The task of seamlessly remodeling a narrow, cramped and poorly lit historic rowhouse is never easy, but Richard Loosle, of Kube Architecture, managed just that in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of the District.
"Our ground floor was dark and choppy, with a formal dining room in front we rarely used and a staircase and wall separating that from the kitchen and backroom, which we used a lot," said Vince Willmore, who shares the two-bedroom home with Orie Snider.
The small kitchen also was parallel to the stairs, a minus, while the backroom opened onto the patio, a plus. Loosle saw that replacing the old French doors with an entire glass wall and sliding doors would immediately increase the light flow and open up the overall space. The bigger challenge remained the bulky staircase.
"It was clear the whole stair-and-kitchen wall had to go," Loosle said. "Problem was because the rowhouse is so narrow, there wasn't enough room to move the staircase."
Knowing the homeowners were keen on one-room living, Loosle came up with a creative solution. He couldn't move the physical location of the stairs, but he could make them visually lighter with the right material and good design.
"I got rid of everything surrounding it and then remade the staircase in steel, which is a strong material that allows you to work with narrower stringers and related elements than usual," Loosle said.
He also added slim pale-wood stair treads and barely-there horizontal steel pickets to make the overall staircase as thin and transparent as possible.
The kitchen then was reoriented against a sidewall, with gray-white laminate cabinets. An eat-in island was added. The island has a lower profile than average, so as not to impede the front-to-back flow.
"Though we wanted the space to be modern, we also wanted our home to have warmth and be uncluttered," Willmore said.
To add that warmth, Loosle worked with natural and stained ash for built-ins and the island, which has a cedar-stone breakfast bar and counter that wraps around its base on the entry side, blending beautifully with the bamboo floors.
The clean-lined walls and ceilings are softened up with variations of gray-blue paint hues. Loosle also developed modular storage throughout; the largest unit includes a frosted, glass-door powder room, as well as a utility/mechanical closet.
"We kept the original tin ceiling in the old dining room," Loosle said, "but we cleaned it up and painted it to tie in better."
The fireplace, which was nonfunctional, also in the front space, was clad and serves as a separator between a built-in desk unit and new dining-area storage. Eventually, a dining table and chairs will be placed there at a 90-degree angle.
"The home really suits our lifestyle now," Willmore said. "It's one big and bright, yet warm, integrated room, with a great connection between the indoor and outdoor spaces."