A search for a ‘timeless’ contemporary house led to Bethesda’s Drumaldry neighborhood
September 28 2018 at 5:30 AM
Helen Hopkins and her husband enjoyed living in Bethesda, but their home did not suit their tastes. They wanted a house with what Hopkins described as a “timeless, California-style design.” Then, in 2006, they came across this one in the Drumaldry neighborhood.
“My husband and I are both very interested in design, even though neither of us is in the design field,” Hopkins said. Drumaldry is “the intersection of the privacy, the contemporary look and the convenience of Bethesda. There was nothing else like it.”
Drumaldry, part of the Courts of Wyngate subdivision, has 104 contemporary houses designed by architect Nicholas A. Pappas in the early 1970s. The homes have vaulted redwood ceilings, open-floor plans and large panes of glass to allow abundant natural light throughout the space. Tall brick walls separate the backyards and offer privacy.
Distinguished homes for sale in the D.C. region
“When we opened the door to this home, we said it needs a lot of work, but the bones of the house, the architecture was so stunning,” Hopkins said. “Our goal in changing the house was to retain the architectural elements of the contemporary vision but to also warm it and make it really inviting, make it a home.”
The spent hours researching what to do with the space and sourcing materials. They hadn’t renovated a house before, but that didn’t deter them.
“You learn things as you’re going through the process, and that opens up another chapter,” Hopkins said. “It evolves. It’s like a living thing.”
The 1973 home is a split foyer with the main living areas on the lower level and the bedrooms on the upper levels. They opened up the lower level to create a better flow and moved the dining room from one end of the house to the other. The kitchen gained a 22-foot, two-tiered island with a Roman gold granite countertop.
“My husband was an amateur chef,” Hopkins said. “He just kept saying, ‘We need another foot. We need another foot.’ Before we knew it, it had extended.”
They added unusual touches throughout the home, such as the etched glass counter and sink that floats above the master bathroom vanity. They also kept many of the original features in the home, such as the redwood planks on the living room and master bedroom ceilings.
Bold hues — a saffron accent wall and cobalt blue cabinetry — complement the lines and textures of the contemporary design.
“We wanted to introduce the element of color,” Hopkins said. “It really gives you a jolt. It’s not a boring beige.”
They didn’t limit their renovation to the interior. They also created a terraced backyard with a serpentine flagstone wall that winds from one end to the other. Boulders were added to create the look of a dry creek bed.
The four-bedroom, three-bathroom 2,258-square-foot house is listed at $899,000. The monthly homeowners association fees are $125.
Listing: 6204 Swords Way, Bethesda, Md.
Listing agent: Dana Scanlon, Keller Williams Capital Properties
From big yards to new homes, the Bethesda area has neighborhoods for every preference
NEIGHBORHOODS WITH CONTEMPORARY HOMES
Homes built in the ’70s often don’t receive much attention. That’s a shame when it comes to Drumaldry, a unique neighborhood of 104 homes with wood siding and shake-shingle roofs near Wyngate in Bethesda. Architect Nicholas A. Pappas designed Drumaldry homes in the California style in the early 1970s, using lots of glass and clean lines. “People are looking for simpler and cleaner,” says Andy Coelho, an architect who lives in Drumaldry. “Modern houses have that look. I think it’s getting more and more popular.” The houses are close together, but each has a brick fence for privacy. Pin oaks planted throughout the neighborhood create a sense of unity. Walking paths connect to nearby neighborhoods. “It was such an intentional design for the way people live,” says Barbara Nalls, a real estate agent who lives there. “I don’t know why people don’t appreciate that more.” Inside, houses have high ceilings, lots of windows and open floor plans. “All of that gives a real sense of space and light that belies the size of the house,” Nalls says.
