Before opening her contemporary-furniture store and interior design studio, Deborah Kalkstein studied architecture in her native Peru—and it shows. Kalkstein brings an architect’s eye to everything she does, from selecting showroom lines to reimagining clients’ spaces. Naturally, her training has come in handy in the transformation of her own home, too.
The 1970s-era Potomac residence needed an overhaul when Kalkstein and Peruvian-born husband Carlos Bachrach, an asset-management advisor, bought it in 1998. Dark paneling and an avocado-and-gold color scheme prevailed—but what Kalkstein saw was the home’s “amazing bones” and generous proportions. “For me, it was like looking at an x-ray,” she explains. “The beauty of the house was in the architecture and the open spaces, not the aesthetics. I didn’t focus on the mess. I knew I could redo it to my taste.”
And she has. With the goal of creating a “livable, happy, family place” to raise their children (Camille, now 23, and Kevin, now 20), Kalkstein gradually instilled a “minimal but not sterile” sensibility throughout, putting her architectural stamp on each space while keeping the walls intact. For example, a new picture window in the living room ushers in natural light and frames the leafy view, and a dropped ceiling has been removed to expose the original wood beams, which were whitewashed for an airy look.
Kalkstein introduced other materials that took on starring roles. Using a building technique common in South America, she clad several exposed-brick accent walls and the living room’s fireplace surround in cement. She also revamped the wet bar in the living room by sheathing the laminate cabinets in black steel plate. Later, she covered the glass tops on the twin square dining room tables in steel plate too. “I use materials to complement my designs,” she explains. “I like materials to show their nature, so I like the raw look of cement and steel.”
With the ’70s detritus cleared out—or covered up—and fresh, white paint on the walls, Kalkstein began populating the spaces with furniture from her retail shop, Contemporaria, which carries such sleek European lines as Minotti, Paola Lenti, and Vitra, to name a few. (The showroom first opened in Bethesda in 1999 and moved to Georgetown’s Cady’s Alley in 2005. It offers complete interior design and interior architecture services.)
Clean-lined appointments in varying shades of gray, black and white are a hallmark of Kalkstein’s modern yet ageless design sensibility. The forms and colors, she asserts, have lasting appeal. “I’m not trendy. I’m not trying to do something that’s going to be ‘wow’ for six months and then go out of fashion.”
Bold art enlivens the neutral landscape. “I love to bring in color with art,” says the designer. “I’m a big believer that art has to be part of our lives. Every piece in our house has meaning and reminds us of a place or moment.”
One of those places in Peru. Several works in the homeowners’ collection, including an oversized painting by Fito Espinosa behind the living room sofa, were discovered on trips to visit family there. A montage presiding over the table in the recently renovated breakfast area/kitchen is sentimental for another reason: It showcases the children’s early drawings.
Kalkstein waited until both kids were away at college before tackling the kitchen upgrade, with the help of her team at Contemporaria. The reconfiguration maximizes the existing 500-square-foot area. The doorways on the walls adjoining the dining and living rooms were shifted to create long stretches of usable space. A pocket door that reaches the ceiling adds both elbow room and seamless access to the wide hall. A new skylight and sliding doors connect the space to the outdoors.
Measuring about nine by four feet, the island is the center of attention; Kalkstein drew on her architectural skills to get the size just right. “I wanted to do the largest island I could fit comfortably in the space,” she explains. “That makes space look bigger. Proportion changes everything.”
Once again, imaginative materials came into play. Burnt-oak panels were installed on the appliance wall that houses the refrigerator, freezer, and oven. Steel plate on the opposite wall connects to the living room, providing visual balance. White cabinets from Cesar, an Italian line available through Contemporaria, offset the darker materials.
Bachrach and Kalkstein share cooking responsibilities and get a kick out of testing new recipes in their shiny kitchen. In warm weather, though, they’re outside, grilling chicken or steaks on the upper deck. Both that deck and one below housing a seating area and beverage bar were expanded during a major exterior makeover in 2012. A swimming pool and outdoor lighting, installed at the same time, create a dramatic setting for al fresco dinner parties with friends. Gray stucco now covers the exterior’s original, “hideous” pebbly surface, completing the transformation.
While erasing the quirky traces of the past, Kalkstein has been careful to preserve the home’s singular spirit. “I love to take the best space has to offer and then change or reinvent the rest to make it what I want it to be,” she says. “That’s what I’ve done in this house.”
Catherine Funkhouser is an Arlington writer. Photographer Stacy Zarin Goldberg is based in Olney, Maryland.
Living Room Sofa, Chaise, Coffee Table, Chairs: minotti.com through contemporaria.com. Divan: Mies van der Rohe through contemporaria.com. Painting with Mickey Mouse: Artist unknown. Other Large Canvas: Fito Espinosa; fitoespinosa.com. Nude Sculpture on Pedestal: Jacques Le Nantec; lenantec.com
Dining Room Dining Tables: contemporaria.com. Steel Fabrication: metalspecialties.net. Dining Chairs: bonacinavittorio.it through contemporaria.com. Reclaimed Wood X Pieces: michellepetersonalbandoz.com through longviewgallerydc.com. The buffet in Niche & Glass-Fronted Cabinet: Molteni.it through contemporaria.com. The painting above Buffet: jessicaschneider.net. Bird Cage: Antique.
Kitchen Cabinetry: Cesar.it through contemporaria.com. Countertops: caesarstoneus.com through marblexinc.com. Bar Stools: vitra.com through contemporaria.com. Oven, Hood, Coffee Maker: mieleusa.com. Range: viking.com. Refrigerator: gaggenau.com. Floor Tile: famosatile.com.
Upper Deck Dining Table & Chairs: kettal.com through contemporaria.com. Green Sofa: paolalenti.it through contemporaria.com. Hand Railing Design: Deborah Kalkstein. Railing Fabrication: metalspecialties.net.
Lower Deck & Pool Area Sofa, Chairs & Ottomans: kettal.com through contemporaria.com. White Cubes: vondom.com through contemporaria.com. Poolside Dining Table: paolalenti.it through contemporaria.com. Dining Chairs: vitra.com through contemporaria.com. Poolside Chaises: missonihome.com through contemporaria.com. Adirondack Chairs: dwr.com. Pool Design & Installation: lewis-aquatech.com.