A sojourn in Guatemala didn’t stop economist Ugo Fasano and photographer Manuel Morquecho from purchasing a townhouse in Washington, DC, and finding an architect to renovate it. Before moving to Guatemala City in 2009, the two had been living in the District’s Tenleytown neighborhood. When a property down the street from that home came on the market, they decided to buy it, anticipating their return to Washington in 2013.
“It was bigger, wider and had taller ceilings than our other house,” says Fasano. “But it is in the same convenient location, close to public transit and shopping.” The home also offers independence for his 85-year-old mother, Rita DiMatteo, who lives in an apartment on the ground floor.
While attracted to the size and location of the townhouse, the partners found its 1970s interiors bland and in need of remodeling. They searched online for a DC-based architect to transform the upper two levels while they were in Guatemala and selected Andreas Charalambous of FORMA Design. “We wanted something new and different from the traditional décor and all the color of our previous house,” says Morquecho. “What we liked about Andreas was the clean but elegant look of his designs.”
For Charalambous, long-distance client relationships are familiar; he has worked with homeowners living in South Korea, Hong Kong and Colombia. “The most important ingredient for success in this type of effort is to be on the same wavelength with the clients on expectations, budget and taste,” says the architect. “This is achieved by having them create idea books of images they like from other projects, as well as asking them for a brief essay on their hopes and wishes for the project.”
Once Fasano and Morquecho supplied this information, Charalambous created an open-plan living level and spacious master suite on the top floor. He stripped the rooms of crown moldings, built-in bookcases and fussy details to establish a neutral backdrop for colorful rugs, pillows, accessories and artwork.
“Given the fact that Manuel is an artist and he and Ugo have an extensive art collection, lighting became of the utmost importance,” Charalambous observes. “We used a plethora of light sources that allowed the owners to set various moods according to the time of day or the events taking place.”
Adjustable track fixtures, halogen down-lights and LED cove lighting are accompanied by floor and table lamps. A dropped ceiling with a dramatic, sculptural chandelier defines the raised dining area.
Sliding glass panels on the rear wall were replaced with taller French doors to brighten the living area. Skylights inserted above the staircase, master bathroom and dressing area introduce abundant daylight to the top floor.
A new stone fireplace anchors the living area, where dark-stained wood floors contrast with their light-colored surroundings. “They make the furniture and rugs appear to float,” notes Charalambous of the wide, ebonized planks.
At the front of the home, Vincent Sagart of Poliform | sagartstudio designed the galley kitchen to blend into the adjacent dining and living areas. Lacquered upper cabinets, a glass-tile backsplash and synthetic-stone countertops extend the pale background.
Unifying the main level are wood furnishings in walnut, including Danish designer Hans Wegner’s three-legged Shell chair and a custom coffee table on wheels. “We didn’t need much furniture, so those pieces had to be of great quality,” says Charalambous.
Upstairs, the architect widened the stair landing and erected a new wall of shelving to display books and artwork. Behind this partition, a former bedroom is now a walk-in closet, part of a master bedroom suite that’s been reconfigured with a spa-like bath.
A guest room, which also serves as an office, is now framed by double-pane windows, which were installed throughout the house to increase energy efficiency.
Fasano, who works for the International Monetary Fund, only traveled to DC three times during the six-month renovation process to meet with the architect and review the construction progress. Says Charalambous, “In this global environment, email, telephone and even video-conferencing can supplant the need for face-to-face meetings—even if the client is in Rockville.”
Frequent contributor Deborah K. Dietsch is based in Washington, DC. Photographer Geoffrey Hodgdon is based in Deale, Maryland.