Decor

#1 Renovation Style, Spring 2009

 

Inner Beauty:  Fresh architectural design creates a timeless interior in a traditional historic townhouse. 

 

Homeowners Cristina and Gregg Jubin knew exactly what they were getting into when they bought a larger house in historic Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.  They had lived in a neighborhood home since 1994.  With two growing daughters, Isabelle (11) and Olivia (7), the Jubin family simply needed more room.  “I approached people before houses went on the market,” Cristina recalls.  “I saw many homes in pristine shape that didn’t strike me, but the minute I stepped in, based on the light, width and flow, despite all the choppy rooms, I knew this was the house.  Sounds like a cliché, but it spoke to me.”

The 1760 home had received minimal maintenance for half a century.  “The house was falling apart,” Cristina says.  “It didn’t have updated interior systems, no plumbing, electrical or AC.  There was extensive termite damage.  We had rats!”  Disposing of the rats was relatively easy; circumventing the local board of architectural review was understandably hard.  The house’s exterior façade was untouchable—except to replace anything damaged with a duplicate—as was its interior footprint—the square footage remains the same, except a basement and attic became living spaces.  But the rest of what the Jubins did was open-ended.

The homeowners hired architect Christopher Pagliaro of Bartels Pagliaro Architects, LLC, who went about what he jokingly calls ‘aggressive revenge’ on the inside to make up for all he could not do to the outside.  “I wanted the house to be light-filled and open, with nothing but usable space,” Cristina says of her wish list.  “I like a NY loft-like feel.  I didn’t want any rooms the kids couldn’t go into.”  The original house was formal in style and layout.  On the first floor was a narrow hall opening onto double parlors to the right, beyond which lay a small dining room and cramped 8-by-10 foot kitchen.  On the second storey were three bedrooms and two bathrooms, above which sat an attic. 

“We gutted the house,” Cristina says.  “It needed it because of all the rot and damage.”  As workers tore down plaster, knocked out walls, removed molding, lifted floors and raised ceilings, something special happened.  “We started to expose the original construction,” Cristina says.  “The beauty of the antique craftsmanship shone through: the old bricks, hand-hewn beams, heart-of-pine floors.  You got a true sense of the history of the home.  It seemed a sin to cover these features up, so we chose to mix old and new.”

Christopher began to design within these parameters.  The most important thing to him about an open floor plan is defining the spaces and their functions by using textures, materials and ceiling treatments.  For example, the Jubin’s refined living room has a smooth sheetrock ceiling with simple elegant molding, while the adjoining library has painted beams lowering the ceiling height, as well as bookshelves lining the walls, imparting an intimate feel.  Beyond the library, the sophisticated yet rustic kitchen has chunky unpainted ceiling beams, white plaster on one wall and exposed brick on the other.  These architectural choices mimic the traditional progression from the formality of the exterior façade and front parlor to the most informal space in the back of the home, the kitchen.

Because the homeowners wanted modern architectural details in a historic home, Christopher used traditional materials, but kept them fresh.  So, instead of an expected wood staircase, he had a metal shop forge spiral steel stair rails.  Poured concrete floors filled in for the usual kitchen floor tiles. Perhaps the best example of melding conventional and contemporary design is what Christopher did at the home’s front entrance.  In place of a closed-in hallway, he designed an open-to-the-living-room ‘corridor’ using wood and steel columns, and transparent partial walls of paned glass.  The columns are light fixtures as well as structural elements, with steel cages containing light bulbs atop them, not capitals.  “Christopher does really simple designs with incredible details,” Cristina says.

Other than the historic exposed materials—wood, steel and brick—and the red lacquered kitchen, everything else in the home is white.  Christopher believes the color white best conveys architectural form, while Cristina loves the versatility.  “I wanted the home to be neutral,” she says.  “I don’t like designing things to be in a specific spot.  I like to move my art and furniture around.  I like to work with neutrals and accentuate with patterns.”

The Jubins are delighted with their transformed home.  “We love the house.  It’s great.  Gregg and I now have the best of both worlds: we live in something very historic but also very fresh.  It doesn’t have superfluous rooms and the décor is comfortable for a family. ”

  

Sidebar

All about White:

Architect Christopher Pagliaro says, “White paint maximizes light, and I believe light accentuates architectural form and detail in a pure and simple way.  When you walk into a white space, things glow.  You can be emotionally transported and leave the outside chaos at the front door when you walk in.”

To achieve the right white, Christopher does not use spray paint and has a specific method to get a ‘brushless’ yet hand-done look.  He also uses oil-based paint for the high-gloss look.  Then he thins the paint, paints the wood, sands it, and repeats the process until it has the clean, smooth and seamless effect he desires.  This can take up to five applications.  The white paintwork in the Jubin house complements the architectural details beautifully from the subtle arches, to the seamless baseboards, to the paneled walls.

