A family in Chevy Chase, Maryland, rebuilds their home after a devastating fire

Jason and Tamara Rademacher had no plans to renovate their home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, until an electrical fire rendered it uninhabitable.  The living room, seen here, is lit by large windows with Douglas fir frames.
Jason and Tamara Rademacher had no plans to renovate their home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, until an electrical fire rendered it uninhabitable. The living room, seen here, is lit by large windows with Douglas fir frames. (Anice Hoachlander)

A family in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is rebuilding after a devastating fire

On a Monday morning in August 2018, Jason and Tamara Rademacher woke up with a start around 6 a.m.

“We heard a bump and our son screaming for us,” Jason said. “I could see smoke coming out of the sides of his bedroom door, I opened the door, smoke came out and my son ran right past me.” An electrical fire had started within the walls of their two-level Chevy Chase, Maryland, in their son’s bedroom on the lower level.

The family evacuated and called the fire department, who arrived about six minutes later. At first things didn’t look so bad. “For us, it felt like a small fire,” says Jason, a 49-year-old lawyer. As the event began to unfold, reality set in. “They had to take our son to an ambulance because he had burns on his hands and feet,” says Tamara, also 49. “He spent 48 hours in the hospital with bad smoke inhalation and was delirious for a day.

The effects of fire and smoke rendered the house uninhabitable. An adjuster met the family at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center and wrote them a check there. “The trimmer told me at the start, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint,'” says Jason. “It came back to me over and over again in the process.”

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The family moved to a hotel in Friendship Heights where they stayed for two weeks while looking for a rental. They bought a “temporary wardrobe” at Target. According to their policy, their temporary housing should be equivalent to what they were moved from, but mid-size rentals are hard to come by at Chevy Chase.

They ended up on the top floor of an apartment building in downtown Bethesda where they would live for nearly two years.

The Rademachers had no intention of renovating their home before the fire. They bought it in 2013 for $623,000 after moving from Bowie, Maryland. To rebuild their lives, they had to file a claim for their lost property and determine the cost of rebuilding the house.

The claims process began, the house was condemned, the fire investigation began, and the owners began seeking advice. They called Lou Balodemas, director of DC Balodemas Architectsthey found on Houzz.

Part of the claims process was determining what had been lost to the flames. “We had to make drawings of what the house was basically,” explains Balodemas. “At the same time, we were designing the new reconstruction.”

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Initially, the owners were not looking to change anything. “We wanted to know what it would cost to rebuild the house as it was,” says Jason. “We just wanted our old house back because we loved that house. But then we thought, doesn’t it make sense to explore the other things you can do? »

Determining renovation costs and who pays what in a fire restoration is a fluid process. Designs need to be agreed, plans need to be finalized and bids need to be collected. To facilitate the process, the insurance company dispatched an estimator. The owners hired a separate contractor to get a second opinion. After the basic design plan was developed, bids were opened and Jason Hebeisen, the owner of Heb-N-Co Constructionbased in Boyds, Md., was the winner.

“I often deal with insurance companies,” says Hebeisen. “I agree that the adjuster is doing their job, which is to keep the claim from spiraling out of control. So in a total loss like this, it largely came down to, “Well, you renovate the house and make it a little bigger.” We’re not going to pay for that. And they shouldn’t. But you are forced to upgrade the house to the current code.

Most insurance policies, including Rademachers, have limits on what they will pay for code upgrades, which made funding the rebuild even more difficult. Late in the process, the owners discovered an endorsement in the policy that increased their cap level, which helped.

The design team was also able to shift renovation funds by opting to install drywall instead of replacing the plaster walls. The house originally had steel framed windows which were replaced with wood framed windows – more money savings.

The fire burned so hard that it damaged part of the foundation. After crunching the numbers, it was decided that it would be cheaper to pour new footings outside the original foundation than to excavate and replace the entire slab.

“It was also an opportunity because it allowed us to extend the ground floor by two feet,” says Veena Shahsavarian, Partner at Balodemas. “Which isn’t the typical addition you would make, but we needed those two feet in the kitchen.”

As the numbers continued to be calculated, it fell to Tamara, the family’s housewife, to focus on the design choices. “I had a low and high version of almost everything that was chosen. It felt like a real job, and I haven’t had a real job in a while. And you do all of this while you mourn the loss of your business.

The whole process took 23 months, ending one month before the claim settlement deadline. The owners initially asked the architect to return their old home to them, but some things changed along the way.

The design team suggested moving the kitchen and dining area of ​​the house to the lower level with access to the backyard. During one of the last design meetings, Jason asked the architects about a butterfly roof, which he had seen on one of their other projects. Three minutes later, with the help of a computer-aided design program, the roof fluttered on the fly.

The effect of the newly designed roof appears at the new front door of the house. Large circular skylights carved into the high ceiling flood the space with natural light. The living room is on the right – in its original location. The original fireplace has been reworked using “wild west” green granite and honed limestone. The room is lit by large windows with Douglas fir frames. A bespoke lattice screen, also made from fir by the Hebeisen team, separates the living room from the foyer. All floors on the first level are oak.

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In addition to the downstairs lounge, there is a home office and cloakroom to the left of the front door. The house then splits into eight steps to a landing, a guest bathroom, their granddaughter’s bedroom, another bedroom and the master suite. The master bedroom overlooks the garden and houses a teak bed. The design team also collaborated on a wood-burning fireplace in the bedroom with green ceramic tiles arranged in a large hexagonal pattern over the fireplace and a limestone hearth.

The main bathroom has a double-head shower with no threshold. There’s also a freestanding tub and an ingenious vanity that provides a sink and quartz-topped seated makeup area. More circular skylights provide natural light. The master bathroom floor is a mix of large format quarry tiles and smaller square pattern tiles with a matte finish.

The house also splits from the main level to the kitchen, dining room and family room arranged in an open plan with stunning views of the backyard. The kitchen includes an island with a sink and seating for three. The island top is hickory rendered in a butcher block configuration.

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The refrigerator is a Sub-Zero, the cabinets are a mix of open shelves and painted maple cabinets. The hob and wall oven are both from Blue Star. Countertops are stainless steel with a rimmed marine edge. The dishwasher is a Bosch. A pantry offers more storage. The floors on the lower level are cork and the dining room table is custom made using an acacia wood slab as a top.

The unique appearance of the house attracts photographers – a phenomenon that is not lost on the design team. “I love the colors and the different finishes that we all came up with together,” says Balodemas. “I like that you can’t classify it. I like the way it sits on the street. Shahsavarian adds: “It’s the anti-trend. You cannot point to anything that looks like this.

The insurance settlement ended up paying about 70% of the total cost of the project, which remains private. The owners paid the rest. The Rademachers are happy that the long journey resulted in a generally happy ending, but they still reconcile the trauma of the past.

“We love the house and we love living here, but I don’t think you can build a house worth what we went through to get it,” Jason says.

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