From ‘frat house’ to family home: A major remodel in Bethesda

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When a rainbow-painted gladiator statue is the housewarming gift from a builder to the homeowners, you know there must be a great story behind it.

“My grandmother’s cousin sculpted this concrete gladiator statue that had a lamp on top and eventually it ended up in my parents’ garage,” says John Frye, 43, who is in commercial air-conditioning sales. “My friend Matt loved it and brought it to our frat house when we went to college together in Cleveland. He spray-painted it silver and then … it sat in his parents’ basement for 20 years.”

Frye’s friend Matt Covell, also 43, founded Structure, a custom home builder and renovation firm based in North Bethesda, Md., in 2016. He remodeled Frye’s house in 2019-2020 and brought the gladiator to Matt Corrado, an artist and mutual high school friend, to “paint it rainbow colors as a housewarming gift,” Covell says.

“We placed it in a niche near the main-level powder room for a photo shoot just for fun, and it looks like they’ll keep it there,” Covell said.

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Family and friends are central to John and Bridget Frye’s North Bethesda home, which was renovated and expanded in 2020. The home, a 1950s-era red brick rambler with a basement, was owned by John’s sister, who lived in it with friends for several years. Once she moved out, John rented it for a few years and eventually bought it from his sister in 2004.

Matt Covell, John and Bridget were part of the crowd that hung out at the house after college, which served as the gathering place in the early 2000s for a wide-ranging group of friends from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, then located in Wheaton, Md.

“Most of our friends were living with their parents after college, so this was like a frat house where Matt and I lived with other roommates,” says John. “Matt and I have been friends since sixth grade, and we met Bridget in high school.”

Bridget, 43, is a former teacher who graduated from the University of Maryland, while Matt and John graduated from John Carroll University near Cleveland. John and Bridget married in 2007 and have three children, ages 9, 11 and 12.

“The five of us were sharing a bathroom on the main level, and it was getting pretty crowded as the kids got older,” says Bridget. “Everything was falling apart to the point that we had pinhole leaks everywhere, and the appliances were all breaking. At one point there was water just flooding like a waterfall through one of our kitchen cabinets onto the counter.”

The Fryes had been talking over design plans with Matt for a couple of years and then decided to move out to live with John’s parents in August 2019 so the house could be rebuilt. They hired Carib Daniel Martin, an architect based in Kensington, Md., who has worked with Matt.

“This was such a fun project because we all know each other so well and I know how they live and entertain at home,” says Matt. “This was a much more personal experience than usual.”

The Fryes were able to use the equity built from long-term ownership and a construction loan to remodel the house.

“We looked at some other homes in the area, but it made more sense for us to remodel into what we really want,” says Bridget.

Avoiding the ‘McMansion’ look

Since the three friends share fond memories of the house and the community, it was important to them to blend with the neighborhood even while they tripled the living space to about 6,000 square feet.

“We wanted to keep the scale of the neighborhood and avoid that McMansion look, so while we added to the side and the back of the house and built a second level, we were able to tuck the front of the house under the roof line,” says Matt.

The foundation was discovered to be crumbling, so the remodel required a ground-up renovation, although the original brick facade was maintained and painted white.

“The foundation issue turned out to have a silver lining because it had to be dug out and we got extra ceiling height,” says Bridget.

The foundation was made waterproof, so they were able to install wood floors even in the basement.

The white exterior of the house is punctuated with a wood front door that matches wood garage doors. The natural grade of the hill behind the house allowed for a relatively simple expansion.

“The attention to detail that Matt has is amazing,” says Bridget. “His sister is a decorator, too, so we were able to get her advice.”

The ‘dream party room’

The house has white oak flooring throughout, with a patterned white oak ceiling stained a darker shade in the foyer. To the left of the foyer is a large home office with pocket doors. Across the foyer is the dining room, which the family uses daily for meals.

“Matt’s sister helped me pick out the coral-colored textured wallpaper for the dining room and I found the beaded chandelier,” says Bridget. “I wanted this room to be bright and also more casual than a formal dining room so we would use it all the time.”

