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Furniture picks from local retailers and designers. By Jennifer Sergent

Furnishings in a small space have to be compact but comfortable, with slim profiles and multiple uses. Here are a few of our favorite picks from local retailers and designers:

1. "Huxley" secretary at Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams ($3,870)

Desk, drawers,and shelving all in one- a handsome focal point for a little living area.

2. "Scala" Chippendale mirror at Lori Graham Home ($4,200 and up)

DC designer Lori Graham uses big mirrors in small spaces to enlarge rooms visually.

3. "Butler" storage platform bed at Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams ($4,100 and up)

The mattress platform lifts up like a lid, revealing 22 cubic feet of storage space.

4. "Elixir" minibar at CB2 ($299)

The top of the slim end table folds down on both sides to reveal a bar; the foldouts also provide shelves for glasses.

5. Midnight-blue dhurrie ottoman at ($799)

Local designer Angela Healy loves this ottoman because it supplies a burst of color and can serve as extra seating.

6. "Pratt" table at Room & Board (Price varies by dimension)

Dining table, kitchen island, console table- you can customize this into whatever you need it to be.

7. "Janson" striped stool at ($1,210)

Small in size but big in personality, it can be used as a stool, an end table, or both.

8. "Hannah" sleeper sofa by American Leather at Urban Country ($2,699 and up)

Encloses your choice of mattress, including Tempur-Pedic; comes in a variety of colors.

Posted at 02:00 PM/ET, 03/19/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
In these developments, neighborhood dinners and shared chores are the norm. Just don't call it a hippie commune. By Emily Codik
Residents of Takoma Village regularly share meals and spend time in one another’s homes. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

In a narrow courtyard on a quiet stretch of road in DC’s Takoma, children build snowmen in the cold. Eleanor Whitman watches from the warmth of her three-bedroom duplex, thinking how much she enjoys being a part of the kids’ lives.

Fifteen years ago, the divorcée packed up her three-floor brick house in University Park, near the University of Maryland, and moved to Takoma Village Cohousing, a 43-unit community on a 1.4-acre spread of land. Almost immediately, the 84-year-old says, she built meaningful relationships with neighbors, young and old: “You get to know people here. These things wouldn’t happen in a regular community.”

Those “things”—the ways Takoma Village distinguishes itself from a typical community—are legion. In most urban buildings, tenants don’t make it beyond one another’s thresholds; at Takoma Village, Whitman cooks minestrone for the weekly dinner she shares with other residents. In standard condos, cleaning services tidy common areas; here, community members contribute six hours of maintenance and administrative work per month.

The cohousing model seeks to foster strong relationships among residents, and for retirees in particular it can provide an escape from the isolation that often accompanies old age. The trend boasts about 135 communities nationwide, including 13 in the Mid-Atlantic region. Cohousing advocate Charles Durrett—an architect who with his wife imported the concept from Denmark in the 1980s—says that number is on track to double in the next ten years, as baby boomers and empty-nesters demand more innovative retirement options. According to a 2013 story in the Guardian, the living arrangement accounts for an estimated 8 percent of households in Denmark.

Everything about the model, from its layout to its structure, promotes socializing. Members have private, small homes—typically facing an open green area—but share a large community space called a common house, often equipped with a kitchen, dining area, and guest room. Parking lots might be placed away from residences to encourage encounters with neighbors, and it’s not unusual to hear about residents sharing basements, lawn mowers, even cars.

This sort of support network isn’t inexpensive, though. In 2013, a three-bedroom in Takoma Village sold for $500,000, according to one of the community’s developers. In a real-estate market as competitive and expensive as Washington’s, cohousing has become a social model targeting the middle class and above.

Residents, Durrett says, are “people who believe their own life will be better if they cooperate with their neighbors.”

The cohousing model attempts to balance sharing and privacy. Unlike a commune, where people share food, land, and furniture, cohousing projects are typically registered as condominiums, co-ops, or homeowners’ associations. “It’s the opposite of a hippie commune,” says Ann Zabaldo, a cohousing developer and Takoma Village resident. Eleanor Whitman says residents can choose to engage—or disengage—whenever they want, one of the primary reasons she was attracted to the concept.