When people think about architecture around Washington, D.C., “they think colonial,” says real estate agent Michael Shapiro. “What I try to tell people is there’s actually a lot of midcentury houses here.” Wander through Mohican Hills, about a mile and a half from Glen Echo, and you’ll find lots of angular modern homes with big windows and gently sloping roofs tucked amid the trees and hillsides. “What people were doing in Mohican Hills was ahead of its time,” Shapiro says. “Architects built these houses with a lot of glass and set them into the landscape to connect the indoors and outdoors.” Winding streets curve past wooded lots where the low-slung houses look out over forested hills. Some of those midcentury modern houses have been replaced by a mix of architectural designs, but many remain in place, preserved in all their Mad Men style, and finding new generations of admirers.
When the construction company Matthews-Schwartz teamed up with modern architect Eason Cross to build Bradley Park in Bethesda in 1966, they faced a challenge. As in the group’s other neighborhoods, Mohican Hills and Wynkoop, the rolling landscape made it difficult to find places suitable for construction. “But they were known for designing houses on properties that had been considered challenging,” says Clare Lise Kelly, a preservation planner and architectural historian with the Montgomery County Planning Department. The work of the designer and builders paid off: Cross won the 1967 Best Residential Design award from the American Institute of Architects and House & Home. Some of the original houses have been torn down and replaced, but many are still there: boxy homes with big eaves, balconies and lots of glass, surrounded by hills and trees. As these homes turn 50, they’re just starting to be seen for their historic value, says Kelly, who recently wrote Montgomery Modern, a book examining buildings like these. “They’re distinctly designed houses,” Kelly says. “When you’re looking out through those big windows, it feels like nature is coming into your living space.”
“Where We Live”
Bethesda Enclave Built for Gardeners, Social Butterflies
By Ann Cameron Siegal
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 26, 2008
In 2001, Paul and Laurie Wilner left what they described as a “typical Colonial on three-quarters of an acre near Great Falls” for a community of 104 contemporary houses without lawns or basements two miles from downtown Bethesda.
Drumaldry, one of several spellings for the Scots-Gaelic expression meaning “elder’s ridge,” was built in the 1970s. The three- and four-bedroom houses have stained cedar siding and cedar shake shingles. Each is surrounded by six-foot-high brick walls. Individual gates lead to cozy outdoor courtyards. Doorways open to bright, angular multilevel interiors.
“It reminded me of something you’d find in Florida or California,” Laurie Wilner said. “It’s not a gated community, but it has that enclave feeling.”
Leni Preston, a five-year resident who serves on the community’s architectural committee, said Drumaldry’s designer, Nicholas A. Pappas, was a contemporary of her father, Grosvenor Chapman, a local architect and historic preservationist.
Preston said Pappas, who later served as an architect for Colonial Williamsburg before retiring to Florida, told her he was inspired by an inner sense, not by California modern.
Each house has a two-car garage, with the space in one model so large that it was described in the community’s original brochure as big enough for five Volkswagens. Some houses have two-story fireplaces. Some have sunken courtyards. Most have several vaulted ceilings; usually one is redwood.
A subdued color palette of natural hues has developed over time. “One of the original exterior colors included purple,” Wilner said, “but no longer.”
The homeowners association is wrestling with the challenge of preserving architectural integrity while allowing for current technologies that would be less costly and demand less maintenance, she said.
The courtyards within showcase the creativity of residents who enhance these small private spaces. Japanese gardens, fishponds, fountains, hammocks and swimming pools are tucked away, out of sight.
Behind the solid gate at Doni and Phil Schambra’s house, there is a plethora of greenery and seasonal color hugging a meandering brick garden walkway. A wall of Leyland cypress softens the brick backdrop to the pool and patio. Japanese maples and weeping cherries dot other courtyards.
A dainty decorative iron gate gives a glimpse into the terraced garden Jacqueline Milne is fine-tuning. She and her husband, both scientists at the National Institutes of Health, bought their Drumaldry house sight unseen in 2000 while they were living overseas, largely because it was within walking distance of their labs.
To Milne, the walls create a setting much like the classic English gardens back home. “From every window, you can look out on a garden,” she said. She recalled a favorite book, “The Jewel Box Garden,” by Thomas Hobbs.
