Downsizing: New-to-D.C. lawyer starts from scratch in small condo

Glen Ackerman, a lawyer originally from New Orleans, moved to Washington in 2006 to open his own law firm. He hired Georgetown architect Ernesto Santalla to gut and remake a dated, 600-square-foot condo in Penn Quarter.
By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2010

If your home is the size of a corner office, it helps to have an exceptional view. "I live among the monuments," says Glen Ackerman, looking out toward the Mall from the terrace at his 600-square-foot Penn Quarter condo. "When you live in such a small space, you use the city as your living room."

He should know: His last place was a 5,100-square-foot house, and now he has no room for a coffee table.

Ackerman, a lawyer originally from New Orleans, moved to Washington in 2006 to start a new life and open his own law firm. He hired Georgetown architect and designer Ernesto Santalla of Studio Santalla to gut a dated one-bedroom condo, remake the architecture and interiors, and show him how to live well with less.

Ackerman and Santalla agreed that Ackerman would start from scratch, bringing nothing of his old life, except his clothing and his John Grisham books and presidential autobiographies. Santalla refigured the chopped-up rooms with their popcorn ceilings, worn-out kitchen appliances and low-quality finishes, defining areas for eating, living and sleeping. "The apartment seemed cramped and old because the space was not used efficiently," Santalla says.

He added built-in furniture such as the anigre wood storage cabinet with CaesarStone countertop in the living room and the upholstered headboard. He removed the tub and added a glass-walled shower. In place of the dated wall-to-wall carpeting, limestone floors were installed. Ackerman's 100 shirts and 30 pairs of shoes were organized in a bedroom wall Santalla had customized from California Closets. The apartment is decorated in a taupe-and-cream color scheme to unify everything. Santalla even asked Ackerman to buy a Kindle to cut down on new books.

"The opportunity to totally start over lets you have everything fit together," says Santalla. "But you have to be disciplined."

Some features and rooms actually got bigger. There is more counter space in the kitchen; the bathroom and bedroom are larger, because Santalla removed a corridor and a dividing wall.

Ackerman's finished place, with modern lines, neutral tones and collection of paintings and sculpture, has a gallery-like feel, reflecting the buildings in his view: the National Gallery of Art and National Museum of the American Indian.

For 12 years, Ackerman, 49, lived in a spacious Pittsburgh house with four bedrooms, a three-car garage and a great room. He and his longtime partner broke up in 2005; Ackerman moved to the District a year later. He bought a condo in the 1992 building because of the urban feel and connection to the outdoors and sunlight through the 19-by-6-foot terrace and floor-to-ceiling windows. He rented an apartment down the hall during renovations. Demolition began in January 2007, and the project took almost a year because of the customization and the condo's stringent regulations on construction hours.

Santalla worked closely with Ackerman to design the spaces to fit his needs as someone who wanted well-organized storage and who frequently worked at home. "I wanted to have a nice kitchen, even though I am not a cook," says Ackerman, whose freezer drawers are filled with Cheerios and who eats out a lot. (He likes the Source at the Newseum, just down the street.)

Ackerman was surprised at one of the benefits he's realized from his new lifestyle. "Here you live only with necessities," he says. "Even my 401(k) has gone up, because I am not spending money filling up my closets."

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