A circa-1890 row house in DC’s Logan Circle was woefully in need of an update. The owners approached architect Kendall Dorman for a remodel that would introduce contemporary features without destroying the home’s historic fabric. “Parts of the house just didn’t work for the way we live today,” Dorman says. “Our aim was to impose modern elements within the framework of original woodwork and trim.”
The three-story abode was last overhauled in the 1960s, when the original basement kitchen was relocated to a narrow main-floor space beside the dining room. Today, the front entry flows into a long hall, adjacent to the living room, that leads to the staircase. An open kitchen/dining area beyond was created by removing the wall separating the two spaces. The second floor houses a guest room, TV room and the husband’s home office while the third floor contains the wife’s office and the master suite.
The owners wanted to replace the ornate staircase and fretwork with a modern stair, but Dorman advocated retaining these elements, along with original plaster crown moldings on the first and second floors. “Why would you throw it all away?” he comments. “I like those ghosts of old houses, the things that are still there.”
A contemporary kitchen and sleek, remodeled baths impart the modern sensibility the owners wanted. Exposed brick, clean-lined built-ins, skylights and sculptural ceilings also reflect a modern vibe in the wife’s office, which opens to a balcony above the rear deck. A squared-off metal structure on the deck, painted bright green, supports the balcony. “It frames the view,” Dorman says.
Any advice for old-home renovations?
Set aside 10 or 20 percent of the contingency for repairs; every older home will have unexpected things that need to be fixed.
What ingredients ensure a successful project?
An architect and client who think the same way about the project and its goals is crucial in order to have success.
How do you evaluate what to keep in a renovation?
I always try to keep historic elements and integrate them into the modern design because once you destroy that stuff it’s difficult to recreate it.
How do you integrate old and new elements?
I look for opportunities to use something modern that will work with something old. This juxtaposition can have a fresh and original result. For instance, the third-floor rooms had arches instead of doors and the clients wanted closed bedrooms. We kept the arches and added modern, frosted-glass sliding doors that complement them in an interesting way.
Renovation Architecture: Kendall Dorman, Wiebenson & Dorman Architects PC, Washington, DC. Contractor: Hector Ruiz, JV Improvements, Silver Spring, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: DC Gardens, Washington, DC. Photography: Jesse Gerard.