Designers are rethinking the ways in which architecture can foster social equity.
Three local home projects with sustainable sensibility and that conserve energy.
Around the larger Washington, D.C., area, innovative designers turn ho-hum homes and former farmland into fresh, sustainable living spaces. Green features like natural gas, LED lighting, Energy Star appliances and low-VOC paints help create residences fully situated in the 21st century even while they preserve and celebrate the past.
These three projects—two renovations in the city and the suburbs, and a new home in the countryside—incorporate earth-friendly elements, making them as green as they are inviting.
In the City
Architects Richard Loosle-Ortega and Andrew Baldwin of KUBE Architecture transformed a classic Washington, D.C., rowhouse into a sleek modern oasis. The design opened up the main floor completely, with interior walls giving way to an uncluttered living space in which the areas for cooking, dining and socializing are barely differentiated. Loosle-Ortega noted that spaces on this floor are defined more by objects than dividers: the dining area is marked by a hanging light fixture, the living room centers on a TV and fireplace and the kitchen is anchored by a long marble island.
The complete openness is assertively contemporary, but the architects simultaneously maintained some of the home’s historical elements, including the window trim and brick walls. They further tempered the stark modernity by incorporating warm, textured elements like fumed larch around the fireplace and striated gray marble on the kitchen island.
“We like mixing the old and the new,” Loosle-Ortega commented. “That confluence of older details with newer material makes a project much richer.”
Many of those “newer materials” are sustainable choices, such as bamboo flooring and LED lighting installed throughout; porcelain tiles, which last longer than ceramic, for the bathroom; no-VOC paint; and Viroc, a cement board made of woodchips and concrete, incorporated into the deck’s surround. Strategically placed frosted glass doors disperse natural light as much as possible. Natural gas powers the stove and a fireplace, which provides surprisingly robust heat as well as ambiance.
In the suburbs
Andreas Charalambous of FORMA Design brought contemporary aesthetics to the fore with the complete renovation of a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath apartment in McLean, Virginia. The owners, a couple of newly minted empty-nesters, were moving from their large single-family home into a 2,000-square-foot place that they felt needed to be entirely redone to match their style and lifestyle.
“They came to us because they wanted to see how we could open it up, modernize it, introduce daylight and update the kitchens and bathrooms,” recalls Charalambous.
The original apartment was chopped up into discrete rooms, which were busy with ornamental details such as chair rails, crown moldings and decorative columns. Charalambous removed all the clutter and opened up the floor plan to create a main living and entertainment area.
“Wherever you are, you see the big expanse of space and share the light,” he said.
The refreshed apartment is a far cry from the original—sleek and contemporary, its clean-lined spaces now fold into one another seamlessly. Custom cabinets with smooth faces and unobtrusive handles, recessed lighting in tray ceilings and bright white walls contribute to the effect.
Throughout the renovation, Charalambous introduced green elements such as LED lighting, natural materials such as stone on the walls around the fireplaces and Earth-friendly paints. Using natural gas was a given, since the apartment building was outfitted with it, so the renovation incorporated a gas range and oven and gas fireplaces. These elements brought a sustainable sensibility to the fresh, bright, functional renovation.
In the countryside
Farther out on the rural edges of McLean, another project—this one a new home built specifically for its site—melds the historical with the contemporary. The site, a piece of former farmland that is still home to one of the county’s fast-disappearing picturesque historic barns, invokes a sense of rustic charm that architect Donald Lococo of Donald Lococo Architects captured in his design for what he calls “American Farmhouse.”
Its design—local stone on the bottom level topped by fresh white board-and-batten siding and dormers on the upper level—evokes an earthy rusticity neatly combined with a fresh simplicity in keeping with the site’s character and the homeowners’ desire to incorporate a pristine, modern sensibility. Inside, a similar contrast exists, with reclaimed rough-hewn beams and weathered flooring playing against bright board-and-batten wainscoting and the clean lines of built-in cabinets and classic crown molding.
“My idea was that opposites attract, and I did like the idea of foiling one against the other,” said Lococo.
Reusing materials and building with local stone allowed Lococo to add an element of sustainability to the project. The floors are made from reclaimed fencing, minimally sanded and coated with varnish, providing a smooth surface over the patina of the natural wood. Another green element is the use of natural gas, which heats the house and powers the stove.
Prioritizing sustainable elements is becoming second nature to architects these days, but using them in ways that enhance the vision for a project is the province of the most skilled and creative. From city streets to the verdant countryside, the D.C. area’s architectural visionaries are hard at work.
- Katherine Gustafson