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A butler’s pantry and full pantry are adjacent to the dining room and feature dark blue walls and a matching ceiling. Modern-looking glass doorknobs are installed throughout the home for a transitional look that complements the elaborate crown moldings in many rooms.

The back of the house is an open family room and kitchen with a wall of windows facing the grassy yard and trees behind the house.

“Matt talked us into this cool idea he had for the fireplace, which is a floor-to-ceiling wall of white oak pieces that look almost like siding,” says Bridget. “I wanted a bench seat with a view of the trees and the greenery behind the house.”

Windows flank the fireplace, and built-in bookshelves and cabinets flank the window seat.

When the renovation was in the framing stage, Matt realized that if he installed a bifold NanaWall glass door between the family room and the adjacent screened porch, it would nearly double the entertaining space.

“We’ve had as many as 50 people in here with the heaters on overhead on the porch and the gas fireplace going in the family room,” says John. “We probably had that many or more when we were in the rambler in our post-college days, but it wasn’t nearly as nice.”

Matt describes the combined indoor-outdoor space as the “dream party room.”

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When the family lived in the unrenovated house, Bridget says they could really only entertain in the backyard.

The screened porch includes a patterned white wood ceiling and privacy screens so that people walking on the nearby path can’t see inside. A side door leads to a deck with a grill and steps to the grassy backyard.

‘Wouldn’t it be cool if …’

The open kitchen in the family room holds what Matt calls an “aircraft carrier deck” marble island with five seats so the whole family can sit there at once.

“We went with cabinet-faces for the appliances for a cleaner look since the kitchen is open,” says Bridget. “We also extended the marble from the island on the counters, backsplash and even under the cabinets above the range.”

Bridget wanted to keep the window on the side of the original section of the house to keep the kitchen bright but wanted more cabinet space, so Matt designed a glass-front cabinet with glass shelves to allow the light to shine through the window.

On the opposite side of the kitchen near the staircase to the upper and lower levels are the niche with the gladiator sculpture, a powder room with a pocket door and a mudroom with a hook and basket for each of the five family members. Bridget chose the navy and white parquet tile floor for this space and an inexpensive basket-weave light fixture.

The staircase to the upper level has two large windows and wainscoting on the walls, with an oversize round light fixture with hexagonal tiles. The first bedroom on this level has a niche for a desk, a walk-in closet, a private full bathroom, a toy closet and access to a storage closet.

Two more bedrooms share a hall bathroom with a double-sink vanity. Nearby are a laundry room and a linen closet.

The primary suite includes a white wood cathedral ceiling in the bedroom, which has windows on three sides. The bed sits in a niche with an accent wall painted navy blue and two pendant lights instead of sconces.

“Matt often started his ideas with ‘wouldn’t it be cool if?’ and that’s how we ended up with the niche and the pendant lights, which we love,” says Bridget. “In our bathroom, he had the idea of matching the marble counter with the marble bench in the shower and extending the floor tiles up the wall of the shower on one side.”

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The primary bathroom also has a free-standing tub in front of a window.

The lower level includes French doors to a covered patio and has a dramatic mural painted by Matt Corrado along one wall and a complementary painted backsplash above the built-in bar and shelving. This level also has a guest room with a walk-in closet and private full bathroom. Another full bathroom is adjacent to the exercise room, which has windows facing the backyard.

Most of the renovation was completed during the pandemic, but because the Fryes and Matt Covell started ordering items in late 2019 they were able to avoid the delays from supply chain disruptions.

“A lot of couples joke that they need marriage counseling during a major remodel like this, but for me this was an amazing opportunity to be with my best friends during the thick of the covid lockdown when I wasn’t seeing anyone besides my family,” says Matt. “It was such a stressful time for everyone, and it was professionally and personally rewarding to do this together.”

The Fryes and their children did virtual school and worked from John’s parents’ house until they moved into their remodeled home in February 2021.

“The fact that the three of us have been lifelong friends made this whole experience easier,” says John.

Matt appreciates the trust his friends placed in him to remodel their home.

“They listened to my ideas and then either they trusted me with them, or we could joke about it if they didn’t,” he says.

The result: a new home where friends and family can gather that’s a lot nicer than what Bridget likes to call the “flop house.”