A curving, dropped ceiling and tile floor that mimics the same shape delineate the new kitchen.
The island boasts an overhang with space for stools, a KitchenAid cooktop and a sleek Zephyr hood.
BEFORE:  A view of the former kitchen shows how isolated it was from the rest of the home.
In contrast to the original, the renovated kitchen is bathed in light.
 Architect Bruce Wentworth added wrap-around, open shelving that displays the owner’s ceramics collection.
BEFORE: The existing kitchen was dark and cramped.
The open shelves visually enlarge the room.
BEFORE:  A view of the former kitchen shows how isolated it was from the rest of the home.
In contrast to the original, the renovated kitchen is bathed in light.
 Architect Bruce Wentworth added wrap-around, open shelving that displays the owner’s ceramics collection.
BEFORE: The existing kitchen was dark and cramped.
The open shelves visually enlarge the room.

Out of the Box

Bruce Wentworth brings natural light and an updated layout to a closed-off kitchen in Southwest DC

After more than 10 years in her dark DC townhouse, Nina Olson was ready to let in the light. The main floor—which housed an open-plan living/dining room—was illuminated from the back by windows, but the south-facing front was problematic, as the one window at that end opened into the galley kitchen. “You walked in and the kitchen to the left was enclosed so that it blocked off all the light to the rest of the space,” Olson recounts. “I often found myself in the living room looking towards the kitchen and thinking ‘I have to knock down that wall.’”

Built in the 1960s, the townhouse was part of an urban renewal effort in Southwest DC. The kitchen hadn’t been redone since the original construction, so Olson turned to architect Bruce Wentworth for a major overhaul that would update it in clean-lined, modern style while bringing in as much light as possible.

Wentworth had previously remodeled three bathrooms for Olson and she felt he understood her style and sensibilities. A tax attorney by day, Olson is also an avid textile enthusiast who has served on the board of The Textile Museum and creates her own textiles in a dedicated sewing room on the lower level of her home. After gleaning her fascination with texture and pattern, Wentworth and his team shared three possible concepts for her kitchen, and she selected parts of each option for the final plan.

“The kitchen was like a box. The goal was to open it up for a more cohesive main-floor plan,” explains Wentworth. “Removing the kitchen’s interior walls would bring in light while creating an environment more conducive to socializing. Nina could prepare meals while her guests sat nearby. And it would satisfy the functional requirements of a modern kitchen.”

To the left of the front door, the hall closet was made smaller to accommodate the new kitchen space and the wall beside it was replaced by an island that holds the cooktop. The architect was able to enlarge the kitchen by extending the cabinetry along the outside wall into the adjacent dining area. “I loved the idea of cabinets on the side wall towards where the table is,” Olson comments. “It unites the spaces and everything flows.”

Wentworth added structural touches that give the kitchen area character and make it more functional. For example, a dropped ceiling over the island conceals ductwork and wiring while supporting the range hood and recessed lights. The gently curving shape, which is echoed in the porcelain floor tiles, delineates the kitchen from the rest of the room in a subtle, pleasing way. In front of the kitchen window, the ceiling height is angled up to let in as much light as possible, while wrap-around open shelving makes space feel larger.

For Olson, the materials and finishes were of paramount importance. “I felt the kitchen needed focal points,” she observes. She fell in love with a terracotta tile collection, Sitio, by Los Angeles-based Commune Design in a Modernist geometric pattern for the backsplash, and ordered it online from Exquisite Surfaces. She then opted for a beautiful Danby marble waterfall countertop—quarried in Vermont rather than imported—on the island. Wentworth selected clean-lined Black Creek cabinet faces, made of rift-sawn oak stained a gray hue that shows the texture of the wood, and offset the cost of the marble with less expensive gray-hued Silestone on the peripheral countertops.

Olson was ready to replace her rectangular black-glass dining table with a round one when she came across what became her favorite focal point: the Skygarden Pendant, designed by Marcel Wanders for FLOS, which boasts an elaborate floral design in plaster on the inside. When the fixture was installed over the table, she recalls, “I discovered the inside reflects in the glass surface and I thought, ‘I am definitely keeping the table!’”

Olson is thrilled with her new kitchen, as well as her experience with Wentworth, Inc. “The kitchen is exactly what I wanted,” she says. “It was a very good project all around. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t do a single thing differently. And that’s saying something!”

Photographer Geoffrey Hodgdon is based in Deale, Maryland.

RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE, CONSTRUCTION & KITCHEN DESIGN: BRUCE WENTWORTH, AIA, principal; STEVEN BARNARD, production manager; MIKE HARRIS, lead carpenter, Wentworth, Inc., Chevy Chase, Maryland.