Transparency is Key

In the renovation design undertaken by Bushman Dreyfus Architects, light is the theme of this minimal and modern intervention


Fact File
Name: Loft Apartment
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
Year built: 2019
Floor Area: 1350 sq ft
Architect: Bushman Dreyfus Architects
Photo Credit: Virginia Hamrick Photography
Source: V2.com

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 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.

Dark commercial spaces with claustrophobic offices and 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. The floor planks are also white oak, keeping the color 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 color. 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 3/8” 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 maximize the daylight openings and ensure better energy performance. New insulation under the existing roof provides thermal insulation far more than the code required value.

The project received the 2019 Virginia AIA Merit Award for Excellence in Interior Design, and the 2020 Architizer A+ Awards Jury Winner & Popular Choice Winner in the Apartment category.