James and Jamie Coss spent nine months looking for a home that was close to work, a grocery store and a gym.
In December 2015, they bought a three-level condo on the third floor of a vintage 1895 townhouse near Logan Circle for $1,289,000 that checked all of the boxes. A desire to change a bathtub in the master bathroom started a chain reaction that would eventually make being near a gym irrelevant.
The couple had been renting an apartment at CityCenterDC in Northwest Washington for a year, and they were ready for something larger and more permanent. James Coss, 35, is a tax attorney for a large accounting firm with offices in the District. He used proximity to a grocery store as a real-estate compass to guide them to their new home.
“I subscribe to the Whole Foods theory of real estate,” James said. “Once they build one, the neighborhood will be full of yuppies for the next several decades. Selling your home will also be easier, because Whole Foods has put their stamp of approval on it.”
The condo is not far from the Whole Foods on P Street NW, and the only thing they initially wanted to change was upgrading the bathtub in the master bathroom. Jamie Coss, 34, who works as a lawyer and software designer for Lightening Fruit in the District, began calling contractors and collecting prices. “We just wanted to put in a bathtub, but every quote we got was like $15,000 or $17,000,” she said. “It seemed crazy.”
Replacing the tub meant plumbing changes, tile work and other complications. One of the last contractors they interviewed visited the home and pointed up at the two-story atrium soaring above the kitchen. He told them they could add a whole new room by installing a ceiling over the kitchen. James was already having the same thoughts. “I was washing dishes one day while the sun is beating down, scorching my forehead,” he said, “and I was asking myself, ‘Why do we have this space?’ ”
Although most designers would not advocate cutting off a source of natural light beaming down from roof-mounted skylights, the quest for a home gym and a new kitchen began as the bathtub project was put on hold. The couple began interviewing local design-build firms and finally chose Landis Architects/Builders in Northwest Washington.
Ethan Landis, one of the two brother principals of the firm, walked through the space and zeroed in on a trend that defined the project. “It’s the end of the era of atriums,” Landis said. “We almost never build two-story atriums for people anymore — we usually fill them in. It was a design concept that ran its course.”
Along with adding a room over the kitchen that would be dedicated to physical fitness, the design team wanted to tweak the living room closet, upgrade the roof deck and modernize the kitchen. During the three-month design process, which was aided by virtual-reality tools, the couple selected a 60-inch-wide refrigerator-freezer that raised questions about the steps — a complication that was a known issue for the couple.
“The very first thing I tried moving into this house was my couch,” James said. “We rented a van, drove the couch over here and got it stuck in the hallway. It took us an hour to get it back out. By the time we got the couch back into the van — I had a four-hour rental, and we’d used three hours. We ended up taking it back to CityCenter and throwing it into the dumpster.”
Landis has remodeled quite a few roof decks that required creative ways of moving building supplies upstairs. They proposed a combination of using a crane outside the building on key moving days, and setting up a hoist in the master bedroom that could easily be taken down and moved, if needed.
The couple decamped to a furnished rental apartment for six months as demolition began in June of last year. The temporary hoist, designed by Landis’s staff, was used to bring up anything weighing less than 500 pounds. The crane was brought in as needed to deliver the countertop, appliances and the new sliding-door system that would connect the home gym with the roof deck.
The newly configured space begins with a front door that was increased in height to make moving in supplies easier. The door opens to the first stairway leading to the living-room level. The team reconfigured the living-room closet to add more headroom, which expanded storage in the 2,400-square-foot unit.
On the second level, the builder grade, galley-style kitchen — which included a tall counter blocking the cooking area off from the rest of the space — was removed. The design team added a pantry in the space where the existing kitchen was, and slid the floor plan for the new kitchen forward. They also added a bench seat and a planter box on the end of the room that overlooks the living area.
The new kitchen has an oblong island better suited to positive flow. The existing floors are oak. The frameless, textured melamine cabinets finished in “wired mercury” are from Bremtown, with nickel pulls in a brushed satin finish. The fridge is a Sub Zero; the cooktop and stove are from Wolf. The convection microwave is by Sharp, and the dual dishwashers are from Bosch. The countertops are “super white” quartzite. The lighting is a mix of recessed cans mounted in the ceiling, with LEDs used inside and under the cabinets and hidden in the tray ceiling.
The new ceiling in the kitchen also serves as the new floor in the gym, which was built to handle 1,000 pounds of weightlifting gear and cardio equipment. A catwalk that used to provide access to the roof deck through a standard-size door was eliminated and replaced with two oversize sliders bordered by glass panels. The team also tinkered with the concrete tiles on the deck to make the space look less commercial, and a privacy fence was added.
Landis is especially happy with how the newly created home gym came out. “I love the gym and how it relates to the deck,” Landis said. “It’s a beautifully lit natural space and very inspiring place to be in.”
Despite the difficulty caused by the stairways, the biggest challenge to the $300,000 multistage renovation for James was actually living in the rental. “The worst part was not being in my home for six months,” he said.
Jamie cites living through a major renovation with both people working demanding jobs as her most difficult part. “It’s tough when you’re working to take time off to do things like pick out appliances,” she said.
Her favorite part of the new space is the pantry, which she uses for keeping the house organized. The bathtub that started the whole project was added during the renovation, but it went into the bathroom off the first-floor bedroom.
The couple divided the decision-making process by giving 51 percent of the vote on kitchen decisions to Jamie and 51 percent of the gym decisions to James, so it’s not surprising what his favorite part of the home is.
“I love the deck, and I love the gym,” he said. “Some nights, we bring beanbags up to the gym, open the doors when the weather is nice and watch a movie. It’s a nice, transitional space to be in.”
Work and groceries are still walkable for the couple, and the gym is now at home.