Navigating D.C.’s perilous permitting process, razing a house in Washington is not for the faint of heart. The rocky road to tear down and the equally arduous avenue to build anew are clearly "long and convoluted," said Chris Landis of Landis Construction.
For Landis and project manager Andrew Kerr, razing a 1930s group home on a Palisades neighborhood site was an easy decision based on a leaky foundation, extensive termite damage, floors that were not level, a basement that wasn’t deep enough and a series of random renovations over time. “There were a thousand reasons why we could not save it,”Landis said, adding the decaying house was painstakingly deconstructed for as much green value as possible.
For a consulting environmental scientist client with a Mt. Pleasant Colonial townhouse, starting over on a now pristine lot in the Palisades meant the opportunity to replicate what he coveted most about the interior of his former residence, and integrating it into a gleaming Arts and Crafts style bungalow. Initially conceived at 2,400 s.f. by the homeowner himself, who was clear and specific about what he wanted, Landis said further development of the residential design produced a 4,500 s.f. space that included a below grade in-law suite. A long time domestic employee who currently assists the homeowner, and had also cared for his wife before her recent passing, would occupy the basement space which consisted of a bedroom, bath, kitchenette, family room and laundry area. Hardwood floors and ample window wells made for a warm and sun-filled environment.
Aging in style
With an eye to universal design, or aging in place, the two-story home was designed to facilitate living entirely on the first floor. “Very rarely do you find a master suite on the first floor of a house in D.C.,” Landis said, noting that even a powder room on the first level of a row house is unique. In the Palisades bungalow, a master suite, master bath with no threshold shower and study were all key first floor components, along with the kitchen, foyer, living and dining rooms, powder room and laundry closet. Two guest bedrooms and a bathroom occupy the second floor.
In an effort to replicate the Mt. Pleasant interior and also bring in elements of the client’s beach house, which was more in the Craftsman style, Landis project architectural designer Armin Bondoc embellished existing furnishings with colorful cushions and batik throws, wall hangings and artwork from the well-traveled client’s Middle East, Indonesian and Asian collections. His wife had been an avid collector and connoisseur. He also introduced custom millwork for warmth and character. In the living room, trim, columns, crown moldings and the fireplace surround were realized in darker stained cherry, with a wider 5-inch plank rift-cut oak flooring. The fireplace is an organic-looking rough-cut onyx tile mosaic about which, Bondoc said, the homeowner had some concerns but embraced wholeheartedly upon its completion.
The study floor is also cherry, with radiant heat, and a custom cherry built-in desk and flyover shelves add comfort in a rich, soothing hue. Cabinets, bookcases and shelving are finished in a casual distressed cream glaze.
Desiring a smaller kitchen, limestone-colored Silestone countertops brighten and open the space, and a pantry compensates for minimal cabinetry. A side laundry closet precludes the homeowner having to trek down to the basement, and radiant heat rises from ceramic tile flooring.
The master bedroom was kept clean and spare, per the homeowner’s dictum, with an earthy, elegant master bath boasting three different sizes of slate tile flooring and mixture of patterns. The floor is framed in ceramic tiles redolent of warm wood for added effect, and cherry cabinetry and wainscoting in the bath complete the space. To court natural light, frosted clerestory windows open the master bath to the outdoors while ensuring plenty of privacy.
To help illuminate the long foyer—which Bondoc said tends to be dark—without the use of excessive lighting, interior clerestory windows along the wall between it and the dining room direct light through whenever possible. On the exterior, flourishes such as tongue and groove IPE decking and artisan siding by James Hardie, along with hand cut rafter ends and brackets, help define and distinguish the Arts and Crafts style residence.
Ph.D. in sustainability
As an environmental scientist formerly with the IMF, and currently consulting for the Asian Development Bank on a China project, energy efficiency and sustainability were paramount for the erudite and savvy homeowner. Manifested in such elements as an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to bring in fresh air (often precluding the need for air conditioning), a multi-zone super high efficiency HVAC system and icynene foam insulation for a tight seal were utilized. Two-by-6 construction was also employed to locate studs further apart. A rain screen, which leaves a gap between the siding and actual skin of the frame, helps insulate as well as facilitates evaporation, and a series of rain gardens and native plantings by Landis Garden Design’s Tomi Landis takes the home’s green dimension to its ultimate destination.
Rooflines are lower than those of the surrounding neighborhood as the homeowner didn’t want an imposing home, and the structure is oriented toward the rear of the lot instead of up—not for zoning purposes but with a nod to massing and the bungalow aesthetic.
“It was really nice to work with him on the design because he knew what he wanted,” Bondoc said of the homeowner. “It’s a very comfortable home.”
photos courtesy of Sam Kittner