Whole house: Going down to the studs allows rewiring for lighting, sound and security systems

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Sometimes older houses need more than just remodeling. They need a new vision for dark interiors, awkward spaces and outdated features. This home, owned by broadcaster Edward R. Murrow from 1946 to 1964, had become the "ugly dog of the neighborhood," homeowner Skip Sroka says. While association with Murrow gave the house importance, the structure lacked architectural significance.

April 01, 2004

Sometimes older houses need more than just remodeling. They need a new vision for dark interiors, awkward spaces and outdated features. This home, owned by broadcaster Edward R. Murrow from 1946 to 1964, had become the "ugly dog of the neighborhood," homeowner Skip Sroka says. While association with Murrow gave the house importance, the structure lacked architectural significance. "There was nothing historical to retain," says Sroka, who did the interior design on this project.

Most of the house was gutted to the interior framing with the idea of "keeping some of the original character of the house and bringing it up to modern-day terms," remodeler Chris Corcoran says. It was a radical but necessary step, he explains, because gutting enabled subcontractors to rewire and replumb to update electrical and plumbing systems and add security and sound systems. Wiring was updated to 400-amp service, and "everything was brought up to code and today's standards," Corcoran says. For instance, most of the rooms had contained only one wall outlet for electricity. The new whole-house sound system includes flush speakers in the ceilings throughout the house — even in the shower.

The only original spaces retained were the garage, a powder room, a secondary bedroom and part of the dining room. Other areas were reconfigured; for example, the existing kitchen was transformed into a butler's pantry. And some architectural elements were mirrored; for example, a second gable was added to the front elevation. Altogether, the house grew from 4,800 square feet to 6,500.

Corcoran Builders demolished a small porch on the front of the house and replaced it with a two-story addition that added symmetry to the front elevation and increased interior space. To bring light inside, workers boxed out windows on the front elevation, opened the front stairwell and installed four skylights in the light well above the entry. A third-floor dormer addition increased light and extended a guest bedroom, a bath and office space.

"The entire center of the house is always lit in daylight," Sroka says. "It really opened up space in the center of the house." In addition, the new wiring allowed a more creative lighting design that includes wall sconces, recessed lighting and track lighting. "Small halogen lighting was used to keep the ceiling from looking like Swiss cheese," says Sroka, who developed the interior lighting plan.

Corcoran describes the original home as "closed in and sectioned off, with cramped hallways and 8-foot ceilings." Now, the light well in the foyer has an 18-foot ceiling, the master bathroom ceiling is about 12 feet tall with a barrel vault over the whirlpool tub, and the kitchen ceiling is vaulted approximately 14 feet at center. "The entire job was stick-framed, and in the case of the bath and light well, structural members were installed to create the desired effect," Corcoran says. Structural modifications also allowed expansion of interior hallways and room entrances.

Working with an older home always brings surprises. Some structural elements were found to be inadequate and required shoring, Corcoran says. For example, headers discovered along structural walls were insufficient to carry even existing loads. Also, "the existing roof structure was inadequate to support many of the new elements we wanted to introduce," Corcoran says. He installed laminated veneer lumber beams, paralam structural posts and, to accommodate new construction, new footings. "The entire basement was gutted to accommodate the new configuration, lighting plan and a new full bath," Corcoran says.

The 12-month transformation, including construction, hardscaping and landscaping, cost approximately $700,000.

Air conditioning:Ruud JanitrolAppliances: Bosch, Jenn-Air, Sub-Zero, Thermador Doors, windows: Crestline, Vetter Fixtures:Grohe, Kohler Garage door:Clopay Housewrap:DuPont Tyvek Insulation: Owens Corning Lighting:Lightolier, Progress Locksets:Emtek Paints/stains: Benjamin Moore Roofing: CertainTeed Security system: Honeywell Siding: Alside Sinks: Elkay, Kohler Tile: Dal-Tile Water heater: A.O. Smith

Remodeler: Corcoran Builders Inc., Rockville, Md.

Architect: Manion & Coratola Architects, Bethesda, Md.

Interior designer: Sroka Design Inc., Bethesda

Project location: Washington

Age of home: 62 years

Scope of project: two-story front addition with exercise room, library, master suite, laundry room and new entry; third-floor dormer addition in rear with guest room, bath, office suite and storage; kitchen addition; window, door and molding replacement

Best of the Northeast Award

Silver Award: Whole house over $250,000

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