When Margaret and Brian Carroll purchased a 1956 rambler near Bethesda Country Club in 2009, the midcentury modern enthusiasts hoped to make its modest size (2,396 square feet) and retro feel work for them and their two young sons. “But it was a small guy, and we ended up feeling cramped after a while,” says Margaret, an interior designer and architect.
“We thought we could renovate and add on,” says Brian, a mechanical engineer. “But as we lived here over the years, things started to happen. The HVAC failed, the piping for the radiators started to leak, and then our sewer line started to leak.”
That’s when the couple decided, says Margaret, “to pull the Band-Aid off and build a whole new house. We knew we loved the neighborhood, the schools, and the feeling of a midcentury house, but we needed more room and light.”
The process of knocking down one house and replacing it with another would end up taking five years, beginning in 2014 with Margaret using Revit, an architectural software program, to sketch up a design inspired by the Mad Men era. It continued through construction in 2017 and ended with the Carrolls finally moving into their new 4,500-square-foot, six-bedroom, five-bath home in 2019. Since then, they’ve outfitted the sunroom and are making plans to finish the basement.
“We lived in a rental house for close to two years, and we thought we were going to be there eight to 10 months,” Margaret says. “I almost didn’t sleep for two years.” After having to fire her first contractor for, Margaret says, failing to show up when necessary, she decided to take over project management duties.
Margaret hired a former colleague, Takoma Park architect Eric Saul, to help her design the exterior of the house. Together, they came up with an angled rambler with two wings off a central great room with a vaulted ceiling. The twist? One of those wings is a dramatic two-story structure that holds a primary bedroom suite on its first level plus an upstairs with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a game room for the Carrolls’ sons, now 12 and 16.
Smart details on the exterior
“Eric has a great spatial mind,” Margaret says. That came into play as the couple came up with a house that tapers from the two-story section on the left down to the garage on the right. “It kind of flows forward and doesn’t impose on the streetscape too much,” Saul says. “It’s in keeping with the neighborhood, which has a variety of midcentury houses.” The Carrolls’ wide lot (there’s a swimming pool and jumbo yard in the back) left plenty of space for other crisp exterior details: a sweep of driveway, a small front porch accented with columns that riff on a 1960s building, and a back deck for entertaining.
The Carrolls also put a premium on green building materials that would weather well. On the exterior, this meant metal roofing, Hardie board planks and fiber-cement siding. “We were trying to keep things low-maintenance,” Saul says. “People don’t want to deal with painting all the time or rot.”
He also came up with clever details that added flair (but not significant extra cost) to the exterior, such as mitering the corners of the plank siding and adding floor-to-ceiling windows on the second story to let in sunlight and provide great views. Saul suggested installing the windows upside down, with the narrow transom panels on the bottom, for a more contemporary look.
The interior takes wing
As Saul fine-tuned the exterior touches, Margaret was busy plotting the interior layout and finishes. The basic floor plan features an 840-square-foot central great room with a wing on each side. The high-ceilinged great room has a groovy focal point: a vintage Preway fireplace that Margaret sourced from a store in Maine. The enameled, cherry-red wood-burning marvel sits in the back corner and has a new and taller flue to reach the top of the soaring ceiling.
“We made that room to go with the fireplace, and almost the whole thing came together around that,” Saul says. That includes the vaulted ceiling with clerestory windows (in a row well above eye level) that the freestanding fireplace sits beneath. “I like that those windows give the whole space sunlight but won’t blind them while they’re watching TV,” he says. The flooring throughout the great room and the majority of the house is wide-plank white oak, which also keeps the look airy and bright.
“I grew up watching The Brady Bunch and shows like that, and that fireplace just really shows my aesthetic,” Margaret says. “You walk in here and you think, This is a midcentury house.” Other furnishings in the great room up the throwback feel, including a vintage oval dining room table and, just by the double entrance doors at the front of the house, a set of linked molded plastic chairs from a defunct laundromat that Margaret sourced via
Daniel Donnelly Modern Design, a dealer in Alexandria, Virginia. A framed print by Shag, the Southern California artist known for his whimsical, retro work, gets pride of place on a back wall.
The rest of the home also cha-chas between throwback and contemporary style. The sleek, open kitchen, which Margaret designed with help from
Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery in Rockville, combines vintage-feeling warm wood UltraCraft lower cabinets with white upper cabinets and open shelving. Silestone countertops adorn the lower cabinets and the jumbo kitchen island. Also helping with the clean, crisp vibe: an “appliance garage” cabinet and a snazzy-yet-subtle tile backsplash in a chevron pattern, Atlas Concorde’s Mek Light Mosaic.
“I designed the island with a sink in it that faces the wall where the 70-inch wall-mounted TV and fireplace are,” Margaret says. “That means I can wash dishes and prep food while I’m hanging out with my kids and watching television.” There’s also a smaller prep sink on the kitchen’s back wall, plus a six-burner KitchenAid stove with two ovens. “The big one is for Thanksgiving turkey, the skinny one is for chicken nuggets and cookies, and we use that one all the time,” Margaret says with a laugh.
