Seeking openness and a contemporary feel for their home, the owners of this 100-year-old row house on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., enlisted architects John Burke, Hans Kuhn, and Chris DeHenzel of Studio27 Architecture. The design — project of the year in the 2010 Remodeling Design Awards — simplifies the compartmentalized interior, most recently renovated during the 1970s, making it modern and airy.
A core part of the remodel is the creation of a “light box” to admit light and fresh air, while the open staircase and the glass bridge that spans two upstairs bedroom “cubes” allow light to penetrate the center of the house. Doors that fold back completely open the rear of the main floor to the outdoors. Read on for more about the project’s key design elements.
The Studio27 team came up with the light box idea early in the design process, and the homeowners were willing to sacrifice square footage on the second floor to create it. The purpose of the light box, which is topped with four standard-size 30-by-46-inch skylights from Velux, is to bring much needed light to the center of the row house.
Cool air moves from the shady backyard through the back window and on through the house. Upstairs, the door in the back bedroom and the bay window in the front bedroom align on the same axis, providing cross ventilation.
The skylights are not installed flush to the roof but are raised 2 feet 6 inches above the roof plane to increase the chimney effect. Last year, the owners say they appreciated the added air flow in their remodeled home and didn’t need to turn on their air conditioning until the end of June.
To maintain the central living area’s open feel, the architects “didn’t want any [stair] stringer to be seen at all,” architect Hans Kuhn says. “That way the treads float with, visually, no support as they cantilever off the wall. This adds lots of lightness to the space.”
A 100-year-old row house gets a makeover, opening up the cramped interior to admit fresh air and light.
The stair’s steel treads are welded to a steel tube set in the wall. To install the tube in the wall, the construction team strengthened the brick wall by patching and replacing some of the old crumbling bricks, then bolted the tube to the brick party wall.
Once the tube was in place, the crew furred out the wall flush with the 5½-inch–deep tube to help it disappear into the wall. The added depth, says contractor Tom Stalheber, helped hide the HVAC ducts and plumbing and sewer lines to the basement. “It also lets you spray 3½ inches of foam versus just 1 inch of insulation, so it’s quiet,” he says. Stalheber suggests furring out both party walls and exterior walls on row-house projects despite concerns about loss of space in smaller homes. In this case, the furring detail works aesthetically because it helps the tube fade into the wall.
The beam, treads, and upper-floor framing were manufactured in the steel contractor’s shop, then assembled on site. The steel contractor made a stringer to hold the treads in place while he welded them to the tube in the wall.
The kitchen cabinets are a mix of custom and Ikea bases, fronted with Douglas fir veneer panels. “A carpenter would have cost the client significantly more due to additional labor, not so much by the material itself,” Kuhn says.
The architect originally specified Ikea for the entire kitchen, but Stalheber found that the store didn’t stock the right size cabinets for the wall configuration. He worked with a local cabinet shop to make the custom cabinets and door and drawer fronts.
All the door and drawer fronts are Ecolinea, a recycled wood veneer panel by Architectural Systems, that can be cut like plywood and comes in 48-by-96-inch or 48-by-120-inch sizes and thicknesses of 0.748 inches, 1.18 inches, or 1.654 inches. The clients liked the product’s sustainability and textured look.