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Enlightening the Row House: A Georgetown Home Renovation

Daylight, fresh air and outdoor living space turn a dark, cramped Washington, D.C., townhouse into a hospitable retreat.

| May/June 2008

  • Designer Rick Harlan Schneider replaced a dividing wall with see-through display cabinets that bring light into the formerly dark dining room.
  • The new cabinets slide into different positions to separate or open up the dining and living areas.
  • New water-efficient plumbing fixtures blend beauty and practicality.
  • The serene bedroom provides personal sustainability.
  • The living room features a fireplace with a metal grille by Charles Danley, a low room divider topped with colorful recycled glass terazzo and carpet squares made from recycled plastic bottles.
  • The upstairs hallway got a new coat of low-VOC paint, and the newel post was capped with Vetrazzo, made with recycled glass.
  • The hallway mirror is framed with pieces of painted wood salvaged from Southern barns.
  • The dining room got a facelift, including a built-in buffet of sustainably forested maple with perforated metal doors. The carpet squares are FLOR, from Interface, made with recycled PET bottles.
  • With planter boxes on the top and sides of the patio walls, Scott has more gardening space than many urban dwellers.
  • New windows and oversized French doors bring light and air to Scott’s formerly dark kitchen, while blending it with the patio as one continuous space.
  • Metalsmith Charles Danley crafted a fireplace that functions as a cookstove and provides heat to extend the patio’s usefulness into cooler seasons.

Scott Sanders had rented the same Washington, D.C., townhouse for seven years, so when he finally bought it he knew just what to do first: Enliven the tiny backyard and renovate the dingy kitchen. But those improvements made such an impact, Scott couldn’t stop there. One project led to another, and soon a complete renovation was under way.

Scott’s home is a two-story, 1,100-square-foot, 100-year-old row house in Washington’s diverse and historic Adams-Morgan district. With two long, windowless common walls and no room to expand, Scott, a communications consultant, knew he would need help to make it more livable. He called in Rick Harlan Schneider of Inscape Studio who worked with the site’s sunlight, breezes, walls and wildlife to create a light, open, outdoors-oriented home.

Phase one: The kitchen and patio

Scott and Schneider first met with plans to discuss two separate projects: the patio and the kitchen. But, Schneider says, "We quickly realized that, because these two spaces were only separated by a wall, we should think of them as a whole. How do you flow from the kitchen to the patio, open up the kitchen and make a patio that feels like an extension of the house?"

Schneider started by opening up the south-facing kitchen wall with double French doors and operable windows. Then he raised the patio so Scott could walk straight from his kitchen into the new outdoor room. Inside, Schneider reconfigured the small kitchen to gain more storage, a workspace and an eating area, then modernized it with a cleaner look. Outside called for more dramatic measures.

"Scott wanted a garden space," Schneider says, "but there really wasn’t enough area to plant things horizontally. So we came up with what we call his ‘vertical gardens.’" A cedar fence brimming with potted plants and planter boxes surrounds Scott’s new stone patio, improving the view from the kitchen and capturing rainwater at the same time. A patio fireplace with a custom grill functions as a cookstove in summer and a heat source in cooler seasons. A strip of pea gravel carries water runoff back into the ground.

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