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Once a dark, rundown commercial space – now a character, light-filled apartment

Will working from home become the norm? If so, commercial addresses may well become more appealing as private residences. This transformative makeover provides inspiration

Designed by Bushman Dreyfus Architects,

From the architects:

The oldest building on the downtown pedestrian mall in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, contains this minimal and modern renovation. The c.1843 three-story structure was badly in need of refurbishment – portions of the framing, roof, insulation, windows, mechanical systems, electrical and plumbing were all replaced and renewed so this building is set for service for another century or more.


What was dark commercial space with claustrophobic offices and an enclosed storage attic is now transformed into a single spacious open floor apartment with a sleeping loft. 

Transparency from front to back is a key design intent, establishing visual access to the street trees in front and sunlight in the back. Multiple modes of direct and indirect natural lighting animate the space.

 A single scaled up cabinet "box" with hidden hardware, secret doors and rooms runs the length of the interior and conceals the kitchen, bathroom, services and storage. 

All kitchen appliances disappear when not in use. Doors to the left and right of the work surface open fully for access to a wall oven and refrigerator. 

The wood cladding is rough sawn white oak with a light stain, while the floor planks are also white oak, keeping the colour and material palette to a minimum.

A window-like opening through the oak cabinet volume frames a view of the original brick masonry bearing walls offering a dramatic counterpoint of texture and colour. 

The backsplash is completely open to a stair leading to the apartment vestibule below. In the kitchen’s opening, a low-profile stainless steel utility trough with electrical outlets runs along the edge of the counter. 

Functional and durable stainless-steel accessories for the kitchen and bath are custom-fabricated locally.

The sleeping loft stair is both foreground and background, heavy and light, transparent and opaque. The white guardrail is a single thick painted steel plate. 

The treads and risers are folded perforated steel, fixed to the vertical steel plate guard – creating a delicate, but monolithic, integrated structure.

Seven new skylights in the high ceiling fill the space with natural light. New double pane aluminium-clad windows maximise the daylight openings and ensure better energy performance. 

New insulation under the existing roof provides thermal insulation far in excess of the code required value.

Credit list

General contractor
Longview Management & Construction Co.
Structural engineer
Dunbar Milby Williams Pittman & Vaughan

Story by: Trendsideas

Photography by: Virginia Hamrick Photography

15 Nov, 2020

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