A 41/2-by-71/2-foot walk-in pantry, cleverly closed off from the kitchen via sliding barn doors, holds supplies for the Asian-influenced dishes Margaret loves to cook. “I’m 100% Filipino,” she says. A family fave? Deconstructed sushi rolls, which they eat for dinner about once a week, assembling plates themselves from sheets of seaweed, cooked rice, salmon and smoked eel. “My kids are foodies,” Margaret says.
Three sets of sliding glass doors along the back of the house let in light and backyard views. The doors adjoining the kitchen lead to a multipurpose sunroom outfitted with a cushy Article sofa, a Hans Wegner rocking chair (scored on Facebook Marketplace) and Jonathan Adler pendant lights. (“I’d fill my house with his designs if I could,” Margaret says. There’s also a sleek brass-and-chrome chandelier by Adler illuminating the staircase.)
“We use this sunroom for so many things,” Margaret says. “It was a school for the kids during COVID, and it’s a spot [where] you can come and be quiet if people are watching TV in the next room.”
The one-story wing on the east side of the kitchen holds a bathroom, a guest room with a vaulted ceiling, and a mudroom kitted out with Ikea wardrobes and durable Milliken vinyl flooring with a subtle print mimicking house blueprints, a nod to the Carrolls’ careers in design and engineering.
A wing of their own
It’s the two-story wing of the house that provides the interior’s biggest wow moment (after that fab fireplace): a white oak staircase with multiple switchbacks, crisp metal balusters, and a window. It’s all framed to be seen from the great room and the other wing of the house.
“It was tough to design because the staircase had another set of stairs to the basement wrapping underneath it, but in the end it was successful,” Saul says. The jumbo basement remains unfinished for now except for a single bathroom.
The grand staircase also signals the beginning of the family’s private spaces, including Margaret’s home office at the front of the house and the couple’s primary suite to the back. Margaret kept the primary suite, with its en suite bathroom, on the small side—the bedroom itself is 15 by 17 feet, with space for a bed, dresser and nightstands. A bright oil painting the couple purchased on their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic hangs above the bed.
“Usually in houses this size, the primary bedroom is huge,” Brian says. “But we were really focusing on the spaces people would spend the most time in—the great room, a game room for our sons upstairs.”
Still, the primary bathroom packs a lot of style into a relatively snug floor plan. An Artistic Tile metallic tile backsplash and a pair of vintage wood-framed mirrors top a double James Martin trough sink. Though there’s a walk-in, glassed-in shower, it’s the round Japanese-style soaking tub from Signature Hardware that delights the couple. “A 6-foot-tall guy can even get in there,” Brian says.
Up the showstopper staircase, the second floor was laid out to appeal to both the privacy and playfulness of the Carrolls’ sons. Their two bedrooms have en suite bathrooms with Architessa floor tiles (chosen from the Rockville showroom) in blue, black and white, and laid out in a jazzy pattern.
The boys and their pals come together in a shared “Xbox room” outfitted with two jumbo TVs for gaming and a Pottery Barn Teen sofa with shelving underneath that holds board games. Black-gray walls set off a clever pegboard Nerf toy wall and an Eames-inspired table and chairs where the boys assemble Legos. “We knew we wanted to do an edgier wall color up there,” Margaret says. “And since there was so much natural light streaming in, it’s the perfect place for it.”
“I don’t know why so many people send their kids down to the basement to hang out,” Brian says. “We thought, Why not have them upstairs? And then in the future, that room can be a bedroom.”
Some of the most innovative details of the Carrolls’ home are hiding in plain sight. Brian, ever the engineer, oversaw a slew of forward-thinking electrical, environmental and technical elements. “Margaret wanted nicer, more open spaces in a home,” he says. “From my perspective, I wanted energy efficiency and smart features. I didn’t want to go around and turn our outdoor lights on and off anymore.”
The Carrolls focused on energy-saving windows and good insulation during construction. “We did both spray insulation and batting foam,” Brian says. “The foam is the outer layer, which makes the envelope of the house pretty tight,” helping with climate control and efficiency. Three air-conditioning units—two for the first floor, one for the second, also keep temperatures comfortable and cut down on wasted energy.
The house is outfitted with a Lutron Caséta electrical system, a wireless setup with smart switches and outlets that can be operated from a smartphone. “Now I can control all the lights, and some of the window shades,” Brian says. “Plus we can schedule things to happen, like turning on our dining room light at 7 p.m. or switching the outdoor lights on and off.”
All that tech comes in handy when the family gathers around the TV or fireplace. “I just tell our Alexa speaker it’s movie time, and the window shades go down and the lights go off,” Brian says. “It’s pretty cool.”
Jennifer Barger is a local design and travel writer. Follow her on Instagram @dcjnell.
This story appears in the November/December 2022 issue of Bethesda Magazine.