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HomeHomes & GardensAging in Place

Aging in Place

Living in a neighborhood like Capitol Hill that’s populated with lots of adjoined townhomes offers unique design possibilities for homeowners lucky enough to own two connected properties. That scenario along with the notion of aging in place and single floor living spurred an artistic renovation of co-joined properties in nearby Southwest.

“Our client was in the right place at the right time when the Tiber Island development converted to a cooperative. They were able to purchase a two-story plus basement row house in the community and twenty years later they decided to purchase the row house next door,” says Bruce Wentworth, president at Wentworth Inc., a design-build firm based in Chevy Chase. Wentworth’s client us a single woman who has a BA degree in design and has an appreciation for art and space.

The floor plans of the two units were mirror images. Each apartment had a living room, dining room and kitchen on the ground floor. The living rooms were located in the back of the unit to take advantage of views towards the river while the kitchens were located at the front but hidden from view by a foyer that opens into the living areas and the staircase.

To connect the apartments and improve the flow, the load-bearing masonry wall between the units was opened in four key locations including the front foyer. With the wall gone, a generous 9’ wide opening emerged to link the two spaces. The existing oak floors were refinished to add warmth and unite the space.

The dining room to the left was left in place while the one on the right was converted into the client’s artfully rendered dressing room. The room can be also be closed off via oversized sliding glass doors framed with naturally finished hardwood.

The dressing room is defined by 12 lineal feet of storage space hidden behind closet doors hand-painted by Pat Banks, a Kentucky-based artist who specializes in depicting the natural world. The image of a windblown tree, a crystal chandelier and minimal furnishings creates a fun space to prepare or repair from the effects of the day

The new master bath went into the space to the right of the dressing room, where one of the kitchens used to be – a key element to making the reconfigured plan work. “Connecting the homes gave us a total of six bathrooms but regrettably none of them were on the first floor,” say Wentworth. “Because we had so many small bathrooms the client felt the most important feature of the new master bath should be a space big enough for a proper soaking tub.”

The architect utilized plumbing from the abandoned kitchen and created a full bath built around a jetted, 6-foot, cast iron tub from Kohler. Grab bars were tastefully added for safety and the tub surround was trimmed with green subway tile.

A deck around the tub is wide enough for easy entry and offers storage for soaps, sponges, candles and other accouterment. Large format (12”x 24”), white ceramic wall tile in a textured wave pattern was chosen for the bathroom walls to convey the sense of water. A showerhead fixture was included in the plan along with a clear glass back wall and unobtrusive shower rail.

A custom vanity was designed to fit in a five-foot niche and floats above a run of neutral floor tile. The green subway tile is carried onto the wall behind the vanity and the backsplash. Recessed medicine cabinets and shelving enhances the storage capacity. The countertop is a neutral-colored cultured stone.

Passing back through the dressing area leads to the master bedroom that features an exposed brick wall, a water view, and a wood burning fireplace trimmed with stacked stone and bordered by earth-toned granite. A half-wall between the bedroom and the dressing area provide more valuable storage and display space.

Five years after the completion of Phase 1, the client was ready for Phase 2 that would take things to another level, by way of an elevator.

“The merged townhouses had two stairwells, each spanning from basement to second floor,” says Wentworth “so we knew that we could remove one stair and easily have an open elevator shaft with space left over. Most homeowners are not so fortunate to have a readymade elevator shaft that helped to significantly contain costs.”

An elevator pit was built at the basement level along with a machine room. The elevator conveniently opens onto each of the three levels and allows the homeowner to move things from floor to floor with ease. “The elevator has changed my life for the best,” says the client. A sliver of space left over after the elevator installation was converted into a striking three-story display of 18 glass pendants suspended from the ceiling.

On the second floor, two small bathrooms were gutted and reconfigured to create a larger, more accessible bathroom. A shower offers both hand-held and fixed showerheads along with a built-in bench and abundant shelving. The new bath also has a walk-in tub with a side-hinged gate by MTI Baths.

A rear bedroom that overlooks the Washington Channel was selected as the new TV room complete with built-in bookcases made from warm cherry and wet bar that sits above an under counter refrigerator and microwave. There’s also a bar sink, wall cabinets to store glassware and a mosaic-style, penny tile backsplash. The tile backsplash and cultured stone countertop offers easy maintenance. A sliding barn door adds a bit of character and provides privacy for visiting guests.

“Single floor living and aging in place are major design tends right now,” says Wentworth, “with some good planning and a little imagination you don’t have to worry about leaving home for your retirement.”


Bruce Wentworth, AIA is a licensed architect and contractor. He has been providing home remodeling design/build services to homeowners since 1986. Visit www.wentworthstudio.com to learn more about home remodeling.

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