A suburban home’s top-to-bottom remodel creates plenty of room for entertaining and for little ones
Looking around at their modern townhome, Chris and Richard Cahill realized that the harsh contemporary edges of stone, steel, cable and glass would not be ideal for a baby on the way. “It would have cost us $30,000 to baby-proof,” Chris says.
Besides wanting something kid-friendly, the couple needed to be able to accommodate up to 250 people for the annual fundraisers that they hold. They found an ideal Georgian-style 1962 home in a Northwest D.C. suburb and set out on a one-year renovation project helmed by Chris, a landscape architect and owner of Botanical Decorators who also has his own design-build firm. After knocking down walls, removing tons of dirt and rock from the backyard, and putting in a catering kitchen in the basement, the family has transitioned to their new lifestyle.
Who lives here: Chris and Richard Cahill; their 1-year-old daughter, Logan; dogs Pugsley and Molly
Location: Northwest Washington, D.C.
Size: 4,200 square feet; 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms
One of the most important spaces is their outdoor living room, often the hub of entertainment.
All of the exterior furniture is Kingsley-Bate with custom Sunbrella fabrics. Each of the colors ties into the color scheme of one of the interior rooms that opens to the terrace. The brown-gray cushions match the walls of the family room. The sage green cushions match the drapes in the informal dining room, and the yellow ceramic Asian stool purchased at an auction brings in the gold from the living room drapes.
The stone used in the terrace is Carter rock quarried less than two miles from the house.
Outdoor furniture: Kingsley-Bate
Large double French doors open from each room along the back of the house; the sunroom, family room and living room (not pictured), emphasize the ease of indoor-outdoor flow.
With the large stone fireplace and help from portable heaters, the couple turned this East Coast backyard into a three-season living space.
To build the backyard, the couple removed more than 65 tons of dirt and rock, then brought in more than 100 tons. Because the area slopes both in front and back, the conditions made it impossible for a tractor to access, so all of the work was done by wheelbarrow.
What’s more, they had to move a retaining wall back 8 feet from its original location. “You used to look out the back windows and see a wall almost in front of your face,” Richard says. Staggered terraces now soften the look of the stone wall with small gardens while a water fountain adds to the outdoor ambience. The gardens, backyard terraces, outdoor living space and fireplace cost about $300,000 in materials and labor.
The sunroom, or informal dining room, is a perfect example of how the couple prioritized indoor-outdoor flow in the renovation. A wall that previously included a chimney was removed to install this wall of glass. “This room previously had no relationship to the garden,” says Chris.
The couple purchased the mirror at the Georgetown flea market; it’s made from vintage metal cornices taken from old buildings in the city. The artist puts original photos of the buildings on the back of every mirror. The cabinet, made in Indonesia, was purchased on One Kings Lane for $780.
Wide openings define the layout of the home, as seen by this view of the sunroom across the reflective surface of the kitchen island. Chris says redoing this space, including the demolition and rebuild, cost $60,000.
A tall kitchen cabinet conceals the refrigerator, freezer and produce drawers below; there’s also a drawer for wine and beer at the end of the kitchen island.
All of the refrigerator components are from the Sub Zero 700 series, one of the few lines that is 100 percent integrated. Chris had the custom cabinetry fabricated in one of his shops.
The island features a custom walnut countertop built in Chris’ cabinet shop.
The wall separating the kitchen and family room was originally load-bearing and contained plumbing and utilities. Chris decided that having good flow between the rooms was worth the additional $38,000 to open the wall, move all of the utilities and add structural beams to support the load. Creating a wide opening was important for visually opening the space between the rooms and allowing the circulation that defines their home.
With their expanding family in mind, Chris notes that the family room furniture is all relatively stain resistant, even the custom horse hair hassock from Domain Furniture.
A tilt-top gaming table from the early 1800s is the focal point at one end of the living room. The double French doors to the right open to the terrace.
Two pieces of art create the focal point in the formal living room: a realist painting, titled “The Flight to Heaven” by Toni Chimento, above the gas fireplace and an original Dale Chihuly bowl purchased at Chihuly’s Seattle studio in the 1980s.
After Chris purchased the bowl, his previous boyfriend used it to serve salad until someone pointed out that they were eating from a national treasure.
