Four years is a long time to spend creating the perfect home, but for Bruno Lassus, the design of his penthouse has been well worth the wait. This bi-level apartment in historic Georgetown is the antithesis of the traditional homes in the neighborhood. White marble floors flow through open, pared-down spaces illuminated by skylights and large windows. The staircase connecting the two floors resembles a large piece of abstract artwork assembled from blocks of marble.
“It looks simple, but it was complex to achieve,” says Lassus of the Minimalist design. “There were technical and logistical challenges as well as the rules set by the condo board.” The French-born homeowner, who works for 3M Cogent in biometric identification technology, bought the penthouse in 2005 for its location. He enjoys running and biking on the nearby C & O Canal towpath, and kayaking on the Potomac River a few blocks away. Balconies off both levels of the apartment provide views of those waterways and rooftops in the heart of Georgetown.
After deciding to remodel the condo in 2007, Lassus sought the advice of two architects before turning to Christy Schlesinger of Schlesinger Associate Architects. “I wanted to open the place and make it light and airy, but those first architects kept designing closed rooms with doors,” says Lassus. “My goal was to create timeless spaces so 50 years from now, people will say they are modern.”
Schlesinger understood her client’s desire for a spare, bold aesthetic, having designed a sleek loft in nearby Cady’s Alley as well as food stalls made of re-purposed shipping containers near Nationals Park. “My sensibility is about the development of classic Modernism,” she says. “Bruno and I both wanted everything to be perfect and kept simplifying the design, taking things out to make sure it was the purest it could be.”
On the main level, the architect lowered the ceilings over the kitchen and dining area so the adjacent living area feels taller and more spacious. Glowing cove lighting accentuates the planes of the ceilings and linear fireplace wall to help define each space. Sleek European cabinets and appliances in the kitchen are partially screened from the living space by a gumwood cabinet stretched between columns hiding ductwork and pipes.
“Without the wood, the interior would have been too sterile,” says Lassus, whose preference for glass, metal and stone is clearly evident. His furnishings, collected over decades, mostly comprise modern classics, including 1920s designs by architect Le Corbusier. The dining table is designed by British architect Norman Foster and paired with contemporary chairs from Spain. After searching for the perfectly streamlined bed, Lassus had one custom-made by Sarabi Studio in Austin, Texas, so shelves for lamps are attached to the headboard.
The staircase leading to the upper level is clad in plain and veined marble to create graphic patterns accentuating the movement through the space. In developing its sculptural design, Schlesinger studied the play of vertical and horizontal geometries through physical and computer models. “The configuration of the stair changed about 10 times before we were done,” the architect recalls. “It was a labor of love.” Stone slabs quarried in Turkey and Italy had to be lifted by crane and passed through a window to be installed on the floors and staircase.
Upstairs, a bedroom and a bathroom were demolished to make way for the open study at the top of the staircase. Dark, marble-clad columns and a gumwood cabinet in the workspace repeat the downstairs finishes to establish visual continuity between the two levels. The master suite stretches from the bedroom at the front to the bathroom at the back. In between the two spaces are closets enclosed in frosted glass.
Even the most utilitarian spaces in the apartment feel like an art gallery. In the master bath, the veined marble of the staircase is repeated on the walls and backsplash. The freestanding bathtub, which Lassus admits he rarely uses, is displayed against the marble through a wall of glass. The rectangular, Australian-made sinks are so minimalist in design that they share a long recessed slot at the back to catch the water rather than using conventional drains. The wall-mounted Italian toilet resembles an egg-shaped sculpture.
A globetrotter who has been to Antarctica and frequently travels to Africa, the homeowner has judiciously placed tokens from his trips around his home. Photos and artifacts provide some of the few accents of color in the clutter-free interiors, where every detail is painstakingly considered. As Lassus notes, “Only a perfectionist can live in a home like this.”
Writer Deborah K. Dietsch is based in Washington, DC. Photographer Paul Warchol is based in New York City.
ARCHITECTURE: Christy Schlesinger, Schlesinger Associate Architects, Washington, DC. CONTRACTOR: PETER C. SANDS, 22nd Street LLC, Arlington, Virginia.