Case Study: Floors + Windows + Doors

Garden View: Reena Racki transforms a dark split-level with a dynamic addition and windows galore

The owner of a DC rambler overlooking Rock Creek Park was frustrated by the obstructed views she had of her beautiful backyard, where she had planted several blossoming cherry trees. She asked architect Reena Racki to create more functional interiors with garden views. “The idea was to reach out into the landscape,” Racki says, “and bring nature indoors.”

Leaving the original structure intact, the architect designed a two-story addition off the back with floor-to-ceiling windows providing a connection to the outdoors. It houses a master bedroom loft overlooking an open-plan kitchen/family room.

Racki sited the addition to take advantage of light from the north and east while protecting the new spaces from the hotter western exposure. The north- and east-facing window walls are supported by vertical steel beams, but horizontal wood frames draw the eye and “extend the sightline to the horizon,” Racki observes. The west-facing wall is two feet thick and punctuated by small cutouts that bring in natural light but protect the interiors from the warmest rays. The cutouts “act as a filter, appearing illuminated,” the architect explains. Above the fireplace, one cutout holds a mirror that reflects the opposite wall.

In the kitchen area, Racki eschewed a backsplash in favor of operable windows that create more views. She combined fixed and operable windows throughout to promote air circulation, and selected energy-saving, double-glazed Weathershield glass, custom fabricated for space. “It efficiently retains heat in winter and keeps it out during the summer months,” Racki says.

Renovation Architecture: Reena Racki, AIA, LEED AP, Reena Racki Associates, Washington, DC. Builder: Acadia Contractors, Bethesda, Maryland. 

Reena Racki’s Trade Secrets:

  • Light is one of the most important elements of architecture. Be cognizant of where the sun is; it is crucial to good design.
  • I love having light from different directions, but you must understand the nature of different types of light. In summer, you want to block the harsh southern sun, but in winter you want the opposite. Light from the west is always hot; light from the north and east is much milder.
  • Pay attention to how your windows are fabricated. If they are double-glazed, there should be a seal to prevent condensation between the layers of glass.
  • The harsh climate in the mid-Atlantic region puts windows under stress. If you have wood-clad aluminum windows, buy them with factory-painted exteriors, which are much more durable than if you have them painted yourself.