• Property: Skyline Towers
  • Owner: Equity Residential (owned by Fairfield Residential at time of renovation)
  • Location: Falls Church, Va.
  • Renovation Cost: $750,000 (for lobby area and bridges to residential towers)
  • Length of Renovation: Two and a half years (five months for the lobby area)
  • Scope of Project: Update of 939-unit apartment complex

From the outside, the 26-story Skyline Towers looks identical to the 1950s and '60s stock of towering high-rises that surround this Northern Virginia apartment community. But on the inside, this project is anything but just one of the pack, thanks to an extreme makeover which masterfully gave this drab, outdated building a contemporary, urban design.
The building's crowning jewel: the renovated 9,600-square-foot lobby. "It's a bit like walking into a W Hotel, where you walk through the door and you just want to stand there for a few minutes and absorb it all before you check in," says Martin Langmead, design coordinator of San Diego-based Fairfield Residential, which purchased the 939-unit property in 2002 and immediately undertook a two-and-a-half-year building-wide rehab.

Fairfield Residential

Though the sheer size of the building and the scope of the work had deterred several potential buyers, Fairfield jumped at the opportunity to increase its holdings in the Washington, D.C., market, says Langmead. The building had been fairly well maintained over the years but was simply stuck in the interior design past. "Everything was brown with a hint of orange," he adds. So the building deservedly received a complete overhaul with brand-new units and updated corridors and common areas.

The redesign caught the eye of not only prospects but also of one of the largest apartment REITs. Chicago-based Equity Residential purchased the property in December 2005 for $169.4 million. Equity was wowed by both the property's great location and its fresh look. "They developed a fabulous concept in the rehab," says Alan George, Equity's chief investment officer. "They took the best of the things that were there, and they enhanced them."

Boutique Chic

The newly redesigned Skyline Towers in Falls Church, Va., resembles a boutique hotel. The lobby's stylish theme is carried through in the design of the fitness and business centers.
Redmond Architectural Photography The newly redesigned Skyline Towers in Falls Church, Va., resembles a boutique hotel. The lobby's stylish theme is carried through in the design of the fitness and business centers.

The concept for the building's new look was an evolving process. At first, Langmead says, Fairfield planned to use ornate colors and finishes designed to appeal to the property's large Arabic population. But as the demographic shifted to include a broader cross-section of the population, Fairfield decided to implement a more universal boutique hotel look.

This chic vibe is most powerful in the lobby and leasing area. Previously adorned in various shades of brown, the space now sports an upbeat color palette of blues, blacks, and whites, with pops of orange. Rich royal blue couches accented in orange and lime green replaced dingy brown couches. "We lightened everything up," says Stacy Sawyer, president and principal designer of Dallas-based Sawyer Design Associates, which redesigned the building's interior space.

To complete the look, chic black and white painted stripes wrap around and accentuate the room's curved walls, while a new dropped ceiling adds dimension.

Good looks, of course, aren't everything; increased functionality was also a top priority. For much-needed extra leasing office space, Sawyer Design moved walls to reduce the size of the lobby and enlarge the leasing area.

While these common areas required a sizeable amount of rehab work, the construction was completed with minimal disturbance to residents. The construction crew was able to seal off the lobby and adjacent leasing area, since those spaces are located in a separate building that sits between the two residential towers. (Residents accessed their units through the individual apartment buildings during construction.) The gut rehab of the 900-plus residential units proved more challenging; the work was strategically staged around move-outs. Units now rent from $870 a month for a studio up to nearly $2,000 a month for a three-bedroom.