Aziz and Badria Azimi purchased a traditional Falls Church, Virginia, Colonial for its scenic, private grounds, which include a meandering creek. Though the property was everything they wanted, the 2001 home, with its small windows and closed-in rooms, made it difficult for the couple to appreciate its surroundings. They decided to build an addition that would provide the openness the house lacked, and turned to Forma Design architect Andreas Charalambous to do the job.
However, Charalambous had other ideas. At 7,000 square feet, he told them, the house was large enough. What it needed was for the first floor to be reconfigured and opened up. “There were a lot of chopped-up rooms,” he says. “They didn’t need an addition; they needed a space without all those walls and doors.”
Eventually, the architect was able to persuade the couple to change tracks—a task made easier by the fact that Badria had always wanted an open, contemporary-style home—and work within the existing footprint of the house. The result is a clean-lined, modern expanse full of light, with easy access to the picturesque, quarter-acre yard and nearby Lake Barcroft.
Charalambous began by opening up the entryway, replacing the traditional, curved stairwell with a straight, open-backed staircase of oak treads and white-painted steel railings intended “to let light come through.” Instead of a solid wall at the top of the stairs, a steel railing imparts a contemporary feel. A newly widened hallway runs along the staircase to the back of the house, which has been dramatically transformed into a large, airy living space delineated by columns and dropped ceilings that, says the architect, “are all about defining the area and differentiating space.”
Charalambous’ innovative design decisions all reflected his goal of creating an open environment. He raised the family room’s sunken floor to establish the sense of an uninterrupted plane. Windows now line the whole rear wall of the home, admitting light as well as views of nature. A 10-foot-wide EcoSmart fireplace has replaced the traditional hearth; it separates the main seating area from the front hall without obstructing the light or creating a barrier. Furnishings are light and contemporary, occupying the space without dominating it. A wide, wrap-around deck with cable railings offers access to the outdoors with a virtually unobstructed view.
While he removed most of the walls on the main floor, Charalambous left the wall that separates the front hall from the kitchen intact to provide a visual and structural anchor. He painted the wall brick red, then added red and burnt-orange accents throughout the house “to animate the space.”
For owner Badria Aziz, the kitchen was the most important part of the renovation. The couple, who owns an engineering and management-consulting firm, has family and friends over all the time. “I love to cook,” Badria says, “so I needed a space I enjoy being in.” Traditional cabinetry made way for a striking combination of dark wenge and glossy white-lacquer cabinets and Silestone countertops. The island was extended to include a table-height section big enough to seat five. Charalambous took down upper cabinets along the outside kitchen wall, substituting an extended bay window. He eliminated the large pantry cupboard, which blocked the kitchen from the formal dining room, then installed cabinetry on the wall opposite the window. Nearly transparent shades let in light while softening the lines of the room.
The final component of the project was the basement, which the Azizes envisioned as a party and recreation area, with a media center, bar and plenty of space for large gatherings. As you descend the staircase, “it feels like you’re going to a basement but you’re definitely not,” Charalambous says. “It’s very unexpected.” The stairs lead to a landing with an exercise room off to the left; turn the corner and the staircase widens to reveal an imposing space with 18-foot ceilings (made possible by the steep slope on which the house is built). Spare, contemporary furnishings echo the reds and oranges from upstairs. A concrete-topped gas fireplace occupies the center of the room.
Tucked into one corner there’s a big, gracefully curved bar topped with black granite; at the other end of the room, a media center offers “a more intimate area,” as Charalambous describes it. “The ceiling is about eight feet high and it comes out like a theater marquee.” Outside the wall of windows, the creek burbles along, bringing the outdoors in.The Azizes couldn’t be happier with their renovation—and they enjoy the contrast between the exterior and interiors. “People are amazed when they walk in,” Badria says. “From the outside it looks totally different.”
Geoffrey Hodgdon is a photographer based in Deale, Maryland.
ARCHITECTURE & INTERIOR DESIGN: Andreas Charalambous, AIA, IIDA, Forma Design, Washington, DC. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: EHO Construction, Alexandria, Virginia.