Paring down possessions to simplify life is a goal that’s far easier to imagine than to achieve. But for one couple, newlyweds in their 70s, starting life together meant starting over in flawlessly streamlined style. Instead of combining two households in the usual way, they divested themselves of all their furnishings, saving only selected art works. “It was an opportunity to start fresh and build a dream home,” says the wife. “We decided to be minimalists. We didn’t want to carry old baggage. It’s a metaphor for us.”
That resolve led to an unexpected adventure after the couple bought a row house on Capitol Hill. “Something about the house felt really good, but I thought we couldn’t move in as it was,” recalls the wife, whose interests and executive career focused on the arts.
Remembering photos of a modern residence that had caught her eye in a newspaper article, she called the architects. Janet Bloomberg, co-founder of KUBE Architecture, answered the phone. Bloomberg met with the couple, and a conversation began that still continues.
“We just connected,” says the architect. It was the start of a two-year collaboration she describes as “a creative, glorious process.” Most of KUBE’s clients, attracted by the firm’s edgy style, live in the city; still, Bloomberg discovered that the wife and her husband, a psychiatrist, were different. “It’s very, very rare to find people so willing to let us do our thing and so willing to take risks,” she says. “They really had a modern design in mind.”
The owners originally considered renovating only the home’s first floor with a new kitchen and master suite. However, once all the problems and needs were discussed—including oddly proportioned rooms and a desire to age in place, respectively—different ideas emerged. “We always worked as a team exploring options,” Bloomberg says of the process.
No one could have predicted the outcome. A pure interplay of geometric parts, the design strips away nonessentials with refined precision. “I love, love, love it,” beams the wife about the house, where she and her husband were married during construction. “Every time I walk in, I feel a peace, a calm. It feels so Zen-like.”
The plan centers on a pristine kitchen facing an airy, two-story living/dining space and a walled garden, accessible through a glass wall along the back. Behind the kitchen, a hidden storage area forms the home’s service heart. It encloses the former galley kitchen, now a walk-in pantry. It also conceals a powder room, a closet, stairs to the basement and an elevator, accessible through sliding walls along halls on either side. “It looks like they live with nothing because everything is put away,” Bloomberg explains.
Also overlooking the garden, a contemporary loft leads to private quarters on the second floor. The media room below creates an intimate space. Its white walls and black-steel accents provide a sleek backdrop for the single pop of color from a lipstick-red sleep sofa. It also places the focus on the owners’ eclectic art collection, including a mixed-media work on paper by Joan Miró hanging in a gilded frame beside a shapely sculpture made of pencils by Federico Uribe, and across from a striking Cambodian sculpture.
This blend of austere comfort and urbane luxe appears on a grand scale in the living/dining space. With many stunning views from which to choose, the wife often settles on a counter stool in the Italian Pedini kitchen, which she calls “central command.” An avid cook, she is drawn to the spot for food preparation and more; it also serves as her office. “I just want to be here and look out into the garden,” she says, eyeing that serene oasis bordered by Capitol Hill rooftops.
The living and garden areas become a single space for entertaining, especially in the spring and fall when exterior glass walls slide open. “We had very specific ideas from the architecture about ways to extend the interiors outdoors,” says Bloomberg, who collaborated with landscape architect Kevin Campion on the exterior aspects of the project. Both living and garden areas reflect each other in size and material palette.
A glass-and-steel dining table and seating bench, designed by Bloomberg, were duplicated as a matched pair and placed inside and out. Ceramic flooring flows between. “We wanted to weave the tile into the concrete slab on the patio,” she explains. And steel, supporting the interior loft and framing the glass wall, takes on decorative qualities in the garden. Sculptural panels on the back wall, a fountain and planter edging are formed of Corten steel, which weathers outdoors. “We all like materials that change over time,” says the architect.
With a background in commercial architecture, Bloomberg delights in combining “raw versus refined” materials in unexpected ways. KUBE was an early adapter of Viroc, a common building material, for use as a decorative surface. Taking advantage of the cement board’s practical water resistance and rugged look, Bloomberg applied it on the indoor/outdoor banquettes, inside a shower—and even as a headboard in the master bedroom.
Beyond this inventive detailing, she notes, “We don’t like to use too many materials. It’s pretty much steel, glass, brick and tile.” Every line and every connection have been carefully edited. “If there’s something I can remove, I take it away,” the architect observes, adding with a broad smile, “and the owners felt the same way.”
Writer Tina Coplan is based in Chevy Chase. Greg Powers is a photographer in Arlington.
ARCHITECTURE: JANET BLOOMBERG, AIA, KUBE Architecture, Washington, DC. BUILDER: Housecraft, LLC, College Park, Maryland. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: KEVIN CAMPION, ASLA, Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, Annapolis, Maryland.
DINING AREA—pages 144, 145: Light Fixture: usa.flos.com. Dining Chairs: cappellini.it. Indoor/Outdoor Tables & Bench Design: kube-arch.com. Table & Bench, Steel Fabrication: metalspecialties.biz. Table, Glass Fabrication: showerdoorking.com.
MEDIA ROOM—pages 146, 147: Rug: crateandbarrel.com.
LIVING/DINING AREA—page 147: Porcelain Tile Floor: stonesource.com. Rear Windows & Sliding Doors: solarinnovations.com. Coffee Table: Gae Aulenti through lumens.com. Couch & Swivel Chairs: ligne-roset-usa.com. Rug: crateandbarrel.com