Georgetown offers historic charm but not much room to spread out. Its old row houses are typically narrow and dark with floors divided into small rooms. “We realized that the only way to get a large, open space in the neighborhood was to renovate a commercial building,” says architect Scott Hughes.
Hughes and his wife Lisa discovered such an opportunity in a pair of storefronts for sale that had been occupied for decades by the design firm Walsh McLellan Interiors. “We liked the building because it was double wide and presented the opportunity to open the floor plan and not be restrained by period detail,” says Lisa, a documentary filmmaker. “It’s rare to find a situation like that in Georgetown.”
By the time the couple found the property, plans had already been drawn up for adding another story atop the structure, which was built in the 1800s and expanded in the 1920s with box-bay storefronts. Architect Christian Zapatka, who specializes in remodeling Georgetown houses, had designed the extra floor for the seller who wanted to show prospective buyers that the building could be adapted into a single-family home.
The Hughes liked the concept and hired Zapatka to shepherd the conversion project through the stringent design review process for renovating historic structures in Georgetown. “It had to be very simple,” says Zapatka of the addition. “We had to leave the image of the commercial building intact and make it clear that the top story was added later.”
Original bay windows, entrances and even the old signage on the façades were preserved. Windows on the side and back walls that had been filled in with brick were reopened and fitted with new sashes and insulated glass.
With offices in Arlington, Los Angeles and Hobe Sound, Florida, Scott’s firm specializes in designing houses that are boldly contemporary. He and Lisa sought to create the same sensibility inside their Georgetown home by turning it into a loft. The first step was tweaking Zapatka’s floor plans to create independent living and working areas. “I redesigned them to accommodate our lifestyle,” says Hughes. “The kitchen was moved from the basement to the main level so we could use the basement for office space, and the staircase was reoriented.”
Within the old storefronts, walls were torn out to create a completely open plan on the main level. The living area occupies the front of the 30-foot-wide-by-31-foot-deep space while the kitchen and dining nook are placed at the back. Dividing the big room is a steel staircase with open risers that leads up through the center to the master suite and study on the top floor. A huge skylight over the stairwell funnels daylight into the heart of the house.
New oak floors and stair treads, stained black, give the interior an urban edge. Matching wood credenzas flank the stairs and double as banisters. Kitchen cabinets covered in black linoleum and soapstone countertops repeat the dark finish to unify the space.
The living area, furnished with classic modern pieces from Apartment Zero, focuses on a gas fireplace, cabinets, and shelving built along the side wall. A flat-screen TV can be automatically rolled out from a slot in the fireplace wall. The bay windows, now furnished as seating nooks, and doors to the street were left in place and screened with shutters.
Most of the time, the house is entered from side and backdoors opening into the walk-out basement. “The ceilings on the lower level were extremely low,” recalls Lisa Hughes. “So we dug out the basement to gain more height.” A guest suite and office now occupy this floor, which opens to a small brick patio with a fountain.
Though pleased with the renovation, the Hugheses recently decided to sell the converted building and look for another property to transform. “It’s the life of someone being married to an architect,” says Lisa. “You keep moving from project to project.”
All Furnishings from Apartment Zero, Washington, DC.
Nelson Bench by Herman Miller.
Goetz sofa by Herman Miller. Surfboard Table by Eames through Herman Miller. Round Tables by Nelson through Herman Miller. Black Leather Chair by Martin Visser through Spectrum. Pillows by Lena Bergstrom for Designer’s Eye Sweden and Bev Hisey Canada.Large Red Ottoman by Spectrum. White Ottomans by Chilewich. Bowls by Heath Ceramics. Rugby Bic Belgium.
Dining Table by Jean Prouvé for Vitra. Stainless Steel Trays by Mono. Stainless Steel Candleholders by Design House Stockholm. Tom Vac Chairs by Ron Arad for Vitra.
Deborah K. Dietsch is the editor of Waterfront Home & Design. Photographer Bob Narod is based in Sterling, Virginia.
Architecture: Christian Zapatka, Christian Zapatka Design, Washington, DC Interior Architecture: Scott Hughes, SH-Arc, Arlington, Virginia; Los Angeles, California; Hobe Sound, Florida Furnishings: Apartment Zero, Washington, DC Artwork: Adamson Galleries, Washington, DC