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New Beginnings: Model ReModel 2021

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New Beginnings: Model ReModel 2021

See how the owners of Synergy Design & Construction created a custom space with clever innovations.

By Barbara Ballinger December 16, 2021
model remodel home
model remodel home
This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2021 issue of Pro Remodeler.

Pro Remodeler’s 2021 Model ReModel home is a textbook example of staying on schedule through skillful project management.

Mark and Mina Fies were looking for a new beginning by buying a home after years of living in a rental apartment outside Washington, D.C. Because the couple founded their remodeling company, Synergy Design & Construction, in Reston, Va., in 2008, they thought the planned community would be an ideal place to live.

“We liked the idea of living close to our work, as well as Reston’s sense of community and energy,” says Mina, CEO. “But we needed to take our time to find the right house that we could remodel so it could be our forever home.”

The Home

The couple purchased a 1969-built, 2,500-square-foot mid-century modern home with a then-popular multilevel style across four floors. It backed up to a community trail, offering them bucolic charm.

Yet despite great bones, the interior layout, systems, appliances, exterior, and materials were all dated. The Fies were confident that a major overhaul could make it into a comfortable, contemporary home as well as a showplace for clients to see cutting-edge choices firsthand within a rejiggered open plan. Exterior changes required approval from Reston Association’s Design Review Board, which the couple had previously worked with for clients.

model remodel bathroom

To expand the primary bath size, Synergy took space from a dressing area. This resulted in a necessity for a new wall, which features additional insulation and drywall, helping with the room’s energy efficiency. Other finishes include a quarter sawn white oak vanity and concrete-look tiles. | Photo: Marty Shoup, Blue Lion Multimedia

But their real ace was 13 years of running their own firm, working on so many projects, and visiting showrooms kept them on top of trends and overcoming challenges.

“The business gave us the confidence to deal with problems that might arise during construction,” says Mark, COO.

And they did—some anticipated and some surprises—during the seven-month project. To start, the couple gave themselves a firm deadline so the house would be completed before the Reston Home Tour in October, which showcased their home and four others. Meeting that schedule meant fast-tracking their choices while also keeping client projects running smoothly. “The pressure meant we had to be extra nimble,” Mina says.  

remodeled home

The living room adjacent to the kitchen. The Fies removed the original fireplace here and opted to recess a Touchstone electric fireplace into the island to better fit their desired layout. | Photo: Marty Shoup, Blue Lion Multimedia

Determining the Big Picture

The couple knew they wanted the house to become a comfortable place to live and work. They also wanted a laboratory to demonstrate new products, materials, and ways to maximize space for clients. Some might not have the same wish list or resources, but homeowners could cherry-pick ideas they liked.

Three overarching concerns dominated. First, the Fies wanted to improve the home’s energy efficiency since it had been built in 1969, long before that was as critical. “Some rooms were too cold and some too warm. Many had the original insulation or none,” says Mark. Changes included an updated HVAC system, new insulation, windows, doors, appliances, subfloors, and LED lights.

interior drawer organizer

cabinet organizer

The Fies chose walnut cabinetry in the main kitchen from Cabico’s Unique series, which offers an array of interior storage options custom fit in the company’s factory and features low-VOC materials and an eco-friendly manufacturing process. | Photo: Marty Shoup, Blue Lion Multimedia

Because they consider this their forever home, the Fies included many universal design principles to make it easier to age in place. “We knew to shorten the distance between counters to save steps, have a plate drawer that we could open so we could lift them out easily rather than reach up to cabinets, and do the same with the microwave’s location,” says Mina. And even though they didn’t do everything during this remodel they might have wanted, the Fies knew they could make additional changes later, such as adding a chair lift to the staircase or converting a powder room to a full bath.

They also incorporated up-to-date technology, such as their chosen smart home system with lighting controls. Many of their appliances, such as the JennAir kitchen appliances, have Wi-Fi capability. When their laundry is done, an app lets them know rather than climbing stairs to check. They can tap another app to preheat an oven even when away from home.

Planning Seamless Spaces  

Each of the home’s four levels presented challenges of choppy layouts, awkwardly placed doors, and inefficient closets. A staircase connecting the levels detracted from the open look desired. They chose to reconfigure each level for different needs.

The lowest level became a wide-open entertaining zone after removing walls between the family room and kitchen, kitchen and dining area, and kitchen and breakfast area. A load-bearing flitch plate was installed to support this concept. In the family room, Synergy removed a dated fireplace to offer more seating and recessed a new Touchstone electric fireplace with wow appeal in a new large kitchen island. They moved laundry equipment from the breakfast room to the top bedroom level to minimize stair use.