“It looks like that — a little jewel box. The brick walls make beautiful backdrops.”
Milne’s family entertains often, finding that the space inside and out allows for an efficient flow, even with 50 or 60 guests.
Jay Schneider, an avid gardener and a resident for eight years, said: “Gardening is not about mowing lawns. It’s about planting different flowering shrubs and vegetables. . . . We liked having a confined space. When houses are this close together, if you didn’t have walls, you’d be looking in each other’s windows.”
Actually, Drumaldry’s houses are situated so that it takes some effort to look into neighbors’ windows or even their enclosed yards. Many residents eschew curtains, preferring instead to let light and greenery show through.
Schneider said he doesn’t see the walls as limiting interaction with neighbors. Each street ends in a cul-de-sac, so “kids are outside skating and riding bikes,” he said. And he noted, “Most places in the suburbs, even if they have front porches, are not really front-porch communities.”
Carrie Mann, a real estate agent who lives in the community, said, “If you want to be social, there’s plenty of opportunity.”
Dogs and children are the catalysts that often get neighbors meeting neighbors, said Wilner, a former Drumaldry association president who now leads the social committee.
“It’s an incredible walking community,” she said. Paths within Drumaldry provide access to Wyngate Elementary and North Bethesda Middle School, so children can avoid walking on any main streets.
Wilner describes Drumaldry’s age mix as “a cadre of original owners and families with little kids — people in their 80s and those with infants.” She said, “We don’t split upon those lines, though.” She noted that more than half of the folks who show up at Drumaldry events do not have young children.
Drumaldry’s original floor plans have been altered considerably over the years. The most popular renovations involve opening the interior more than originally designed.
Stuart Miller and Helen Hopkins moved in last July after removing walls to combine a family room, dining room and kitchen. They now have a 22-foot-long, granite-topped center island. The house is smaller than their previous one but makes “better use of space,” he said.
For Phil Schambra, the best use of space is in the proximity of a first-floor master bedroom suite to his backyard pool, only steps away, out of the neighbors’ view. Roll out of bed in the morning, swim a few laps, then enjoy a cup of coffee on the patio, all before setting foot in the rest of the house.
Wilner said, “Drumaldry is so strikingly different, and the difference is kind of fun.”
At the same time, one resident noted, Drumaldry can produce a real sense of isolation because “you can’t watch the passing parade.” King agreed, pointing out that it can be hard to get to know neighbors.
Even outside the walls, it’s easy to see one other distinction of the neighborhood: the California contemporary style of the houses. All have cedar siding with redwood trim, with stain chosen from a palette of muted colors specified by the homeowners association. Roofs are cedar shakes. Any siding or roofing replacements must fit the original material specifications.
The style was exactly what Kaufman and his wife, Dilys Parry, were looking for. “We wanted a contemporary home, more open,” Kaufman said. “And we wanted a garden.” When they saw the house in Drumaldry, they immediately felt sure it would meet their requirements.
Since buying their house, the couple has put on two additions, both designed to permit expanded views of their property. “The outside is part of the living space,” just as the developer intended, Kaufman said.
“The layout is very creative,” a resident said. “Depending on what you do with it, you can make it different. In ours, every room can have the sense of being outdoors. Every room has a beautiful view.”
On the other hand, some long-time residents said that Drumaldry’s houses may not have appreciated in value to the extent houses in many other neighborhoods have, precisely because of their modern style. “Washington” equals “colonial,” they said, and modern simply won’t sell for as much.
Even 30 years ago, the developer, Miller and Smith, was well aware of the area’s taste for the traditional style, but the company favors smaller “niche” markets; a contemporary-style subdivision was one such opportunity. Drumaldry was Miller and Smith’s fourth project–single-family homes on lots averaging 6,000 square feet.
The idea was that large windows would make the outdoors into part of the living space, said the company’s president, Alvin D. Hall. That kind of exposure meant there had to be walls around each property for privacy.
