Sycamore was applied to cabinets in the kitchen and around
the remodeled fireplace to unite the space.
Architects certainly have the skills to remodel their own homes, but not all of them want to take on the job. “Renovating is a huge undertaking,” admits the architect-owner of this airy apartment in the District’s Kalorama neighborhood. “I have a busy job in corporate real estate and just didn’t have the time to do it myself. I also needed a fresh outlook.”
Trained as an architect, he was drawn to the urban location of the two-bedroom condominium and its unusual features as part of a 1916 building. The fifth-floor apartment includes a working fireplace and a row of windows offering picturesque rooftop views. But the décor was outdated, so the owner completed a basic overhaul before seeking professional help. “It had salmon pink walls and kelly green carpet in the back,” he recalls. “I immediately neutralized the space and then ruminated for a while about how to renovate.”
He eventually turned to DC-based Andreas Charalambous of Forma Design to transform the cramped rooms into an open, streamlined space. Once working together, the two architects found they shared the same design sensibility. “We both like spaces that are clean, spare, simple and modern,” says the owner. “We also both agree that lighting is critical.”
Achieving such a pared-down contemporary design proved a challenge given the long, narrow layout of the unit, which lacks a foyer. “A critical flaw was that you walked in and all you saw was the kitchen,” says Charalambous. “The two bedrooms at the back weren’t big enough to be comfortable.”
His approach was to remove as many walls as was practical to open the rooms to the windows and make the 16-foot-wide apartment feel larger. The expansiveness is enhanced by a limited palette of materials and colors that are repeated to establish visual continuity between the spaces.
Although the kitchen is still visible from the entrance, it has been integrated into the dining and living areas so that the entire front of the apartment feels like one big room. A wall separating the kitchen and living area was removed and replaced by an island with stainless-steel appliances tucked below the countertop.
Both ends of the multi-functional space are finished in the same materials to unite them visually. Sycamore on the wall-mounted kitchen cabinets is repeated around the fireplace in shelves and paneling, and the concrete of the countertops reappears in the sleek fireplace surround and a coffee table designed by Charalambous. The light celadon paint on the walls is picked up in a Tibetan rug resting on bamboo floors extending throughout the rooms.
“This is my favorite space,” says the owner, sitting at the cherry dining table next to the kitchen. “It’s like a nest,” he says, pointing to the treetops outside the windows. An avid art collector, he filled the walls with vibrant contemporary paintings collected in local galleries and on trips to Puerto Rico. Ceramic teapots displayed on the shelves next to the fireplace add a handcrafted touch.
In the main living space, an orange Swan chair by Danish designer Arne Jacobsen placed next to the ivory-upholstered sofas serves as a functional sculpture. “I got rid of my old furniture,” says the owner. “It didn’t fit into the contemporary look.”
Behind the fireplace, the bathroom at the center of the apartment now sparkles with new fixtures, including a shower tiled in glass to match the kitchen backsplash. It is small but makes use of found space: A linen closet was inserted into the thick wall shared with the living room and to compensate, some of the sycamore “cabinets” next to the fireplace ended up as paneling.
The bedrooms at the rear combine both the bathroom’s dark wood finishes and the living space’s multi-functional design. Charalambous and the owner debated over combining the two into a large master suite or preserving them as individual spaces. They decided to compromise by turning one into a study with wooden bookshelves flanking a pull-down bed for guests and the other into a bedroom for the owner. Separating the two spaces is a partition fitted with sliding pocket doors, which can be shut when a visitor stays over. Along the side bedroom wall are 20 feet of closets to provide acoustical insulation as well as ample storage space.
Since its completion, the bachelor pad has been honored with a 2008 silver design award for residential interiors from the International Interior Design Association. Both architects are pleased with the outcome and agree the process was pleasurable. “It was so great working with an informed client,” says Charalambous. “I didn’t have to convince him of my design ideas.”
Washington, DC-based Deborah K. Dietsch is the author of the recently published Live/Work: Working at Home, Living at Work (Abrams, New York, NY). Photographer Geoffrey Hodgdon is based in Washington, DC.
Architecture: Andreas Charalambous, AIA, IIDA, Forma Design, Inc., Washington, DC.
to create one large room. Sycamore was applied to cabinets
in the kitchen and around the remodeled fireplace to unite
the space the living space.
In the living space, a concrete coffee table matches the
Appliances, including the refrigerator, are tucked below
the kitchen island to allow for visual flow between the
The bathroom offers dark wood finishes and a sleek design.
The dark wood of the bathroom vanity and mirror frame is
repeated in the guest room/study with its pull-down bed.