New PoP Series – Renovating and Remodeling My 101 Year Old Row House by Kevin

Hello PoPville,

My name is Kevin and this is the first in a series of posts about two major remodeling projects I am undertaking on my Columbia Heights row house. I am excited to share my experiences with you because as the third owner of a 101 year old house that is nearly all original, I feel a responsibility to balance modern amenities while conserving the original character with any improvements I undertake. I hope documenting and sharing this process will inspire others to try to maintain as much of the history that has helped turn their house into a home.

Before I get into the fun of remodeling, I wanted to share a little background about the home. The three bedroom one bath Wardman house was built in 1911 and purchased by a couple who then passed away in the early 1940s. Their son worked in the government and had recently hired Ms. Carol Fig, who had moved to the area from South Carolina. Knowing she was looking for a place to live, the son of the original owners offered her the opportunity to buy the home fully furnished. In her more than 70 years living in the home, Ms. Fig kept it in amazing condition, maintaining all the little details which make this home a gem in an era when quick remodels are the norm.

Continues after the jump.

In 2009, Ms. Fig passed away at the age of 90, leaving the home to her only “family”—her best friend and neighbor Ms. Little. Mrs. Little put the home up for sale in the fall of 2009, and within one day there were seven offers, all with escalation clauses. Thankfully Mrs. Little accepted my offer, and four weeks later I was the owner of what I believe is one of the most amazing nearly original homes in the city.

In the first month of ownership before moving in I undertook a few significant projects to add some amenities which for me were must haves: central air, a second bath, a updated full bath, and minor updates to the kitchen.

As a big guy who sweats when the temp tops 350, central air was a no brainer. Because the house still had the original plaster walls, running duct lines between floors for a single air conditioning system would not only have been a massive undertaking but also too much damage to the house. So I installed a dual zone system, with one unit in the attic to supply the upstairs and the other in the basement to supply the main floor and eventually the basement.

Next were some bathroom adjustments. I knew I was going to bring in a roommate to help offset the mortgage costs, and only having one toilet was a potentially serious issue. In other homes I looked at, many had converted the storage/prep area between the foyer and kitchen into a half bath. With open access from the unfinished basement, this was a relatively easy job. I went with a very crisp looking honed white marble floor and wainscot, with a custom cherry cabinet and granite top. And I used the original toilet from the main bath upstairs and an original wall mirror to tie the new bathroom to the old house.

As much as I loved the original near perfect condition claw foot tub in the main upstairs bathroom, it just wasn’t functional for everyday use by a 6’3″ guy trying to shower and get to work. So I installed a standard tub/shower, new vanity with granite top, toilet, and all new tile. But I worked hard to maintain the original look by replacing the 3×5 subway tile all around the room the way it was initially. In keeping with the original style and preserving the original light fixture, built-in medicine cabinet and wall-hung radiator, the bathroom feels new but still has an aged classic look.

I then tackled the kitchen by installing some additional cabinets for more storage and work space. The kitchen had been redone, judging by the metal cabinets, probably in the early to mid-60s. So adding more cabinets would not further take away from any originality. (A year later, I replaced the ‘60s metal cabinets, relocated the refrigerator, added a dishwasher and painted all the cabinets to have some consistency. But this was just a stop gap until the bigger kitchen project.)

There were a few other smaller projects like replacing ceiling fans, patching walls, repainting the entire house and replacing as much of the old wiring as possible. After all that was done, it was move in time!

In the three plus years since moving in I have completed several other small projects, mostly just fixing little things. I replaced the old slate mansard roof on the front of the house with new ¾” thick, chiseled slate. I also dug out the overgrown garden/alley cat litter box in the backyard with a brick patio in a traditional herring bone pattern, and put up a privacy fence.

Mostly I have been preparing for the two major projects I am about to undertake and share with you:

Finishing the basement, which I will introduce in my next post, and
Enclosing the two-story deck to expand the kitchen on the first floor and build a master bath/walk-in closet on the second floor.

The basement work will begin next weekend and is scheduled to take about a month worth of weekends. The two-story addition will begin in late summer/early fall and is scheduled to be finished by the end of the year.

With both of these projects I aim to create new space which will enhance the originality and charm of the home. Being mindful of the history of the home and neighborhood, I can lay the groundwork to allow this home to thrive for the next hundred years.

I’m looking forward to sharing these projects with you and hearing your stories and questions along the way,


27 Comment

  • Love this new series! Our home was constructed in the early 1980s after a much older building in extreme disrepair was razed. It’s weird to have a 30-year old house on the Hill, surrounded by homes that are likely closer to 130 years old. Good luck on the projects!!

  • No “after” pictures? I’m sure we would all love to see what you’ve described as having done far.

  • Wow really cool post Kevin and PoP. Could you perhaps add before and after shots in the next post? i.e. the clawfoot bathtub versus the new modern shower.

  • Photos? I’d love to see the bathroom(s) and kitchen.

  • Can we see pictures?

