Gene Samburg's classic Barcelona chair provides the perfect perch from which to savor the view.
Niches in the marble-faced fireplace wall display colorful art and sculpture.
Dark glass cabinets hold audio components and a flat-screen television in the media room.
A colorful abstract painting adorns the landing of the new open staircase.
As in the upper level living space, the master bedroom offers a spectacular view of Washington.

City Vista

A penthouse is modernized and reconfigured around spectacular views of monumental Washington


To describe entrepreneur A. Gene Samburg’s living space as a room with a view would be an understatement. Beckoning from the windows is a spectacular panorama of Washington, stretching across the Potomac River to the monuments on the Mall.

“Every single time I look out and see the views, I am blown away,” says Samburg. “They never get old and I never get used to them.” 

The impressive vista was once the sole attraction of the Rosslyn, Virginia, penthouse before the businessman undertook an ambitious renovation of its three levels. “Apart from the view, it was just a bunch of dark little rooms that looked like a rabbit warren,” he recalls of the condominium’s former incarnation. 

The task of remodeling the cramped spaces fell to McLean, Virginia-based architect William Lecky who had previously designed Samburg’s corporate offices and his Delaware beach house. “Gene had been living in a traditional house but he had always wanted to go contemporary,” says Lecky. “He gave me the chance to make this what I thought it should be—very light and open with views from all over the place.”

Samburg decided to trade his large house in the suburbs for a more urban setting several years after his wife Lorrie passed away in 1998. He was alerted to the sale of the Rosslyn penthouse by a co-worker who lives in the building and spotted a notice on a bulletin board in the lobby. 

In addition to changing his place of residence, Samburg sold his Arlington-based company Kastle Systems International in 2007 to Washington venture capitalist Mark Ein. Founded by Samburg in 1972, the company pioneered electronic-security system technology, replacing conventional keys and locks with access cards.

Samburg’s fresh start led him to jettison the traditional décor of his previous home for modern furnishings arranged on travertine floors, but only after coaxing from Lecky. As the businessman explains, “I’m a guy who likes comfortable furniture and curling his toes around carpet, but Bill took me to a hotel lobby with elegant marble so I was sold.”

Built-in cabinets and colorful contemporary artwork now accent tall, flowing spaces reconfigured from separate rooms on three levels. “The floor plan was a jumble and the ceiling heights were low so we gutted the entire place,” says Lecky. In the foyer, the ceiling was removed to create a two-story stair hall under a new skylight. The stairs now lead up to the living room where the dramatic city vistas are visible through floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors leading to a balcony. 

Mirrors on one side of the living space reflect the panoramas while a marble-paneled fireplace on the opposite wall incorporates niches for abstract art. A simple leather sofa and chairs, a classic Barcelona chair and a glass-topped coffee table form an elegant modern backdrop to set off the views.

Scenes outside the windows can also be enjoyed from the dining area on an upper level open to the living room. This floor is reached from a staircase framed in glass panels and stainless-steel railings. As in the living room, a custom-designed console extends along one side of the space for storing silverware and china. 

“Gene is fanatical about using every inch of space,” says Lecky. Built-in cabinets finished in a tropical hardwood called anigre warm most of the clean-lined rooms and keep them free of clutter. All of the millwork, including wall paneling and doors, was constructed by Canadian-based Patella Woodworking to maintain a crisply consistent look.

Off the dining room, a former laundry space, mechanical room and hallway were transformed into a space-efficient kitchen with stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops. On one side, a wood-paneled door opens to the elevator connecting the unit’s three floors. “It comes in handy for the caterers when I have parties,” says Samburg.

A cozy room set behind the kitchen provides a place for watching TV, listening to music and playing chess on a custom game table. Built-in glass and wood cabinets extend along one wall to conceal audio and media components.

Sequestered from the living spaces on the middle entrance level are paired bedroom suites for Samburg’s visiting son and daughter, and six grandchildren. Their portraits hang near the guest rooms, above a staircase leading to the lowest floor housing the owner’s bedroom suite, office and anigre-paneled sitting area.

The master bedroom lies below the living area to offer the same dazzling city vista through a wall of glass. “I rarely close the curtains when I sleep and never use an alarm clock so I awaken each morning to the sun rising over that spectacular view,” says Samburg.

To make the 12-foot-high space feel more intimate, Lecky extended a row of beams across the ceiling and set the bed into a niche framed by shelves and built-in nightstands.

In the adjacent bathroom, Samburg selected the Japanese toilet and the New Zealand-made chrome hinges on the glass shower door from designs he had seen while traveling in Asia. To install the Jacuzzi tub, an exploration of a different sort was required: A hole had to be drilled in the concrete floor slab for a plumbing trap so the basin could be lowered to the proper height.

Other parts of the renovation required similar ingenuity. “The ceiling beams in the bedroom had to be brought up by crane and taken through the glass doors because they wouldn’t fit in the elevator,” recalls Lecky. 

But for the owner, such maneuvering was not the most unexpected part of the project. “My biggest surprise is that the design exceeded my expectations,” says Samburg. “This is a home that really suits my style. I wouldn’t have done anything differently.” 


Washington, DC-based Deborah K. Dietsch is a frequent contributor to HOME & DESIGN. Photographer Bob Narod is based in Herndon, Virginia.


ARCHITECTURE: William P. Lecky, FAIA, Lecky Design Studio, McLean, Virginia. CUSTOM MILLWORK: Patella Woodworking, Ontario, Canada. KITCHEN DESIGN: Voell Custom Kitchens, Arlington, Virginia.

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