Good design sells

A client's personality gives a repositioned 1620 L Street a competitive edge

A few years ago a new owner purchased 1620 L Street. Soon after a government tenant announced that it was vacating, opening up 50% of the leasable space. The owner knew it had a hidden gem in the building’s prime downtown location. 1620 L Street sits within walking distance of four Metro Stations, Farragut Park, and the intersection of two of the District’s main streets, Connecticut Avenue and K Street. Prior to the renovation, the ‘80s era building’s facade was outdated and the interior lobby was dark and uninspired. Repositioning the Class B property was a natural move, but the developer was new to the market and had yet to develop a renovation model it trusted.

When a developer enters a competitive market like Washington, D.C. to reposition a property, it can decide to go with the flow or chart its own course in terms of design. In the case of 1620 L Street, the new Chicago-based owner chose VOA based on our expertise in repositioning projects such as 815 Connecticut Avenue NW. But rather than give the client a rerun of our previous work, we started a conversation. We told them, “Our approach is different. Tell us about who you are, what is different about you?”


It turned out to be a necessary conversation. Rather than follow the lead of existing upgraded properties with their now familiar mix of white marble, feature wall and lighting sculpture lobbies, we approached our client and said “That’s not really your personality. What if we bring a little more of Chicago to it? Make it different from the typical D.C. lobby?” Naturally, they said Yes.

In the repositioning of 1620, the character of our Chicago developer informed many of our design decisions. We selected a warmer palette in the lobby, balancing clean white elements with stone and marble textures and light wood surfaces. The transparency of the double-height main entrance, façade and lobby enhances the building’s street front presence and curb appeal. A key decision was made not to add an exterior canopy to the façade, but rather to focus on transparency and to allow natural light to penetrate deep into the lobby.


The addition of amenities including a conference center and fitness center with locker rooms and shower facilities gives the now Class A property the necessary competitive edge in the D.C. market. Similar to the lobby design, the warmer finishes and textures introduced in these amenities enliven what might otherwise be cold spaces.


A new design layer creates a fresh image for the building, but also distinguishes it from other high-end D.C. properties. With the property at 1620 L Street, the out-of-town developer puts its own stamp on the D.C. market, saying ‘Here’s how we compete.’

The success of 1620 L Street is evidence that what sells isn’t what everyone else is doing, what sells is good design. We didn’t go with the expected, we tweaked it a little bit to reflect the personality of our client. The result is that this repositioning stands apart from the rest. In a competitive market like this, that’s a very good thing.

Size: 112,000 square feet
Team: John Jessen, Pablo Quintana, Justin Do, Ji Min Kim, Richard Wolf
Photography by Ron Blunt

Download the complete Design Quarterly Fall 2014.

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