Project Spotlight: Georgetown, DC Home Renovation
A Step in the Right Direction
A major Georgetown renovation started with getting the living room on the same level as the kitchen and dining room.
Updating and renovating a four-level townhome in Georgetown’s Cloisters development has turned a livable second home into a posh getaway. The project transformed the home’s lower level, kitchen, dining room, living room, powder room, and master bath. One of the keys to making it all work was losing a troublesome step that separated the living room and dining room.
The homeowners have owned the townhome since 2009 and bought it as a second home while their children attended college in DC and so they could be near family in northern Virginia. The notion of spending their retirement years near the vibrancy of Georgetown encouraged them to undertake a major renovation aimed at improving the home’s flow and livability.
“We wanted an open-concept living area,” says the homeowner. “We asked several designers to come in and see what their vision was, and Wentworth was the first one who said, “’First we need to get this space all on one level.’”
Bruce Wentworth, AIA, owner of Wentworth, a residential remodeling design/build firm, proposed raising the living room floor to eliminate the step-down and to remove an interior wall that separated the kitchen from the dining room.
“We have a lot of clients who bought homes before open floor plans became popular,” says Wentworth. “Separating the spaces doesn’t really work for the way we live now, so we knew leveling the floors and taking down the wall was the first step.”
Besides the kitchen/dining room/living room combo, the design team was also focused on the front foyer, the stairs, master bath, and the back door – which is on the lower level. The homeowners spend most of their time in Philadelphia, so once the design and construction drawings were thoroughly established, they turned things over to the Wentworth construction team.
“We literally gave Bruce the keys and said, ‘It’s yours,’” says the homeowner. The process took nine months; the homeowners came down while the process was going on, their visits increasing in frequency as the finishes began to go in. The complete transformation starts at the front door.
The front foyer, which now sports a charcoal porcelain floor tile, has a powder room off to one side that was refitted with a custom walnut, wall-hung vanity with a marble countertop. Parquet patterned marble wall tiles were installed from floor to ceiling to dress up the room. The other side of the foyer used to hold a coat closet, which abutted the kitchen wall. Since most people enter the home from the back door at the lower level, Wentworth sacrificed the closet space to the kitchen and created a custom shoe chest with a manmade stone top to help improve storage.
Freeing up the closet space made enough room in the kitchen for a full-sized stainless steel fridge, additional cabinetry, drawer-style microwave, and a coffee station hidden inside an appliance garage with flip-up doors. The coffee niche remains a huge hit with the homeowners who also requested a kitchen big enough for family gatherings. Moving the fridge was the key to opening up the space.
The design team borrowed 18 inches from the formal dining room and used the space to create a two-level breakfast bar that’s perfect for small informal meals or interacting with the chef, and the 6” height differential in countertops conceals dirty dishes at the sink area.
The original finishes in the townhome were builder-grade, dark, and traditional from the 1980s. The homeowners wanted something more transitional and contemporary without being cold or sterile. Banks of custom, rift-cut, oak cabinets finished in whitewash from Virginia Mountain custom cabinet company moved into the newly configured L-shaped kitchen. To add interest above, a coffered ceiling was created and lit with LEDs that frame an Alvar Aalto glass ceiling fixture by Artemide.
To define the dining area from the kitchen a 12” wide drop beam was added on the ceiling to facilitate mounting three pendant light fixtures. All the appliances were replaced and an undermount sink was fitted into the kitchen side of the breakfast bar. Manmade stone (marble-like) was used for the countertops and a marble tile backsplash in shades of gray embellishes the oven wall.
Another hidden design treasure is stashed away in a corner cabinet next to the breakfast bar. Opening the cabinet doors reveals a liquor cabinet and wine cooler combination that permits drink service from the dining area. The cabinet doors glide back into pockets at each side of the cabinet to store them out of the way.
Raising and replacing the oak floor in the living room required reconfiguring the wood-burning masonry fireplace. The firebox was rebuilt and a new hearth in honed, black granite was installed. The fireplace surround was made from the same marble tile used for the kitchen backsplash. The new mantle and vertical paneling used over the mantel utilize the same whitewashed oak found in the kitchen cabinetry to visually tie the spaces together.
The townhome’s garage is located in the rear, so most entries begin at the back door lower level that previously opened into one, large, ill-defined, living space. The design team changed that by creating a mudroom type space defined by two walls, bedecked with coat storage and a bench. The design offers a visual connection to the interior via a slatted screen. For an improved furniture plan the homeowners elected to abandon an unused fireplace on the lower level which got covered over with drywall. A new wet bar was added to make the space more conducive to entertaining and overnight guests.
The stairs that connect the 5-bedroom, 5.5-bath townhome were one of the homeowners’ biggest concerns entering into the project. “They always bothered us,” says the homeowner. “They were unstable and they squeaked. It was a builder grade stair made of plywood and carpeted over, and some of them were starting to buckle.”
The design team and carpenters finessed the design and replaced the entire stairs with a custom, modern staircase that incorporates the spindles as decorative elements on all four floors. “On the dining room level, we added a custom built-in buffet that’s integrated with the railing and the wall was opened up to provide a visual connection,” says Wentworth.
The design team also tweaked the guest bathroom by adding a wainscot of subway tile and replacing the vanity top with manmade stone. Upstairs, the existing master bathroom was gutted to make way for a more elegant and aesthetic design. The homeowners wanted to replace the 3’ x 3’ shower stall with something larger and improve storage.
Redrawing the generous-sized room provided enough space for a large walk-in shower complete with a custom storage niche with white manmade stone shelves and surround. The back of the niche is highlighted with parquet-patterned marble, while elongated subway tile finishes the shower walls. A soaking tub was added to the ensemble with linen storage provided in an unobtrusive cabinet hidden behind a paneled wall cabinet.
The extensive renovation checked a lot of boxes for the homeowners including some they hadn’t thought about. But the big crowd pleaser is the newly redesigned heart of the home. “I love the open-concept kitchen, where I can be cooking and still interacting with everyone,” says the homeowner. “Taking the wall down changed the way we used the whole space.”
Bruce Wentworth, AIA is the owner of Wentworth a residential remodeling design/build firm. The company’s in-house team of architects, interior designers, and craftsmen carpenters work collaboratively to provide clients with excellent design and quality construction.