Once the offices for the Central African Republic, an 1890 row house in Kalorama Cool had fallen into major disrepair by the time a couple of empty nesters decided to purchase it. They tapped Muse Architects to redesign their new abode and Glass Construction to overhaul the space. The result—which won a Grand Contractor of the Year award for Entire House over $1 Million—is a clean-lined, light-filled home that deftly blends traditional and contemporary architectural features.
Because the house was a historic property, the owners had to preserve the original front façade—though it was clear to the design team from the start that the interiors would have to be gutted. Glass Construction revived the exterior by restoring the windows, front door and stairs, and stripping the painted brick down to its original warm red. Inside, “the house was severely neglected,” says principal Tom Glass. “The roof leaked and the interior finishes had deteriorated. Basically, we took it down to the four brick walls.”
The renovated house comprises four full stories including the finished, above-ground basement. As architect Stephen Muse says, “the house was exceptionally dark. The owners wanted a new, contemporary design but even more, they wanted a lot more natural light.”
To answer all their wishes, he designed a modern plan that would flood the stairwell with light: Fixed-glass panels were installed in the roof and the heavy wood staircase was replaced with slender steel cable railings and open risers. In the upper hallways, the floors are inset with opaque glass panels. “Light pours down from the roof all the way to the basement level,” Muse says.
Surrounded by private lots with no yard to speak of, the house is virtually landlocked—so Glass and his team built a wood-and-steel rooftop terrace that allows the owners to enjoy the outdoors. Just off the kitchen, a narrow patio spans the width of the house. Originally set at ground level, it’s been raised eight feet to make it accessible from the main floor where it can be reached through French doors.
Muse retained a separate entry hall. The spacious living room is connected to the new kitchen and dining area through a short passageway with a barrel-vault ceiling. Built-in shelves line the living room, where a fireplace was removed to free up wall space. The shelves display books, sculpture and other memorabilia, while abstract art from the owners’ collection adorns the walls.
To create a higher ceiling in the kitchen/dining area, the architect placed the space a step down from the rest of the main level. It has a warm, modern vibe, with clean-lined, custom maple cabinetry and honed Absolute Black granite countertops and backsplash. Tumbled travertine floors are inset with slate accents. A wall of windows brings in yet more natural light.
The second floor houses the master suite, encompassing a bedroom, bath and small closet. Because of the lack of closet space, Muse designed extensive built-ins that line the master bedroom walls. They incorporate shelving, cabinetry, drawers and even the bedstead; clerestory windows along one wall admit light. Porcelain tile and a mosaic-pebble shower floor embellish the master bath. On the third floor, there are three bedrooms—one for each of the owners’ two grown daughters when they visit and a guest room—plus another full bath.
Muse called on interior designer Celia Welch to help choose a palette and furniture for the remodeled home. The owners sought a contemporary sensibility, but also wanted it to be fun and vibrant. “They love color,” Welch explains, “so though I chose light paint colors to highlight the architecture, there were punches of strong color in the art, rugs and other accessories.” She furnished the rooms with a mix of new and repurposed pieces; the owners’ abstract art collection shares space with two contemporary sofas from Vastu in the living room, a dining table from Design Within Reach and dining chairs by Furniture From Scandinavia.
Throughout the house, Muse incorporated contemporary and traditional elements. Coffered ceilings, moldings and trim co-exist with the minimalist staircase, unadorned built-ins and light oak floors and accents. “The owners didn’t want it to be full-out modern,” the architect says. “And we didn’t want to completely lose what the house historically was.”
Photographer Anice Hoachlander is based in Washington, DC.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: STEPHEN MUSE, FAIA, principal in charge; WARREN SHORT, AIA, LEED AP, project architect, Muse Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. CONSTRUCTION: TOM GLASS, principal; TONY KOCHIS, project manager, Glass Construction, Washington, DC. INTERIOR DESIGN: CELIA WELCH, Celia Welch Interiors, Bethesda, Maryland.