Up Scale Condo

During the last decade we have seen a substantial increase in the number of condominiums found throughout the city, many of them on Capitol Hill. The condo collection is composed of existing apartment buildings that were converted to condo, new construction projects, and adaptive reuse of older buildings - such as schools, hospitals, and churches. Many condo owners find themselves with aging kitchens and baths, or a poor-quality fit-out that ought to be upgraded, which makes condo remodeling a growing segment of the remodeling market.

This was the case for a homeowner in the Watergate Condominium which was constructed in the 1960’s. We first remodeled their two-level apartment Watergate residence in the 1990’s. Last year, for health reasons, they moved to a more modest one-level apartment within the same building. We were pleased to provide design and construction services for the remodeling of their new kitchen and master bath. Combining architectural, interior, and construction skills for an appreciative client is always a pleasure.

The apartment’s original 1960’s Watergate kitchen was inefficiently arranged, lacked a kitchen table space, was cut off from the living space, and generally did not fit a modern lifestyle. The old kitchen had poor quality cabinets and appliances and did not meet the homeowner’s high standards. It had to go.

We gutted the existing kitchen to reconfigure the layout. The new design includes space for a two-person bullet-shaped table with stools. An existing hall, formerly an under utilized passageway to the kitchen, was redesigned as a butler’s pantry with 12" deep cabinets, and a new wall opening visually links the living room for natural light. Within the new wall opening we installed hand crafted decorative ironwork to embellish the design.

Custom wood cabinets were painted a buttery yellow because it reminded the client of a childhood home. Stippled glass installed in the cabinet doors obscures the cabinet interiors, and provides the illusion of lightness and space. Crown molding and flat panel doors provide an up-scale transitional look without excessive detail.

Granite countertops and backsplash were selected for their beauty, durability and ease of care. The bullet-shaped table was specified in dark cherry to complement the granite and provide visual warmth. Continuing the theme of hand crafted ironwork, a twisted wrought iron leg was designed to support the table top. Black polished granite floor tile provides contrast with the yellow cabinets and is sympathetic with the mottled color of the granite countertop.

Planning for the long-term, the homeowners insisted upon quality appliances. We recommended a 27" wide Sub-Zero refrigerator along with several separate Sub-Zero under-counter freezer drawers to maximize the storage. For a minimalist look we specified a Miele hood with curved glass because it does not obscure the beauty of the stone backsplash. The dishwasher, also by Miele, was chosen for its quiet operation. The Thermador brand was selected for a cooktop and oven as functional and attractive.

The master bedroom space contained ample closets and a generous vestibule leading to the bedroom. The master bath was small and opened directly onto the master bedroom.

To increase the size of the master bath, we reconfigured the bathroom and closets. Moving the bath entrance to the vestibule area freed-up bedroom wall space for a dresser. Rearranging the closets enabled us to make the bath larger without sacrificing closet space.

Two large vanities were placed within the bathroom, one for a sink and one for makeup. Both have generous storage. Good lighting and well-placed mirrors keep the space practical. A large corner shower stall with a bench and frameless glass enclosure become sculptural. Marble tile enhances the floor, walls and countertops.

The newly remodeled apartment home is a well designed sanctuary within an oasis called the Watergate.

photos by Ron Blunt


Maximize Your Basement

When you own a small home in one of the many historic districts of the DC, such as Capitol Hill, it is necessary to maximize every bit of living space. Many homeowners who do not have sufficient land area to build an addition to their home decide to remodel their basements to gain additional living space. And this is what we recently did for the basement of a client’s townhouse. The house lacked a family room, guest room, and extra bath. Their under utilized basement was the perfect place to remodel to satisfy their needs. As a positive feature, the existing basement was a spacious 24' x 24', had a triple set of large front windows with a functional 7'-0" ceiling height, all fit for remodeling. On the negative, the basement was a convoluted warren of poorly fabricated rooms; an ancient bath occupied the only front windows, and mechanical equipment (furnace and water heater) took up prime floor space in the middle of the basement. A former rear outside stair areaway (3' x 6'), covered over by a previous addition, was wasted space that we wanted to utilize.

Gutting the old basement allowed our new design to maximize every square inch. New mechanical equipment, both compact and energy-efficient, was selected to replace the old. The new equipment was relocated to the rear where it shares space with a laundry room. Full size washer/dryer units were placed side by side to allow a folding counter for laundry with storage shelves above. The former rear stair’s areaway was reconfigured as a shower stall for the new bath; the old concrete steps clad in tile as a bench for the shower stall. The space remaining between the new bath and laundry room was finished off as a cedar closet. Grouping the laundry, utilities, bath, and cedar closet along the rear of the basement enabled us to open up the space and create an 18' x 24' family room which benefits from the natural light of the front window. Along one wall new egg crate style bookcases accommodate storage and a flat screen TV. An upholstered furniture grouping and area rugs makes the new room the perfect media center. At the opposite end of the space a drop-down Murphy bed provides extra sleeping for overnight guests. When the bed is folded up there is space for the owner’s game table.

