It was the perfect location: a half hour from Reagan National, a quick jump over the bridge to Georgetown, and minutes to downtown DC. When a couple—both frequent air travelers—purchased their Arlington home in late fall of 2001, this convenient locale sold them—along with the happy bonus of being nestled on a pretty, quiet street.
The problem was, the house was a mess. A contemporary clad in Western Maryland stone, it was built in 1971 and had been neglected in its perch on a small, terraced lot that slopes steeply to the street. “It hadn’t been lived in for a long time,” says the homeowner. “It was tired and needed an interior facelift.”
Within a few months, the couple had engaged designer Skip Sroka to help them whip the place into shape. “When I saw the house for the first time, I thought it was an interesting kind of California contemporary—fresh and original,” the designer recalls. “But when I walked in, it just fell apart.”
As the enormity of the three-bedroom home’s flaws became clear, the couple, a public affairs specialist and a consultant, realized structural changes would have to be made. With Sroka’s guidance, they embarked on a two-year renovation. “When we were done, nothing old or original was left inside,” Sroka says. “They moved into a shell.” Interior walls had been reconfigured, flooring ripped out and replaced, bathrooms relocated and ceiling heights changed. The kitchen and dining room traded places and the original entry shifted to accommodate a powder room. The relocated front door and surrounding windows represent the only exterior change; the outside of the house remains untouched.
The homeowners contacted Sroka again in 2006 for the next phase of the project: decorating the interiors. They were starting largely from scratch, looking for the right furniture, accessories and artwork. In the designer’s capable hands, the house became a bright, elegant, modern space full of interesting textures, furniture and art.
Today, entering through the front door means climbing a winding set of stairs from the driveway to a large terrace located above the garage; on this small, hilly property, it serves as both garden and gathering space. Along one wall is the entry, which opens into a foyer that used to contain an ostentatiously grand, circular staircase. Sroka and his clients dialed it back to manageable proportions, creating a simple rectangular stairway bordered by modern glass-and-steel railings. Opposite the front door, Sroka clad a wide, central wall in floor-to-ceiling, woven raffia panels that beautifully showcase a custom walnut sideboard of his design and a large-scale, antique circular mirror. The floor—which, says Sroka, was actually covered in pink and black tile (“everything was pink,” the homeowner observes in amazement), is now creamy beige Cascade marble.
In fact, the circular mirror is part of a design motif that developed spontaneously. Throughout the house, circular design elements recur—the most conspicuous being the dining room table, which measures 96 inches in diameter and is a stunning piece custom-made of rosewood, satinwood and ebony by Keith Fritz. Circles also crop up in the powder room, where a semi-circular wall mimics a round pedestal, basin and mirror.
The living room is irregularly shaped, with a ceiling soaring 20 feet at the highest and a stone fireplace that Sroka cleverly modernized with a sleek Botticino marble hearth and plaster surround faux painted to match. Two stories of windows flank the semi-circular room; the designer trimmed them with wide architectural moldings that lend greater presence to the space. Groupings of clean-lined, white-upholstered furniture are punctuated by pops of color in artwork, pillows and honey-toned wood occasional pieces, such as a round, glass-topped coffee table by Dakota Jackson.
The dining room is similarly irregular in shape, with built-in cabinets of rift-cut oak. Linen-covered walls provide a backdrop for works by New York artist David Shapiro; two custom sideboards by Eric Brand are made of rosewood topped with slabs of Jerusalem Gold marble. The remarkable circular rug is a custom piece inspired by a trip Sroka and his clients made to a museum where they saw paintings by Jackson Pollock. “I had a rug made that would look like paint splatters,” Sroka says. “The bonus is that it turns out to really hide spills!”
For the kitchen remodel, designer J. Paul Lobkovich combined anigre custom cabinetry by German manufacturer Studio Becker with granite countertops. In the breakfast area, a collection of colorful, whimsical dog paintings found in a gallery in Provincetown hangs above a curved wall of windows. Sroka designed the oblong table and paired it with chairs from Directions Upholstery and a banquette from Hickory White. He recently had a kitchen island constructed out of stainless steel and concrete. It’s on wheels, allowing the owners to adapt it to any occasion or use.
Upstairs, the original master bedroom suite was comprised of choppy, smaller spaces: a bedroom, two separate closets and a bath with a sunken hot tub. The suite was gutted to create a large bedroom with a sitting area. Sroka designed a built-in TV cabinet for the sitting area out of woven raffia and rift-cut oak. A spacious master bath is clad in Cascade marble and glass tile while an elaborate dressing room, designed by Vincent Sagart of Poliform | Sagart Studio, boasts built-in dark Italian walnut closet components.
Nearly 10 years after the renovation began, the house is finally complete. It was a long journey, but as Sroka says, the inside has finally caught up with the outside. “It’s a total transformation,” he observes. “The house is what it was meant to be but never was. The interior and exterior breathe together as one.”
Photographer Timothy Bell splits his time between Washington, DC, and New York.
INTERIOR DESIGN: SKIP SROKA, ASID, CID, Sroka Design, Inc., Washington, DC. KITCHEN DESIGN: J. PAUL LOBKOVICH, Lobkovich Kitchen Designs, Tysons Corner, Virginia. CONTRACTOR: CHRIS CORCORAN, Corcoran Builders, Inc., Olney, Maryland.