Jewel-box-like and serene, Downtown Loft solves the classic row house problem of how to get light into the middle of a long, narrow space. The 1832 building, the oldest on Charlottesville’s downtown pedestrian mall, had a retail shop on the ground floor and a block of claustrophobic offices above. The clients, who live just outside the city, asked Bushman Dreyfus to turn the second floor into a weekend pied-à-terre.
As is often the case, the design evolved as demolition progressed. On the first walkthrough, the architects and their client had no plans to touch the attic; however, as they began chipping away, they discovered that a lot of the structure had to be replaced. “There were floor joists from previous projects, it looked like a lot of the timber was scavenged, and the upper reaches of the attic had char marks,” says Jeff Bushman, AIA. “Much of it hadn’t been touched in 100 years.”
After all the old wood came out, the solution presented itself. The existing entry stair running along the party wall set up a linear scheme that opens the volume from front to back. And the decision to cathedralize the ceiling and build a bedroom loft allowed them to install seven skylights that saturate the center with light. With the bedroom out of the way, the architects designed a 50-foot-long, rough-sawn white oak “cabinet” on the long side of the floor plan. Hidden doors and hardware conceal the kitchen appliances, a bath, and a closet.
Our judges applauded the project’s clarity and material detailing. The kitchen backsplash area opens to the skylit vestibule stairwell, framing an affectionate view of the old brick party wall. Minimalist and straightforward, a stainless steel utility trough, fitted with electrical outlets, holds cooking supplies and keeps things from falling into the stairwell. Situated between the kitchen and closet, the bath has no exterior window, but a tempered glass partition borrows natural light from the stairway.
Amplifying the focus on transparency and light, the loft stair is a perforated metal plate fixed to a 3/8-inch-thick, white-painted metal guardrail. “You almost can’t see the guardrail when you look at it on edge,” Jeff says. “Even when you’re at the other end of the apartment, you can see out the windows” on the front and back walls.
“It was a big project in terms of the structure, but conceptually it’s pretty simple,” Jeff says. “At the end of the day, it’s a downtown loft with as much livable space as possible. It could be decorated to the hilt and still work.”
Bushman Dreyfus Architects
Architect: Jeff Bushman, AIA, partner in charge; Aga Saulle, project designer, Bushman Dreyfus Architects, Charlottesville, Virginia
Builder: Longview Management & Construction Co., Wingina, Virginia
Structural engineer: Dunbar Milby Williams Pittman & Vaughan, Charlottesville
Project size: 1,350 square feet
Site size: 0.07 acre
Construction cost: $300 per square foot
Photography: Virginia Hamrick Photography
Cabinetry: Custom-stained rough-sawn white oak
Door hardware: Sugatsune, Saint Louis Designs
Faucets: Hansgrohe, Delta
Flooring: White oak
Lighted mirror: Kohler
Lighting: Feelux, WAC, Eurofase
Paints, stains: Benjamin Moore
Vent hood: Imperial
Plans and Drawings