Designer Michael Stehlik met this challenge when he and his partner Justin Waller, a management consultant, bought a modest Adams Morgan rowhouse in 2008—a century after it was built.One of the hallmarks of a good designer is the ability to update an older structure while retaining its period charm.
They chose the two-story home for its convenient urban location. “We love being close to friends and fun things to do,” says Stehlik. “And we liked that the house was largely untouched and no one had done anything to ruin its character.”
He and Waller began a gradual renovation with “the unglamorous stuff,” according to the designer. They repaired the roof, replaced rear windows and turned the basement into a rental apartment before updating the remaining two levels with a gentle hand. “I didn’t want to make the house too modern,” says Stehlik. “We wanted to keep the authenticity of its history.”
Original wood floors were preserved throughout most of the house, along with the radiators and colored tilework in the entrance vestibule. Walls between the living and dining rooms on the main floor had already been removed, so Stehlik designed a shelving unit around the sofa to define the seating area and create display space and storage. Instead of inserting modern downlights into the living/dining area ceiling, the designer hung pendant fixtures that recall salons of the past.
Upstairs, the front bedroom now serves as the master, with a mid-century Adrian Pearsall table as a nightstand and a Room & Board bed that incorporates a storage drawer. Stehlik works at a glass-topped desk in the middle bedroom, where framed Monopoly money purchased at the Georgetown Flea Market provides playful inspiration to bring in business. The office also fills in as a guest room and TV lounge. At the back, the tiny third bedroom was converted into a walk-in closet, dressing area, and laundry room.
Throughout the house, contemporary furnishings are mixed with vintage finds and artwork collected locally and on the couple’s travels. “Almost every piece of art and furniture has a story and meaning to us—whether it was found on a fun trip, a commissioned piece or a piano from before our grandparents were born,” says Waller.
The biggest change to the house was the kitchen renovation, completed in 2015. Sleek IKEA storage, stainless-steel appliances and Silestone countertops and backsplash replaced old laminate cabinets, dated fixtures, and tiled work surfaces. Stehlik designed a storage wall fitted with an angled, striped-marble bar that resembles a piece of fine furniture and provides a convenient place to enjoy coffee or a meal.
To break up the white finishes and pay tribute to the home’s history, Stehlik recycled boards from the original kitchen floors and applied them to the ceiling. Mounted on the wood surface is a custom light fixture made of glass orbs, steel, and brass by DC designer Jonah Takagi.
A new door at the back of the kitchen opens to a deck and a bluestone-paved terrace edged in Mexican beach stones. Anchoring the outdoor seating area, an abstract wall mural painted by Waller recalls the “Homage to the Square” color studies of the late German-born artist Josef Albers.
“My role was mainly to give Michael room to have fun and make it our own,” says Waller. “We collaborated frequently and thanks to Michael’s years of experience, were able to focus on the details and not the logistics of the construction.”
For most of his career, Stehlik renovated large homes as a lead designer for Bethesda-based Carnemark design + build. Then, in 2013, he took the leap and launched his own company. “I was ready to do my own thing,” he says.
Researching their Adams Morgan house led Stehlik and Waller to discover its original building permit and a newspaper article on the first owner, who was the chief electrician for the House of Representatives. Framed copies of those documents now adorn the staircase leading to the topmost level. “Not only are they conversation pieces,” says Waller, “but they also honor the home and its history.”
Deborah K. Dietsch is a Washington-based writer. Anice Hoachlander is a principal of Hoachlander Davis Photography in Washington, DC.
Kitchen Cabinets: ikea.com. Commissioned Light Fixture: ateliertakagi.com. Countertop: silestoneusa.com. Slab Counter & Backsplash (bar area): Honed Striato Olimpico marble through marblex.com. Faucet & soap dispenser: kallista.com. Sink: blanco-germany.com. Range: subzero-wolf.com. Hood: faberonline.com. Dishwasher: mieleusa.com. Flooring: porcelanosa-usa.com. Refrigerator: samsung.com/us. Stool: tronkdesign.com.
Entry Art: Owners’ collection. Light: schoolhouseelectric.com.
Exterior Seating & Center Ottoman: roomandboard.com. Blue Table: Frank Gehry Twist Cube.
Bedroom Bed: roomandboard.com. Bedding: roomandboard.com; goodwooddc.com. Vintage Adrian Pearsall Table & Lamp: through homeanthology.com. Commissioned Art: jesselink.com. Vintage Armoire: millenniumdecorativearts.com.