Two years ago BELL Architects was running out of room for its 14-person staff, so firm leadership felt the time had come to buy a building. The Washington, D.C.–based architects specialize in preservation and adaptive reuse with a sustainable focus, so naturally, they bought a 4,500-square-foot, circa late 1880s row house. “We had our choice of five buildings that were available,” explains principal T. David Bell, AIA, LEED AP. “This one”—located in the city’s newly revitalized Northwest section near the convention center—“was in the worst condition, but we chose it because it already had power.”

Using a combination of salvaged and reuse strategies, BELL tightened the envelope with foam insulation, restore the staircase with replicated pieces, renovated the original windows, refinished the pine floors, exposed the beams, and commissioned a new reception desk. A sleek kitchen contains a document storage area with paper-based and steel countertops, and for added flair, the front door is painted an eye-catching electric blue. Says Bell: "We wanted to be historic, but we also wanted to be bold."