A couple searched years for just the right contemporary abode before finding—of all things—a 1922 Sears kit house in Cleveland Park that fit their needs. Working with modernist architect Richard Loosle-Ortega, they conceived a plan that would retain the two-story home’s front and side façades, which were protected by historic status, while dramatically altering the interiors to suit their tastes.
Loosle-Ortega and associate Jorge Concepcion began by gutting the traditionally compartmentalized rooms. “We wanted to build up, but we had to keep the structure low so its modern profile couldn’t be seen from the street,” Loosle-Ortega relates. “Instead, we finished the basement level with a spare bedroom, laundry and walk-out patio.”
Visitors enter via the original front porch—but the traditional-house experience ends there. The open-plan main floor is anchored by a central steel stair with glass railings that connects the three floors; the stair is configured around a rectangular coat closet painted bold blue. Beyond this core, glass doors spill out to a large deck overlooking parkland. The kitchen, living and dining areas surround the core, with a separate office and powder room in one corner.
Light pours in via a skylight above the stair. The expanded master suite occupies half the upper floor, while the other half contains a bedroom for the couple’s daughter, closets and a hall bath. Frosted-glass openings in both the bedrooms overlook the stair, admitting light while retaining privacy.
An oak floor unifies the main level, as do pops of color—including color-changing LED strips on the ceiling. Says Loosle-Ortega, “The exterior stayed appropriate to those around it—but you’d never guess what’s inside.”
Renovation Architecture: Richard Loosle-Ortega, RA, principal; Jorge Concepcion, associate designer, KUBE architecture, PC, Washington, DC. Contractor: Geoff Kuck, FWI Custom Homes, Cabin John, Maryland.
What drew you to Modernism?
Every student learns it; that’s what’s going on today, so it’s a logical jump. To move forward, you need to ask questions and push the envelope. Modern architecture does that.
What materials are your current favorites?
There are so many! I like composite metal exterior panels, which come in lots of colors; quartz for surfaces because it’s so durable and low-maintenance; and colorful acrylic resin panels. We like combining materials in a project, and we often use traditional materials in unexpected ways.
Name a rule you follow as a modern architect.
Everything must have a structural or spatial purpose as well as a decorative one. If it’s only decorative, it will be eliminated for cost reasons.
How do you integrate historic and modern architecture?
We tend to gut interiors, but we can combine old and new; certain materials like steel connect the two aesthetics well. The new stuff has to live happily with the old without mimicking it.