Twenty years ago, a couple tapped David Jameson to put a modern spin on a 1960s colonial they’d purchased in the Palisades. The architect, who had recently launched his own firm, took on the job despite some “eccentric” requests. If his clients wanted a two-story aviary dedicated to their pet macaw, a greenhouse for their prolific orchid collection and two wet bars, then so be it, Jameson reasoned. His plan would also deliver a floating, glass-and-steel staircase; an open kitchen and living room with a window wall overlooking forested parkland; and a backyard pond and waterfall that further perfected the impossibly perfect view.
From its exotic lacewood floors to its tower addition clad in patinaed copper, the owners spared no expense on the redo. They spent two decades enjoying the home before they put it on the market in 2017 and moved to California, macaw in tow.
As potential buyers, a couple living in Georgetown fell in love with the setting and timeless aesthetic of Jameson’s renovation, but had no clue how to resolve the structure’s quirks to suit their lifestyle. They asked him to take on the challenge and when he agreed, they bought the property. “We were really lucky to have David,” says the husband, an attorney. “I didn’t want anybody else but him to work on it.”
As they planned a renovation, their wish list included an elevator and indoor stairs to the basement—solely accessed until then via an outdoor entry. They wanted a more private master bath, since a tall window in the existing one exposed the shower to the park. And they wanted to upgrade the aviary—essentially a raw space with the best views in the house. As Jameson relates, “There were drains in the floor so you could hose it down.”
After retrieving his old hand-drawn plans, the architect developed a program that would largely preserve his earlier design—the layout would barely change—while propelling the home into the 21st century. By reconfiguring a powder room and disused fireplace near the entry, he created stairs to the basement and installed an elevator that accesses all four levels. On the second floor, he converted the orchid room into a loft office overlooking the former aviary; it leads to two guest rooms and a revamped Jack-and-Jill bath.
The project called for what Jameson dubs “major outpatient surgery.” Crews underpinned the house, reframed interior walls, installed LED lighting and added radiant heat under new schist floors paving an airy new sunroom and library (formerly the aviary). During the job, they discovered a steel beam left over from the original foyer staircase that was repurposed 20 years ago into a support column. In the latest iteration, Jameson decided to build the library’s floating bookshelves around the column in an act of “opportunistic architecture.”
“When you’re in the space, it feels completely effortless,” he observes. “But the amount of effort made to achieve it was extraordinary.”
In the midst of construction, happy news hastened another change. “The clients found out they were pregnant,” reveals Jameson, who quickly carved out space for a nursery on the top floor, replacing the former master bath. The baby’s room is near the master bedroom, which occupies the top floor of the copper-clad tower with its own deck overlooking the park. A new, spa-like master bath with a soaking tub and stone floor provides a calming retreat in a converted closet space.
The couple wanted to update and simplify most of the home’s finishes, such as heavily veined marble countertops and sycamore cabinets in the kitchen. “We wanted it to be minimalistic and to bring in nature,” recounts the husband.
Today, planes of bleached larch extend from floor to ceiling, hiding appliances, dishes and other essentials. The clean-lined aesthetic extends to a simple black Japanese oak island topped by granite and the iconic Tulip table and chairs by Eero Saarinen.
“The kitchen has the same layout as 20 years ago,” says Jameson. “The difference is the deftness with which the appliances ‘disappear’ so the space becomes more of an art component rather than a pragmatic one.”
The owners and their baby girl are constantly delighted by the natural world unfolding outside Jameson’s existing window walls in the living room and sunroom. “The reason we bought the house was this experience and the improvements we’ve made,” says the wife, a writer. “We feel like we’re in the country—it’s a country house in Northwest DC.”
When friends visit, the husband relates, they assume the window walls are new. “We say, ‘No, they’re 20 years old.’ It’s almost like living in a New York loft, but with nature all around us,” he marvels. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
With the “reincarnation” now complete, Jameson reflects on the home’s evolution—and his own. “When I got the first job, I was 30. The clients thought they were going to push this kid around,” he remembers. “Now I’m 50, I have some gray hair and people are willing to trust me.”
Throughout this project, the architect reevaluated decisions he made 20 years ago. “While my thought process has certainly evolved, it’s still aligned to the same principles of spatial experience and material authenticity,” he comments. “All of my projects celebrate craft, the hand of the artisan and the refined and the raw. Whether it’s modernist architecture or architecture in general, that’s where a timeless, elegant quality comes from. It transcends style.”
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE & CONTRACTING: David Jameson, FAIA, David Jameson Architect Inc., Bethesda, Maryland. Renovation Contractor: Ally DC, Bethesda, Maryland.
Art: paulreedart.com. Art: hemphillfinearts.com. Finn Juhl Sofa, Pelican Chairs & Table: furniturefromscandinavia.com. Rocking Horse: furniturefromscandinavia.com. Fireplace: sparkmodern.com. Floors: stonesource.com. Ceiling Fan: boffi.com. Shelving/Metalwork: metalspecialties.biz. Shelving/Woodwork: potomacwoodwork.com.
Arne Jacobsen Chair: furniturefromscandinavia.com. Sofa: bebitalia.com. Poul Kjærholm Coffee Table: furniturefromscandinavia.com. Eero Saarinen Dining Chairs & Table: knoll.com. Shelf Design: davidjamesonarchitect.com. Shelf Fabrication: metalspecialties.biz.
Casework Design: davidjamesonarchitect.com. Casework Fabrication: potomacwoodwork.com. Countertops: usamarbleandgranite.com. Faucet: boffi.com. Floors: br111.es/en/.
Tub/Tub Filler: boffi.com.. Vanity & Plumbin: konstunion.com. Window Coverings: rockvilleinteriors.com. Floor Tile: stonesource.com.