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With the area seeing a spike in demand from homebuyers, here's how one organization saved a historical home. By Marisa M. Kashino
Lauren McHale and Carol Goldman are on a mission to save historic homes. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

The small green house at the top of Maple View Place in Anacostia has endured a lot of drama.

Businessman and landowner Henry Griswold built the two-story Queen Anne in the 1880s. By the start of this century, it was in rough shape. The elderly woman who lived there had sewage problems, and in 2012 she sold the decaying structure to a house flipper who was soon overwhelmed. The city ordered him to stop work—much of which was illegal—but not before he had ripped out load-bearing walls, further jeopardizing the home’s integrity.

At this point, tearing the place down would have been the easiest and cheapest solution. However, 1347 Maple View is in Anacostia’s historic district, meaning that wasn’t a likely option. It seemed destined for the same fate as many other vacant buildings caught in the neighborhood’s real-estate purgatory: too dilapidated to fix up and sell; too significant, according to the Historic Preservation Review Board’s standards, to raze.

Photograph of house before renovation courtesy of the L’Enfant Trust.

Then came a lucky break. The L’Enfant Trust, an organization that since 1978 has focused on preserving DC’s architecture, launched its Historic Properties Redevelopment Program last year, essentially becoming the city’s first nonprofit developer with a primary goal of historic preservation. The Maple View house was just what the group had in mind for its inaugural purchase. It bought the home from the flipper in August of last year for $125,000 and set out to save it—all with the understanding that it wouldn’t make any money on the property.

Everyone knows that Washington’s real-estate market is booming. But in historic Anacostia, things are complicated. Dozens of buildings and lots sit empty. DC’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) owns 36 of them, including at least one home the agency has held onto for a decade.

The city can sell its properties for well below market value, thus making them more feasible to rehab for a profit—so why are they still abandoned? DHCD spokesman Marcus Williams says physically stabilizing the properties, conducting “highest and best use” studies, soliciting community input, and leadership changes within his agency can all contribute to prolonging the process.

And for better or worse, historic-preservation laws are among the reasons some stretches of Anacostia streets remain darkened: “If developers could knock down these houses and build them new without design review, sure, they’d be doing it,” says David Maloney, DC’s state historic-preservation officer.

Buyers, it seems, would be waiting. Just as in trendier neighborhoods, bidding wars and escalation clauses have become the norm in Anacostia. The Zip code’s median home price was $300,000 as of September, up from $238,750 a year before, according to data collected by RealEstate Business Intelligence.

Anne and Cody McNeal, a consultant and an architect who used to rent at 14th and U streets, Northwest, bought another home renovated by the L’Enfant Trust’s program this year. The McNeals previously lost three other Anacostia properties to higher bids. “Inventory was extremely low. We were at it for seven months,” says Anne. “We saw maybe one home come on every other week that fit our needs.”

While relaxing the historic-district rules would likely speed development, preservationists argue that doing so would come at a major cost to Anacostia’s character. Carol Goldman, president of the L’Enfant Trust, and Lauren McHale, its preservation director, helped found their redevelopment program on the belief that rescuing the homes “both honors a community’s past and supports its sustainable future.”

Lauren McHale is the L'Enfant Trust's preservation director. Carol Goldman is president. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

When they—with architect Jonathan Kuhn and general contractor John Moody—got to work on 1347 Maple View, they found that the house wasn’t tied into the city’s sewer system (which explains its former owner’s complaints) and was resting on unstable soil. Its entire back was gone, too.

They brought in structural engineers to make the place safe and built a new rear section. Enviroshake, which manufactures a material that mimics old cedar shingles, donated the roof. Sherwin-Williams and Tech Painting Co. supplied the paint, and Ikea contributed bathroom fixtures.

In total, purchasing and rehabilitating the home topped $580,000. L’Enfant put it on the market this October for $365,000 and received eight offers. The three-bedroom, 1½-bath house sold for $390,000—though well over asking, still a nearly $200,000 loss. L’Enfant has completed two homes so far—1347 Maple View and the house bought by the McNeals, on 14th Street, Southeast. Goldman hopes future projects won’t be so expensive for the trust. One way to reduce costs would be if DHCD handed over some of its long-vacant properties.

