By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 5, 2008
For 13 years, modern architect Andrew Rollman lived in a tiny 530-square-foot condominium in Dupont Circle surrounded by his grandparents' furniture: an Art Deco armoire, a 1950s Colonial-style dining table, a Danish modern dresser in French blue and a kitchen saltbox with a chicken painted on it.
It just wasn't him.
Two years ago, his mother looked around the apartment and said, "You seem too settled for your age," says Rollman, 45, who designs sleek law firms and sustainable high-rise buildings. "She basically gave me permission to let go of all the past."
That afternoon, he called a real estate agent about a one-bedroom unit with den for sale in his building. Before long he was renovating it and donating his heirlooms to charity. Today, Rollman, who grew up in Baltimore, lives in an airy space and is surrounded by white, from the polished marble floors to the modernist furniture classics by Harry Bertoia, Florence Knoll and Eero Saarinen.
Whereas his original condo was rooted in the past, his new home reflects the positive impact that good design can have. "The new place looks towards the future and is a light and very positive space," he says. "I feel it's cutting-edge design. It's exciting."
A vice president at SmithGroup, a national architectural firm, Rollman drew on his experience in creating high-profile downtown buildings and college dorm lounges when he executed his own makeover.
He had moved into his original small unit in 1993. The brick condo building, off Massachusetts Avenue, had been designed by his firm in the late 1980s. He tolerated living on the building's north side, with little sunlight, but eventually realized he craved more light, less stuff and a bigger place to have friends in for drinks or dinner. "As an architect, I wanted a bit of a showplace," he says. "Being a single guy, I wanted to do some entertaining. I was tired of being a workaholic."
He donated the furniture he had inherited to Value Village and the Salvation Army, freeing himself to start fresh.
His new 850-square-foot home has a winning location. Walls of windows face the south and east, and there is a small, sunny balcony. Originally, the main living space was cut up, with an enclosed kitchen at one end and a den at the other; Rollman had walls removed to form one big, open living-dining-kitchen space. Then he created a cocoon of white. "I wanted to explore pure modernism, and I only wanted to have the absolute minimum. That's why I chose white marble and white paint," he says. He put his kitchen along one wall and installed custom high-gloss white cabinets. He installed a kitchen table instead of an island. His table happens to be Saarinen's Large Oval Dining Table, a modernist icon from 1956.
Along one wall of the bedroom he added two storage closets with frosted-glass doors, separating them with shelving in high-gloss white. The two bathrooms got makeovers of pedestal sinks and subway tiles. After four months of renovation, he moved in and arranged his new minimalist furnishings. "I wanted to create a place with furniture floating," he says. "I envisioned cocktail parties with people standing up and didn't want any dead ends."
Sometimes even a purist needs a splash of color, but usually just one color at a time. Rollman makes seasonal changes that punctuate the all-white canvas. He shops at places like West Elm, Marshalls, T.J. Maxx and Ikea for pillows, vases and accessories, but not too many. He has added punches of chartreuse, red and light blue. As for art, he sometimes repaints the same 24-by-24-inch stretched canvas with a new tube of acrylic paint: "For $5 you can completely change your look."
His friends are charmed. "When people come in the door," he says, "the first thing they typically say is 'wow.' " Now, he has parties for 40. Friends stop by on their way to restaurants or clubs in the area. "At my place, it feels like we are in a cool bar in Dupont Circle," he says. "I look forward to coming back myself when I've been away. Instead of dreading the end of a vacation, I know I'm returning to my super-cool space."
He has no regrets. "It's not that I didn't appreciate the heirlooms I had. I felt guilty about giving them away, and it wasn't easy to do it," Rollman says. "But my mother told me, 'It's not the possessions; it's the memories.' "
530 square feet
Beige-and-gray checked carpet tile
One bathroom with dated oak vanity and laminate top
Little sunlight; no green plants
Entertaining a rarity
850 square feet
A pared-down look
Italian marble floors
Two bathrooms with subway tile, pedestal sinks and low-flow toilets
Lots of sunlight; orchids in every room
Parties for 40