It was the spacious 28-foot terrace and breathtaking view that first attracted the owner to a fifth-floor, one-bedroom condo in Arlington, Virginia, back in 1994. And for a long time, the view sufficed. The rest of the apartment, which she describes as “builder-grade everything, all white,” remained untouched—until 12 years later, when it was time to install a new floor and ceiling fans.
At that point, the homeowner, a communications consultant, met with interior designer Andrea Houck and “it all kind of spiraled.” Houck envisioned a home that would better reflect her client’s personality, with a higher level of finishes, stylish furnishings and a cohesiveness that the current space lacked. Through a combination of structural and cosmetic changes, she was able to completely transform the apartment. “Everything is new,” the homeowner says happily. “Lights, floors, furniture—everything.”
The need for new ceiling fans resulted in the first structural change. Houck lowered the ceiling by two and a half inches to accommodate new wiring and, in the process, was able to cover an ugly popcorn ceiling. The kitchen area was enclosed by a wall that obstructed the view from the entryway to the living room and terrace; Houck removed the wall from counter-level up, concealing troublesome vent pipes in the process and flooding the kitchen with natural light. With the wall gone, the kitchen, living and dining areas became a single, integrated space.
One of Houck’s challenges was to help her client hone in on her personal style, since—as the homeowner readily admits—she herself couldn’t define it. “I used a designer the way you’re supposed to,” she says, explaining that Houck presented her with samples, plans and ideas and she responded to them, learning about herself and her own preferences in the process.
The designer used additional overhead lighting and a color scheme of olive greens and earth tones—the homeowner’s favorite palette—to impart coziness and warmth. Textures and materials lend sophistication and interest, including a gas fireplace with a surround made of pressed glass and a mantel of zebrawood. Grass-cloth wallpaper adorns the doors of two custom cabinets in the living room, both designed by Houck, and it also lines the bookshelves in the library to connect the rooms. “I tried to use surfaces more than once so the repetition would unify the space,” Houck explains.
The kitchen underwent a complete makeover, with custom Decora cherry cabinetry in an espresso finish, Black Galaxy granite (which is repeated in the guest bath) and an eye-catching backsplash of small, vertical granite and marble rectangular tiles in brown and olive tones. The floors are hand-picked, pink-hued slate with random black dots, which Houck also used in front of the door to the terrace in the library.
Both baths in the apartment have been renovated. The guest bath, in close proximity to the kitchen, picks up the same earth tones. The sink console is made from a piece of furniture, with a distinctive, round glass sink painted black with a crackle texture. The room has a geometric motif, with square-patterned wallpaper, three square-shaped decorative shelving units set into the wall and a square-tiled wall behind the sink; small, square sparkling glass tiles line the insides of the shelves and trim the sink area.
The master bath, which the homeowner characterizes in its original form as “the ugliest white bathroom you ever saw,” is now an inviting space that communicates a restful vibe. Its focal point is a bank of iridescent tiles on the bathtub walls; green-hued slate floors (hand-picked like those in the kitchen) complement the tiles while a granite-topped console with zebrawood doors houses the sink.
The master bedroom was the least altered by the renovation: Houck retained the original furniture, had the artwork reframed and purchased striated silk bedding; window cornices match the headboard. The bedroom artwork features a tropical motif, reflective of the homeowner’s interest in diving and frequent visits to the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos. These bright hues repeat themselves in the library, which houses colorful artwork, a vivid, flowered rug and brightly hued sofa pillows and upholstery.
Initially, the homeowner worried that window treatments in the living room would impede both the view and the light, but Houck persuaded her to rethink her position. Draperies from Donghia in a loose-knit fabric now soften the room’s lines while admitting plenty of light; sun-block shades cover windows that open toward the other residences. The floors, the original impetus for the whole redesign, are now a dark African hardwood—exactly what the homeowner wanted. “I never could have done this on my own,” she says. “The process was just wonderful.”
Photographer Lydia Cutter is based in McLean, Virginia.
INTERIOR DESIGN: Andrea Houck, A. Houck Designs, Arlington, Virginia. CONTRACTOR: FSI Renovations, Alexandria, Virginia.