Spectacular views of the Potomac River, Roosevelt Island, Key Bridge and Rosslyn beckon from a residence inside a modern brick-and-glass condominium on Georgetown’s waterfront.
The scenery, however, was not as visible before architect Richard Williams and contractor Tom Glass renovated the top-floor unit. “The kitchen and bedrooms used to block the view of the river,” recalls Williams. “So we opened up the interior and organized it so the spaces could flow and slide into one another.”
The architect was well acquainted with the unit since he had previously remodeled it to create a five-bedroom family home. His former clients sold the condo to a bachelor who hired Williams to streamline and redesign its interiors into a three-bedroom abode. The architect worked with Glass Construction to take advantage of the floor-to-ceiling glass framing three sides of the unit by opening sightlines to the views from each room.
The front door now offers a straight shot to the grid-patterned window wall, announcing the presence of the river just beyond the dining area. The kitchen, which formerly occupied this space, has been relocated away from the center of the apartment and now abuts the corner guest room.
Enclosed by glass on three sides, the living room offers the most expansive river views. A bedroom previously occupying half of this space was demolished to provide a roomy seating area with built-in shelving.
Two small bedrooms on the side of the unit were combined to create a new owner’s suite and Williams enlarged a nearby guest bedroom by reconfiguring a bathroom and closet. An unobstructed hallway now stretches along the condo’s interior past the entrance to a staircase that leads to a large roof terrace.
“You get a sense of the length and breadth of the house,” says Williams, pointing out that the kitchen affords views through the owner’s bedroom windows at the opposite end of the apartment.
Tall openings between the rooms unite the spaces and walls of closets provide storage that keeps clutter at bay.
A slightly curved ceiling caps the dining area to define the space. A translucent partition made from light-filtering, aluminum-framed polycarbonate panels screens the dining table from the entrance hall while still filtering daylight. White-marble kitchen countertops and bathroom tiles amplify the feeling of lightness.
Williams recycled some elements from his previous design, including the German kitchen cabinets and white-oak flooring. He created a niche for the owner’s beloved console near the front door and expansive wall surfaces for his collection of paintings and photographs. “I am a firm believer in providing places for art and furniture with a past and a pedigree,” the architect says.
While the reorganization of rooms simplified the layout of the home, it presented complexities for the construction crew. “Since this is a top-floor unit, all the utilities for the building—heating and cooling pipes, plumbing stacks, ductwork and electrical conduits—come down through the space,” says Glass. “Making the design work around all that infrastructure was the biggest challenge of the job.”
In moving some of the utilities, he used ultrasound technology to determine the locations of steel rebar and tensioning cables in the concrete floor slab so holes could be drilled without disturbing structural components.
Project architect Tim Abrams recalls the difficulty of moving a fan coil unit from the middle of the living room to a less conspicuous wall near the dining area. Plumbing lines from the previous kitchen were extended to reach the new sink location without disturbing neighboring apartments. “We had to be strategic in relocating these systems and select a few mechanical interventions to get the biggest bang,” Abrams notes.
A new soffit over the living room bookcase hides ductwork that supplies air to the space. Similarly, the ceiling in the dining area conceals ducts, a kitchen exhaust fan and electrical wiring. To create its curved ceiling, Glass and his team built rounded metal-and-plywood ribs over which drywall was installed. A customized application tool shaped to the radius ensured that the finish plaster followed the curve.
Since the condo’s minimalist spaces have no baseboards, the builder applied impact-resistant gypsum board to the walls to prevent scrapes and dents, and inserted bead moldings between the walls and floors to achieve crisp lines.
“The clean, zero-trim look is challenging to achieve,” says Abrams. “Tom Glass is an extreme craftsman who executes details in such a way that they look effortless.”
Writer Deborah K. Dietsch is based in Washington, DC. Anice Hoachlander is a principal of Hoachlander Davis Photography in Washington, DC.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: RICHARD WILLIAMS, FAIA, principal-in-charge; TIM ABRAMS, AIA, project architect, Richard Williams Architects, Washington, DC. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: TOM GLASS, Glass Construction, Washington, DC.