Arielle Kane purchased her 1920s Petworth rowhouse in April 2021—during the height of the Covid-induced real estate boom. The 35-year-old Medicaid policy director spent the first few months of quarantine going stir-crazy in her one-bedroom condo. So she decided to look for a home with outdoor space that she could renovate. “This was a lesson in being careful what you wish for,” says Kane, “because I got the motherload of projects and I haven’t been bored a day since I moved in.”
Kane, who lives with her 5-year-old bulldog, Hank, renovated the Wardman-style home’s basement and rents it out; meanwhile, she’s renovating the three upstairs bedrooms and bath to turn one of the bedrooms into an additional bath and closet for the primary suite.
Here, we talk to Kane about the challenges of pandemic home-buying, renovating her house, and her dream dinner party guests:
What was your experience like trying to buy a home during Covid?
First, I tried making offers contingent on the sale of my condo. After missing out on six or seven houses, I realized I was going to have to waive all contingencies. For my last few offers, I ponied up every last dollar to my name and made my offers contingency-free. I still missed out on two more houses. (There’s one that I still think about! How are you doing, beautiful 10-foot ceilings over on 9th and Buchanan Streets?) And then I finally got a call back. They asked if the sellers could stay in the home for 60 days after selling. Given that I still hadn’t sold my condo, I agreed. I had a few sleepless months between my offer being accepted and the eventual sale of my condo but it all came together (at least so far). And I finally got a house!
What made you decide to buy this home?
At some point in my house-hunting journey, I walked all around the eastern part of Petworth and loved the old trees, the houses with views, and the proximity to Georgia Ave. and Upshur Street, where there are a few restaurants and coffee shops. While it wasn’t about any house in particular, I knew I wanted to be in that area.
If I’m being completely honest, my house only had one open house and they weren’t allowing private showings. I was out of town on the day of the open house. By then, I had cased the area and knew I loved it, but I sent my realtor to check out the house. I didn’t see it until after my offer was accepted and discovered that I had a view of the National Cathedral, which of course I love.
What was it originally like before you began renovating it?
There was a family living there, so it was obviously livable by definition, but I honestly don’t know how they were able to do so. The kitchen sink didn’t drain, there was a mouse infestation, and the main sewer line was leaking into the dining room. We had 12 days to get the house to a somewhat livable condition prior to my move-in. We ended up digging into the slab in the basement and replacing all the plumbing during my first week in the house. It was rough. I focused on getting the basement livable first so I could get a tenant in and start subsidizing the construction costs. Since then, I’ve been tackling one project at a time in the main part of the house. I started with the upstairs bathroom and only recently finished the kitchen over a year after moving in. (Technically it’s not finished! I still need one light fixture and a backsplash.) Even though I lived with a demo-ed kitchen and free-standing appliances for over a year, I’m glad I did. I love that I took my time figuring out the layout and I think I maximized the use of the space.
What was your inspiration for the home’s aesthetic?
I tried to balance the aesthetic of the original home (defined spaces, straight lines, and no recessed lighting) with my taste (luxe fabrics, feminine design, and Scandinavian simplicity). I picked the harlequin marble tile for the kitchen because it felt right with the era of the home. I also added a faux mantel from MantelHouseDC to anchor the living room. But then the furniture is fairly modern—lots of textures and soft colors.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered during the renovation?
Parts of it were really, really hard. After living in construction for a full year, I was really hoping to have things “finished” (maybe just clean?) by April of this year. Instead, PEPCO was upgrading the grid and sent a power surge into my—and 25 neighbors’—home and blew out brand new appliances including my newly installed mini-split AC system. So instead of finishing projects, I was redoing things that had already been done.
What’s the biggest splurge you purchased for your home?
I knew I wanted to get an induction stove in an effort to eventually de-gas the entire home. I ended up buying a very nice Fisher & Paykel range. It was definitely more than I needed to spend, but it looks so amazing and I hope it will excite whoever uses it and encourage more people to move away from gas ovens.
The other big splurge was updating all the windows. I knew I wanted to make the brown brick really shine, so I upgraded the windows to black windows and painted all the exterior trim. It looks like a new house with all the original brick! I love it.
What’s the best deal you got on an item for your home?
I bought a used Sub-Zero refrigerator from Community Forklift for about $1,500. It could end up dying and being a waste, but for now, it feels like I got a great deal. I also got some of my light fixtures second-hand or purchased them at a steep discount. I love them all! Most are from a small manufacturer in Oregon, Cedar & Moss.
Did you do any DIYs in the house that you’re particularly proud of?
I have painted, demoed, refinished doors, stripped hinges, gardened, sanded floors, hung window treatments, assembled and installed cabinet fronts, moved furniture, installed light fixtures, and more. I’m proud of all of it! While I have a contractor for the big-ticket items, I’ve overseen every minute decision and designed everything myself.
What’s your favorite part of the house?
Can you pick your favorite child? I love the whole first floor. I love how the rooms fit together, but each have their own defined space.
What’s your favorite item in your home?
Probably my bed. It’s by Kim Salmela.
What’s your favorite thing to do in your new home?
Cook! I love that I finally have a fully functional kitchen. I love making healthy meals with food I bought from the Petworth farmer’s market.
Who would your top three dream guests be for a dinner party at your home?
Michelle Obama—but only if she’d get a little drunk and give some uninhibited commentary. Jill Filipovic and Harry Styles so we could ask him about the Don’t Worry Darling premiere.
What is the most important lesson you learned while renovating your home?
It’s really, really hard. But it’s also one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.
This interviewed has been edited and condensed.