A modern brick and glass residence on the waterfront of Georgetown offers spectacular views of the Potomac River, Roosevelt Island, Key Bridge and Rosslyn.
However, the landscape was not so visible before Richard Williams architect and Contractor Tom Glass remodeled the top floor unit. “The kitchen and bedrooms used to block the river,” Williams recalls. “So we opened up the interior and organized it so that the rooms can flow and slide into one another.”
The architect was well acquainted with the unit as he had previously converted it into a five bedroom single family home. His former clients sold the apartment to a bachelor who hired Williams to streamline the interior and convert it into three-bedroom accommodation. The architect worked with Glass Construction to take advantage of the floor-to-ceiling glass that frames three sides of the device by opening the lines of sight to the view from each room.
The front door now offers a straight shot of the latticed window wall and announces the presence of the river just beyond the dining area. The kitchen that used to occupy this room has been moved away from the center of the apartment and is now adjacent to the corner room.
The living room is surrounded by glass on three sides and offers the widest view of the river. A bedroom that previously took up half of that space has been demolished to create a spacious seating area with built-in shelving.
Two small bedrooms on the side of the unit were combined to create a new owner suite, and Williams enlarged a nearby guest room by reconfiguring a bathroom and closet. A free corridor now extends along the interior of the apartment past the entrance of a staircase that leads to a large roof terrace.
“You get a sense of the length and width of the house,” says Williams, pointing out that the kitchen looks out through the owner’s bedroom window at the opposite end of the apartment.
High openings between the rooms unite the rooms and walls of the cabinets and provide storage space that keeps clutter at bay.
A slightly curved ceiling covers the dining area to define the space. A translucent partition made of light-filtering polycarbonate panels with an aluminum frame shields the dining table from the entrance hall and at the same time filters the daylight. White marble kitchen countertops and bathroom tiles enhance the feeling of lightness.
Williams recycled some elements of his earlier design, including the German kitchen cabinets and white oak flooring. He created a niche for the owner’s beloved console near the front door and extensive wall space for his collection of paintings and photographs. “I firmly believe that places for art and furniture have a past and a family tree,” says the architect.
While the restructuring of the rooms simplified the division of the house, it presented the construction workers with complexity. “Because it’s a top-floor unit, all of the utilities for the building – heating and cooling pipes, plumbing stacks, plumbing, and electrical wiring – are routed through the room,” says Glass. “The biggest challenge of the job was getting the design to work around the entire infrastructure.”
When relocating some utilities, he used ultrasonic technology to locate steel rebars and tension cables in the concrete floor slab so that holes could be drilled without disrupting the structural elements.
Project Architect Tim Abrams recalls the difficulty of moving a fan coil unit from the center of the living room to a less noticeable wall near the dining area. The plumbing lines from the previous kitchen have been lengthened in order to reach the new location for the sink without disturbing the neighboring apartments. “We had to be strategic about moving these systems and choosing some mechanical intervention to get the biggest bang,” says Abrams.
A new reveal above the bookcase in the living room hides pipes that supply the room with air. The ceiling in the dining area also hides ducts, a kitchen exhaust fan and electrical cables. To create the curved ceiling, Glass and his team built rounded metal and plywood ribs over which drywall was installed. A custom application tool matched to the radius ensured that the final plaster followed the curve.
Since the apartment’s minimalist spaces don’t have baseboards, the builder attached high-impact plasterboard to the walls to avoid scratches and dents, and inserted pearl strips between the walls and floors to create sharp lines.
“The clean look with no trim is difficult to achieve,” says Abrams. “Tom Glass is an extreme handyman who takes details to make them look effortless.”
The writer Deborah K. Dietsch lives in Washington, DC. Anice Hoachlander is a director of Hoachlander Davis Photography in Washington, DC.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: RICHARD WILLIAMS, FAIA, responsible client; TIM ABRAMS, AIA, project architect, Richard Williams Architects, Washington, DC RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: TOM GLASS, Glass construction, Washington, DC