 

#2 Renovation Style, Fall 2008

 

The Right Mix: Eclectic elements make a timeless kitchen. 

 

“The kitchen was not at all what we wanted for our family,” says Jeannie Beddard of the original kitchen in the Alexandria, Virginia home she renovated with her husband Smith Brittingham.  Linoleum floors, laminate countertops and dated appliances were the least of the galley kitchen’s problems.  “The house belonged to people who didn’t cook anymore,” says Jeannie.  “The kitchen was dark, closed-in and small.  It even had a stacked washer and dryer in it,” she continues, “more like a laundry room than a kitchen!”

 Jeannie and Smith presented different ‘wish lists’ to their project architect Charles Warren of Moore Architects.  “Smith’s a gourmet cook,” says Jeannie, “his interest was in high-end appliances and an easy-to-maneuver layout.  I wanted an open, inviting space for the kids—Rusty (13) and Natalie (10)—as well as for gatherings with family and friends.”  Jeannie’s wants were more elusive than Smith’s needs, but the new layout satisfied them both. 

 The kitchen’s footprint moved from the back to the center of the home adjacent to the family room.  “Initially, I was concerned about the kitchen floating in the middle of the house,” says Jeannie, “but I soon saw the open plan allowed easy access to all areas on the main floor, especially the front hall, dining room and family room.”  The kitchen now has great flow for social events, serving as the hub.  In the family room, windows and French doors open onto the backyard, providing the kitchen with ample natural light, while tall stools pull up to the breakfast bar, doubling as a spot for the kids to eat and do homework. 

 “Aesthetically,” says Jeannie, “Smith and I agreed that the look and feel of the kitchen had to work with the whole house.”  Inspiration came from outside where the renovated exterior façade combines painted stucco, faux slate and locally mined Carderock stone to put a fresh face on an older home in a traditional neighborhood.  “I abandoned the idea of a white cabinet and wood floor kitchen,” she continues.  “I wanted to mix materials—and styles—to create a warmer, more organic space, like the rest of the house.  The kitchen had to be eclectic, not one style or another, rather something that couldn’t be quite placed or dated.” 

 Creating the timeless quality Jeannie sought set the kitchen’s evolution in motion.  First, two cabinetry forms were chosen.  One is light alder in a simple modern Shaker-style, the other maple, more traditional in form, with a painted-black distressed finish.  The latter covers the island base and fronts the Subzero refrigerator/freezer unit visible from the front hall.  “People walk in and think it’s a piece of antique furniture,” says Jeannie.  The second decision entailed selecting material for the breakfast bar and two countertops on either side of the island, which has a rustic reclaimed oak countertop.  “Granite looked too perfect,” says Jeannie.  “But we fell in love with soapstone.  It gets scratches and nicks, but that’s an advantage for us, they add character.”

 The range hood presented the third challenge.  Though the kitchen beautifully balances cool stainless components with warm wood elements, Jeannie, who mixed everything else up, thought a stainless hood was too predictable.  “We found a picture of a hood made to look like copper and took it to a local metal shop.  They fabricated our hood in real copper,” she says.  In the spirit of balance, the spare contemporary hanging lights above the island combat the visual heaviness of the full classic range hood.  The light fixtures also complement the airiness of the antique seeded glass fronting the cabinets above the breakfast bar.

 “I prefer when things are mixed—the new and old, traditional and modern, rustic and industrial—they have a harmony to them,” says Jeannie.  “People and kids feel more comfortable in a space like that.  It has a timeless quality.”

 

Sidebar:

Tips for a Timeless Kitchen

- Mix styles and materials: Different forms and finishes imply the kitchen has grown over time, making the space hard-to-pinpoint.

- Define the footprint: “If we’d done wood floors like elsewhere,” says Jeannie, “the kitchen would have too much wood.”  Instead, slate floor tiles establish the new kitchen’s permanent identity.

-Show continuity:  The same multicolored slate tiles serve as the kitchen’s range backsplash as the living room’s fireplace surround.  Repetition creates harmony within the house.

- Use antique elements: Nothing gives a forever feel more easily to a new kitchen than the use of antique elements, such as the island countertop of reclaimed U.S. barn wood. 

-Consider imperfect materials: “The soapstone has a more organic feel, with a randomness of pattern,” says Jeannie.  “We didn’t want a pristine polished granite look.”  Less than perfect materials add character.

-Clad appliances: Cladding a large appliance can make it look like heirloom furniture, as in the Subzero unit.

-Restore old elements: The traditional wall moldings in the kitchen bring the best of the “before” to the “after” stages of the renovation, lending classicism to the new aesthetic. 

- Work in local materials: Local materials, such as the Virginia quarried soapstone, give Jeannie’s kitchen a meaningful context.