The choice of black walls in the living room allows the art and decor to burst forth. “You can only do this in a room that has large windows and grand scale moldings,” Chris says. This color was a repeated choice from a home he had in Baltimore 18 years ago where the black walls became a default by accident after the painter tried six times to create a special salmon color.
The credenza was passed down through Chris’ family.
Walls: Black, Benjamin Moore
Chairs: Lee Industries with a custom fabric; side table: Rams Head Gueridon table Brass and Marble, Hollis and Knight, Kensington, Maryland; antique walnut stand: Hollis and Knight; drapes: Corbin Volk Interiors
As in a more traditional home, formal spaces are to the front of the house and the entry hall opens to this wallpapered formal dining room; the corner door opens to the kitchen. Seen in the entry is an antique Italian commode, circa 1790, that is the most expensive piece that Chris purchased for this house. A savvy seller convinced him that because this is the first thing one sees on entering, it gives the “right” first impression.
In a stroke of luck, the couple discovered the silver-plated side chairs at an antique shop on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that was going out of business. Assuming they would be able to find more online, their search only brought up pieces that were similar but more Indian-inspired. Eventually they filled out their antique ebony table with two upholstered captain’s chairs for the heads of the table and six black lucite chairs that add to the room’s gleaming surfaces.
An artist named Jni Jocks did the silver leaf on the ceiling, which was a bit too shiny at first until she added a chocolate glaze.
The second story main bedroom’s furnishings are from the couple’s previous contemporary home. Above the bed, a series of 1920s pre-war botanical prints were taken from the book Art Forms in Nature by Karl Blossfeldt.
The large main bath includes double vanities, a soaking tub, a large walk-in shower to the left of the tub, and an alcove for the toilet.
“As two gay men having a girl, we wanted to set a very festive yet gender-neutral room, knowing that this would be the nursery for our second child as well,” Chris says. (They are planning for a second child soon.)
For the bedding and pillows in the nursery, the couple found a custom sewing vendor on Etsy. The art above the crib is made from leftover pieces of fabric from those projects.
Along with the daybed, a vintage Mies van der Rohe Pavilion chair gives a comfortable place to sit when reading bedtime stories.
Giraffes and a toddler-size toilet customize this bathroom.
Artist Jni Jocks, who did the silver leaf in the dining room, also painted the motifs in the nursery and nursery bathroom.
A custom catering kitchen in the basement is devoted to the couple’s large social events, held at least once a month and more during the holidays.
A composite countertop complements the GE appliances and the cabinets, which are a production line glazed to look custom.
The couple does a lot of entertaining at home, so this basement room, close to the catering kitchen, can easily be converted to a banquet room capable of holding 50 people for a sit-down dinner.
Custom made in Milan, the leather sectional has a sleeper sofa with memory foam mattress. The sculptural forms on the coffee table are old hat displays dating from the 1960s from the women’s haberdashery Woodward & Lothrop, also known as Woodies, in D.C.
Chair: modern copy of a Mies van der Rohe Pavilion chair; sofa: custom built; coffee table: The Adore, D.C.
“This is a very flexible space going from media room to large-scale dinner parties to, most importantly, a great family space,” says Chris. Redoing the basement — including the catering kitchen, the foyer and the playroom/entertainment room — as well as creating larger stone window wells for the larger windows in the entertainment room cost $162,000.
A remote-controlled gas fireplace adds a warming element on winter days, and the porcelain floors on this level are also heated.
The painting on the wall is by Chris’ brother, Kevin Cahill.
Called “The Pairing” or the “Tree of Life,” it represents the relationship between Richard and Chris, which Chris says is “the merging of two very different worlds to make a perfect union.”
This view from the upper terrace shows the back of the house.
On the upper terrace is an entirely different level of gardens with a couple of adirondack chairs for seating and a large hammock slung between a pair of large trees —the perfect place to read on a lazy summer day.
All of the front windows were replaced, and operational shutters — milled from mahogany that should last 50 years — were added to the front facade. The shutters cost $9,800.
Chris Cahill, the owner and designer for every aspect of his house and grounds, sits with Pugsley in what he says is his “favorite room and the most used space in the house.”