From Postwar Cape Cod to Cool Cottage
A little brick bungalow in Tara-Leeway Heights gets a Scandinavian-style refresh, inside and out.
Jo and Brock Edwards were new parents in 2011 when Jo’s mother, Cathy Kosmides, a real estate agent with Long & Foster, spotted a listing for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom rental house on a corner lot in Tara-Leeway Heights. Soon, the young couple had sold their one-bedroom Arlington condo and were moving into the 1937 red-brick Cape Cod with their 5-month-old son. Smitten with its cuteness, they noted that the detached one-car garage would be perfect for Jo, an artist and illustrator, to use as a studio.
For six years they rented, growing ever more attached to the neighborhood and dreaming of all the ways they could improve the little house. By 2017, they were a family of four, plus a dog, Rusty. That’s when they finally convinced their landlords, British expats who had moved back to the U.K., to sell. The fixer-upper had a laundry list of problems, but it was finally theirs.
In 2020, the Edwards family was ready to remodel, trusting Arlington architect Tripp DeFalco and builder Trent Wahl of TW Homes in Fairfax to reinvent their house. “I liked the idea of a modern cottage,” Jo says. “I wanted something that nobody else had—something warm and beautiful.”
She showed DeFalco photographs of houses and materials she liked, emphasizing her family’s desire to retain the home’s extant charm while making it more functional. She and Brock wanted better flow, room to grow and flexible spaces that their aging parents could someday move into if needed.
“They knew they didn’t want to leave the neighborhood,” DeFalco says. “They have a nice big lot, and Jo has her art studio out back. So the question became, How do we stay here?”
DeFalco and Wahl answered that question with a gut remodel/addition that opened up the house, expanded its square footage and reconfigured most of its existing rooms. They delivered the finished residence right on schedule—“Six months. To. The. Day,” Jo says—in December of 2020.
As the bones of the new floor plan took shape, Jo envisioned colors and finishes, photoshopping her ideas into DeFalco’s architectural renderings to picture the final product. “Some people look at drawings and they don’t quite get it,” DeFalco says. “But she got it. And she ran with it in her head.”
The new kitchen juxtaposes neutral elements such as a Moroccan Clé backsplash, an unfussy mix of black, white and stained wood cabinets and contrasting countertops—black granite along the backsplash wall versus a waterfall of Silestone Calacatta Gold quartz on the seven-foot-plus island. Handmade ceramic dishes by Jo’s cousin, a potter, are displayed on open shelves.
The kitchen has practical features, too. Jo can preheat the GE Café range from her phone—a suggestion from her father, a chef—and the microwave sits below the counter, at a kid-friendly height, so the couple’s boys, ages 9 and 11, can nuke their own popcorn.
Adjoining the kitchen is a narrow, light-filled bump-out, where the family now eats most of their meals. In warm weather, it acts almost like a porch, hosting impromptu visits from neighbors with a tiny cocktail alcove and a slender bar-height table that Jo built herself when she couldn’t find anything she liked to fit the space. A wall of exposed red brick—formerly the outside of the house—lends character.
During the design phase, DeFalco worked through the couple’s “pain points” (aspects of the house that weren’t working for them) and helped them see that a spacious, two-story addition off the back could work wonders for their family. “Once I had all that room, then I wasn’t trying to jam three bedrooms into the existing footprint,” he says. “[That] was sort of the key to making the second floor as nice as it is.”
The addition allowed the boys to have their own bedrooms—one of which is outfitted with a custom captain’s bed designed by DeFalco—in the original part of the house. Together, they share what was once the family’s only upstairs bathroom.
The parents, meanwhile, have an enviable new owners’ suite, including an airy bath with a separate shower and soaking tub, black accent tiles and a huge, gold-rimmed mirror that hangs above a double vanity. Add to that a swoon-worthy, 19-foot-long walk-in closet, where Jo, a woodworking hobbyist (she half-jokes that she’ll be a carpenter in her next life) installed a Container Store Elfa closet system.
“When you live in a house and go through the motions every day, you figure out what you’re lacking and what you need,” Wahl says. “So they had plenty of time to figure that out, for sure.”
During the pandemic, Brock—a business development manager for Planet, an aviation and aerospace company—has been comfortably teleworking from an updated, light-filled home office, where books line blond wood shelves on either side of a tall window.
On the exterior, the renovated, two-story cottage is defined by a dramatic black gable and a combination of painted brick, board-and-batten vertical siding and stained cedar wood siding.
The front entry, inspired by the entry to Wahl’s own house, features contemporary black-strapped French doors that invite tons of light inside.
With the arrival of spring, the Edwardses are turning their focus to the outside. Their next plans include fencing the yard for Rusty, fixing up Jo’s garage studio and adding a patio where they can chill and grill.
For now, they’ve got a street-side picnic table on the lawn, where neighbors come by to chat and thirsty dogs drink from a communal water bowl. Jo loves that people frequently stop to take pictures or shout, “Nice house!” as they drive by.
What started as a serendipitous real estate find is now a personalized home that is intentional in every way. Turns out, “that little rental was just the perfect place,” Kosmides says. “It was amazing.”