Asked why she couldn’t acquire any of those houses rather than buying the two from private owners, Goldman gives a politically correct answer: “The city didn’t understand us yet. We felt it was fair that we prove ourselves.”

The now pristine green house at the top of Maple View Place sure looks like solid proof.

When the L’Enfant Trust bought the home, it was open to the elements and missing its back section. Keeping within the original footprint, architect Jonathan Kuhn and general contractor John Moody built a new rear with a bright kitchen. Photograph before renovation courtesy of the L’Enfant Trust. Photograph after renovation by Andrew Propp.
A house flipper had ripped out load-bearing walls, further jeopardizing the integrity of the 120-plus-year-old house, which was already in bad shape. Photograph courtesy of L'Enfant Trust.
The trust brought in structural engineers to undo the damage. Photograph by Andrew Propp.
A staircase to the second floor had to be shifted and widened to meet modern safety requirements. Photograph before renovation courtesy of L'Enfant Trust. Photograph after renovation by Andrew Propp.
1347 Maple View Place is one of two houses completed so far by the L'Enfant Trust. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Posted at 01:17 PM/ET, 12/11/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Remodelers from Jennifer Gilmer's Kitchen & Bath transformed this Old Town master bath from 1980s glam to spa-like tranquility. By Michelle Thomas
Photographs by Bob Narod.

Ornate is not for everyone. After buying a home in Alexandria's Old Town, the new owner of this dated black-and-gold master bath was ready for a more tranquil feel. She worked with bath designer Carolyn Thomas of Jennifer Gilman Kitchen & Baths, who spearheaded a complete makeover of the existing room. On the client's wish list? A steam shower with a convenient bench, a soaking tub, and an improved dressing area in the hall right outside the bathroom. Thomas took inspiration from a Calcutta marble and Gascogne blue limestone mosaic tile to inform the rest of the bath design, working in a contemporary glass shower, lighter marble counters, airy painted cabinets, a soft, feminine dressing vanity, and elegant wall sconces. Goodbye, '80s drama; hello, spa-like serenity.

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Posted at 02:00 PM/ET, 11/24/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
What you need to know about keeping your home updated and safe for years to come. By Kay Wicker
Aging homeowners often move the master bedroom downstairs, as in this home renovated by architect Bruce Wentworth. Photograph by Geoffrey Hodgdon.

Not everyone likes the idea of swapping a well-loved family home for a new start in a city condo. We asked local builders and designers to tell us what improvements can help aging homeowners stay where they are.


Entryway and Foyer

The path to the front door should be as clear and direct as possible; remove plants or patio furniture that could get in the way, and add walkway lights. Vince Butler of Butler Brothers in Clifton says older homeowners should have access to one entrance that doesn’t require stairs. They might consider installing a paved ramp and widening the front door, too. Inside, designer Russ Glickman of Glickman Design Build in Potomac suggests placing a bench or table in the foyer to set packages or heavy items upon entering.


Kitchen

Raising or lowering the height of countertops allows residents to sit on a barstool or a chair while they cook or do prep work. As people age and become more forgetful, glass-front cabinets that enable them to see exactly where everything is can be a big help, as can ovens that alert users when they’re left on too long or refrigerators that beep when ajar. Major manufacturers such as GE make such appliances. For an instant update, you can reorganize cabinets and shelving so that frequently used items are easy to reach.


Master Bedroom

Moving this bedroom to the main level, as Glickman recommends, is an obvious plan. AARP also suggests widening door frames and hallways in and around the room, especially if they need to accommodate a wheelchair. Some people add elevators if keeping the bedroom upstairs is the only option; closets stacked one above the other on multiple floors are among the easier places to install a shaft. Adding seating—near the bed, in the closet, and anywhere else someone may need to balance or pause to change clothing—is a simple, low-cost improvement.


Bathroom

This can be one of the most dangerous rooms in the house. Architect Bruce Wentworth recommends a curbless shower in place of a bathtub. An adjustable shower head, grab bars or railings, and in-shower seating are also good ideas. A floor material with firm traction, such as textured vinyl, and nonslip shower mats are important, too. The National Association of Home Builders advises using a faucet with “anti-scald” controls—valves designed to prevent extremely hot water from leaving the tap—and bright lighting.


