When Liz and Chris moved into their 1928 corner row house in Woodley Park, DC, in July they had their work cut out for them. The house, designed and developed by famed DC architect Harry Wardman, was by no stretch a fixer-upper. It boasted plaster moldings, original crystal chandeliers, spacious rooms and large lot. But they were faced with some major renovation decisions.
"From the moment of purchase we began obsessing about how to make this our last move for a long time, which meant it had to meet a lot of long-term requirements," Liz explains. They met with two architects and four contractors, and enlisted the help of family and friends to help. Extensive water damage meant immediate plaster repair. The existing paint colors were bright and bold and odd. The basement was a disaster, as were some of the bathrooms, and there were no window treatments in the entire house.
Liz, a decorator with local interior design firm Bossy Color, was concerned that the 1920s formal floor plan was ill-suited to modern family life with two small children. Liz and Chris talked about making the space more open and seamless, perhaps by removing the wall that separates the kitchen from the dining room. In the end, however, they decided they could make some less drastic changes that would make the room configuration more livable without sacrificing the charm and historic integrity of the home. The renovations are a work in progress and Liz and Chris say there is much left to do. But their house is looking beautifully transformed already! Here are some of the problems--and solutions--that faced Liz and Chris this Fall/Winter:
Floors: The floors were in decent shape, but there was some wear and tear. The stairs were particularly worn, so they were hand-sanded, re-stained and coated in several layers of lacquer.
The girls' bedroom (Images 1 and 2): Due to serious water damage, the window in this bedroom actually fell out when Liz tried to open it their first week in the house. Replacing the window was not a simple task. "I called 7 places who all said they wouldn't even place an order for a single window, much less come out to measure! Thank goodness for my faithful contractor," she says. Using flat panel fabric from her daughter's room in their old home, Liz and her seamstress spent a lot of time trying to work the curtains around the beautiful but awkward barrel ceiling in the window nook. They decided on stationery panels that could be pulled back. They left the pull down shades from the prior owner, even though the curtains are heavy blackout. A dark room means a late morning sleeper in our house!," Liz says. "My 4 year old daughter is thrilled with her 'Princess Room.' She says the top of the drapes look like a crown – the royal reference was an accidental bonus!""
Paint colors: The biggest and most immediate changes Liz and Chris made involved paint color. "Maybe in reaction to the existing bright colors, I went for calm, serene colors, with a touch of modern." The main hall was painted in a "dirty" cream, so they repainted in a pale grey. The dining room's green (Image #7) was repainted in a soft gray slightly darker than the hall. "I'm not sure it's perfect yet," says Liz. "I am thinking it needs a warmer, smokier grey." But she will wait to tweak until they decide whether to add a screened porch to the dining room, which would involve some structural work in that room. The bedrooms and upstairs bathrooms were also repainted.
Radiator covers: Radiator covers were made for the whole house, which has made a noticeable difference not only in warmth (they help conduct the heat out into the room) but also in looks ("these are large, unattractive radiators, not pretty decorative ones," Liz explains). The radiator covers are from www.woodenradiatorcabinet.com.
Living room (Images 3-6): Liz and Chris wanted to make the living room transitional, not just in style, but also in function. Built-in bookshelves were built to flank the fireplace. The cabinet to the right of the fireplace conceals the TV, which is on a stand that can be raised and lowered by remote. "I wanted to be able to watch TV in this room but I didn't want TV to be the focal point--or even visible--when guests are visiting," Liz explains. The love seats, from the Room Store, are "not ideal but good for now while the kids are young because they came with a 5-year stain warranty", says Liz. "I wanted this room to be elegant but also unfussy. My girls often build forts with the pillow cushions after dinner." The chairs are from Good Wood on U Street, as is the mirror over the mantel. The living room rug was bought at auction in South Carolina. The fireplace was wired for sconces, but none came with the house. Liz was not able to find an exact replica of what may have been there originally but thinks she came close with the vintage Williamsburg reproductions found at the Brass Knob. The sconces have an elongated, simplistic, brass finish with an etched glass that echoes the lantern-style chandeliers on the second floor.