Eleanor Whitman cherishes the relationships she has with neighbors at Takoma Village Cohousing. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Among the 13 Mid-Atlantic communities is one seniors-only project called ElderSpirit, about five hours outside Washington in Abingdon, Virginia. Most cohousing retirees, however, prefer multigenerational neighborhoods, where they can interact with all ages. Zabaldo has seen many seniors become surrogate grandparents, including one of her current neighbors who came to be known as Nana to a pair of girls in the community.

For those in need of advanced care, however, cohousing may not suffice. Though younger residents typically help seniors with chores like grocery shopping, such neighborly gestures aren’t always enough.

“Cohousing is good for companionship and some caregiving tasks, but if you’re past that level, you might need other options,” says Rodney Harrell, senior adviser at the AARP Public Policy Institute. “It can’t replace trained home-care workers, and it shouldn’t.” One solution: Instead of moving to an assisted-living facility, some seniors in cohousing band together to split the cost of professional in-home care.

At Eastern Village Cohousing, a 56-unit community in Silver Spring, older residents joined together for another cause. More than 20 community members, all age 50 or older, belong to a social group called the Sages. Members plan outings, such as movie nights, lectures at the Library of Congress, and dinners downtown. They say an active social calendar keeps them young. “It really takes the edge off of some of the loneliness,” says 76-year-old member Sara Lovinger.

Typically governed by consensus, cohousing can also lead to the occasional bureaucratic—sometimes comical—roadblock. In one instance at Takoma Village, it took a year for members to agree on a rug for the common house. Zabaldo says that in any cohousing community, there are always one or two people who aren’t as cooperative or who slack on contributing. In those situations, neighbors generally try to talk out problems until they’re resolved. (Because everyone owns his or her individual residence, no one is ever kicked out for failing to pitch in.)

To outsiders, the profusion of meetings may sound cumbersome, but residents insist it’s just another way to grow closer. “We had a lot of meetings in the beginning to establish policies,” says Whitman. But she adds that these days, the community keeps busier with something else: welcome parties for new members.

This article appears in our March 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 08:00 AM/ET, 03/19/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
It involves a 3,500-bottle wine cellar and 2,000 acres of land. By Michelle Thomas

Built in 2002, this French Provincial-style mansion in rural Fauquier County counts a long list of rather impressive stats. The estate has eight bedrooms, 11 baths, and 10 fireplaces. There's a home theater, elevator, tasting room, and wine cellar with space for a 3,500-bottle collection. A carriage house has its own a six-car garage. But it's the property that's perhaps the most remarkable—the home sits on a staggering 2,000 acres of land that includes three ponds and lush, rolling hills.

12410 Cove Lane is listed at $23.95 million. Take a peek inside below, then go to Washington Fine Properties for the complete details.

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Posted at 12:44 PM/ET, 03/18/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Design tips for any cramped or cluttered space. By Jennifer Sergent
Designer Angela Healy created a sitting room out of a cramped area previously used as a dumping ground for the homeowner's belongings. Photograph by Andrew Propp

How to fix an awkward space

In a home with no square-footage to spare, two awkward areas were going to waste. Here's how a designer transformed them.

Photograph of Annapolis kitchen by Andrew Propp. Photograph of kitchen before renovation courtesy of Angela Healy.

When Amanda and John Volkoff remodeled their Annapolis kitchen, a wall came down that had blocked off a small anteroom, connected to an equally small screened-in porch. The Volkoffs had never known what to do with either space, and all of a sudden there was nothing hiding them.

Hence, Amanda explains, the anteroom became a dumping ground for unused furniture and pantry overflow—a dark, unsightly blotch at the rear of the kitchen. "I feel like every time I looked at that room, all my self-worth came down," she says, only partly joking.

