Interior designer Beth Gularson gets nostalgic when talking about the Potomac home she shares with her husband, John, their two teenagers, and a couple of dogs. “We always wanted to live in this neighborhood,” she says. “It was one of those ‘someday’ thoughts.”
That day became a reality in 2012 when the couple purchased a 1966 Cape Cod-style house situated on three grassy acres in Potomac Falls, Maryland. The downside? It was a fixer-upper: As well as being outdated, the house felt choppy because of some ill-conceived additions. “People thought we were crazy, but I had a vision,” recalls Gularson. “I liked that it was vintage but felt that it didn’t have any personality. I wanted to open up the spaces while maintaining the integrity of the original home. I also wanted to create the character that an older house would possess through architectural details.”
To achieve her goals, Gularson enlisted the help of builder David Costopoulos, with whom she had worked before, and architect Kevin Driscoll, who often collaborates with Costopoulos on projects. With a team in place, Gularson set about enhancing the layout and improving the flow by enlarging or shifting all of the door casements on the main level. In the kitchen, two prior openings with French doors became one large open casement with columns. This enabled the eat-in dining area and backyard beyond to be open to and align with the family room across the hall, resulting in a great space for entertaining.
The newly expanded family room, which used to have a powder room in it, is where the biggest change took place. “When I did my initial walk-through, I saw an attic above that space,” recalls Gularson. “The house is an older one with 8-foot-high ceilings, so I saw this as an opportunity to create some height while taking advantage of unused space.”
The ceiling was vaulted up into the attic, and more visual height was added by putting in a large-scale fireplace, with a two-story-high chimney, as well as taller arched windows. “What you think are only design features are actually what was required to vault the ceiling,” says Driscoll. “The soffits on either side contain parts of the original framing, and the projected fireplace holds reinforcement for the wall.” Of the family room’s stately fireplace, which is carved from maple and painted a creamy white, Costopoulos says, “Beth handed me a magazine picture of a very expensive limestone fireplace. I suggested making one out of wood to a similarly grand scale at a fraction of the cost.”
Gularson went room by room, enriching the spaces via moldings and woodwork. “The old house was a box,” says Gularson. “It was missing that something beautiful, which I feel we brought into the home. Plus, after opening it up, we gave each room its own distinct character.” The foyer now boasts paneled walls and herringbone wood floors, the dining room features shadow box chair rail wainscoting, and the living room spotlights a coffered ceiling. Calacatta Gold marble countertops and white lacquered cabinetry turn the kitchen into a classic space.
When it came to the furnishings, Gularson’s approach was similarly sophis- ticated and spare. “I like traditional with a twist,” she says. “I like a look that is lighter, less fussy, more clean-lined. The biggest compliment people pay me is that my home is elegant yet comfortable.” In this vein, Gularson worked with a dove gray palette warmed by tans and camels, and mixed new traditional-style furniture with vintage pieces refreshed by upholstery, such as the monogrammed host-and-hostess wingbacks in the dining room. “I wanted it a bit eclectic,” she says. “I didn’t want everything from one place, but to be like an older home with things collected over time.”
Of the two-year process, Gularson states: “The remodel was long, including month after month of dust and dirt, missing floors and walls. In the end, though, it exceeded our expectations. It’s not the fanciest home in the neighborhood, but it feels like it to us.”