Guest Post: Gretchen Brown

I first interviewed Gretchen Brown, a project manager for the general-contracting firm Harry Braswell, Inc. in Alexandria, while I was writing a story for Home & Design on a fabulous eco-friendly renovation of a stately, 1930’s home. I was enamored with the way Gretchen and her team pulled off a gut renovation to achieve LEED certification, but the result still respects the home’s era and architecture.

Gretchen has done the same thing again—this time with a kitchen renovation in a ’70s contemporary designed by one of our local modernist heroes, Hugh Newell Jacobsen. Here’s her account of the work.

Gretchen Brown

Tara Casagrande, owner of Ease Studio & Café in the Del Ray section of Alexandria, recently hired us to renovate her kitchen in her 1970’s contemporary home. The Casagrandes had worked with Architect Tim Abrams of Richard Williams Architects to design the kitchen. The new space kept the Jacobsen-designed skylights with inset lights. The original kitchen was choppy by today’s standards, with a wing wall in the middle.

The aesthetics also left something to be desired.

Now, those Jacobsen skylights shed light on something more special.

“After” photography by Greg Hadley

We opened the kitchen and improved flow by widening the entrances to the dining room and family room. White cabinets set off the dramatic veining in the marble countertop. A complementary oak countertop sits at the heart of this kitchen.

Abrams’ design removed the hardware from the upper cabinets to create a more streamlined look. We placed finger pulls underneath them instead.

A pantry located conveniently behind the stairs replaced what had been a wine fridge and awkward countertop. Other challenges included out-of-level floors, and plumbing that had to be re-routed for a bathroom upstairs. In the laundry room, located between garage and family room, we added a heated floor with its own thermostat.

This new kitchen will allow the Casagrandes much more enjoyment of their vintage home.


  1. hi
    amazing and unbelievable.
    great job its looks like a new home
    i love it
    thanks for sharing

  2. Wow, this makeover is almost unbelievable. It looks like a totally new house. And I guess, it is! Love the kitchen and its modern lines. That “endless” design there that pulls the wood to the floor is simply breathtaking. Love it!!

  3. Wow!!! I’m very familiar with Tara’s gorgeous house, having helped her with her exterior revamp. I knew she was planning a kitchen renovation and was waiting for the reveal. That light-filled interior is just spectacular– guessing HN Jacobsen would have approved! Just perfect.