Aging gracefully doesn't mean one has to forgo cutting-edge modern design, bold and bright color, and a penchant for art and interior architecture that speaks loudly of a life lived in love. This radically renovated terraced townhouse in Washington, D.C houses a lot of pop behind its handsome, heritage facade. Not least being a couple in their mid-70s, newly wed in their stunning house while the retrofit and renovation was still underway.
The considerate, creative minds behind local Washington firm Kube Architecture responded to the fact that the couple are avid art collectors and that being able to grow old together – and enjoying every minute of it – in a home equipped for comfort and care was crucial to their shared future. Colorful, spacious and practical, the enviable Salt & Pepper House is, like the couple that lives inside, a match made in heaven.
The Salt & Pepper House makes sensitive use of a classic example of heritage architecture in the US federal capital. Yet appearances are deceptive. With conservation and sustainability trumping a tear-down-and-replace attitude to redevelopment, no attempt has been made to smooth over the naturally uneven, small gauge brickwork of the external structure or conceal the iron structural stays visible in pairs between the windows; and the windows themselves, while modern and energy efficient, are in an appropriately traditional, three-quarter sash style.
Painted in a solemn slate gray given texture by the brick beneath, a hint of the contemporary flourishes within is given by the orange-red framed front door, catching the eye of passersby. Eco-friendly to the hilt, the roof is covered in solar cells to dramatically push the home towards self-sufficiency – an invisible feature that further reduces the impact of the house on the historic character of the neighborhood while embracing modern, sustainable architecture.
Stepping inside, The Salt & Pepper House is immediately identifiable as a superb example of contemporary home design. Kobe Architecture has retained the original floorboards wherever possible, and you can see them here brought to a high polish and laid adjacent to the durable and discreet, flagstone-sized ceramic tiling used in the hallway and elsewhere throughout the first floor.
The first piece of the homeowner-couple's formidable art collection is this South Asian theatrical mask, set in an alcove next to the large flatscreen television. This is a couple who like to be entertained, whether by traditional or contemporary media, in a home that pairs up original and modern materials. To the left you can see how the narrow stairwell of the original building has been opened up, replacing the stairs themselves with a modern floating staircase.
The most radical evidence of the degree to which the townhouse has been transformed is seen towards the rear of the house. Moving down the hallway that runs along the side of the house, the external wall of which has been stripped to the original brick and given a simple whitewash, and past an East Asian calligraphic silk scroll painting (another example of the couple's love of Far Eastern art), we enter the spacious kitchen and living room area.
Gone are the cramped rooms of the original townhouse. Knocking out the first-floor ceiling of the entire rear half of the dwelling has created a spacious living room filled with light, air, and an eclectic array of modern furnishings in bold, contrasting colors and the house's signature, understated slate gray. There's plenty of white-cube wall space for more artwork, and an open kitchen finds its feet beneath a mezzanine framed in glass and burnished structural steel.
Both partners love to cook and eat, so it makes sense that the kitchen is at the core of the house, looking out over the double storied living space to the garden through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall at the rear of the house. Twin bar stools sit opposite imperial purple armchairs – this is clearly a home for a pair of lovebirds.
Emphasising the interdependence of cooking, eating, and enjoying both the stunning interior of the house and the equally beautiful rear garden, the architects have custom built a pair of indoor-outdoor benches with matching sets of chairs (everything in twos, here).
The high-walled courtyard out back is low maintenance but never dull. Pale stone paving stones soak up the sun, with a continuation of the slate grey tiling used inside petering out the further you push back into the outdoor space. A herb garden furnishes the gastronomic owners' with plenty of fresh greenery for them to incorporate into their home-cooked meals, and a striking water feature and fountain made from Corten steel (a material favoured by sculptor Richard Serra for its tendency to age beautifully) plays the soothing sound of water over a pebbled strip that doubles up to provide drainage for the entire area.
Looking back at the house in this sunset shot, the interior a glowing oasis, you can see how the architecture frames the whole dwelling like a work of art, thanks to a minimalist steel support structure of which Mies van der Rohe would be envious. 'Low-e' (low emissivity) glass has been used in the huge south-facing window wall and full-length 14-foot sliding doors that provide access from the living room to the garden and admit plenty of fresh air to the home. The glass has been further treated with a heat- and UV-resistant coating to help regulate temperature and protect the owners' art and furniture from the sun.
The greatest coup that the renovated Salt & Pepper House achieves is probably the removal of the rear part of the first floor, bringing this mezzanine into existence. A daring, barely-there glass and steel balustrade echoes the trim used for the window wall and again seems to frame the scene. It's a transitional space, visually linking the downstairs living area with the upstairs rooms, but also a place to rest and reflect, with another pair of 60s-style armchairs perched in lofty position.
The walls at either end of the mezzanine are external structures, and like downstairs they have been stripped back to brick and painted white, creating a texture that offsets the cool modernity of the refurbishment with a reminder of the original. Here, a simple bookshelf houses a selection of the owners' books – it's a reading room with a view.
The master bedroom is as simple and as boldly decorated as the rest of the home. The motif of imperial purple and slate and stone tones predominates, with more artwork on the walls (classical torsos rendered in fern?) and a set of bed linen and floor rug that pair palettes perfectly.
Shifting tonal highlights to aquatic blues are entirely in keeping with the pop aesthetic that runs throughout The Salt & Pepper House, and perfect for the bathroom, especially given the same stone and slate found throughout the interior design is followed through in the flooring and the shower cubicle. As with all spaces and circulation routes in the house, the shower able to admit a wheelchair. Maintaining sustainability is practiced here with low-flow plumbing fixtures.
The Salt & Pepper House wins us over with its innovative design and architectural ethos that remains grounded in a foundational respect for the original structure. These thematic makes poetic sense given that the couple inhabiting this renovated dwelling are of the older generation but clearly a couple bursting with youthful vitality. As such, the home expresses the personality of its occupants, as all well-designed, bespoke homes should.
Looking for more inspiring renovation ideas? Check out this unbelievable farmhouse restoration!