The large radiators under the living room windows made hanging curtains a challenge. Liz installed hold-backs to give the curtain some curve and purpose. "This approach worked especially well in the dining room, but the living room radiators are significantly larger than the windows, so we're still tweaking them a bit." The curtain fabric is a yellow silk from a fabric store in Gastonia, NC called Mary Jo's. The Greek key trim is from Calico Corners. "I started with the trim and then found a yellow silk to match and the perfect yellow paint for the walls. I wanted something simple, but more custom looking that plain yellow drapes, and since the plaster moldings on the first floor are a large Greek key pattern, I thought it would be a nice architectural reference," Liz explains. The throw pillows and stool fabric are Bubblelicious in Platinum from Calico Corners.
Café shutters: Cafe shutters were installed throughout the second floor and in the girls' bathroom on the 3rd floor. "No one can see in above them since we're up on a hill, but they provide some privacy for dressing and living without sacrificing the beautiful view of the sunrise in the morning, the treetops and that glorious sunlight," says Liz. "I know shutters are controversial, but I happen to LOVE them in the right spaces. I still need drapes to soften the look, but the shutters were ordered, custom made and installed within 3 weeks. Can't beat that!"
Dining room (Images 7 and 8): . The dining room table and chairs were bought at auction in South Carolina. "We eat dinner every night in the dining room, just as both my husband and I did growing up,," Liz explains. She recently had the dining room chairs reupholstered in a yellow stain-repelling sensuede from Calico Corners. And she is working with her seamstress to create an extra cover for her 4-year-old's chair. "Something with elastic in the same fabric so it won't be obvious but could be removed and cleaned," she says. She worked with a friend and former colleague at Calico Corners for drape fabric, hardware and seat cushion fabric. The curtains are Sultana Lattice by Iman Home in Noir. Buying a new dining room rug will be put off until her 1-year-old can "eat a meal without dumping half the plate on the floor."
Originally, Liz planned to paint the dining room grey and the living room yellow, tying them together with identical yellow silk drapes. But Chris pushed back with "I don't want to live in the White House. We're in our 30s. Can't we have some fun curtains that look young?" So they went with the fun Lattice fabric shown in Image 8. Liz worried that the graphic pattern would be too much with the dining room chairs. "But I knew the room needed some interest, and I think we got that!" she says. They decided that a color scheme of yellow, black and cream, though interpreted differently, would keep the dining and living rooms from being too disjointed.
The girls' bathroom (Images 9 and 10) : When they moved in, this bathroom made Liz cringe. The countertop was yellowed and aged and the sink faucet didn't work. They replaced the countertop with carrera marble, put in a new faucet and got rid of the tiled backsplash. They also made some simple, inexpensive improvements by replacing the light fixture, painting the cabinet white, and replacing the dull knobs with cut glass. "The floor tile isn't great and the large medicine cabinet should be recessed into the wall, but our changes have made a big difference!", Liz says. "It's not my dream bathroom if I had started from scratch, but I can definitely live with it!"
Next steps: Liz says there is a lot more to be done. They need artwork, and the living room still needs a little tweaking, she feels. They plan to add a screened porch, which would connect the kitchen to the yard at the front of the house. That project includes re positioning the front steps, putting in a retaining wall, fence, landscaping and more. Project 3, which is years away, is to redo the kitchen. "The cabinet shelves are bowing, some of the doors don't close properly, and what is up with the tiled backsplash?" Project 4 is to remodel the second floor to include a master bathroom with separate tub and shower. (Right now they use the master bedroom as a playroom). "Maybe then I will finally be done. Or are people like us ever "done" with our houses?" Liz muses.
We think you've made impressive progress already!
Thanks for sharing, Liz and Chris!