Because the new space is located in a basement with modest daylight the new lighting was very important. To make the space warm and inviting custom recessed halogen lights were installed in square pockets recessed between the floor joists. A pair of contemporary wall sconces illuminates a central column. Transparency and reflectivity were achieved with frosted glass cabinet doors on the lower portion of the bookcase, frosted glass pocket doors, and a glass railing at the stair. Two frosted glass pocket doors, symmetrically placed, provide access to the rear utilities and bath and help to visually balance the space. Throughout the space light neutral paint colors at the walls with white trim were used. Large-scale (20" x 20") travertine floor tile in a cream color was specified and the bathroom has pale green penny-round tile.

What was formerly a convoluted space, inefficiently used for storage, is now a fully functioning and attractive living space. The comfort of the space, natural light, symmetry and quality materials provide a restful environment at the end of a Washington work day.
photos by Ron Blunt


Entertain from your Home

It’s a national trend. Americans are remodeling their homes with custom-built, personalized home entertainment spaces. We are nesting. A recent client provides a good example of a full-blown luxury home entertainment trend. The homeowners, a retired business man and his wife, were fortunate to have 2,400 square feet of space on their lower level (basement), along with 9’ ceilings to accommodate their modern home entertainment desires. And, we were fortunate to have clients with excellent taste in a contemporary vein.

Pool Table and Wet Bar
At the very first meeting the man-of-the-house expressed his desire to have a proper space for a billiard table, room enough for guest players, and a classy wet bar. This was a priority for the design. The pool table was given center stage with dramatic lighting, and, along one wall, we placed a ledge where guests can rest their beer, chat, and watch the games. Within the same area, a 15’ long custom bar was designed with a dark espresso wood and a cantilevered glass bar top. The wet bar was fitted-out with sink, ice maker, refrigerator, granite counter top, and abundant storage. A back bar was designed with espresso wall paneling and glass shelves that hold bottles and barware. The back bar features two back-lit eco friendly synthetic panels (3-Form) embedded with bamboo grass. The soft mood lighting provides an evocative bar atmosphere. Stone floor tile is easy to maintain in the bar area, and neutral color carpeting with a subtle circle pattern adds a bit of unobtrusive whimsy to the overall space. Hand-blown glass pendant lighting hangs over the bar and is visually appealing. Guests can observe the billiard game and enjoy a cocktail while perched on a swank bar stool.

Media Center
The adjacent space was furnished with a large leather sectional for small gatherings or quiet naps. A low and unobtrusive stone coffee table makes it easy for small groups to watch the latest sports game or movie. A wall of wood paneling is the aesthetic focus of the space and is fitted with a large recessed flat screen TV. A custom sound system with built-in speakers provides up-to-date technology for entertaining. A closet in the adjacent fitness room accommodates a tall rack of high-tech media equipment. Next to the media center is an alcove with a stone fireplace for cozy evenings of reading. Stone paving sets the fireplace alcove apart as distinct, and floor-to-ceiling drapery contrasts with the hard stone to soften the alcove’s sitting area. A gas log makes it a no-fuss space.

Fitness Room
Behind a private frosted-glass door is the owner’s fitness room which houses exercise equipment and work-out benches. Built-in lockers with cubbies provide storage, a mirrored wall visually expands the space, and a soft floor covering made for health clubs, called “Plynyl”, was installed throughout the fitness room. An outside entrance leads to an expansive swimming pool with patio for maximum entertaining. A new bathroom was created for guests using the fitness room or swimming pool. A large shower stall with a frameless glass enclosure and walls clad in stone make the space luxurious. The bathroom’s unobtrusive location makes it a pleasant surprise to guests.

Home Office
Of course, life is not all play and no work, which required a new home office on the lower level. Two pairs of glass doors visually link the office with the entertainment spaces and allow circulation through the office for those large parties. Two custom workstations, counter tops for office equipment, built-in bookcases, a conference table, lounge seating, storage closet, and ample lighting make this home office a pleasant space for those daily necessary tasks.

Reception Area
No good entertainment space is complete without a reception area to make that first good impression. An oval reception area is the perfect space to meet and greet. The home’s staircase curves gently as it descends toward the lower level and arrives at the new oval reception room. Large-scale stone tile set in a diagonal pattern follows the oval shape and is repeated in the custom oval drywall ceiling design. A decorative hanging light fixture and a wall niche with artwork complete the design of the space.

