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Washington, DC Architects Renovate a Capitol Hill Townhouse

“Adding Space Creatively on Capitol Hill” – From House to Home Chapter Two, Part One

From the street, the 19th century townhouses of Capitol Hill tend to be fairly uniform. Historical preservation requirements ensure that making major changes to the façade of a townhouse is difficult, if not impossible. In the back, though, it’s a different story – one often filled with architectural variety. Changes at the rear must also be approved, but the rules are less restrictive for this more private space. Additions, windows, doors, porches and decks reflect the tastes of past and present owners and the needs of modern life. As one of my clients says cheerfully, when you visit the back of a Capitol Hill house, “you never know what you’re going to see.”

Capitol Hill Home Remodel

The townhouse where she and her husband live and brought up their two sons is a case in point. Built in the late 1860s or early 1870s in the Italianate style, the house occupies an unusually wide 25-foot lot. For most of its history, the house was 19 feet wide, joined to one neighboring townhouse by a party wall, but separated from the other by a 6-foot wide side yard. This extra lot width enabled me to design a very different yet complementary rear addition, which offers great views of their spectacular backyard garden, designed by the wife, a talented gardener.

When I met with my clients to discuss ideas for the project, it came as a nice follow-up to some past remodeling endeavors. We first worked together years ago when I did architectural designs for two former carriage houses they owned as rental properties. I later reconfigured much of the second floor of their townhouse to create a master suite with an Art Deco bathroom. Adding on to the first floor of the house would be their most ambitious remodeling project so far.

A Long-Planned Washington, DC Home Renovation Project

The basic idea was to add space in two ways: capturing the side yard and using the open space within the townhouse’s classic, L-shaped dogleg, in which the kitchen extends farther back than the rest of the house.

As with any good addition, however, this project wasn’t only about gaining space. It was also about functionality. Essentially, this came down to three primary goals. One goal – often heard in Capitol Hill residences – was to admit more light and open up a dark kitchen. Another was to provide first-floor closets and a full bathroom (not a powder room), increasing the total number of bathrooms to two. The third was to add an architecturally modern but informal family room overlooking the garden, with room for casual meals and socializing.

In all of this, my clients wanted to respect the original style and period details of the house, but complement them with something truly new and modern. They had also decided to use their own interior designer, Shari Daniels, for the project, while relying on me as the architect. For both of us, mixing the styles of different periods in a harmonious but interesting way would become a hallmark of the project.

Be sure to check back soon – chapter two, part two is coming next! If you’re interested in remodeling your DC area home, contact our award-winning team.

“ I would STRONGLY recommend using Bruce Wentworth up at Chevy Chase Lake -- it's a design-build firm so you have an integrated team working for you.  We started out a kitchen-family room project with another design-build firm and it would be hard to communicate exactly how much BETTER the design that Bruce came up with was. Bruce and his team also did a project for my daughter and her husband this past fall which was amazing. ”

L.M., Chevy Chase, MD
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