The front façade’s arched openings and iron-spotted brick were inspired by the architecture of Washington’s historic row houses.Row House Meets Loft
A new condominium near Logan Circle opens up tradition with airy living spaces
As a fifth-generation Washingtonian, architect Brie Husted is all-too familiar with the limitations of her hometown’s ubiquitous row houses. “They are challenging because you do not get to site the building,” says Husted. “The front and back sides are decided, and so is your solar orientation.”
In designing an infill condominium near Logan Circle, Husted overcame these constraints by transforming what appears to be a row house into lofts. From the street, the brick façade pays homage to the city’s architectural traditions with gracefully arched openings and a metal staircase leading to the entrance. But inside the two 2,000-square-foot units, the main living level is left wide open so that light from tall windows at both ends filters right through the clean-lined space.
“We tried to be respectful of the neighborhood but still be modern,” explains developer Norm Veenstra. The new condominium, named “The Symera” by Veenstra after “a sweet old lady” who once lived in one of his properties, marked the first building from the ground up for both the developer and the architect. “Because I was green, too,” Veenstra says, “I preferred to work with a young architect who wasn’t yet established, rather than go to a guy in his 50s who had done 25 projects.”
One of only a few solo female architects practicing in Washington, Husted, now 33, started her firm in 2000 and quickly became immersed in the nitty gritty of construction as a general contractor on several remodeling projects. “It was harder being a solo woman contractor than an architect,” the Rhode Island School of Design graduate admits, relating stories of skeptical laborers on construction sites. “You just have to prove yourself on the job.”
Veenstra, who had previously worked with Husted on the renovation of a commercial building in the District’s Petworth neighborhood, was impressed by the young architect’s ability to collaborate. “She was good about standing up for her own ideas, yet we were able to negotiate without either party feeling like they were being steam-rolled.” For design inspiration, he urged the young architect to look at the historic row houses around Logan Circle as well as the Art Nouveau-style buildings created a century ago by Belgian architect Victor Horta.
Husted responded by designing a “triptych” of three bays centered on a large, second-floor window and balcony. Windows and
doors are set into iron-spotted brick and split-face concrete, a darker take on Washington’s ever-present red brick. Black-painted steel framing around the windows and metal grating and railings on the balcony and staircase supply a crisp, industrial edge.
The rooms of the condo duplexes, one occupying the top two floors and the other housed on the first level and basement, allowed more freedom in design. Broader than the typical row house, the 21-foot-wide interiors left room for the stairs to be extended as a straight run up the side. That, in turn, allowed the living spaces to become more open than many of the “lofts” now being built from scratch around town: There are no walls to interrupt the airy expanse. The only fixed space is the kitchen at the center, set off by a lower ceiling and a granite-topped island.
“The openness of the main level is unique,” says attorney Lesley Benn, who purchased the top-floor condo last June. “I’d never seen anything like this.” Benn also enjoys the outdoor space built into her unit, including a terrace off her bedroom, which is set back from the street, and a rooftop deck with impressive views. A spiral stair tucked into the building’s back corner allows her to reach the condo from parking at the rear.
Clearly evident throughout the building are Husted’s skills in both design and construction, which urban planner Chris Perrine says convinced him to buy the first-floor condo. “This property stood out in terms of the attention to detail and quality of workmanship,” Perrine says. “Little things like the hardware, the simple but elegant moldings, the solid wood doors…These things are not common for new construction, in my experience.”
Deborah K. Dietsch is editor of Waterfront Home & Design. Photographer Maxwell MacKenzie is based in Washington, DC.
In the lower unit, light-colored bamboo floors and maple cabinetry enhance the airiness of the first-floor living level.
Space-saving cabinets are built under the steel-framed staircase, which leads to the bedrooms on the top floor of the upper unit.
In the upper unit, floors of reclaimed oak extend past the kitchen island with its suspended rack and stainless-steel exhaust hood.
On the top floor, a skylight fills the bathroom with sunshine. Ceramic floor tiles simulate slate.