The Shuster-Bub House, Near U St.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Problems: "Gloomy" first floor, not enough storage, tiny bathroom.

Solutions: Floor-to-ceiling windows and doors, more cabinets, converting closet to shower.

Robin Shuster and husband Jeffrey Bub talked about a redo of their three-story U Street corridor rowhouse for about 10 years before they took the renovation plunge. Many friends found their 13-foot-8-inch-wide, art-filled Victorian house cozy. "But we never spent time downstairs because it was gloomy," Shuster said.

The homeowners' mandate to Janet Bloomberg of Washington's Kube Architecture was to add light and storage, said Shuster, who runs farmers markets and whose husband is a professor of physics and philosophy at the University of Maryland.

Bloomberg removed walls between the main-level living areas and the kitchen so the rooms could "flow together as one space." Working with Paul Robertson of Robertson Development, the architect then opened up the kitchen with a wall of glass -- windows and doors, from floor to ceiling -- repeating the pattern on the courtyard window in the dining area. That window also extends to the floor, with the refurbished Victorian radiator standing in front of it like so much sculpture. The kitchen is divided from the dining area by a chest-high concrete wall with a soft, warm finish.

Shuster and Bub were lucky that their 45-foot-long home had always had a small coat closet tucked under the stairs. The new storage story takes place mostly in the dining area. Thick shelves hang along one wall for displaying art and ceramics. The opposite wall, now sheathed in five sleek maple cabinets, houses stereo equipment, cookbooks, platters and bowls. Closest to the kitchen is a deep pantry unit with pull-out shelves.

Bloomberg exercised similar legerdemain upstairs, turning a tiny bathroom into separate toilet and vanity areas. She then took an adjacent closet with a skylight (!) and turned it into a shower with a skylight. "It makes the shower into a morning paradise every single day," Shuster said.

Some of the upstairs closets hold the couple's art for now. Says Shuster, "We love the Zen calm of the bare gray walls, the luminosity and the illusion that our narrow little house isn't narrow at all and that we are both inside and outside at the same time."

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