But the brick walls did more: They “gave the community unity,” Hall said. “Other places, you see different kinds of fences right up next to each other.” The walls also would provide for private gardens and secure yards for children to play in.
Five models were designed to fit the sloping terrain, Hall said. In fact, Drumaldry got its name from the site’s topography: It was derived from the Celtic word drum, meaning knoll or hill. The developer opened the neighborhood in 1970 and finished delivery of houses three years later. Most of the houses sold for $57,000 to $63,000, Hall said, although the last unit sold for about $90,000. These days they sell for $375,000 and up.
“There’s nothing else like it in Montgomery County,” said Susan Schuck of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. The houses are “well planned not to look into a neighbor’s yard,” even from over a wall. Son and colleague Steve Schuck noted that few other subdivisions below $400,000 offer contemporary design and a garage on the main level. “To get that, you will do a lot better in the $500,000 to $600,000 range,” he said.
In addition to the purchase price, owners pay $430 annually to the homeowners association. Much of the money goes to maintenance of the common areas. Landscaping contractors mow the areas and the grass in front of walls; residents who don’t want that service put reflectors out. Flower beds maintained by King and her landscape committee brighten street corners.
Although she takes pleasure in working with flowers, King made sure her back yard, like many others in the neighborhood, was low maintenance. After one year of cutting grass, she substituted a terrace and gravel, and gave away her lawn mower.
Swimming pools, oriental gardens and ponds dominate many residents’ yards. In fact, Miller and Smith offered a pool as an option to new home buyers.
Kaufman and Parry also love their garden. In fact, they joke that that’s where they spend the energy they save not running up and down stairs because of the design of their house. Even though Drumaldry’s houses are multi-level, their home’s master bedroom, kitchen, living room and recreation room all are on one level.
With all the time he and his wife spend outside, Kaufman has noticed that the area attracts a lot of birds and animals. “It’s like a menagerie around here during the day,” he said.
Kaufman and Parry have seen a pileated woodpecker, the inspiration for Woody Woodpecker, which Kaufman said is uncommon in residential areas. The bird makes a weird sound, announcing its presence, then goes about its business pounding on a tree trunk. The couple also reported seeing a hawk every fall. This year a mother rabbit kept her babies nearby, and Parry rescued one she found stranded on a lily pad in their pond.
Rabbits and hawks are not what most people think of as among the advantages of living in Bethesda, however. More often the location itself comes to mind. Ron Marshall calls his neighborhood the best located in the area. It’s close to downtown Bethesda, Rockville Pike and Tysons Corner (“I can get there quicker than to White Flint,” he said), and access to the Beltway is easy. He, wife Charlie and family used to live in Takoma Park, and it’s quick to get there too, he added.
One recent arrival from Gaithersburg came to Drumaldry looking for a combination of life closer to the city yet without street noise: “There was the challenge,” she said. During the house hunt, “we would drive to beautiful homes in Potomac, roll down the car windows and hear noise from the Beltway. We wouldn’t even get out of the car.”
The park-like grounds and cul-de-sacs of Drumaldry proved to be the answer.
Let us know about your little corner of ever-greater Washington and maybe we’ll tell everyone. Write to Where We Live, Washington Post Real Estate Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
BOUNDARIES: Greentree Road and the Baptist Home for Children and Families to the south and southeast, the new North Bethesda Middle School to the east, Swords Way to the north, and Drumaldry cul-de-sacs to the west.
NUMBER OF HOUSES: 104 single-family homes (4 BR/2 1/2 BA), three of which have sold this year for $375,000 to $385,000; one house on the market now
SCHOOLS: Wyngate Elementary, North Bethesda Middle, Walter Johnson High schools
WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: National Institutes of Health, National Naval Medical Center
WITHIN 10 MINUTES BY CAR: White Flint mall, downtown Bethesda, Davis Library, Montgomery Mall, Suburban Hospital, Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway