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“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
This statement, made by Leonardo da Vinci, still rings true today. In fact, it perfectly embodies a newly completed loft in DC’s Adams Morgan, where simple forms and finishes convey a powerful sense of elegance and repose. This apparent simplicity, however, belies a number of challenges that faced its designers, Robert Cole and Sophie Prévost.
A busy Washington attorney, the homeowner initially hired the husband-and-wife principals of ColePrévost, Inc., to help furnish her new industrial-style abode. Little did they know, they were about to embark on an involved project that would drastically alter the space from a hip but generic shell into a custom-tailored cocoon that wholeheartedly embraces the owner’s aesthetic and lifestyle.
With its exposed ductwork and concrete ceilings, the property had a cool urban vibe. But as Cole and Prévost became better acquainted with the two-story, two-bedroom condominium, they uncovered a handful of trouble spots. A leaky roof was ruining the bamboo floors. The master bedroom suite, with its compartmentalized rooms, defeated the purpose of open loft living. And exposed metal transoms in the upper-level office, with clearance at just over six feet, rendered the space practically useless. Addressing these dilemmas ultimately led the owner to decide on a complete renovation that, in stages, would replace her existing roof, kitchen, bathrooms and floors; remove walls that were closing off the kitchen and bedroom spaces; create a usable office and gym on the upper level; and build out an expansive roof terrace complete with an herb garden and al fresco kitchen.
As the project evolved, Cole and Prévost took a holistic approach, considering not only the interior architecture but also the furniture, lighting and color schemes along the way. Because their client was open to new ideas and willing to experiment, they devised a number of highly customized features. The kitchen adjacent to the main entry, once blocked off by drywall partitions, became a showpiece in itself. Inspired by a kitchen the homeowner saw in Belgium, the designers installed a wall of hot-rolled stainless steel that can be opened when cooking is underway but otherwise conceals most of the kitchen’s inner workings. “In the composition, we thought it would be really nice if it wasn’t so obvious that it was a kitchen,” says Prévost. “We wanted it to look like a cool object.” The kitchen’s translucent ceiling houses LED lights that can be set to glow in white—or any color of the rainbow. Stainless steel, pre-scratched to create a ready-made patina, clads the maple cabinetry while the island countertop is a pre-cast concrete slab with a black walnut sideboard at one end.
This material palette, along with the same rigorous attention to detail, prevails throughout the loft. To keep the plan open and free of clutter, Cole and Prévost devised novel, built-in solutions for storage, seating and even watching TV. “There was a general understanding between us that minimal was good,” says Prévost. In the main sitting area, they designed two low walls made of black steel laminated onto a frame of black walnut. Along one of the walls, a low concrete bench provides additional seating and the fuel reservoir for a built-in fireplace. A flat-screen TV behind the fireplace is raised and lowered via hydraulic lift and is concealed when not in use.
Wide-plank black walnut floors are a warm, organic foil to the industrial steel and concrete. A cool silver and blue palette creates a soothing backdrop, from the walls and fabrics to the custom Odegard rug and gossamer dining room drapes. “Our client works very hard and needs to come home to a calm space,” says Prévost. “We played up the contrast with really beautiful materials like the wood and the fabrics, finding a balance between luxury and softness and the raw, industrial edge.”
A sense of serenity also dominates in the master suite, located on the other side of the kitchen. ColePrévost’s plan traded a series of enclosed spaces (bedroom, closet, bathroom) for a more open and airy layout. Opposite the bed, a floating partition displays a flat-screen TV on one side while the other side contains the owner’s spacious closet and dressing area. The luxurious bath boasts a honed limestone vanity and a wooden Agape tub. The designers also revamped a second bathroom on the main level near the guest room, with muted glass tiles and a custom vanity.
Up the stairs, which were re-built in the renovation, a dramatically different home office awaits. Gone are the metal trusses; a new roof and a ceiling structure created a vaulted space where the owner now enjoys a custom desk at one end and a workout area on the other. From here, she can view the lower level over a steel and walnut balustrade with acid-etched glass panels, and also access her newly completed roof garden.
Designed by ColePrévost, the terrace was finished and planted in late 2010. As this oasis matures, the owner will tend her herb and lettuce garden and entertain guests under an arbor of wisteria; the well-equipped outdoor kitchen includes a refrigerator, icemaker, professional-grade grill, sink and granite countertops. A row of planters filled with ornamental grasses offers a screen of privacy.
Reflecting on how the project evolved over time, Cole and Prévost recall the many hours spent discussing ideas with their design-savvy client and working with contractor Alan Kanner, lighting designer Wayne Hinson, A-V specialist Ivan Duran and metal worker Steve Prudhomme to make their shared vision a reality. The result is a clean-lined, minimal space that looks deceptively straightforward.
“It’s almost maniacal how much work you have to do to make it come out right,” says Cole. “The best part is if you’ve done it right, it just looks simple.”
Photographer Timothy Bell splits his time between Washington, DC, and New York.
ARCHITECTURE & INTERIOR DESIGN: ROBERT COLE, RIBA; SOPHIE PREVOST, ASID, ColePrévost, Inc., Washington, DC. CONTRACTOR: Alan Kanner, Added Dimensions, Takoma Park, MD.