Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bethesda Americana Redux!




By Beth Herman


In literature it’s been said that the real measure of mastery is when the individual becomes inseparable from the act, as when the dancer becomes the dance, or the musician is indistinguishable from the sound he produces.

For antiques dealer/restorer and interior designer Marilyn Hannigan, former owner of Dupont Circle's Cherishables Antiques, creating a four-level home addition for her and commercial real estate developer husband, John, was to be much more than just another example of her work. Like the dancer or musician, it would become synonymous with a life steeped in coveted Americana.

Purchasing their two-story 1,060 s.f. Edgemoor post war Colonial Revival-style residence in 1971, at the time the house was emblematic of their close Bethesda enclave. Now within a block of the community’s burgeoning, bustling cafes, bookstores and upscale shopping, homes in the area are considered prime real estate and are almost unrecognizable from their nascent forms, according to architect Michael Callison who helmed the multi-storied renovation. In fact the Hannigans had more than a typical update in mind.

Undergoing three earlier incarnations that expanded the home's footprint to 3,066 s.f. and involved the kitchen, living room, a bedroom and the home’s fa├žade, an addition had been built on a concrete slab consisting of only a first and second level (the old basement and attic were restricted to the original space). Under Callison’s baton, the homeowners desired to extend their existing basement to match the home’s addition-created footprint, turning the below-grade results into a combination antiques gallery and entertainment space for their large dinner parties. What’s more, a new master bedroom suite was desired on an upper level, and above that the old attic atop the post war part of the home needed to expand into a newly-created, essentially fourth level space, creating a dormer-crowned home office with a bird’s eye view for John.

“There was no way to do any of this when you’ve got something built on a concrete slab,” Callison said, also citing the former addition’s inadequate under 8-foot ceilings, for which an additional foot was mandated. “We ended up tearing it all down and starting over.”

Molding, mantles and muscles

With the home’s Colonial Revival architecture and Marilyn Hannigan’s penchant for all things Americana, traditional, classical design details were imminent for the wood-sided, brick-based addition. In the new living and dining rooms, crown molding and substantial Adams casing—a 3½-inch wide wood casing—for doors and windows make a bold, muscular statement. “While honoring the residence’s style, we were trying to bring up the personality of the former house from the way it was originally built,” Callison said.

In the living room, an early 19th Century hand carved mantle with acanthus leaves, dentil molding, carved ovals and quarter fans frames a limestone fireplace, with an equally elegant antique grey/green mantle—it’s the original paint, according to Hannigan—featuring elaborate moldings in the dining room.

A connoisseur of old calligraphy, Hannigan found a 19th Century signed and dated eagle from Pennsylvania that frames the fireplace.
“Penmanship was so important in the 19th Century,” she explained, adding it was taught out of hotel rooms, bank buildings, etc. As it became more detailed, contests were held for bird drawing with awards. “It’s called ‘flourish drawing’ so the pen never stops,” she said. Another flourish drawing in the hall features a bevy of birds: swans; eagles; a love bird; a nest, signed and dated 1885.

Inspired by illustrations of the natural environment with another home on the Eastern Shore, the homeowners display a grouping of duck prints by Alexander Pope (the artist: 1849-1924, not the essayist and poet: 1688-1744) at the base of the addition’s staircase, as well as various Audubon prints in the living room. Delicate early 20th Century feather-like sconces appear in the dining room, which Hannigan said she’d never seen before despite decades in the antiques arena.

A serving table from history’s Sheridan period, a mahogany tea table, 19th Century armchairs painted with gold leaf, a 19th Century tall case clock and a small vanity from the same era stenciled with fruit complement the room with its floor-to-ceiling double-hung arched windows.

Stairs, sprigs and sunlight

Where flooring is concerned, 3-inch white oak boards in the living and dining spaces, as well as in the below-grade gallery, are reflected in a prominent stair banister, which Hannigan said was initially slated for a cherry stain. “We saw the flooring and just had to do (the banister) the same way,” she said, referencing warmth and color.

In the dining room, the homeowner’s collection of Sprig China redolent of Jefferson's at Monticello features green sprigs with blue and a smidge of red in the center of its flowers. Enamored of the pattern, Hannigan recreated the sprig element in a band that encircles the room on the white oak flooring. A mahogany Sheridan-to-Empire period banquet table with twisted legs circa 1830 creates the right foundation for the china.

According to Callison, while an elevator was installed that traverses all four levels, the robust stair was designed to descend from the main living space up to the master suite and down to the gallery level, bathed in considerable light from a bank of windows. To maintain the profusion of sunlight in the subterranean environment, a large 12-by-16-foot well redolent of a patio courts light inside. Because its walls are high, Hannigan created a custom covering and uses the illuminated well space as an additional room.

Dreams, drawer pulls and dormers

In the 18-by-18-foot third level master bedroom, a painted wicker headboard, club chair, country sofa table, Sheridan period birds eye maple chest and shutters create a comfortable oasis. His and hers master baths include elements such as limestone flooring, limestone wainscoting and glass shower stalls, and in her bath a vaulted ceiling crowns a generous oval-top mirror created by architect Callison, who is also a furniture designer.

Though not officially part of the addition, walls for what was formerly a utilitarian kitchen were bumped out two feet, and Montgomery Kitchen and Bath was called in to partner in Callison’s warm country kitchen-style transformation. Punctuated by soft, recessed lighting, pendant lights, strong molding and fine design details such as drawer pulls in the form of clock faces, a decorative laser-carved tile element behind the stove was created by Bethesda’s Bartley Tile Concepts.

Mentored and employed for 23 years by visionary James Rouse who’d created Columbia, Maryland, later on under the auspices of Federal Realty Investment Trust John Hannigan helped build California’s toney Santana Row and also Bethesda Row. His new home office sits atop the addition in what is considered the fourth — or extended attic — level. Its three classical but buoyant dormers afford him a handy view from the top, both literally and figuratively.

“They almost doubled the size of the existing home to 5,382 s.f. with the new addition,” said Callison, who’d previously undertaken a 20-year transformation of his own Chevy Chase residence. “They ended up with a brand new house.”

Photo credit: Rey Lopez

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