The Volkoffs turned to designer and architect Angela Healy, whom they'd worked with on other areas of their house. In addition to making the spaces usable, they wanted Healy to incorporate a laundry area. The designer joined the two rooms and turned the porch area into a mini-laundry room by enclosing it and installing a washer and dryer as well as cabinetry to hold supplies.

In the space that was previously the anteroom, she created a bay window that provides seating without taking up precious floor space. And the area, formerly known as "no man's land," also became the perfect spot for Amanda's mother's green velvet sofa, which Amanda had moved all over the house through the years without ever finding it a proper home. The Volkoffs use their new sitting room every day, whether for morning coffee or for cocktails. Says Amanda: "It all makes sense, and it's lovely from every angle."

Make a tiny guesthouse feel spacious

This is how you squeeze two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and even a laundry area into one small guesthouse.

Photograph of Alexandria living room by Kip Dawkins. Photograph of living room before renovation courtesy of Kelley Proxmire.
Retracting doors can easily disguise a kitchenette in the bedroom. Photograph of bedroom by Kip Dawkins.

Visitors staying at Stephanie and Larry Stack's Alexandria home don't just get their own room. They're treated to an entire guesthouse, complete with two sleeping areas, a living room, a kitchen, and a washer and dryer. "We have a lot of family that lives out of town, so when they come, we want them to stay in a comfortable environment," Stephanie says.

Figuring out how to cram all those amenities into the guesthouse's space required creativity on the part of Bethesda designer Kelley Proxmire. To avoid the appearance that the front door opened directly into a bedroom—and to squeeze multiple uses out of the house's main area—Proxmire chose a pair of custom-upholstered sleeper sofas rather than traditional beds. A table between them, ready for meals or games, folds flat to be placed against the wall when the beds are pulled out. A proper bedroom with two beds is downstairs, but Stephanie also wanted this room to house the kitchen and laundry. She asked Rhonda Grisham of Kleppinger Design Group in Fairfax to devise a way to hide the appliances behind retracting doors. When they're closed, you'd never know a midnight snack is steps away.

trick the eye

To create the illusion of more room, a Capitol Hill couple goes against typical design wisdom by adding a wall.

(Right) This wall was added to section off part of the living room into a real foyer. Photographs of Capitol Hill home by Andrew Propp; Photograph of Living room before renovation courtesy of Annie Elliott.

After almost three decades in their cozy Capitol Hill rowhouse, with many upgrades along the way, a nagging problem still eluded Bill and Ginny James: the unceremonious entry into the living room. "This has bothered my wife for over 25 years," Bill says.

DC designer Annie Elliott quickly made the diagnosis. Beyond the fact that there was no proper entryway, a cramped corner with built-in shelving on one side of the fireplace looked off kilter. Plus, Elliott says, "there were these very beautiful pieces of furniture that were falling apart."

In a move that might seem counterintuitive for a small space, Elliott added a wall to separate one section of the living room into a foyer with a large, arched opening. By defining it with vibrant wallpaper and moving the couple's antique marble-topped chest into the new alcove, she created the stylish arrival area her clients had long wished for.

Elliott added another built-in to balance the existing shelves on the side of the fireplace. "The feeling of symmetry is important," she says. Next, she recovered the couple's furniture with colors that emerged from the wallpaper, then put in modern touches such as a new coffee table and floor lamp, "so it didn't look like an antiques store."

The result is far beyond what the couple imagined, Bill says: "This has elevated our lifestyle—it's given us a whole new way of living in this house."

how to repurpose spaces

A tight city condo gets a kitchen that doubles as a high-style headboard—yes, a headboard.

(Right) The bedroom is just behind the kitchen. Photographs courtesy of Poliform Sagart Studio

How do you dedicate space for living, working, cooking, dining, and sleeping—all within an 800-square-foot box? Designer Vincent Sagart of Poliform Sagart Studio crafted a solution so clever for his client's 14th Street condo that the same configuration, furnishings, and art remain even though a new owner has since moved in.

