Nearly 1,500 square feet of storage space atop a bakery and parking garage was the starting point for this apartment by Robert M. Gurney, FAIA. Along the way he also had to contend with the historic Washington, D.C., neighborhood's building restrictions—no alterations to windows, exterior walls, or ceiling heights. Even muntin profiles are prescribed. “The owner likes modern architecture,” Gurney explains, “but we had to work with the existing character of the building.”

Other decisions were also dictated by existing conditions—a foot-thick wall and 30-inch difference in floor height, for example, determined the division between private and public space. On one side are the bedroom, bath, and office; on the other is the combination living/dining/kitchen area. Wanting the multipurpose room as open as possible, Gurney treated the kitchen like “a furniture element inserted into the overall bigger space.” A floor-to-ceiling bank of maple cabinets serves as the backdrop for the public area while creating a vestibule for the entry. Opposite the cabinets, an island provides additional base storage and expanses of workspace flanking the sink. A mahogany column supports a ½-inch-thick plane of aluminum hovering above the island. A perforated metal panel hides the sink and echoes the stainless steel backsplash above the range. Stainless steel appliances continue the theme of exposed metal, but thick Burlington stone counters and Brazilian cherry floors add earthier elements to the light, bright palette.

“The kitchen is front line and center, so we used materials to enrich the space within the white brick walls,” Gurney says. Because the ceiling couldn't be raised, Gurney decided to highlight its low, sloping lines as a composition. A skylight spanning the length of the kitchen is lined with mahogany. And Galvalume covers the kitchen volume to suggest the rawness of the original space. Dropped maple panels float away from the corrugated metal, indicating a change in function from kitchen to living area. The abundance of smooth, rich finishes counteracts the rough brick walls and transforms the former storeroom into an urbane dwelling.

project designers: Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, and Hito Martinez, Alexandria, Va.

interior designer: Thérèse Baron Gurney, ASID, Baron Gurney Interiors, Washington, D.C.

general contractor: M.T. Puskar Construction Co., Flint Hill, Va.

resources: lighting fixtures: Lightolier; plumbing fittings: Vola; plumbing fixtures: Franke; refrigerator: Sub-Zero