An attached single-car garage became a light-filled kitchen in Ann Horton’s Silver Spring home. Photo by Michael Ventura

When homeowners begin planning a kitchen renovation, their first impulse may be to build an addition. The conventional wisdom is that bigger is better, but adding a room isn’t always necessary, appropriate or the most cost-effective approach, according to home designers. Taking advantage of existing spaces can yield satisfying results.

Hope Hassell, director of project development at Bethesda-based Case Architects & Remodelers, recently worked with a client to convert an underused formal living room into a kitchen in his Chevy Chase colonial. “He was storing bikes in there,” Hassell says. The room is now a big kitchen with a built-in window seat, great light and views, and the original fireplace is a unique design feature and focal point.

“So many homes are well sized but not well laid out,” says Jennifer Menassa Kirwan of Menassa Architecture in Silver Spring. “I work with my clients to evaluate the space they have and figure out creative ways to use it better.” Interior modifications such as removing walls and reallocating square footage can improve efficiency, circulation and sightlines, making a house look and feel larger—even if it isn’t.

Courtesy photo

And then there’s the savings that can be achieved by renovating rather than building. “Anything we do to enlarge the footprint adds money,” Kirwan says. “When you already have exterior walls and a roof, that equals huge savings.” Money saved by not building a new foundation can pay for such upgrades as high-end appliances and finishes, or adding a powder room.

But a decision against adding on isn’t always budget driven—it’s about what makes sense for the house and the homeowners. Consulting with an architect or designer early on can save time and effort. “They can help you reimagine your home,” Hassell says, “and suggest options you may have never thought possible.”

The owners of these three Bethesda-area homes chose to reimagine their spaces and build the kitchens of their dreams.