Lorena Checa eliminated a wall that enclosed the kitchen, creating an open living space.
Seen from the backyard, an octagonal seating area lends interest to the back porch.
The new screened porch gives the homeowners extra living space as well as a view at tree-height.
BEFORE: The previous kitchen was dark and disconnected from the rest of the house.
BEFORE: Prior to the renovation, the master bedroom was dark and cramped.
The master bath features a double shower of recycled tiles fitted with glass block.

Portfolio – A Green Retreat

Architect Lorena Checa marries two adjoining townhouses in eco-friendly style

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2010

Just west of Georgetown, Foxhall Village blooms with Tudor-style townhouses, tree-lined streets and flowering traffic circles. Bordered by Glover-Archbold Park, whose trails link to the C & O Canal, the neighborhood is an oasis in the city—and a bucolic backdrop to the unusual renovation story of two 1927 townhouses that became one home. Already connected by the previous owners, the townhouses offered a total of 4,050-square feet of living space—just not the right kind. When new owners moved in, they wanted to improve on the design of the combined spaces. 


“The house had a lot of very small rooms,” says the homeowner. “There seemed to be doors everywhere. Everything was cut up.” In fact, closing off one staircase was about all the previous owners had done to make the joined buildings feel like a single house. The sellers had even kept the two front doors.


The homeowners turned to Lorena Checa of Lorena Checa Associates for help. “The task,” notes Checa, “was to add flow and to maximize daylight.” Green design, a Checa trademark, was also important to the homeowners who, with their two young children, remained in their former residence while Checa essentially gutted the house. 


Checa began by removing the L-shaped wall that had enclosed the kitchen, making the remainder of the living space on one side of the joined townhouses narrow, dark and almost unusable. “An original structural column needed to stay,” says Checa. “We made it into a sculptural element by enclosing it in a round cover and adding a soffit to hide the duct work. Instead of making the soffit flat, we added a swirl to make it ‘dance’ with the column.”


To add light, Checa replaced the tiny window behind the living area and much of the dining room wall on the other side of the kitchen with oversized glass doors. She also convinced the owners to knock down the small deck. In its place, Checa designed a screened porch, highlighted by an octagonal seating area. 


“We weren’t originally going to do this,” says the homeowner. “But it’s added a huge amount of living space and when we look out, we just see green. It’s wonderful.” To add privacy—the porch faced the neighboring home—and light, Checa installed a skylight in the ceiling and built a wall of glass block between the row houses. “Lorena’s an architect, but also a designer,” says the homeowner. “Her little touches make a big difference.”


The former kitchen was also a problem. “My husband cooks a lot and he’s tall. He wanted an island, lots of storage and high cabinets,” says the wife. Checa worked with the couple to design their dream kitchen, which features a large, oval island topped with black granite that connects to a round table, large enough for kids’ meals and morning coffee. Among the green features: low-flow plumbing, energy-efficient appliances, dual dishwashers and ovens and compact fluorescent lights. 


Checa reused the original oak floor and hired a craftsman to fashion cabinets from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood. For more “green,” Checa installed solar panels on the roof. “We haven’t paid any money to heat our water since,” says the homeowner. 


Checa and her project designer, Frederick Johnson, increased storage in the living room with built-in closets and maximized space by floating shelves on either side of the fireplace. “The shelves conceal steel brackets,” says Checa. “By keeping the shelves off the floor, it tricks the eye into thinking there’s more space and it provides a clean look.” What happened to the second entryway? Checa morphed that into a much needed, first-floor powder room. Upstairs, Johnson also designed built-in shelves, cabinets and desks to maximize space in the two children’s bedrooms. 


High on the clients’ wish list was a large master suite with a separate study and dressing area. To create the study, Checa and Johnson punched through an interior wall to create a doorway to link a smaller bedroom to the master bedroom. Then, they removed closets that ate up floor space, exchanging them for built-in shelves and cabinets. Underneath the windows that overlook the lawn’s cherry trees, Johnson and Checa ran a wall-length desk, big enough for two. 


The adjacent master bedroom, however, posed a dilemma. “The bed is positioned under a mansard roof with a sloping ceiling that makes the room feel smaller than it is,” says Checa. The solution: creating a skylight with a big, splayed well. “The pyramid-shaped well maximizes light, ” says Checa. “By angling the well, we quadrupled the light dispersed and created a sense of height.” 


From another small bedroom, Checa carved a dressing area flanked by his-and-hers closets and brightened the space with a skylight. The area leads to the master bath, whose pièce de résistance is the double shower of recycled glass tiles fitted with glass block. 


“Lorena has amazing ideas and everyone she recommended—the stone person, the cabinet maker, the solar company—did excellent work,” says the homeowner. “We love the house.”  


Candyce Stapen is based in Washington, DC. Kenneth M. Wyner is a Takoma Park, Maryland-based photographer. 


RENOVATION DESIGN: Lorena Checa, AIA, LEED AP, Lorena Checa Associates, Takoma Park, Maryland. 

**Out of the array of interior design magazines, Home and Design magazine stands out as a primary idea source for luxury home design and building/remodeling features.  Wonderful visuals of custom homes and eco-friendly resources are combined with expert advice to provide a fundamental reference point for bringing amazing home interior design and remodeling projects to life.