A Nantucket vacation provided inspiration for the sleek, spare design of a Northwest DC apartment. The homeowners—both attorneys—stayed in a cottage designed by Jacobsen Architecture and fell in love with it. When they purchased their co-op in a post-modern building, they contacted the renowned Modernist firm to update their new home while creating a similar modern sensibility.
“It was like a rabbit warren, and the large windows face north so it was dark,” observes Simon Jacobsen, who collaborated with his father, Hugh Newell Jacobsen, on the project. The clients had some general requirements, including larger rooms and space for entertaining—but they also wanted the signature Jacobsen aesthetic. As Simon Jacobsen explains, “About 90 percent of our clients come to us knowing what we do. They already know our look.”
The architects begin each project with a questionnaire for prospective clients. “It’s about seven pages, asking the client how they live,” says Simon Jacobsen. The questionnaire includes such items as “How many feet of books and clothes do you have?”
Six weeks after the homeowners filled out the form, the design was finished. Demolition on the 2,000-square-foot space began in 2010 and the project was completed in just over a year.
Today, dramatic results await visitors behind the nondescript apartment door. Inside, a vision in spare, contemporary white unfolds, with a foyer bordered by a translucent glass half-wall that partially hides the view into the main living area.
“We wanted to open the space and hide the eye from the rest of the room without ruining the surprise,” says Simon Jacobsen. The foyer is dominated by a limited-edition print by German artist Simone Nieweg; a return for the HVAC system has been transformed into a vertical design element.
The floors throughout the apartment are pale, bleached oak. The doors are full height with no moldings, casings or trim—a characteristic Jacobsen design element. The door handles rest 30 inches above the floor. “The Europeans place their door handles lower than we typically do in America, which Hugh noticed while traveling,” explains Jacobsen. “We do it to make the ceiling height look taller.”
The main living area includes Jacobsen-designed sofas and a coffee table. A limited-edition print by Italian photographer Massimo Vitali slides out of the way to reveal a flat-screen TV. The room also holds a Steinway. “Hugh loved the idea of the curved lines of the piano as a contrast to the symmetry of the space,” says the homeowner. A corner niche houses a bar that can be concealed behind pocket doors.
Adjacent to the living room, a formal dining room can also be sealed off from the main living area with translucent-glass sliding doors. The custom, Saarinen-inspired dining table—surrounded by Mies van der Rohe Brno dining chairs—is welded to the floor, eliminating the need for table legs; its Verde Antico marble top is a beacon of color. Egg-crate shelving along one wall frames an open niche that works as a sideboard.
The galley kitchen has been deliciously updated, with a Sub-Zero fridge, Viking range and Bosch dishwasher. The flat-faced cabinetry is made of engineered-laminate with hidden hinges. The countertops are Corian—a surface that often takes criticism. “A lot of people use Corian badly,” comments Simon Jacobsen. “We like its crisp edges. Natural stone doesn’t always come in the long lengths that we like. And you can make Corian look seamless.”
A compact home office showcases a built-in desk and egg-crate shelving, while another stand of egg-crate cabinets delineates a master bedroom with expansive city views. Adjoining the bedroom are two large closets and a Corian-clad master bath that features twin vanities, a separate W.C. and shower.
The renovated apartment is another star in the Jacobsen design universe. “It was like having an haute couture dress designed,” says the homeowner. “We knew we were in the hands of a master.”
Writer Scott Sowers is based in Washington, DC. Anice Hoachlander is a principal of Washington, DC-based Hoachlander Davis Photography.