With the windows along the front of the unit as the only source of natural light, Sagart determined there couldn't be any walls separating spaces—save for the closet and bathroom—because light had to travel all the way through the home. Thus, he engineered a kitchen that's no more than a room divider—a seven-foot, six-inch panel that contains appliances, a sink, and cabinets on one side while the other side serves as a headboard for the bedroom area. Made of shiny, stainless steel, the panel also bounces natural light off both sides.

For a unit that's "smaller than small," says the new owner, Peter Shaw, "you get a feeling that's it's a lot bigger."

How to Streamline

A frustrated first-time homeowner finally achieves the space he desires with streamlined furnishings and visual tricks.

(Right) Extending the counter into a bar added a dining area without eating up space. Photographs of condo by Kate Haus; Photograph of condo before renovation courtesy of Residents Understood

When Alex Wagner moved into his 800-square-foot Logan Circle condo, he thought, "All I have to do is buy all these nice things and put them together." But no matter how he arranged the furnishings, the configuration never seemed to work. "Every time I walked in there, I was miserable—it just wasn't functioning in a way that I'd hoped."

After two years of dissatisfaction, Wagner turned to Kiera Kushlan and Jessica Centella of the DC design firm Residents Understood. "He was trying to do too much in too small a space," Kushlan says. The first thing to go was the dining table, because a typical night for Wagner involves having friends over for drinks, then eating out along 14th Street. Next, the designers persuaded him to rip out the granite kitchen counter and replace it with white Silestone. They also extended the counter into the living room, creating a bar area perfect for solo dining. A yellow cinderblock wall got painted dark gray. "Having that dark wall contrasts with the view and really draws your eye outside," Centella says.

In the bedroom, the designers added an extra-tall headboard. Wall-mounted lights leave room for books on the nightstands. Now, Wagner says, "every day I walk in and think, 'It's me.'"

This article appears in our March 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 09:00 AM/ET, 03/18/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
See inside the incredible re-do of this 1889 Howard County church. By Michelle Thomas

Talk about a vision: Built in 1889, this Howard County Episcopal church had fallen upon years of abandonment after its congregation formed a new church. Enter Stacia Smith. She was smitten with the building’s bones, and in 2012 the interior designer snapped up the property with plans to convert the 3,800 square foot space into the headquarters for her design company, Homewood Interiors.

Smith shepherded the place through a full interior and exterior rehabilitation, taking care to retain and enhance much of the building’s original architecture. She sourced masonry stonework to match the original exterior, and replaced the battered accent windows with handmade stained glass versions done in her company’s hues. Next up, she added a custom eight-foot glass dome, antique reclaimed pine floors, and eco-friendly materials for the kitchen.

The result? An imaginative reuse of an interesting old space. Take a peek at the amazing transformation below.

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Posted at 02:53 PM/ET, 03/16/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Be better than basic. By Michelle Thomas

There’s no decorating creed that dictates silverware must be silver. A much more of-the-moment approach? Try your flatware in the form of copper, gold, rose gold, matte black—or even two-tone. If you’re ready to say goodbye to basic, you’d do well to add these five uber-chic sets to your tablescape.

1) Copper Top five-piece set, $78. 2) Vera Wang Wedgwood Polished Noir five-piece set, $125. 3) CB2 shiny copper three-piece set, $26.95. 4) Mepra gold four-piece set, $120. 5) Neona glossy black steel five-piece set, $128. 6) Kate Spade New York Malmo rose gold four-piece set, $105.

Posted at 01:43 PM/ET, 03/16/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Floating iron stairs and a contemporary-industrial flair for just under $900,000. By Michelle Thomas

In Capitol Hill, a sleek, urban loft is a modern change of pace from the neighborhood’s archetypal rows of candy-colored Victorians. This three-bed, three-bath condo—a rather spacious two-level at 1,900 square feet—dabbles in contemporary industrial design, featuring huge garage-esque windows in the living area and master bedroom, and a cool floating iron staircase that splits the main floor’s open layout. Other highlights? The 20-foot ceilings in the dining area, gourmet appliances and glass-front cabinetry in the kitchen, and outdoor space that includes a front balcony, a relatively large rear deck, and garden.