With more seating in the family room, dining area, and the kitchen island, the Fies had little need for the breakfast area and turned it into an invaluable second kitchen, giving Mina and Mark separate workspaces. By doing so, they could also incorporate a wider range of equipment to demonstrate induction, gas, and electric cooking. Both areas have a sink.

remodeled kitchen

The kitchen serves as both a showroom for potential clients and the dream kitchen for both Mark and Mina. Polished, light-colored counters outlining the kitchen allow the matte gray showpiece kitchen island to further stand out. | Photo: Marty Shoup, Blue Lion Multimedia

To unify the spaces, they repeated the main kitchen’s walnut Cabico cabinets as floating shelves in the secondary space and installed geode-inspired, blue-green backsplash tiles in the main area that match the blue of the secondary kitchen’s cabinets. The flooring mimics wood but is a luxury vinyl plank, a practical choice for a high-traffic area built atop a concrete slab. The wood and blue-green color scheme reflect the belief that bringing in natural materials and colors buoy healthfulness.

On the main or second level, Synergy converted a living room, which they no longer needed, into a work-from-home office. In this space, they showed the value of having a multi-purpose room by concealing a meditation zone behind bookcases that open. They also turned a den/office into a storage area and separate mudroom, another popular feature that keeps messiness from the front entry.

On the next level, the primary suite gained a more appealing sitting room by refacing the fireplace with ProVia’s linear, modern PrecisionFit veneer in Onyx, and adding a minibar with floating shelves. The room opens through barn doors and has a floor of engineered wood, a choice made over hardwood since the boards can be wider and more stable. 

modern fireplace remodel

The fireplace in the Fies’ primary suite sitting area underwent a makeover guided by two desires: a modern look and a natural element. ProVia’s PrecisionFit manufactured stone in Onyx brought the outdoors in without the use of heavy stone and made installation seamless. | Photo: Marty Shoup, Blue Lion Multimedia

For their formerly cramped bathroom, the Fies took space from a dressing room to create a spa retreat with a Cabico double vanity, a two-person shower with two showerheads, and a water closet. The bathroom changes necessitated a new water line with PVC plumbing stacks and white PVC pipe.  

On the top level, the two guest bedrooms were left intact, but the full bathroom has a new hip 36-inch air jetted tub and a storage room became the laundry, well insulated to buffer noise.

Prioritizing Functional and Decorative Choices

As they advise clients, Mark and Mina made choices to stay within their budget. Some expensive structural needs meant they couldn’t afford all splurges they wanted. Mark’s wine refrigerator and Mina’s heated floors were eliminated when the house needed more wall insulation and new subfloors.

Because the original stairs would not work with their open-plan concept, they found a custom floating staircase with walnut treads and steel cable railings by Viewrail that would. The stairs were fabricated off-site and arrived in a kit, cutting installation costs and time.

viewrail stairs

A new, modern staircase from Viewrail helped match the Fies' new design aesthetic. | Photo: Marty Shoup, Blue Lion Multimedia

Other choices also made the remodeling process easier. The couple used ZipWall’s barrier system to stop dust from spreading during construction rather than the ineffective method of taping up plastic sheets.

When it came to many decorative choices, they went with what appealed rather than worry about what might appeal to future buyers. Mina selected tiles for the guest bathroom that reminded her of her grandmother’s quilts. “These emotional connections are important,” she says.

model remodel bathroom

Mark and Mina Fies opted for a neutral palette in the living room to allow the teal accents to pop. In the guest bathroom, a soothing retreat was the goal. Mina chose ivory glazed porcelain tiles that were reminiscent of her grandmother’s quilts. | Photo: Marty Shoup, Blue Lion Multimedia

They also added the surprise of black accents in door colors, some light fixtures, and plumbing choices, purchased from Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery. Their LED light choices can also change colors. Lights on the first two levels are 3000 Kelvin while those on the upper levels are 2700 K to offer a warmer feeling and “Let the brain relax,” Mina says. All lamps are on dimmers, something the Fies always do for flexibility.

remodeler kitchen

Mixed metals were a consistent design choice throughout the kitchen. Black and gold plumbing fixtures from Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery mimic the mixed metals on the JennAir RISE gas range knobs and cabinet hardware. | Photo: Marty Shoup, Blue Lion Multimedia

Go with the Flow and Reap Rewards

Even experienced remodelers learn from each project. The Fies were surprised by the amount of demolition needed. “We didn’t anticipate replacing the subfloors, but that was required,” Mark says. They were also surprised by the price hikes that occurred during the pandemic.

But the flip side was delight. Mark expected to love their primary suite but didn’t know he’d enjoy it as much as he does with his stand-up desk, wallpapered barn doors, floating shelves, and minibar. Mina was thrilled with that room, too. “I love to travel and stay in hotels. The sitting room next to the bedroom gave us that feeling,” she says. She also was pleased that their entertaining level lets them gather so many.

And though they’ve worked together for 13 years, they found their partnership, which could have been painfully tested, instead soared during the process. “We often have our roles but during this project, we sometimes reversed them and that worked well. If Mark needed to be with clients, I stepped into the role of project management, though I usually manage design. Our lines became more blurred,” Mina says.

The result is more than a new beginning but an anticipated lifetime of joy.  


written by

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger, is a writer who focuses on real estate, design, and personal subjects. Her latest book is Not Dead Yet: Rebooting your life after 50.

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