Tile flooring

Manage a teardown to build a dream house

A couple from Maryland focused on what they would gain from the process

David Medine and Carol Weil razed their existing home in Bethesda, Maryland, and built a new one on the same lot.  The back patio contains an open section for planting.
David Medine and Carol Weil razed their existing home in Bethesda, Maryland, and built a new one on the same lot. The back patio contains an open section for planting. (Anice Hoachlander)

David Medine and Carol Weil were planning their future around single storey accommodation, but pulled out. “We searched for two years and couldn’t find anything we liked. But the process was valuable because it defined what was important to us,” says Weil, 62, who retired as program director at the National Cancer Institute.

While searching, they came across a house for sale in northwest Washington that nearly hit the mark. The developer told Medine and Weil that the house was designed by DC-based Kube Architecture, which was not correct.

“The developer kept telling people we designed this house, but we didn’t,” says Janet Bloomberg, director of Kube. Despite the confusion, the owners and designer spoke 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, 68 and a retired data protection expert.

During a more serious interview and site visit, the design team learned that the family lived in a two-story colonial house with an attached garage in Bethesda, Maryland. They bought the house in 1992 for $473,480 and raised their family. They had done a few small renovation projects over the years, but having the master suite, living room, and laundry room on the same floor was way beyond a bump.

Bringing a neglected neighborhood property back to life

“One of the big issues even before entering 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 slope from the site.”

The house backs onto a wooded area buttressed by a brick retaining wall. The owners also wanted to take advantage of the view of nature. To make the backyard more accessible, approach the driveway and put everything on one level, the existing house had to be demolished.

Rather than struggling with the emotional trauma of demolishing the family home, the owners focused on what they would gain from the process. “The teardown was an opportunity to do something we wanted to do, which was to have a more contemporary house,” says Medine. “It was a great house and a great neighborhood, but it was also a chance to do something that was on our minds.”

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

Starting from scratch, the designers worked within the confines of the site and began to present concept drawings which eventually became reality. “Janet drew up three floor plans and we picked the one we liked best,” says Medine. “It was back and forth with her throughout – we didn’t have to go to Home Depot once.”

Demolition began in May 2018 and the owners moved into a rental home within walking distance. They hired a local salvage company to dismantle the existing house piece by piece and recycle the components. As excavation began, the design team discovered something no one had expected. “There were a lot of rocks at the site,” says Bloomberg. “Solid rock, that’s probably why they laid the walkways the way they did.” The rock removal caused delays and ended plans to excavate the basement to increase ceiling height.

Construction took 18 months and the family returned in November 2019. The transformation begins on the driveway. A gentle incline has replaced the steep climb, as planked retaining walls help preserve a beloved silver maple in the front yard while providing easier access. The new house followed the same proportions to width as the old one with the garage and front door in the same places.

Entering through the front door offers a glimpse of the house and garden. “The kitchen and dining room are pushed to the side and as soon as you enter through the front door you’re struck by the floor-to-ceiling windows to the rear,” says Baldwin. “We worked to have this axis when entering the house.”

The former embassy becomes an elegant residence

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

The fabrication on the unique pedestal, glass table was done by Steve Prudhomme of Metal Specialties based in Lorton, Virginia. A floating glass sideboard provides additional space for food.

Turning right from the front door leads to a cloakroom, powder room, utility room, cloakroom, office large enough for the owners and the master suite. Because all of the active spaces in the house are on one level, the master bedroom and bathroom were purposely placed at the end of the house. The master bedroom includes a sitting area with views and access to the backyard. There is also a low profile gas fireplace for those chilly evenings.

The main bath is at the front of the house. To bring in natural light, tall windows have been cut into the exterior walls which provide views to the outside while ensuring privacy. The bathroom floors and walls are defined by gray tile shades from Stone Source. There is a stepless, doorless two-head shower and a freestanding Allene resin tub. The two-station vanity is topped with Dekton and includes a makeup station.

The basement layout includes a second family room, exercise room, storage, full bathroom and second office. The steps leading upstairs are illuminated by handrails and a vertical wall panel powered by color changing LEDs. Upstairs, three guest bedrooms, a full shared bathroom and a shower room. Thinking about the future, the family left room for an elevator that could be installed and linked the three floors if necessary. They also opted for a geothermal heating system that works via a heated floor.

The heart of the house is the main living space, which operates on several levels. There is a bar just past the foyer, which can be hidden by floor-to-ceiling natural wood panels. The same panels also close off the locker room as needed. The smaller, informal dining room floats in the middle of the space. A butler’s pantry with spare fridge, storage and counter space is adjacent to the main kitchen.

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

The passage from the kitchen to the living room reveals a wall of glass with a nod to Mondrian’s rectangle patterns overlooking the backyard and a shed-roof ceiling treatment that dramatically expands the view outward. breathtaking. The fireplace facing is made from a combination of bespoke joinery and Viroc. A television hides behind the decorative panels.

The backyard has been remodeled by adding a concrete retaining wall that descends from the original brick, which frames an interlocking patio. All 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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“It all feels very to scale,” says Bloomberg. “There is a warmth even though it is a very modern house – there is [is] lots of wood, which helps to make it very warm and welcoming.”

The owners say they are satisfied with the result and grateful that there was no backlash from the neighborhood.

“We didn’t build it as an investment, we built it as our forever home,” says Medine, who declined to disclose renovation costs. “We didn’t do the same math you might have if you were planning to live in a place for two years and sell it. We had budgetary constraints like everyone else, but the short-term return on investment was not our main concern at all.