526 13th St SE #B is listed at $899,900. Take a look below, then go to Coldwell & Banker for the full details.

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Posted at 10:42 AM/ET, 03/16/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
All under $800,000. By Michelle Thomas

Logan Circle
Where: 1634 14th St NW #203

How much: $667,500.

When: Sunday, 1 to 4.

Why: Right in the heart of Logan Circle, this corner condo in newish building The Aston offers up some stylish design elements, like the glass wall in the living area and the full-height marble backsplash in the kitchen.

U Street

Where: 1915 9 1/2 St. NW

How much: $774,555

When: Sunday, 2 to 4.

Why: This two-bed, two-and-a-half bath rowhouse offers three above-ground finished levels in a majorly hot location near 9th and U Streets. A few of the highlights? Barn-style sliding doors on the first level, a small private patio, and a spa-like bath, which combines glossy white subway tile with warm wood accents.

H Street

Where: 1353 Maryland Ave NE

How much: $695,000

When: Sunday, 1 to 4.

Why: This three-bed, three-bath end unit rowhouse near H Street is an unusual shape, but we think that’s part of the place's charm. Bonus: That layout also means tons of natural light. Add in exposed brick and an updated kitchen and it's a must-see.

Posted at 10:50 AM/ET, 03/13/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Those "middle finger" buildings solve a serious problem. By Marisa M. Kashino
Tall brawl: Pop-ups, like this one near Capitol Hill, have angered neighbors. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

The DC Zoning Commission is reviewing a contentious proposal from the Office of Planning to drop the maximum height of pop-ups—rowhouses expanded upward, usually to become condos—from 40 to 35 feet in residential neighborhoods zoned R-4, such as Shaw and Columbia Heights. (The city could grant exceptions to the rule in some cases.) The plan would also prevent single-family homes in the zone from turning into condos or apartments, by allowing such conversions only by permit in non-residential buildings.

Here, both sides of the argument, distilled.

Stop It!

Critics say pop-ups hurt the appearance of neighborhoods, plus many have damaged adjoining rowhouses. Tracy Hart, a resident of DC’s 16th Street Heights and a leader of the grassroots group Stop the Pop, says some of her neighbors’ chimneys can no longer ventilate properly, while others’ rooftop solar panels have been obstructed. She believes that increasing housing density in neighborhoods like hers—made up primarily of single-family homes and, in her estimation, far from downtown DC and Metro—is inappropriate and destructive to the area’s character.

Others take a more measured view, such as the American Institute of Architects’ Washington chapter, which supports reducing the height of pop-ups but disagrees with limiting condo and apartment conversions to non-residential buildings.

Pop It!

Washington is growing. The Urban Institute predicts that DC’s population of 658,893 will boom to 718,499 by 2030. Real estate here is already among the nation’s most expensive, and prices will continue to skyrocket if the housing supply can’t keep up. We must increase density, and popping up and out is one way to accomplish that.

This is the crux of the argument in favor of pop-ups. Harriet Tregoning, former director of DC’s Office of Planning, believes so strongly in it that she has publicly opposed the office she headed until last year. In a letter to the District’s zoning commission, she points out that the city predicts that more than 75 percent of DC households won’t have school-age children by 2030, meaning our current housing stock is too weighted with single-family homes.

The Verdict:

Pop it! It’s unfortunate when a developer turns a rowhouse into something akin to a middle finger towering over the block. But walk around DC and you’ll see plenty of buildings that have popped up in an inoffensive way, while adding to a housing pipeline that’s lacking. As for pop-ups that damage nearby buildings—that’s a problem, but not one the proposal resolves. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the agency that issues building permits, ought to be more mindful of how renovations will affect adjoining homes.

Tregoning suggests piloting a panel of architects to advise builders on how to create tasteful additions. The idea of developers lining up for more review may sound idealistic, but consider that two of three units at 1013 V Street, Northwest—the notorious “monster” pop-up in the U Street corridor—have, as of press time, languished on the market for ten months. Surely, the lag is a reflection on the building’s obnoxious appearance—there’s an economic incentive to develop aesthetically pleasing buildings.