This article appears in the November 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 10:30 AM/ET, 11/13/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Davida's Kitchen & Tiles took this home's kitchen from outdated to awesome. By Michelle Thomas
This "before" shot of a Rockville kitchen shows the room's outdated style. After photographs by Bob Narod, courtesy of Davida's Kitchen & Tiles.

There's no arguing that this ranch-style home in Rockville was saddled with a majorly outdated kitchen. The room had plain, dark brown cabinets, old appliances, and zero personality. The homeowners craved a bold, contemporary design that would match their vibrant style while giving them storage and workspace. Enter Davida's Kitchen & Tiles. The renovation team kept the existing kitchen's U-shaped set-up—which worked well for maximum counter space—but swapped those boring brown cabinets for a bright white lift-up style, meant to offset the much deeper, richer base cabinetry and glossy brown backsplash. Next? A dropped ceiling panel and sliding door were painted a vivid orange, the homeowners' favorite hue. The resulting look: a modern-meets-retro renovation with plenty of personality.

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Posted at 11:50 AM/ET, 09/24/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Redfin reports on the neighborhoods that mark the largest flipping price gains nationwide—and our city counts four of the top ten. By Michelle Thomas
Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

To locals, it’ll come as no surprise that renovating and reselling homes is big business in Washington’s many booming neighborhoods. Now, confirmation: A report released Thursday from the real-estate site Redfin ranked the country’s top ten neighborhoods for price increases due to flipping—and the Washington market counts four of the ten. Which one comes in on top? That would be Petworth, which ranked number one in the country with an average of $312,400 gained per flip. Next up is Brookland, listed at number three with $271,900 per flip, with Fort Totten and Stadium Armory a little further down the list, at numbers six and seven with $233,000 and $230,400 gained, respectively. Other cities with neighborhoods in the top ten include Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Redfin defines a flip as a home that was purchased and sold again within a year—and of course, a pricing increase doesn’t necessarily mean a profit, since improvement costs are often sunk into the home before reselling. 

The report includes a few other interesting tidbits about home flipping in our city: Last year, more than 4,000 area homes were flipped in about 172 days, according to Redfin’s analysis of MLS stats—and with 2013’s average of $104,100 gain per flip (that’s higher than the national average of $90,200), don’t expect it to slow any time soon. This year is already on pace to lap last year’s total.

Head to Redfin to see the full report.

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Posted at 11:53 AM/ET, 06/19/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The retailer’s roving team of design experts is heading to our area in June to redo one selected home. By Michelle Thomas
A still from one of the Ikea Home Tour Squad episodes. Elizabeth Spencer, left, a visual merchandiser at the Woodbridge store, is one of the five touring design experts. Photograph courtesy of Ikea.

If you’re the type who could spend hours mining an Ikea showroom for design inspiration, take note: The Swedish retailer has launched a traveling home-makeover program—and it’s headed our way. 

Here’s the rundown: The brand has cherry-picked five experts from its 38 US stores—including Elizabeth Spencer, a graduate from Los Angeles’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, who hails from our very own Woodbridge store—to act as its team of design pros and go on tour for a year to meet with selected homeowners, scope out their design challenges, and install solutions in five homes along the East Coast. The resulting makeovers will be shared on Ikea’s YouTube portal and social media. Want in on the fun? Ikea started accepting applications for participation online today. To be considered, shoot a three-minute video showing your space and describing why you need the home makeover, then submit it through the store’s website. The deadline is May 2.

Posted at 02:53 PM/ET, 04/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Another one of the city’s libraries undergoes a stunning renovation. By Benjamin Freed
The Northeast Neighborhood Library, at 403 Seventh Street, Northwest. Photograph courtesy DC Public Library.

Even though Ginnie Cooper retired a few months ago as DC’s chief librarian, her work in renovating practically every branch in the DC Public Library system is still going. Mayor Vince Gray and library officials yesterday cut the ceremonial ribbon on the Northeast Neighborhood Library after a $10 million renovation that preserves much of the building’s pre-war look but with infrastructure upgrades to accommodate modern library users.

The library, which closed for repairs in fall 2012, is the first DC government building to undergo an overhaul while maintaining its historic interior. New reader tables, equipped with enough ports and plugs to accommodate any device, are replicas of the original furniture the library featured when it opened in 1932.

