BEFORE: The existing façade.
BEFORE: The existing façade.
Glass windows and doors open up the brick façade. The project won a 2022 PRO Remodeler of the Year Award in the category of Entire House $550,001-$750,000, as well as Home & Design’s Award of Excellence.
Inside, a floating stair ascends to the upper foyer and addition while the entry hall leads past the dining room and kitchen to the sunken family room and wooded backyard beyond.
Atlas Floors installed parquet flooring that the owners found to match the original. Steps descend to the sunken family room, which opens to a deck.
BEFORE: The former hallway leading past the kitchen and dining room to the family room.
Surfboards provided inspiration for the curved kitchen island, topped with razor-thin Neolith sintered stone.Island legs recall those of a ’70s stereo console.
East Side Design & Build fabricated the white-lacquered maple and figured-walnut kitchen cabinets; the latter were steamed and bent to produce curved doors.
Disc-shaped pendants by Umage are a nod to LPs.
Armen Living swivel stools pull up to the island for family meals.
BEFORE: The existing kitchen.
In the family room, brick discovered behind drywall in a previously renovated room was repurposed into a new fireplace surround.
In the addition’s lounge/guest room, curved cabinets made of crenellated walnut store the owners’ vintage record collection; the curved window wall echoes the addition’s streamlined form. A mirrored privacy screen reflects the addition and rooftop sculpture garden.
Architect Donald Lococo channeled the ’70s era in his update of the DC home, completed by FineCraft Contractors, Inc. Landscape architect Jennifer Horn retained sculptural pine trees that flank the entry and offset the home’s horizontal lines.
Many homes in DC’s desirable neighborhoods meet the wrecking ball when buyers opt for a fresh start instead of a renovation. But sometimes owners with a keen eye see potential where others do not. With pluck and imagination, they can turn a faded relic into a rare gem.
Such was the case when a couple with a young child happened upon a 1970 brick dwelling on a Forest Hills street dotted with Cape Cods and Colonials. Beyond the stark, window-less façade, skylights bathed the simple, orderly interiors in light; in back, a deck overlooked a woodsy yard.
“We were looking for a no-frills, functional house where we could raise our kid,” explains the husband. “It was apparent from the beginning that this was absolutely workable—modest, responsible, restrained and exactly what we needed.”
They made an offer, planning to update the building down the line. But after an inspection revealed deteriorating asbestos in the ductwork, the duo decided to buy the property and renovate before moving in.
Most architects they interviewed were of the opinion that no matter how it was altered, the abode would always be “ugly.” One exception was Donald Lococo. “I fawned over this house, which I don’t usually do,” he recalls. “Its faceless façade referenced Brutalism, but it really spoke to me. Seventies architecture tends to be very rational and mathematical. This home, an almost perfect one-story square, communicated that.” Making the project more intriguing were outdoor sculptures left behind by the home’s original owner, whose parents are said to have run an art gallery in DC.
Once hired, Lococo sketched out a program to overhaul the house, meeting the family’s modern-day needs while respecting the mid-century aesthetic. “I didn’t want to turn it into something else,” he notes. George Papaheraklis, principal of FineCraft Contractors, Inc., later joined the team to make the plans a reality.
In the original layout, an entry hall ran straight through the structure. The garage and three small bedrooms were arranged on the left while on the right, closed-in spaces—an office, kitchen and dining room—progressed to a rear family room.
During the design phase, the owners decided to expand the 2,315-square-foot structure to create a guest room and library. Intent on preserving its horizontal, one-story profile, Lococo landed on a daring alternative to the typical pop-up. He conceived a freestanding volume evoking the iconic curved lines of a spaceship or an Airstream to be built atop the home, perpendicular to the street. “I wanted something complementary yet different. From the front, it’s a stucco curve that’s non-competitive,” the architect explains. “But from the side, it has its own voice.”
The streamlined add-on houses an upper foyer, a library, a guest room with a custom Murphy bed and a bath. Its wall of windows overlooks a rooftop sculpture garden. “The idea was that this would be just enough,” says Lococo. “It carved out spaces the owners needed versus filling a bigger box with more stuff.”
The makeover also transformed the main floor. Tall glass doors and windows brighten the foyer, where a floating staircase rises to the addition above; opening the foyer ceiling created a dramatic, double-height entryway. The kitchen and dining room traded places and the walls separating them from the hallway were discarded, giving the spaces room to breathe. Two small bedrooms made way for a generous owners’ suite and the home’s two-and-a-half baths were upgraded. The team also installed new HVAC, electrical and lighting systems.
Custom creations—driven by ’70s iconography and curvilinear forms—abound. Figured-walnut paneling in the dining room evokes the wood veneer on vintage station wagons. Surfboards inspired the elliptical kitchen island, which stands on legs reminiscent of those on an old-school stereo console. “Donald took 1970 and married it with 2030,” jokes Papaheraklis.
During the collaborative project, he, Lococo and the owners dreamed up new features on the fly. The builder (who’s also an architect) and his team went to extremes to solve challenges and deliver a high level of craftsmanship, from fabricating a full-size prototype of the stair rail onsite to integrating the library’s curved cabinets into curved drywall. “We all did our part to create a visual symphony,” says Papaheraklis. “Every detail was done—and sometimes redone—until the product became more and more aesthetic.”
Even the mid-century sculptures play a role. One of the works that conveyed with the home animates a garden off the kitchen; another holds court at the front door. And a new sculpture the architect found in Virginia Beach perches above the entry.
Lococo sees the completed project as a pure, more refined version of the home’s 1970 self. “Removing distracting plan elements, extraneous interior walls and even the front brick recess let the intention of the design shine through,” he says.
And the owners couldn’t be happier. The wife loves both working and relaxing in the light-filled addition. “It’s such a cool space to hang out in,” she says. “We listen to records while our child plays.”
Her husband concurs, “The house is intimate and warm—and everything that we wanted it to be.”
How do you help clients determine whether to tear down or remodel?
Donald Lococo: It’s not necessarily a binary decision. Sometimes it’s a matter of keeping just a few things; once you begin to highlight certain notable characteristics of a home that are worth saving, you have the advantage of authenticity. Older homes have inherent mistakes and often, tragic flaws. You need to be honest and discerning; not everything in an existing home is sacred.
In renovations, how do you select materials that are current yet speak to the period of the home?
DL: I always make it a point to inherit a few emblematic elements from the existing home, surrounded by current yet quieter present-day materials. The trick is to calibrate this correctly. If you use too many materials, a renovation can feel overbearing. On the other hand,by not saving anything, it loses the character it once had.
What qualities should homeowners look for in a renovation contractor?
George Papaheraklis: A contractor has to be thoroughly grounded in the technical aspects of construction and have an ability to envision the ideas that the architect is trying to convey. A contractor should not only be able to duplicate an architect’s idea, but also to enhance it.
Renovation Architecture: Donald Lococo, AIA, Donald Lococo Architects, Washington, DC. Renovation Contractor: George Papaheraklis, FineCraft Contractors, Inc., Gaithersburg, Maryland. Landscape Architecture: Jennifer Horn, RLA, Jennifer Horn Landscape Architecture, Arlington, Virginia.