side wall of the garage that extends into the back yard.
● Start by educating yourself about what you like and dislike so you have an idea of what you want before you start the project.
● Interview several potential contractors and choose someone you feel comfortable working with and who you trust to be in your home for a few months.
● Consider hiring a design-build company that will work within your budget and explain what it will cost if you want to increase the scope of your project.
● Ask references about their experience, especially with keeping a consistent schedule.
● Ask how much of the work will be done in-house and how much will be done by subcontractors. The more subcontractors you have, the higher the likelihood of schedule disruptions.
● Expect the unexpected. Once you open up your house, you’ll often find additional problems to address.
● Be ready to make a lot of decisions — both minor and major.
● You may be able to benefit from economies of scale if you opt to do several projects at once, and you’ll definitely avoid the hassle of multiple separate renovation projects.
● Keep your neighbors informed about what’s happening at your house.