The open-plan kitchen/family room  is warm and inviting, with a spiral staircase that leads to the loft.
A massive, wood-burning stone fireplace is a focal point in the family room.
Reena Racki designed a glass-walled gallery to connect the original home to a new wing housing the bedrooms.
In the kitchen, oak cabinetry is paired with a combination of stainless steel and Caesarstone countertops.
Trellises in the terraced landscape control solar gain.
A patio in back leads from the kitchen down to the master bedroom area.
The home's design becomes increasingly contemporary as it moves away from the original structure.

Design Fusion

In the hands of architect Reena Racki, a cramped cottage becomes a spacious, modern abode

It all started with a simple kitchen remodel. Scott Kicker had just purchased a diminutive stone cottage in Alexandria on a 14,000-square-foot lot and contacted DC-based architect Reena Racki to accomplish this small-scale job. Racki embarked on the design—but stopped when Kicker was promoted in his job at AES, a Fortune 200 global power company, and decided to expand his plans. This would happen twice more over the next two years: Each time the homeowner received a promotion, the design agenda changed. A kitchen renovation became a whole new kitchen and family room, then a further addition was designed to house a master suite and additional bedrooms, then finally a two-car garage. “It was a meteoric rise,” recounts Racki, laughing about her client’s career path. “The most challenging aspect of the project was actually finishing the design phase!”

As Kicker’s wish list broadened, Racki conceived her own vision for the project: To blend the existing, circa-1930s structure seamlessly with its new, contemporary counterparts as well as the surrounding neighborhood of older homes. The client, who also married and had a child during the two-year design phase, wanted an open, airy home with natural light and ventilation. “He liked the fusion of the old building and new architecture,” Racki says, adding, “I was not going to just copy the old part of the house.” 

The finished residence houses vaulted, light-filled spaces detailed in a thoroughly modern vocabulary within a framework that reflects its architectural past. It is comprised of six volumes, including four living spaces and two glass-walled galleries that connect the structures. Racki created visual harmony throughout the home with her choice of materials. “There’s a general theme of stone extruded all across the front façade,” she explains. Stonework bookends the house, framing expanses of stucco and glass as well as a massive Carderock stone chimney. The original volume and the adjacent one are topped with standing-seam terne metal roofs, both of which Racki pitched at the same angle to further unify the volumes.

Inside, the original side-door Colonial structure was gutted and its front door centered to create a welcoming main entry to the house. To the left, a new guest suite with a sitting room opens to an existing screened porch, now modified with contemporary architectural touches. Two bedrooms and a bath occupy the second floor of the original volume.

To the right of the entry, a glass-walled gallery opens to a spacious, open-plan kitchen/family room. The pitched ceiling tapers off above the kitchen to define the cooking area. Twelve-foot window walls flank the stone-clad, wood-burning fireplace. A spiral staircase leads to a loft above the sitting area.

The kitchen showcases custom oak cabinetry and shelving that echo the reclaimed quarter-sawn oak floors used throughout the house. A glass backsplash, Caesarstone and stainless-steel countertops and stainless-steel appliances finish the crisp, modern look. The kitchen opens through nine-foot doors to a patio where Kicker and his family can enjoy al fresco meals.

Beyond the kitchen/family room, the volume containing the bedrooms is accessible through another glass-walled gallery. Down a short set of stairs, the ground-floor master suite is complete with a bedroom that opens to a small back patio; a sleek, spacious bath; and a closet by Poliform | Sagart Studio. Two bedrooms and an en suite bath are located upstairs; each bath repeats the Caesarstone-and-oak combination found in the kitchen. Downstairs from the master suite, a finished basement houses a media room and a separate, soundproof studio for Kicker, who enjoys playing and recording music.

The interiors are furnished with iconic, modern pieces such as chairs by Hans Wegner and an Odin leather sofa centered around a Noguchi coffee table. Kicker frequently travels to Asia for work and has picked up art along the way; the gallery spaces showcase his collection.

As Racki describes it, the house “becomes more modern as you move away from the old part.” It also becomes more private; bedroom windows have been strategically positioned for privacy as well as light. Landscape architect Joan Honeyman designed a front yard that partially obscures the window walls with evergreens while providing color throughout the seasons.

Building sustainably was important, so there is an emphasis on passive solar gain. The window walls are screened with trellises that are angled to block the light in summer and admit it in winter. The house is heavily insulated and the light-hued terne roofing and stucco walls reflect the heat. 

Racki was at pains to preserve the existing site. She retained all the mature trees on the lot, and rather than digging into the site’s natural incline, “We stepped the house down and fitted it into the landscape,” she says. “We tried to be empathetic with the site. The neighbors love it.” 

Photographer Alan Karchmer is based in Washington, DC. 

RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: REENA RACKI, AIA, Reena Racki Associates, Washington, DC. RENOVATION CONSTRUCTION: PAUL JEFFS, Acadia Construction, Bethesda, Maryland. LANDSCAPE DESIGN: JOAN HONEYMAN, ASLA, Jordan Honeyman Landscape Architecture, LLC, Washington, DC. STYLING: Sandra Benedum.