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


When a rainbow-painted gladiator statue is the housewarming gift from a developer to the homeowners, you know there must be a good 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 family 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 building and renovation company 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 joint high. schoolmate, to “paint it rainbow colors as a housewarming gift,” says Covell.

“We put it in a niche near the powder room on the main level for a photo shoot just for fun, and it looks like they’re going to 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 red brick rambler with a basement, was owned by John’s sister, who lived in it with friends for several more years. When 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 a gathering place in the early 2000s for a broad group of friends from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, then located in Wheaton, Md.

“Most of our friends lived with their parents after college, so it was like a family 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 aged 9, 11 and 12.

“The five of us shared a bathroom on the main floor and it got pretty crowded as the kids got older,” says Bridget. “Everything was falling apart to the point where we had leaks everywhere and all the appliances were breaking. At one point there was water just cascading in through one of our kitchen cabinets and onto the counter.”

The Fryes had been talking about design plans with Matt for a few 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 to what we really want,” says Bridget.

Avoid the ‘McMansion’ look

Since the three friends share fond memories of the house and the community, it was important to them to blend in with the neighborhood, even as 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 the side and back of the house and built a second level, we were able to hide the front of the house below the roofline,” says Matt.

The foundation was discovered to be crumbling, so the conversion required a major renovation, although the original brick facade was maintained and painted white.

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

The foundation was made waterproof so they were able to lay wooden floors even in the basement.

The house’s white exterior is characterized by a wooden door that matches the wooden garage doors. The natural nature of the hill behind the house made a relatively simple extension possible.

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

‘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 textured wallpaper for the dining room and I found the beaded chandelier,” says Bridget. “I wanted this space to be bright and also more casual than a formal dining room, so we wanted to use it all the time.”

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A butler’s pantry and full pantry adjoin the dining room and feature dark blue walls and a matching ceiling. Contemporary glass door handles 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 almost look like siding,” says Bridget. “I wanted a bench 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 phase, Matt realized that installing a bifold NanaWall glass door between the family room and the adjacent screened-in porch would nearly double the entertaining space.

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

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

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

The screened porch includes a patterned white wood ceiling and privacy screens so 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 great if…’

The open kitchen in the family room features 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 surfaces for the appliances for a cleaner look as the kitchen is open,” says Bridget. “We also extended the marble from the island onto the counters, backsplash and even under the cabinets above the area.”

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 let the light shine through the window.

On the opposite side of the kitchen near the stairs to the upper and lower levels is 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 blue and white parquet floor for this room and an inexpensive wicker light fixture.

The staircase to the upper level has two large windows and panels on the walls, with an oversized 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 additional bedrooms share a bathroom with double sinks. Nearby is a laundry room and a linen closet.

The master 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, which we love,” says Bridget. “In our bathroom, he had the idea to match the marble table with the marble bench in the shower and extend the floor tiles up the shower wall on one side.”

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The main bathroom also has a freestanding bathtub in front of a window.

The lower level includes French doors to a covered patio and features 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 bedroom with a walk-in closet and its own 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 began ordering items in late 2019, they were able to avoid 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 a great opportunity to be with my best friends during the covid lockdown when I didn’t see anyone but 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 attended 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 friends for life made this whole experience easier,” says John.

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

“They listened to my ideas and either 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 much nicer than what Bridget likes to call “the flop house.”

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