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The front remained untouched in the renovation.

This article was published in May 2010 as part of UrbanTurf’s Unique Spaces series, where we take a look at properties that could be considered “one-of-a-kind” in the DC area. If you have a home that you think fits the bill, send an email to editor2012@urbanturf.com. See all of our past Unique Spaces articles here.

From the street, Juan Felipe Rincon and RC Bates’ Capitol Hill row house looks no different from the neighboring homes: An elegant red-brick, federal-style façade capped with a proper cornice and dentils that reflect the home’s 19th-century roots.

That’s pretty much where the similarities end, though. Open the translucent glass front door, and this row house reveals a modern, 21st-century interior, rebuilt two years ago to the highest green standards.

Bates bought the house in 1998, and when Rincon moved in, they decided to stay put and renovate it, instead of moving elsewhere. Bates said the “pseudo-Victorian” had been “done and redone” over the years, but that the renovations had been nothing special.

“We had to do something drastic,” he told UrbanTurf.

Enter Studio27 Architecture, a K Street architecture firm that has designed homes and offices across the country and is known for its green, contemporary approach.

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Much of the side wall – and the entire rear – is glass
allowing light to pour into the soaring interior space.

Because the house is semi-detached, with the exposed side wall facing south, there was tremendous potential to take advantage of natural daylight, Rincon said.

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Rear exterior at night.

Architect Hans Kuhn responded with a total interior gut that opened the inside top to bottom, transforming it into a gallery-type space topped with a “light chimney” that creates a breeze from open windows on the lower levels to a skylight above.

“It creates a natural draft,” Rincon said of the chimney, noting that he and Bates have yet to turn on the air conditioning this year. And there is so much natural light, they don’t have to turn on any lights until well after the sun goes down.

“It was all about daylight and openness,” Hans Kuhn said of the project. In addition to skylights, Kuhn added that you can open the back of the house to the yard providing a natural breeze that helps ventilate the entire home.

Attention was also paid to aesthetics. The architects colored a portion of the rear exterior wall orange to match the orange accent inside.

“It fits well with all the wood tones,” Kuhn said.

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Kitchen.

From a green standpoint, the water heater is solar-powered, the house is insulated with spray foam as opposed to less-efficient fiber, and all the paint is no-VOC. The HVAC system is one of the most efficient on the market and all the materials used were locally sourced and are renewable, such as bamboo flooring and cabinetry, and concrete countertops.

The kitchen island came from Charlottesville, and was brought to the house in three sections. To get the pieces inside, workers had to use a forklift to haul them over the backyard and through the rear wall.

Rincon’s and Bates’ lifestyle change was almost as dramatic as the renovation itself. People now stop over frequently with a bottle of wine just to “ooh and aah”, Rincon said.

The only project remaining is to finish landscaping in the back, so the men can do more outdoor entertaining.

“Once we’ve got that done, we’ll be perfect,” Rincon told UrbanTurf.

Photographs courtesy of Anice Hoachlander

UrbanTurf contributor Jennifer Sergent is the brains behind the DC By Design blog.