The couple’s desire to remain in the family home where they raised their two sons is common among the nation’s 77 million baby boomers. According to a 2010 survey conducted by AARP, about 75 percent of adults 45 and older want to live in their current homes for as long as possible.
For Gittens, 68, and Lawson, 66, staying put meant modernizing the kitchen and living spaces without losing the home’s historic details. The 1909 rowhouse was designed by architect Nicholas R. Grimm, who helped shape such District neighborhoods as Bloomingdale, Foggy Bottom and Mount Pleasant.
“This is the reason we bought the house in the first place,” says Lawson, pointing to the living room’s framed doorways and ornate mantel.
While making the changes, the couple purged many of their belongings, so much so that some of the rooms resemble an empty nest. To say the kitchen and living spaces are clutter-free is an understatement.
“We wanted a streamlined design without a lot of useless stuff,” says Gittens, the founder and director of FilmFest D.C., the annual movie festival, now in its 27th year. “I’m not interested in living in a furniture gallery.”
The back of the house, where most of the recent remodeling took place, is now a minimalist’s delight. All-white finishes in the kitchen are designed to maximize daylight from tall windows in the long, narrow space. Snowy, German-made laminate countertops are left bare, and cabinets have no visible hardware to interfere with their clean lines.
The ultra-modern kitchen and adjacent seating area also showcase two of six televisions in the home. “I actually need to watch ‘Downton Abbey’ — it’s my professional responsibility,” says Lawson with a laugh.
Gittens often uses the flat-screen TVs to preview movies for FilmFest D.C., scheduled this year for April 11-21. “I have even taken advantage of dinner guests to show them films we are considering and get their opinion,” he says. The couple often entertains at the dining table built into the kitchen island — all in white, including the chairs.
In renovating, the homeowners initially thought they would have to add onto the house to get the subtractive look. “We started with the idea of a bigger kitchen and expanding outward,” says Gittens. “We wanted to be able to have large dinner parties,” adds Lawson.
A search of local design talent led them to Reena Racki, a South African-born architect, who insisted on making better use of the existing space rather extending it.
“The house was very long and dark,” says Racki, whose D.C. office is in the Chevy Chase Arcade. “An addition would have made it even longer and darker. We decided to strategically erase walls to open the space to light.”