Renovating amid the pandemic with the must-haves to suit their needs

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Jim Huizinga and his wife Karen lived in a large colonial-style home in Chevy Chase, Md., that had become unmanageable.

“I had been wanting to move for some time,” says Karen, 57. “We had a house that we’d been living in for 30 years, it was nearly 100 years old and had seven bedrooms.” Jim, 65, was getting ready to retire from his job as a lawyer, the children had left the nest and the couple was eyeing a new home with three particulars.

“The big things were creating a primary suite on one level,” says Charles Warren, design principal with Teass\Warren Architects, based in D.C. “Jim turns bowls on a lathe, so we had to have a place to do that, and Karen is into baking, so the kitchen was important.”

Warren was involved in the renovation process before there was a house to renovate as the couple called him in as a consultant while they looked for a fixer-upper. “We wanted something that was renovated, new and easy to live in, and we wanted to stay in the neighborhood,” Jim says.

Resurrecting a neglected neighborhood property

The team began their search hoping to find something that resembled a modern farmhouse. They looked at several candidates, ruled out most of them and lost a bid on a bungalow. Through a friend, they heard about a nearby house about to come on the market. They walked through a brick, two-level, six-bedroom, four-bathroom, mid-century modern house complete with its original carport. It was about a mile from the house they were living in.

“I could see the potential,” says Karen. “I like mid-century modern, but I was not dying to have a mid-century house.” The architect gave the house two thumbs-up and told his clients that if they didn’t buy it, he might.

The deal was struck in August 2019 for $1,169,000 — bringing the number of houses they owned to three, counting a vacation home on the Eastern Shore. The design process kicked off in earnest, and by March 2020, the couple was ready to sign a listing agreement with their real estate agent for their original house where they were still living. The agent told them she already had somebody interested. The sale happened quicker than anybody anticipated and came with the contingency of the Huizingas vacating within six weeks. Then, the first wave of the pandemic hit.

‘Everything was shut down’

“We had a house full of traditional furniture,” Karen says. “Everything was shut down; you couldn’t even give away anything to charity. We gave away pianos and dining room tables. What was left was put into storage.” The family used the Nextdoor app to offload furniture to neighbors. During all the confusion, a pallet full of furniture the family wanted to keep for the new place went missing at the storage facility but was eventually recovered.

With the original house cleaned out and sold, the couple set up camp on the Eastern Shore, a 90-minute drive from suburban Maryland. Design meetings happened via Zoom with the team trading ideas back and forth. “I talked to Charles nearly every day,” Karen says. “In some ways, the pandemic was good for us. Charles’s business had slowed down, and I had nothing else to do but sit there and think about this.”

The thinking included a renovation that wouldn’t spoil the clean simple lines hatched in the late 1950s. The house was in a livable condition but was not suitable for the family’s needs. Warren’s update included losing the carport, capturing the space, framing it in and turning it into a more spacious interior.

The driveway under the carport was removed and excavated to make room for what would be Jim’s bowl-making studio. The front entryway, which was inset, was also framed in to allow the design team to eliminate an awkward foyer that opened into steps leading down to the basement or three steps up to the main level.

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All the captured extra space was turned into a large coat closet, home offices for Jim and Karen, and a mudroom that all run along the front of the house. The mudroom is fully functional and complete with a refrigerator and dishwasher salvaged from the old house. Heading straight from the front door is the living room.

The living room, dining room and kitchen are laid out in an open plan that keeps the kitchen mostly out of direct view from the main living area. A large kitchen island provides plenty of space for casual dining and rolling dough. Karen, who is British, was partially inspired by a kitchen design called “Herondale” that she’d seen on the website of Blakes London, a kitchen and joinery company based in Britain.

She inquired about Blakes shipping to the United States, but it wasn’t happening, so she borrowed the color blue and door treatments for her own slice of baking heaven.

Floors in the renovated main living area are a mix of Brazilian slate and white oak. The kitchen cabinets are painted wood, the countertops are Caesarstone. The kitchen appliances, which include a steam oven used to proof dough, are from Miele.

The architect also did a slight bump off the back of the house to free up a few more feet and built a new rear wall out of windows and fixed glass panels that illuminate the space with natural light. A rear deck was rebuilt off the living room.

The main suite is situated in the back corner of the house starting with the main bedroom, which is connected to the main bath. More blue shows up in the main bath in the form of ceramic wall tile laid in a running bond pattern. The floor is rendered in square-patterned natural marble tile.

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There’s a soaking tub and a curbless, doorless shower that empties via a sloped floor and a drain running along the outside wall. The room is equipped with a dual vanity and a separate water closet. In another nod to single-level living, the washer and dryer are installed inside the walk-in closet.

The extra-wide stairway trimmed in a natural wood lattice brings visitors to the lower level that includes a living area, workout room, three bedrooms, a shared bath (a full-size bathroom that is sandwiched between two bedrooms and is accessible by both bedrooms) and another full bath. Jim’s wood shop is equipped with a lathe for turning bowls, band saw, a stock of raw lumber and dust-control mechanisms. The backyard is at a lower grade, which allows for a full walkout basement. The design team also added a screened-in porch outside the basement level.

‘The biggest challenge’

The couple declined to disclose renovation costs. But they say they believe if they had to sell, they’d be about even compared with current prices homes are selling for in the neighborhood. The architect and homeowners were in sync before the demolition began. They also avoided a lot of headaches by bringing a designer in to look at what they were buying before making the purchase.

The timing of the transition was partially tied to Jim’s retirement, but another life-changer made things more difficult. “The biggest challenge was there was a pandemic going on,” Karen says. “Every sample had to be ordered, and I had to have it shipped. I couldn’t go into any showrooms. If I came into town, it was a 90-minute drive, one way. One day I spent two hours with the painter who had covid and didn’t reveal it. My interior designer also had it.”

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The good news is the renovation process, despite the pandemic, ended in April 2021, lasting a year that many are still trying to recover from. The architect is pleased the mid-century period is still preserved on the block.

“The ground-floor entry sequence and its presence on the street didn’t change significantly,” Warren says. “I love the front elevation. We highlighted the best parts of the house and fixed the parts that didn’t work — without destroying it.”

Karen says she also is satisfied with the outcome. “It feels exactly the way I wanted it to. It’s warm and inviting and suits our needs perfectly.”