Senior editor Marisa M. Kashino can be reached at

This article appears in our March 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 10:20 AM/ET, 03/13/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
A new study finds many middle-income earners are spending half their earnings on housing. By Benjamin Freed

The portion of District residents who spend more than half their incomes on rent jumped significantly between 2002 and 2013, while earnings barely inched up at all, according to a new study published Thursday by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. The trends have left DC with a rental market in which many residents who earn moderate income struggle to find housing that eats up less than 50 percent of their wages.

"There is virtually no inexpensive housing left in DC’s private market," says Wes Rivers, a DCFPI analyst who compiled the report. "Across the board, rents went up, and they went up faster than incomes."

Chart via DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

In 2002, about 40 percent of the District's rental units went for less than $800 per month. By 2013, that figure, adjusted for inflation, was down to about 21 percent. Rivers estimates the 33,433 apartments he counted that rent for less than $800 today are all subsidized by either the city or federal governments.

The absence of low-cost housing has long been an issue for DC's lowest earners, but the study finds that households taking home between 30 and 50 percent are feeling the pinch, too. Rivers reports that 31 percent of households in that bracket, which earn $32,000 to $54,000 annually, sent more than 50 percent of their paychecks to their landlords in 2013, up from 8 percent in 2002. And for households that earn up to 80 percent of the area median income ($107,300 for a family of four), the rate paying more than half on rent has jumped from 1 percent to 10 percent.

"Either pay half your income on rent, or pay for other necessities like food and transportation," Rivers says. "Increasingly, we’re seeing middle-income renters do the same."

Incomes for the bottom 40 percent of renters did not change over the analyzed period when adjusted for inflation, while their rental costs increased as much as 35 percent. The middle quintile only saw their average earnings rise 9 percent from $41,990 to $45,970, while rents in that bracket rose 44 percent. Rents for households making up to 80 percent of the median income nearly jumped by 48 percent, while the top quintile of renters saw their housing go up by 32 percent.

In total, Rivers says one-quarter of DC renters are contributing more than half their pay toward housing costs. For households in the bottom 30 percent, severe rent burdens have long been the norm. But sluggish wage growth and a construction boom for luxury housing units have spread firmly into the middle.

Of the 161,362 apartments DCFPI counted in 2013, those with monthly rents and utilities above $1,600 account for 35 percent of the entire stock. Units below $1,200 per month make up 46 percent of the market.

The demands of a changing population, led largely by higher-earning residents who have arrived over the past decade, are rewriting the rental market, but at the cost of displacing low- and middle-income households, the report reads. Unaffordably high housing costs, DCFPI reports, forces families to move frequently, which in turn impacts adults' employment and children's educational opportunities. And don't expect the market to make itself more equitable.

"As long as we have a healthy demand of new entrants into the city, we won’t really know until we know that supply is correct," Rivers says. "There is a strong demand for higher-end units. At either end, you do see that there has been this shift. It does show a trend that we are having more units at the top end and we’re losing units at the bottom."

The policy group says Mayor Muriel Bowser and the DC Council have made a few motions toward shoring up the District's supply of affordable rental housing, but it also lays out a few heady prescriptions. DCFPI is wary that legislation passed in 2014 aiming to pump $100 million into the city's Housing Production Trust Fund, which constructs and preserves housing for low- and moderate-income rsidents, will not be fully funded. (It gets its funding from a 15 percent cut of taxes collected from property sales, which has been a volatile source since the 2007-2009 economic collapse.)

DCFPI's bigger order is a wholesale expansion of another housing assistance fund—the Local Rent Supplement Program, which serves very low-income families by paying their rents after a contribution of 30 percent of their income. Currently, the program serves 3,240 households. But with 25 percent of renters citywide spending more than half their salaries on rent, the DCFPI sees as many as 41,000 households on the brink.

Posted at 12:31 AM/ET, 03/12/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()