Alex and Karin Hodjatzadeh did not need another house. They owned a perfectly fine Colonial-style home in Rockville, Maryland that they bought from Alex’s father. They’d lived in it for 20 years and remodelled it, but something was missing.
They pored over listings looking for a new abode that would meet their desires to live in something more modern.
Karin, 46, who serves as the CEO of the household, says: “We were always interested in midcentury, so we looked and looked. This one had so much charm, it had the bones, the trees, and the neighbourhood.”
The Hodjatzadehs grew up in Austria, where Alex’s father was an architect. The family, which now includes two daughters, walked through the house on a Saturday in February 2013 after seeing it in a listing and made a full price offer the next day, which was Super Bowl Sunday.
Second thoughts immediately began haunting the deal. Karin’s parents referred to the 2,800-square-foot, two-level home, which is also in Rockville, as “a witch house.” There was no garage, no central air, an untamed garden out front and a major design flaw as soon as you walked in.
“When you opened the front door, you were almost falling down the basement steps,” says Architect Damian Trostinetzky, a principal at RT Studio in Bethesda, Maryland, who met the family by way of his daughter going to the same school as the clients’ daughter. Trostinetzky and his partner Gadi Romem tend to specialise in midcentury makeovers.
The family knew they would be remodelling when they bought it, but the good news was the previous owner had updated the kitchen in 1998. The previous owner had also planned further improvements and had commissioned drawings that conveyed with the sale. Alex noodled on the drawings, hired another architect for a consult but then fired him after meeting Trostinetzky and walking through the designer’s own remodelled midcentury home.
“What we saw in Damian’s house was his vision in how he was able to preserve a rambler and convert it into a beautiful modern, practical livable space, which is exactly what we were looking for,” Alex says.
-The midcentury modern period lasted from the early 1930s through the mid-1950s. The movement gave us Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. It also left us with small bedrooms and baths, tiny closets and fixed glass panels instead of functional windows.
The Hodjatzadehs, who had moved from a large Colonial with a full basement, now found themselves renting storage space and having their cars bombarded by walnut trees hanging over the driveway. “I told Damian, ‘I want a garage, a dining room and more storage,’ “ Alex, 46, says.
The architect said he initially was hesitant about the project. “Usually if a client says, ‘I need more storage and a garage,’ I’m not taking the job,” Trostinetzky says. “But we saw the possibilities and I thought I could do more than a garage and storage. They bought into it, so it was good.”
Trostinetzky came up with a scheme that expanded the house by adding the requested dining room and a large coat closet off the front entrance that also pulled the front door away from the basement steps.
The house sits on a hilly, odd-shaped lot, which forced the garage to the back of the house with a new driveway connecting to a different street than the one the house faces. Alex did his homework by making sure he could get an easement for the new driveway before closing the deal.
Even though a new master suite was not on the wish list, the architect proposed one that would sit on top of the garage but angled to add interest. A corridor would connect the new master suite and garage to the original house. Butterfly-style roofs would shelter the new sections of the house, a homage to midcentury design.
The homeowners signed off on the plans and then revealed that Alex intended to serve as the project’s general contractor, a path that can be fraught with peril. “I’ve done it before – I did it on the other house – so I had the experience,” Alex says. “There was no way I was giving this to a GC [general contractor]; I didn’t trust anybody else. The design was too intricate. Anytime I showed the drawing to anybody they got scared.”
Even though Alex had studied architecture in college and grew up with a father who could design and build, he was also working full time as the senior director of finance for Time Warner Cable. But he did have a plan. “I was able to work from home for a good chunk of that time,” he says. “The most important part is to stay organised. I would get up 5 and make a punch list, then make all my calls between 6am and 8am, then update the list every day.”
Amateur GCs are at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring subcontractors because they don’t know the building business and they are hiring for only a one-off project as opposed to a builder with several projects going.
Alex hedged his bets. “I talked to between 100 and 150 contractors. Of those, I interviewed 80 to 90 sub-contractors on site, so I had a number one pick, a number two and a number three in case one of them dropped out.”
Clearly, the plan worked, as the project was complete in less than six months.
To make room for the new entryway, trees were cleared. A new wall was built with functional windows illuminating the dining room. Alex found a flooring contractor who was able to match and seam in new flooring with the existing white oak.
Although the kitchen was completely functional, the team refaced the red brick fireplace with dry stacked stone and moved one bank of the cherry cabinets to improve flow in the center of the room.
The added corridor leads to the now spacious master suite complete with a walk-in closet.
The new master bath was rendered from neutral colors and a pleasing puzzle of geometric shapes. All the fixtures and finishes came from Porcelanosa. The tub is a freestanding soaker style with a separate shower.
A leftover frosted glass panel from the project was used to create a half wall around the toilet. To configure the vanity the way they wanted it, the design team combined a double vanity with a single unit and tied them together with a custom countertop. All of the surfaces in the bath are made from Krion, a nonporous, solid surface that feels like natural stone. A dark accent wall of dry stacked, brushed black limestone anchors the space and provides privacy.
The exterior of the house looks different depending on where you are viewing it from and uses a mix of materials to conceal the renovation. The house was originally sheathed with T1-11, a grooved plywood that was especially popular in midcentury designs. The home’s new skin includes an aesthetically pleasing mix of cement board, stucco, stacked stone, natural finished wood siding and brick.
For the garage, Alex took note of some frosted glass paneled doors at a BMW dealership and mimicked the design. The frames of the panels echo the trim colors on the house.
Alex piloted a Bobcat and a backhoe while overseeing the family’s dream project and cites the excavation phase of the project to be the biggest challenge. He had to change the slope of the driveway on the fly, move a water line and had multiple discussions with the tub manufacturer.
Trostinetzky butted heads with the structural engineer on the project, who insisted on an expensive steel beam structure over the garage to support the master suite.
Alex declined to disclose the budget for the project, but says: “If I sold it, I would make out like a bandit. I could easily double my money, but it would take a unique buyer; it’s not for everybody.”