Serving McLean, Great Falls, Arlington, VA
and Montgomery County, MD
When a high-powered fireworks rocket—created for the massive finale boom—landed in the crowd that Fourth of July night, the shell exploded near Katy Hollis. Her three-year-old son, Max, lay in her lap.
Sun Design provides a whole-house remodel for complete lifetime therapy: a cozy place to curl up with family and friends.
The fight for their lives began on the MedEvac helicopters. Doctors treated Katy for second- and third degree burns. She also had a broken arm, shrapnel wounds, and lasting brain injury from the concussion wave. Max, severely burned and with equally brutal brain trauma, lay in a medically-induced coma. Andre, his father, at their home at the time of the accident, arrived as Max was about to be taken by helicopter to another hospital. Max’s 7-year-old brother, Alex, was treated for burns but released that July 4, 2007 night to his grandparents, who drove up from Charlottesville.
Surgeries followed, but finally, on July 16, Katy came home. Max had been released from the hospital over a week earlier.
Recuperating on the couch, with her parents visiting to help, and neighbors, in their pajamas, stopping by to invite the boys over for pancakes, or to drive them to the pool, Katy realized being at home was part of her healing process, but their lives had changed. Their house no longer served their needs. She also recognized as neighbors kindly trimmed her rose bushes without asking (since she couldn't), that she was in a special place. She loved her neighbors; she loved her home, her yard — she never wanted to leave.
Yet the Vienna, VA four-level split she and Andre bought in 2005 because it "didn’t need work," was 32 years old when they decided it was time for a makeover. It had a galley kitchen, and because of its split-level design, with her brain injury and hearing loss, she'd forget she was cooking while she helped her boys with homework in the dining room. She'd leave herself notes to remember simple tasks, but it wasn’t enough. "So then, dinner was burning," Katy says. Katy wanted a central kitchen, where family and friends could gather. Meanwhile, during her parents' visit, they had to come downstairs to bathe because upstairs lacked a shower.
In early 2011, Katy and Sun Design's supporting design team began sketching out a whole-house remodel. Mindy Mitchell, CAPS, a certified aging-in-place specialist, worked with Katy. Together, they touched every part of the house. They examined how the boys would grow into their space as they got older, and how Andre and Katy would need to be on the main floor as their years passed together, and how Andre, a business consultant, would need a home office.
"This new space was part of the healing process," Mindy says. "We were recreating the space to give it a different feel, and it helped in a lot of ways, almost emotionally and spiritually, as a clean slate."
Andre was often away on business, so Katy and the boys rented an apartment while the five-month remodel took shape. Lead carpenter Matt Hawkes turned the upstairs master suite into a guest room, and moved the laundry room upstairs, the source of most of the laundry (a la two young boys). Taking the master bedroom off the second floor enabled bedrooms for the boys, with a large bath. A pocket door between their rooms allows them to turn them into a suite when friends visit.
"The kitchen is the heart of the home," Mindy says. The kitchen flows more smoothly and is indeed the home's focal point, a true sanctuary for Katy and her family to be with friends or relatives. The galley kitchen gave way to a contemporary, larger one finished in tile, wood, slate, stainless steel and brushed nickel, with a working island, glass enclosed cabinetry and a wood pantry.
"There's a sink in the island and a big cutting board, and I can stand on one end and prepare dinner and the kids can sit in their chairs and do homework and I won't lose any part of the conversation," Katy says. "I'm right there. I can answer all their questions."
During the project, Mindy and Katy Skyped with Andre, who was overseas. "Thank you so much for taking care of my family when I can't be there," he said via his online connection.
Matt, the lead carpenter, became beloved by Katy and her sons, the homeowner says. "He knew what he was doing and he communicated it, and he had a good sense of humor. It was great dealing with a professional, yet it seemed he was part of our family. He was so good to my boys. My older son plays baseball and we had picked up some baseball equipment and without asking, Matt was out there with Alex setting up the baseball stuff—that’s just the kind of guy he was." Matt also refinished Alex and Max's downstairs music room (both play the drums) with an extra ½ inch sheet of drywall for sound reduction, giving their mom and dad more of a buffer when they pick up drumsticks.
Mindy, of Sun Design, who's 61, often finds herself discussing with homeowners whether they should stay in their homes and remodel, or move, or buy another home and use their lifelong dwelling as a base, particularly if they have emotional attachments. "Working with Katy and Andre wasn't unlike working with other couples connected to their homes," Mindy says. "Everyone in the Sun Design family redesigns homes to improve lives. We're able to solve problems because we're focused on people—that's not something you find everywhere. We train our staff to understand each client and how a project can fulfill and resolve their issues. We understand each person's value, their interesting and cool lives, and we improve our organization daily to be in tune with that—that's unique. That's why clients come to us."
"I love being home," Katy says. "I love being in the space. It's much more functional."
"Before Father’s Day, we had a backyard camp-out," Andre says. "The boys were helping and we were grilling on the patio, and serving dinner, with the boys hanging out outside or downstairs when they wanted to, while I'm popping into my office to check on emails. This change has allowed us more flexibility ... it allows me more time at home as a quality father and husband, as opposed to dealing with traffic and congestion. It allows me more time to coach Little League baseball, be an assistant scoutmaster with the boys."
"It's not just a beautiful home and so well done," he says. "It improved our quality of life. After the accident, having us together was very important."