When Skip and Debbie Singleton do something, they go all out.
The couple, owners of D.C. Living Real Estate brokerage, wanted to downsize and move to a more modern home. While some people downsize a little, the Singletons went from a 6,000-square-foot single-family house in the Palisades neighborhood of Northwest Washington to a 1,950-square-foot condo in Georgetown.
Their style shift went from an elaborate Queen Anne-style Victorian home on the National Register of Historic Places to a sleek, contemporary condo without a single piece of trim on the doors, windows, floors or cabinets.
The Singletons gutted their condo, built in 2004, to transform its already modern style to a more cutting-edge look.
“We see so many homes that are just buried in stuff, so the seed was planted for us to look ahead and streamline our lives,” Debbie Singleton says. “We didn’t intend to downsize quite this much, though. Our initial plan was to build a modern single-family home, but then we realized the condo we were renting in Georgetown was what we wanted.”
The Singletons’ first home together a few decades ago was a modern house in Florida that they designed and built.
“That house had 20-foot-high ceilings, and everything in it was black and white except for a Japanese-inspired red sofa that looked like something from the Museum of Modern Art,” Skip Singleton says. “We feel like we’ve come full circle with our modern condo.”
In addition to being influenced by their first home and the many houses they see in the District, the Singletons say they were inspired by the hundreds of interior designers who showcase their work at the annual DC Design House fundraiser, which they founded in 2008.
The DC Design House has raised more than $1.5 million for Children’s National Health System, and more than 70,000 people have visited the show homes. This year’s event, at 2509 Foxhall Rd. NW in the District, will be held Oct. 1 to 30.
“It’s been a great learning experience to absorb the vision of the diverse designers who have worked on the DC Design House every year,” Debbie says. “It’s helped us develop our tastes as we saw how they see things.”
The Singletons sold their Victorian home faster than expected while they were in the process of searching for land in the Palisades and Wesley Heights on which to build a contemporary home.
“We had a full file on our computer with ideas that we had worked out with an architect for what we call a ‘CCC’ house: a commercial-like, concrete, condo-size place,” Skip says. “We moved into a rented condo on the Georgetown waterfront when our house sold, and then we realized that we were living in a ‘CCC’ home. We wouldn’t have been able to find land to build a house in this neighborhood, especially with a water view, so we started rethinking our plans.”
The couple love their location, where they can exercise their dogs, walk to shops and restaurants and enjoy a view of the Potomac River. Once they decided they wanted to stay in the building, they began researching every unit, reviewing floor plans, checking out views and sending out feelers to see if any of the units might be coming on the market. A chance meeting with a neighbor led to their finding the unit they ultimately purchased.
“We had planned on building a 3,000- to 3,500-square-foot house with a swimming pool, so deciding to buy and renovate a 1,950-square-foot condo was a big leap for us,” Debbie says.
When the Singletons sold their Victorian house, about 70 percent of their furniture was purchased by the buyers, and some pieces were sold at an estate sale. The Singletons put some of their belongings into temporary storage, intending to use it when their next house was complete.
“We were planning to downsize, but not quite like this,” Skip says.
The couple spent months donating books to libraries, giving possessions to family members and finding places where they could give away other items.
“After 32 years of marriage, it was a big challenge to edit everything and decide what to keep,” Skip says.
Debbie, who spent months scanning paperwork and photos for cloud storage, says they went from 14 file drawers to three. She says they still edit their belongings even now that they have moved, and she scans paperwork every few weeks so they stay clutter-free.
Knowing that they planned to completely change their design style made it easier to eliminate the antiques and decorative items from their Victorian home.
Before the Singletons completed the closing on their new two-bedroom, three-bathroom condo, they started working with Julia Walter, the showroom manager at Boffi in Georgetown, to plan their renovation. The condo would be gutted before they moved in, with new flooring, a new kitchen, renovated bathrooms and the installation of 14 custom-designed closets.
The Singletons started the process by replacing the wood floor with 30- by 30-inch soft gray porcelain tile flooring throughout the home.
“We didn’t want any thresholds at all, so it has a very clean and almost commercial look to it,” Debbie says.
The couple kept all the walls in their unit but took out doors to eliminate frames, widened hallways, raised ceilings, removed moldings and baseboards and worked with a lighting designer to install LED lighting throughout the condo.
Next, the couple worked with Walter to come up with kitchen and bathroom designs.
“The old kitchen wasn’t very functional and was kind of tucked away,” Walter says. “The new kitchen is larger and has an island that faces toward the living area. The Singletons didn’t want any handles or anything to disturb the clean lines of the condo, so everything in the kitchen is the same white material with only a little indent on the side of the doors and drawers to open them.”
Across the back of the kitchen are the refrigerator and a wine cooler. The white matte cabinets are of a man-made material with laser-cut edges that match the Silestone counters and sink. The Singletons had paint for their walls matched to the white Boffi cabinets for a seamless look throughout the condo. One row of upper cabinets is gray for contrast.
“The back of the kitchen island has a slightly different gray tone to make a transition from the kitchen into the living area,” Walter says.
The color scheme of white and soft gray extends throughout the condo.
“In an open-floor-plan condo, it’s especially important to be consistent throughout the home, with the same finishes and colors,” Walter says.
The contemporary style extends into the bathrooms.
“The bathrooms were all a little dated-looking, with heavy marble everywhere, so we reduced the amount of tile on the walls and went with a more modern style,” Walter says.
The master bathroom has a free-standing white soaking tub from Boffi and a frameless, glass-enclosed shower. All the European-style toilets in the home are wall-mounted, as are the bathroom cabinets, with the exception of one cabinet in the powder room.
The modernity of the Singletons’ condo extends beyond design features: The couple run everything in it from their iPhones, including an ecobee thermostat, Lutron mechanical shades for their windows, a Legrand adorne lighting system and a Sonos sound system.
One essential element of the Singletons’ remodeling project was to design 14 closets for their new home. This helps with downsizing, and Debbie is fascinated with organizational systems.
“We use a dog stroller because one of our dogs is old and blind,” she says. “I asked Julia if she could design a little stroller garage so we didn’t have to leave it in the entrance hall.”
Debbie gave her a list of everything she wanted to store in each closet, including a bulk item closet and what she calls an “everything” closet.
“I always know if there’s anything I need like a battery, a lightbulb, a tool or a broom, it’s in Debbie’s ‘everything’ closet,” Skip says.
Walter matched the wall color and the closet doors so the closets are less noticeable, and she installed a foldable ironing board in the laundry closet and special drawers and shelves in the office for both work and art supplies for Debbie. Every closet is designed with shelves, hanging rods and drawers for maximum efficiency.
At their Victorian house, the Singletons had a stocked wine cellar. Here, the couple have been able to convert storage units in the building’s garage for wine storage in addition to the full-size wine cooler in their kitchen.
“Getting wine is actually easier here because in our old house, I had to go outside to get to the wine cellar,” Skip says. “Now I can just take the elevator down.”
One thing the Singletons can’t change in their condo — and wouldn’t want to — is their view across a roof garden to the Potomac. The south-facing, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the garden planted on the building in front of them.
“It looks like it’s our garden, but it belongs to the adjacent building,” Skip says. “Our condo owns the air rights above that building to protect our view.”
This new phase for the Singletons, when they can swim in the building pool and stroll in the nearby park instead of maintaining their own pool and yard, gives them more free time to spend with friends and family or working with their real estate clients and on their favorite cause, the DC Design House.