Because the remodeling of the 17,000-square-foot building at 403 Seventh Street, Northwest, had to be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board, DC Public Library couldn’t simply gut the place. Openings were made in some walls to increase the amount of communal and meeting space while preserving wood moldings and archways. Many of the original walnut shelves that line the walls in the reading rooms are still intact, too.

The most significant architectual change is the removal of the staircase from the front of the building to a glass-enclosed addition that also includes a handicap-accessible entrance. The basement is also completely redone with offices and a 100-seat meeting room. Previously, says interim chief librarian Joi Mecks, the basement had become so dingy, library staffers went to great lengths to avoid working down there.

The Northeast Neighborhood Library is the fourth-oldest building in the city’s library system, and the 15th branch to be built or renovated since 2007.

New tables are replicas of the 1932 originals, but with plugs and ports to accommodate digital devices. Photograph courtesy DC Public Library.
The circulation desk was moved to the main foyer, while a glass-enclosed extension houses a new staircase. Photograph courtesy DC Public Library.
Instead of dungeon-like offices, the basement now features a 100-seat public meeting room. Photograph courtesy DC Public Library.

Posted at 10:48 AM/ET, 02/04/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is in desperate need of an overhaul. DC is looking for architects who are up to the task. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Flickr user Kate Mereand-Sinha.

Defenders of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe will often point to DC's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library as a classic example of the German-born architect's International Style. But the four-story building, which opened in 1972, is badly out of date, and sticks out as a decrepit behemoth at a time when the DC Public Library system has been honored for its otherwise forward-thinking design sensibilities.

But it's finally time for an upgrade at the main branch. Library officials today launched their search for architects who might be able to modernize the building and transform it into a mixed-use development. Most of the building at 901 G St., NW would remain the library, but city officials eye turning it into a public-private partnership, with new structural additions for retail, office, or residential space.

There are, however, several catches. The library received local and national historic landmark statuses in 2007, meaning that any architect hoping to craft a winning bid will need to satisfy stakeholders besides DC and whatever private developer latches onto the project.

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Posted at 02:20 PM/ET, 08/21/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Celebrity designer Alison Victoria, host of “Kitchen Crashers,” planned the new facility. By Natalie Grasso
Alison Victoria takes a sledgehammer to the old countertop as employees from SCK Contractors look on. Photograph by Paul Kim.

Last week, N Street Village directors, board members, and friends gathered to unveil an inspired collaboration with the DIY Network: a brand new kitchen to serve their residents. Construction wrapped up last Friday.

According to N Street’s executive director, Schroeder Stribling, the kitchen hadn’t been updated since the 1970s. The renovation, funded by DIY Network’s parent company, Scripps Networks Interactive, includes new appliances, storage areas, and a more efficient layout.

Alison Victoria, host of DIY’s Kitchen Crashers, attended the unveiling.

“This meant more to me than just a ‘crash,’” says Victoria, who has renovated dozens of kitchens for DIY and HGTV. “These women don’t have a home. I wanted this space to give them a hug when they come in.”

Locally based SCK Contractors handled the construction, which was completed in less than a week. Victoria praised them for, among other things, replacing the old floor in under three hours. Following the unveiling, Victoria conducted a workshop for the women of N Street Village called Creating an Empowering Space. She shared ways they could enhance their productivity, perspective, and overall quality of life by making small changes and improvements in their living spaces.

“Having a new kitchen that’s a little more like home is going to give them greater peace and greater comfort,” says Stribling. “We’re so grateful to be the beneficiaries of a ‘kitchen crashing.’”

To learn about volunteer opportunities at the shelter, visit the N Street Village website

Posted at 02:55 PM/ET, 02/08/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Local designer Anne Hardock shares what it takes to whip an almost-hopeless room into show-worthy shape. By Michele Ginnerty
Photograph by Michele Ginnerty.

Sure, a can of paint or dramatic wallpaper can certainly transform a space--but some rooms, like Anne Hardock's powder room, need more intensive surgery. We chatted with the designer on what it took to get the room in show-worthy shape.

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Posted at 03:15 PM/ET, 04/19/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()