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This Split Level Home Got a Major Midcentury Makeover

Maryland homeowners turned to Colleen Healey Architecture to transform their dated fixer-upper into a modern marvel filled with natural light and midcentury touches.

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Photo: Brian Wetzel

See How a Split-Level Fixer-Upper Is Transformed Into a Modern Marvel

Sasha and Shay Knaani wanted a modern home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC, for their growing family. But after finding move-in-ready homes beyond their budget, they switched gears. Instead they found a midcentury, split-level fixer-upper and hired architect Colleen Healey to create their dream home: the Clerestory House.

For Sasha, that meant as much open space and light as possible; for Shay, that included a two-car garage. Colleen delivered all this and more in the gut renovation by removing the roof, opening up walls and adding about 1,000 square feet in additions. There were some challenges along the way, from the original kitchen designer going out of business to the cars not initially fitting into the garage, but these hiccups are now happily behind the family.

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Photo: Brian Wetzel

The Trick for Maintaining Privacy While Letting the Light Flow In

Since the front faces a busy road, Colleen had the challenge of maximizing light while maintaining privacy. "My very first instinct from the beginning was that we have to take this roof off and bring some light into [the space]. And with the budget that they were working with, we really needed to preserve the majority of the original house and keep its brick structure," Colleen explains about the clerestory-style windows, earning the house its nickname.

Sasha adds, "We wanted to make a statement, but without too much going on." That included a black-and-white color scheme, clean lines and natural materials. Shay is Israeli, and the couple cited Israeli architecture as a large influence. Sasha compares it to California beach style. "We just didn't want a modern box," she says. Otherwise, they gave Colleen free reign to execute their vision. The end result is five bedrooms and five bathrooms, with a new kitchen addition on the right and garage addition with two bedrooms and baths over it on the left.

For a dramatic entrance, this view of the backyard is actually viewed through the primary bedroom.

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Photo: Brian Wetzel

Making it Midcentury Modern, With Some Fresh Twists

This angle reveals how adding the clerestory windows and roof raised the ceiling height from 8 feet to 15 feet. Meanwhile, a skylight (one of six in the home) fulfills Sasha's request for ample light. "I told [Colleen] anywhere you can put a skylight, put a skylight," Sasha says.

Though not original to the house, Colleen added brick in the entranceway for an added midcentury element and had it painted black to match the outside. "I really wanted to incorporate this very dramatic sort of indoor/outdoor feel," Colleen notes. (The exterior brick is original, but stained black for dramatic effect.)

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Photo: Brian Wetzel

The Transformative Nature of Light

Sasha knew from the beginning that she wanted clean lines throughout, "so you feel like you can breathe inside the house and relax," she explains. The clean lines offer the added benefit of showcasing the natural sunlight. Sasha was also intentional about adding small lights to illuminate the artwork at night.

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