  • definitely want more pictures!

  • I love the series too, but echo the comments below- give us more photographs! Thanks so much for sharing this with us, can’t wait to read more… with more pictures!

  • Love the series! It’s so great to see what it takes to stay true to the style of these old houses when it would be so much easier to do a ticky tacky renovation.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    There will def. be more photos with the specific projects!

  • Awesome, awesome. Please keep it coming!

    Three requests:
    – More photos! (as others have already said)
    – Any notes on costs or ballpark figures for each part?
    – Recommended contractors or handymen? Some of us need that!

    • styglan1:

      I am happy to share some ball park estimates. I will make sure to include that info in the wrap up posts for each project.

      As for contractors, as I mentioned to Jack5 below, I am doing most of the work myself. But as I come across good people, I will definitely share.

  • I’m renovating my house now as well, its around 100 years old. I’m doing a total renovation which I have to move out for. Things I didn’t think about before starting were:

    Don’t do any demolition before securing a refinance – The appraisal is affected, and possibly ruined by walls being down. If you do so, you may only be able to get a 203k loan, which is very restrictive.

    You will likely have to move out. The plumbing and electrical, and dust alone become very pervasive operations in construction. It’s best to make a plan to move. Paying rent & a mortgage at the same time is not exactly a comfortable proposition.

    builders all charge different prices for their work. Think more about your budget and what you want to accomplish than the individual prices they charge for labor, or you’ll get bad sticker shock. A lot of builders quote you a low price, and then creep it up on you over time. You always end up paying the same rate by the end of the project (overall) as everyone else even if you know the processes involved. Don’t sweat the details, but expect a builder to create extra value for you by throwing extras into the project more than by cutting costs.

    This is a timely topic, especially since I’m in the process of doing my own renovation. I’m excited to find out where the discussion goes!

    • Jack5: That is exciting you are doing a total reno, they are fun projects. For the major addition that will be happening in the fall I have secured funding and I am working through the permit process now.

      As for contractors, I am actually doing all of the work myself. My father is a contractor, and we have many friends in the business to help with some aspects, but most of the work will be done my me.

      Please keep us up to date on your project too, it seems like you are a couple of months ahead of me and I would love to hear things that come up to be aware of during the process. Good luck!

      • Nice, will do! I would have loved to do the work myself but I can’t imagine spending all that time working around my current day job, there’s much to be done on my project including heavy structural work (opening walls and brick pointing), electrical, and plumbing that I was too intimidated to get involved with. Good news is that I’ll still have plenty of equity past my loan once all is said and done and I got an excellent contractor referral off POP.

        Wish you tons of good progress! I’ll keep checking in as well. 🙂

  • Don’t understand why you had to get rid of the tub. All you had to do was change the plumbing to install a tub wall-mounted showerhead with a shower enclosure ring. That’s waht we did, and we love the vintage look.

    • It was very sad to loose the tub in that space, but I still have it in my garage, and my girlfriend, who you will meet in future posts, came up with a great idea for using it in the basement.

  • Yes, can you please post more pictures of your bathroom redos?

  • Hi all,
    You can view more pictures of the home before I bought it here:

    And here are pics of the work I talked about before moving in:

  • How much did that central air install cost? I have the same issue with plaster walls in my 1919 Petworth rowhouse, and haven’t before heard of the dual zone system approach.

    • The total cost for the whole system with installation came to about 18K. I do have an HVAC friend and he cut me a little discount by not marking up materials, but that wasn’t much savings.

      In the long run, not just for my comfort but also for resale, I think it was well worth the expense.

  • Wow, so neat to see another DC house with one bath and the claw foot tub. Our Petworth house had no shower plumbing whatsoever. We took out the subway tile and are replacing the flooring with smallish square tiles, because I find the old fashioned hexagonal style tile too institutional looking, but I wish I had sprung for the marble basketweave.

  • That’s a pretty interesting looking radiator in the bathroom. Haven’t seen that before. My place has a similar affliction to yours, 3000 coats of paint in some areas. At least a lot of your trim/etc. was spared from overpainting. Good luck, love seeing the progression. I know it’s not easy, even with small projects, when you are living in the house while working on it. Don’t breath in too much 100 year old dust.

  • I can not! be the only one who fell in love with Ms. Fig! She is the story that I want.

    Yes, of course I hope your reno goes well but Ms. Fig!.. I want to know her!!

  • I cannot! be the only one who fell in love with Ms. Fig! She is the story that I want.

    Yes, of course I hope your reno goes well but Ms. Fig!.. I want to know her!!

  • I am also doing a full renovation (haven’t moved out yet). I’ll follow this thread? If anyone is interested I kind of keep a record of my progress (am I allowed to link to my blog here?) –

  • I’m also picking up with renovating a 100 y.o. house where I left off a few years ago (got burnt out) in a similar manor. Can’t wait to see your progress and hopefully get some tips and ideas along the way!

  • I sweat when the temperature tops 350 as well!

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