Although the overall space is large, the design provides distinctive and unique areas focused on different activities and specialized types of entertainment. The homeowners can comfortably entertain large groups of guests or select a single space to converse quietly with one. With sophisticated homeowners, the design evolved as a truly specialized and personalized entertainment space. They may never feel the need to leave home.
photos by Ron Blunt


Green Ideas for Kitchen Remodeling

Knowing which sustainable, eco-friendly products to use when remodeling a kitchen can be intimidating for homeowners. Is the material really “green,” or is it just marketed as such? Will the product hold up to daily use in my kitchen? Am I paying more for a green product? So when homeowners ask how to incorporate green products in their kitchen remodeling, we try to keep it simple and practical.

As the green building industry matures, it will become easier to make these decisions. Many building industry experts predict that in a decade we will no longer call it “green building” because using sustainable, eco-friendly products will be the norm. It will just be the way we build. Until then, here are a few basic tips on cost-effective green products we at Wentworth Inc. have used in kitchen remodeling projects.

Kitchen Cabinets

Cabinets faced with a wood veneer from plantation-grown trees is one way to minimize the environmental impact of your kitchen remodeling. For a recent kitchen remodel, we specified cabinets with bamboo veneer – a quick growing, abundant grass material (http://www.plybo.com/) and (www.corsicabinetry.com). Thin layers of veneer, wood or grass, stretch the usefulness of the product.

Another plantation-grown wood to consider is Lyptus, which is the trade name for a hybrid of a Eucalyptus tree grown on plantations in Brazil. Lyptus most resembles maple in appearance and can be treated with a multitude of different finishes. Lyptus trees are harvested every 15 years and are an alternative to precious oak, cherry, mahogany and other trees.


Recycled paper products are now fabricated as countertop material. Yes, paper. We recently specified a product called “PaperStone” (www.paperstoneproducts.com), which looks great and functions as though a honed granite. The PaperStone company website reports it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. PaperStone has two versions of the product: one using 50 percent post-consumer waste recycled paper that comes in five colors, and another using 100 percent post-consumer waste paper in seven colors. Their recycled paper is mixed with a petroleum-free phenolic resin (from cashew nutshell liquid) to manufacture the product in sheets. Large sheet sizes (60-inches-by-144-inches) minimize the need for joints in your counter top, and the product ranges in thickness from three-fourths of an inch to 1 ¼ inch. Time will reveal how well the product performs in a kitchen environment.


Recycled glass is a terrific way to get an attractive, cost-effective, guilt-free backsplash. For a home in Northwest Washington we specified a glass tile made by a company called Sandhill (www.sandhillind.com). The company was awarded a grant from the Alaska Science & Technology Foundation to develop innovative glass-fusing technology that utilizes 100 percent recycled glass normally destined for landfills. Their glass tile fabrication uses half the energy it takes to produce ceramic tile and a quarter of the energy it takes to produce cast-glass tile. Their glass tiles come in a range of sizes, with 36 colors, in a gloss or matte finish. For our client’s kitchen backsplash, we utilized a three color mix, in a 2-inch-by-2-inch tile, set in a diagonal pattern.

Another, more upscale, glass tile company we have utilized is Oceanside Glass Tile (www.glasstile.com). Their website claims to use up to 86 percent recycled glass in their products, and their product line is extensive. A glass tile backsplash offers a lot of visual impact for the cost, and with a professional installation, it is beautiful.


Bamboo flooring is an increasingly popular way to have wood floors without cutting down trees. We recently used a product called Preserve Bamboo (www.ToMkt.com) which is available in a variety of pre-finished stains as a tongue and groove boarding. The company’s marketing material says the renewable resource, called Mao Zhu (Hairy) bamboo, is harvested every five years. Beautiful and durable, we have on occasion had reports of surface scratches.


Appliances are an expensive part of kitchen remodeling, and the long term effect of their energy efficiency has a financial and environmental impact. To learn more about purchasing an energy efficient dishwasher and refrigerator, visit www.energystar.gov. Cooking appliances – such as ranges, cook tops and microwaves – are not classified by Energy Star because individual homeowner’s cooking styles vary too much to rank.


An Energy Star qualified dishwasher uses at least 41 percent less energy than the federal minimum standard for energy consumption and significantly less water than other dishwasher models. The Energy Star website reports that if your dishwasher was made before 1994, switching to an Energy Star qualified dishwasher can save you more than $30 a year in utility costs. Bosch, GE, Kitchen Aid and LG manufacture qualifying dishwashers.


An Energy Star qualified refrigerator uses 20 percent less energy than most models. Many include automatic ice-makers and thru-the-door ice dispensers as well as top, bottom and side-by-side freezers. An Energy Star qualified refrigerator uses 40 percent less energy than a conventional model sold in 2001. Viking, GE, Amana and Sub-zero are a few examples. A visit to www.energystar.gov will help you make practical choices with your appliances.

If each American homeowner makes practical, eco-friendly choices in the products selected to remodel their kitchen, it will go a long way toward making our world a healthier place.
Let’s remodel.