Reinventing the Georgetown Townhouse
The greatest antiques in Georgetown are the amazing townhouses and homes that climb the hill. A New Yorker once said to me that Georgetown is more beautiful than Greenwich Village, and indeed it is. The caretaking of Georgetown’s homes that are mostly built in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries is best left to architects who respect the building, and without violating them, give them new life. Christian Zapatka, winner of the Rome Prize, is the architect today who makes the most out of re-inventing the Georgetown townhouse.
One of Zapatka’s newest re-inventions is for sale on Q and 30th Streets. This is a part of Cooke’s Row, made up of four pairs of semi-detached houses built in 1868.
Cooke’s Row has Italianate and Second Empire features, including mansard roofs. D.C.’s first governor, Henry D. Cooke, commissioned these houses. Cooke had been appointed by President Grant and belonged to the Republican political machine during the post-Civil War era.
This house had been neglected for a good while and was in need of drastic repair. What is interesting is what Zapatka left intact and what he created out of the traditional maze of bedrooms and few bathrooms. The single most amazing thing about the interior is the circular staircase that goes all the way to the third floor. It has been reinforced using its original balustrade, but with a newly invented round skylight at the top. Some of the original flooring has been retained and doors, including pocket doors, have been refinished and reused. All windows were removed and reinstalled, faking some of the original glazing when pieces were missing. An unusual feature is the slate fireplaces that were found under several layers of paint. They are polished to a dark luster.
With Zapatka in charge of the renovation everything flows; the traditional features ebb into the modern. There is never a disjunction. Because Zapatka works closely with contractors on site, he adjusts the design details on the spot. Therefore they attain certain perfection. He also employs one of the rarest of artisans: a great plasterer. Bathrooms and the kitchen are modern, created with a mastery of refined understatement.
Studying architecture with Michael Graves at Princeton and later working for him formed Zapatka’s vision. Zapatka says that Graves frequently referred to a building as a piece of furniture, or furniture as a building. Recently he attended a symposium where Graves spoke on the antiques in his house. Perhaps this is why Christian Zapatka can cull the best of an old house, at the same time renewing it.
Christian Zapatka: Reinventing the Georgetown Townhouse
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