Saturday, January 18, 2014

What you've missed so far

Even though this blog is about a renovation project that has yet to start, I thought it would be helpful to share what we have been up to since we bought our house in the spring of 2010.

We first tried to buy a house in 2005, at the height of the housing bubble and in one of the more expensive metro areas in the country. Thankfully, we were outbid on two houses and decided to wait for the market to drop. Since the day I met my husband in 2002 he had been talking about the housing bubble and how prices were not sustainable based on underlying fundamentals the average household economy. For a long time I seriously thought he was just trying to get a whisper campaign going. Like if he made these comments at enough cocktail parties housing prices would start to come down. Even as we made those rejected offers in 2005 he talked about the craziness in the housing market and all of the liar loans and crazy ARMs people were getting into. In DC there were bidding wars with people waiving all contingencies. I mean who really needs a house inspection anyway? So when our offer on the second house, which was a full 20% over asking, didn't even make it into the top five bids we decided to pull out for awhile.

Awhile turned into five years. When we dipped our toes back into the market in 2010 much of the housing market heat was gone. Unlike other parts of the country that saw huge price drops, the market for single family homes in most parts of DC merely cooled a bit, so there was still some anxiety on our part that the market was going to penalize us yet again for only having a cash down payment rather than a butt-load of trumped up equity in an existing home.

So even though we had escaped the effects of the worst of the housing bubble, when it came down to it, we were like most first-time home buyers and we kind of dove in with our eyes wide shut. I should say that in the five years that we waited the market out, we kept a near constant eye on the multiple listing service (MLS) and knew that there wasn't much to choose from. When we finally got serious in early 2010 we were really disappointed with what was on the market. Then one day I came across a house that was a little ugly but seemed to have a lot of potential and was on a good sized lot. Although we don't have kids running around, my husband likes to garden in a major way and we were hoping for the pitter-patter of little paws. When I showed it to him he said that he had already seen it and had thought it might be a good one for us.

We did end up getting the house for less than the asking price, but given all the deferred maintenance and sprucing up the house needed we probably paid too much. Never doubt the power of "staging" a home when buying or selling.

Since we bought the house in 2010 we have:

  • restored all 22 of the original wood windows from 1934
  • added new, working shutters on the front of the house
  • refinished the floors from a kind of yellowy color to a darker brown (that we had custom mixed and then failed to keep track of the formula)
  • replaced the AC system which died a month after we closed on the house
  • replaced a leaky water heater
  • replaced the washer and dryer
  • made major repairs to the slate roof which hadn't seen any maintenance in decades
  • removed a total of five enormous trees
  • updated the electrical system (heavy up, new panel, and all new switches and outlets throughout the house)
  • had four chimney flues relined
  • put on new copper gutters and downspouts
  • replaced two toilets
  • ripped out old galvanized pipe (which didn't really solve our water pressure problems)
  • ripped out an enormous amount of ivy ground cover

I am sure I am missing a few things here and there but those are certainly the big ticket items.

It looks a little naked with the trees gone, but we plan to add an appropriate railing to the porch roof and of course add the screens back in which will both help balance the house again. You will note the two out of scale windows on the right were improved when we had all the windows restored. The shutters look a whole lot better. The aluminum screen door is gone, new gutters, the hedge is in way better shape...

We changed the front door from red to Farrow and Ball's Hague Blue. We thought we would test it out on a door that will be replaced before committing to it on a new door. The door surround is in Farrow and Ball's Wimborne White. You probably can't tell why from this picture but I have fallen in love with Wimborne White. It is so creamy. I hope it will be able to make an appearance on the renovated house. The lantern was custom made by an artisan in New Orleans. 

The old door with a broken old knocker looking awfully festive.

One of four fireplaces in the house--all of which needed to have their flues relined to be operational.

A view of the living room after we had made an improvement or two. The walls are Benjamin Moore White Dove. 
Another living room shot showing the fireplace with its sexy new flue (i.e., one that works).

Lucy showing off the new floor finish.

Ah, the ubiquitous red dining room. I don't necessarily have a problem with the seemingly mandatory red dining room in DC houses, but this one was a particularly hideous shade that could only be described as raspberry sherbet. And yes, that is a glass pineapple atop the brass chandelier. 

A view of the dining room after the bad raspberry was gone. Here again is Benjamin Moore White Dove looking decidedly cooler in this light.

Dining room view showing the new french doors that replaced he vinyl sliders that were here when we bought the house.

What a lovely, sunny attic bedroom right? Except that the ceiling/roof has almost no insulation and that queen size bed is inflatable. No queen is ever going to make it up those steps.

A modest basement rec room with a cozy fireplace. Although this counted as one of the four working fireplaces in the house, we found out when we went to have its flue relined that it shared a flue with the boiler, a situation not allowed by code. So even after relining the flue (for the boiler) this fireplace remains inoperable.

One of the total scores for this house was the fact that they hadn't enclosed the screen porch like so many have done over the years. Of course it didn't have its screens anymore, but at least we didn't have to demo a cold/hot room to bring back the porch. And by the way, that touted ceiling fan turned out to be an indoor fan which is why those blades are so droopy.

We were extremely happy with the generous lot size. At about 0.21 acres it is large for the neighborhood and puts more distance between us and our next door neighbors than most others.  It took Lucy about 10 minutes to find all of the holes in that supposed fenced rear yard. We bought the house when the leaves were off the trees and so didn't realize how shady it all was. After removing five trees we now have a decent amount of light for the garden and still plenty of other trees nearby.
The back of the house showing the new french doors and our experiment with Farrow and Balls Cooking Apple Green on the narrow kitchen door.



  1. You have really put in a lot of work. Looks great. Love the big back yard too.

  2. Love your blog. Great idea. I have sooo many questions. What all will you be renovating? By the way, I love the scale and proportions of your house.

  3. I'm already addicted to this blog. It's like all the property programmes I used to love growing up, but with a house I've been to. (I'm also filled with admiration for someone who actually knows the brands/makers of everything in their house.)

  4. Pam: Thanks. You just need to wait a year to see the new and improved.

    Colin: Ask away. Much will be revealed in the coming weeks and months.

    Mick: John is the one with the good taste.

    Simon: Just think how comfortable your next stay will be. And keep in mind our temp quarters for the next year has an extra bedroom and is right on a Metro line.

  5. My dear Thomas,

    What a beautiful house. Your renovation ideas are incredibly creative, inspirational and sympathetic towards the old house. Both you and your husband have got great ideas and fabulous taste. I hope everything goes well with your future renovation. I shall look forward to reading all the progress. And pictures of Lucy are the most adorable.

    Best wishes, ASD