Historic row houses are rich in elegant features such as high ceilings, tall windows, and gracefully proportioned reception rooms at the front of the house. But the kitchens usually suffer in silence, tucked to the rear in a dark, cramped space. At some point in this Washington, D.C., house's past, someone tried to remedy that situation with an uninspiring one-story rear structure that added 8 feet—the maximum extension allowed—for a functional kitchen and a powder room. This latest rendition, a jewel that enjoys its own modern identity while coexisting compatibly with the rest of the house, was part of a light-filled, back-of-the-house makeover that extends upward three stories.

The dining room, with its tall ceilings and crown molding, was clearly meant to be left alone. But to bridge the client's desire for a sleek, up-to-the-minute kitchen with the adjacent room, Janet Bloomberg, AIA, principal, KUBE Architecture, Washington, D.C., replaced the opening between the kitchen and dining room with a sweep of floor-to-ceiling, translucent pocket doors. Then she centered a large window and sink on the opening to share light between the rooms. “The doors tie the two sides together,” Bloomberg says. “We also used very warm materials, which help to carry through the palette of an older house.” Stylistic differences are neutralized with cherry-wood cabinets that complement the house's pine floors, Italian slate flooring with rich color variations, and a concrete countertop.

With its strong horizontal lines and clean details, the 18-foot-long kitchen is minimalist without appearing ultra-modern. Even a backsplash was deemed gratuitous; the aluminum window sits right on the countertop, which in turn slips between cabinetry under the microwave. “We liked the idea of the horizontal plane of counter not being stopped and connecting to the outside,” Bloomberg says. A cooking area to the left as you enter the kitchen now occupies the former powder room, which was moved to the stair landing. At the far end is a square bar sink and compact computer space with a flat-screen monitor mounted beneath wall cabinets. And an existing 4-foot-by-4-foot pantry is tucked behind a full-height cabinetry door, so you don't know it's there. “We wanted to keep everything very flush to make it look neat and clean, which is what the clients wanted,” Bloomberg says. The result is an unabashedly 21st century workspace, one with enough texture and warmth to span two time periods.

architects: Janet Bloomberg, AIA, and Richard Loosle-Ortega, KUBE Architecture, Washington, D.C.

builder: Madden Corp., Rockville, Md.

resources: cabinets: Burger Custom Cabinets; countertops: Concrete Jungle; dishwasher and oven: KitchenAid; hardware: Häfele America Co.; interior doors: Raydoor; kitchen and bath fittings and fixtures: Grohe; lighting: Illuminations Inc. and W.A.C. Lighting; paints: Duron Paints & Wallcoverings; patio doors: NanaWall Systems; refrigerator: Sub-Zero Freezer Co.; sinks: Blanco America; windows: Sherwood Windows

photography: Alan Karchmer