BEFORE: Front exterior.
BEFORE: Front exterior.
The removal of interior walls created an open plan while a modest addition across the back of the house made room for a corner office and enhanced kitchen.
Expanses of glass admit sunlight; SoCo Pendants and LED strips provide ambience.
A modern fireplace was achieved in the living area by removing the mantel and painting the hearth black; an Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman and Noguchi coffee table contribute a mid-century vibe.
BEFORE: Living room.
Glossy white IKEA cabinetry contrasts with an accent wall in Sherwin-Williams’ Adriatic Sea in the kitchen. Yellow stools sourced online were inspired by Eames’ designs.
In the dining area, a storage wall is faced with Abet Laminati’s Olmo woodgrain veneer; the Calligaris dining table extends to seat 12.
A wall of windows over the sink floods the interior with daylight.
The rear façade is clad in Hardie Panels enlivened with Sherwin-Williams’ High Reflective White, Network Gray and Fired Brick. The decking is a Trex composite.
The office enjoys a corner position, with built-ins and shelving by New Era Builders. A sliding door designed by KUBE is spray-painted in Sherwin-Williams’ Adriatic Sea.
Red panels frame the front door of a Bethesda bi-level remodeled by Richard Loosle-Ortega of KUBE Architecture, heralding bigger changes within.
A new personality for a sedate Bethesda classic starts with crimson panels and a lemon-yellow mailbox at the front door—signs of a spirited remake by KUBE Architecture.This 1950s bi-level has been refreshed as a platform for contemporary living. “From the outside you can tell something has happened,” says architect Richard Loosle-Ortega, a founding partner at the DC firm. “Inside, the house is radically different.”
A main-floor renovation, completed in 2020, reaches its apex with a dramatic, orange-painted ceiling rising over exposed rafters to a double-skylit roofline. This architectural focal point hovers over a light-filled gallery. From front to rear, original walls were removed. In their place, entry, living, dining and kitchen spaces are signaled by varied ceiling heights—flat, sloped, low and high—accompanied by broad swaths of color. KUBE calls the combination “three-dimensional space within otherwise simple block volumes.”
A desire for big change topped the owners’ wish list. Empty nesters transplanted from Venezuela decades ago, the couple had raised two sons in the Wood Acres house. But working increasingly from home—he as an economist, she in real estate—both felt hemmed in by a dated layout, low ceilings and—for two Latin spirits—a lack of pizzazz. “We always wanted a more modern home,” the husband explains. “We were held back by the floor plan.”
Historically, the abode’s defining characteristic was its “split foyer” entrance, featuring a landing with half a flight of steps up to a 1,256-square-foot main floor and half a flight down to a similarly sized lower level. On the main level, the floor plan squeezed in formal living and dining rooms, a corner kitchen and a short hall to three bedrooms and two baths. (The lower level, which was not part of KUBE’s brief, includes a family room, more bedrooms and a bath.)
Today, visitors enter a loft-like space brightened by five skylights and a mostly glass rear wall offering a clear view past a new deck to a lush garden. The project added just 423 square feet across the back—enough to expand the kitchen with a generous island and enhance the owners’ bath. It also provided room for a nine-by-16-foot office. “They had enough space,” Loosle-Ortega explains. “It’s just that it was chopped up by walls.”
Max Sposito of New Era Builders handled the construction, while KUBE’s Matthew Dougherty worked with Loosle-Ortega on the design. Their collaboration ensured the presence of details that elevate what could have become a long box. Original oak flooring was refinished and matched, extending a unified ground plane. A long wall of Italian laminated woodgrain storage cabinets provides warmth while blurring the demarcation between the kitchen and pantry and the dining area. For the office, added to the southwest corner, Loosle-Ortega designed large glass exposures on two sides.
“I wanted to see the four seasons,” says the husband. “In Venezuela, it’s spring all year.”
By angling an interior wall shared by the office and dining area, Loosle-Ortega created a more interesting backdrop for the dining table. Glass insets are strategically placed at the top and edge of the angled wall; they allow light but not sound to flow through.
If the practical need for an office sparked the project, it was the bold use of color that energized the owners. “Colors are very Latin American,” says the wife simply. “I love that sort of thing.”
So does Loosle-Ortega, a longtime educator at Catholic University’s School of Architecture, who has personal ties to Latin America. He counts among his influences the work of Mexico’s celebrated architect of color, Luis Barragán. The result here is a foyer glowing with sun-infused yellow. Beyond the electric-orange skylight well, a deep blue “wall” of sliding doors to the office is balanced by a splash of blue grounding the kitchen’s glossy white cabinets and counters. Only the living area has white walls, one of which fades to pale gray.
“What surprises me is that when people see color, they like it—but they don’t do it,” the husband observes.
Multiple lighting sources, including pendants and up-lights, add complexity. Colored LED strips on the ceiling mark the threshold between old and new spaces while emitting streaks of blue, white or pink.
If the bi-level’s original rigid floor plan has fewer fans today, furnishings from the same era retain their appeal. With their architect’s counsel, the clients traded traditional furniture for mid-century flair with such pieces as a Noguchi coffee table and an Eames lounge chair in the living area.
The owners are thrilled with their dynamic new dwelling. “We decided the next years are going to be the best years of our life,” the husband avows. “Many people invest in a house to sell. We wanted to make sure we have enough time to enjoy it.”
Ticking away over the front door is a classic Ball Clock by George Nelson, its multi-color hands suggesting that this was the right time for change.
Once you’ve taken down walls, how do you build back better?
Richard Loosle-Ortega: Just tearing out all the walls to open up rooms is not enough. An understanding of how to differentiate the spaces from one another is important. I use a full range of tools: vertical changes (ceiling heights); horizontal (sliding doors and wall heights); texture and color (flooring materials and paint); and transparency and light (glass, skylights and reflective materials).
How important is lighting?
The right lighting creates the ambience. This is so important. We use lots of LED lighting in our projects, all on dimmers.
Color can be magical. What are the rules?
Blues and greens and warm oranges are some of my favorite colors. We’ll use whatever the client is willing to use. The key is to make sure the palette works together. Count on testing lots of different paint samples. For this project, we tried three or four oranges and yellows and four or five blues on the wall.
Renovation Architecture: Richard Loosle-Ortega, RA, principal; Matthew Dougherty, design associate, KUBE Architecture, Washington, DC. Renovation Contractor: Max Sposito, New Era Builders, LLC, Washington, DC.