Saturday, January 16, 2016

Diplomacy by Design

Q and A with Chris Snowber

by Beth Herman

In an effort to reconcile the discerning but disparate tastes of a homeowner couple in Cleveland Park - she liked sleek and modern and he preferred traditional - Chris Snowber of Hamilton Snowber Architects diplomatically embarked on a renovation of a 1910 Foursquare. Also, because the historic district site projected deep into other residential lots, a previous owner had received what Snowber calls "a lot of push back" from the neighbors when seeking a rather large addition to the home. The house was eventually sold, sans addition, and the proposed three-story new addition for the current homeowners was smaller, receiving the community's imprimatur. The redesign involved a new 1,400 s.f. addition on three levels, as well as renovating the original 4,200 s.f. residence's two floors, basement and attic space. DCMud spoke with Snowber about the multifaceted project.

DCMud: First, what was the program for this renovation?

Snowber: The rooms were segregated with small openings between them. As with a lot of these older homes, the kitchen was broken off and small. Our mission was to expand it and have it connect to some living spaces, specifically a family room and playroom space. We then wanted to connect those spaces to a screened back porch and deck which opened to the yard. We wanted to extend the house but not overtake the substantial backyard.

DCMud: And how did you address the clients' divergent tastes under one roof?

Snowber: The real difference between them was about the style of the finishes and the image of the house. For instance the idea of an open kitchen that would connect to the rest of the house was a common denominator, but the character of the spaces - use of traditional moldings, elaborations of fireplaces, choice of cabinetry - was different.

DCMud: So there was agreement soon after take-off?

Snowber: Even though we started off with a more transitional design - paneled cabinet doors, etc. -  when the wife discovered some very modern oak and stainless steel Bulthaup kitchen cabinets, this really set the tone for the rest of the work.

DCMud: If you jettisoned the idea of transitional, or middle ground, can you elaborate on how the design was executed?

Snowber: Quite often the resolution for that is a design with a mixture of more modern furnishings and cabinetry and trim that is less heavy and more abstract than the existing house might have had. But in this case went to two extremes: The kitchen and family room (new addition in the back of the house) are very modern, both in the cabinetry and window detailing and also the fireplace surround. In the rest of the house, like the living room, dining room and front hall, we went even more traditional. We removed all of the existing trim - all of the crown, base, all of the window treatments, replacing them with heavier and more elaborate trims than were there in the first place. The house had a Craftsman look, and we actually made it much more formal.

DCMud: So rather than compromising, you played these two styles against each other.

Snowber: That's right. Then when we started furnishing it, both in the new and existing parts of the house, the furniture is very modern. So while the dining room has a brand new fireplace and traditional but new coffered ceiling, the table and light fixture are quite modern. In short these rooms have very modern furniture in this very traditional context.

DCMud: Did you retain the original flooring, which appears to be rough-hewn?

Snowber: We did - and it's a narrow oak. In the kitchen, though, the floor is granite pavers.

DCMud: What about the second and third floors, and the basement.

Snowber: The home had six bedrooms and ended up that way, but they're configured differently. On the second floor, the whole back of the house is the master suite. The wife has an office on that floor also. The third floor has a guestroom for the client's parents who visit, plus an office and a playroom with loft and balcony for the kids. The basement contains a large playroom with desk area, a side entrance mudroom and an au pair suite.

DCMud: From the exterior, the back of the house appears to be more open.

Snowber: Whenever you're dealing with historic houses in D.C., there are different standards for what goes in the front and back of the house. We got to use two-over-two windows in the back, where preserving the historic fabric was less important, whereas in the front the openings had to be of a more traditional scale. Interestingly the two-over-two windows are also from an historic area - more Victorian in nature. And they gave the windows some scale, so as not to be wide-open pieces of glass.

DCMud: Speaking of modern, traditional and historical, is there a particular structure in the area that informs your work - and your spirit?

Snowber: There's a building I like that many do not know about. It's the River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda. Built in 1964 by Keyes, Lethbridge, Condon, it won a number of architecture awards. It's both modern and traditional in a lot of ways and has a certain Alvar Alto-esque (Finnish architect) quality. Whenever he designed buildings, he'd design them along with the furnishings. Here it's the use of natural materials - wood, brick and steel. It's asymmetrical but still feels like church with a masterful manipulation of light - a real spiritual space. This makes it pleasant to be in at all different times of the day and in all seasons.

Photos courtesy of David Reeve Photography.  Washington DC real estate news

Thursday, January 17, 2013

JBG's 13th and U Street Project Moving Forward--But Sans Hotel

JBG has launched big plans for a U Street hotel sometime around 2007 that have been percolating ever since.  But now that the hotel idea has been scrapped, plans to build an apartment building on the site have picked up speed and construction may begin as early as next summer.

The hotel idea was tossed around in early 2012. In its place at the corner of 13th and U streets will be a large residential building designed by David M. Schwarz Architects that will hold around 138 units and include ground floor retail. After many months of community meetings, JBG finally submitted a PUD to the Zoning Commission in September; earlier this week, the commission held an initial hearing action and deemed the project ready for a public meeting. That will probably occur in early March 2013.

It’s been a very long road that’s nowhere near done. A first round of meetings earlier in the year with the U Street Neighborhood Association, ANC 1B’s design committee, and the full ANC led to the developers making some substantial adjustments to the eight-story building: its height was lowered to 86 feet, the seventh and eighth floors were set back by 5-6 feet, and plans for a rooftop pool were eliminated in response to neighbors’ concerns about noise.

That was the plan delineated in the PUD. 

Once the basics of the building’s shape and contents were worked out, JBG representatives met with neighborhood groups again to discuss the project’s design elements. Those have also been fully approved by the community, and an initial hearing with the Historic Preservation Review Board is scheduled for next Thursday.

As for design, the project won’t need to incorporate any historic facades; the site is currently home to a bland, low-slung strip that holds a Rite-Aid and a Pizza Hut. “But we do need to design a building that’s in context with the historic neighborhood,” said Leary. The resulting design is a classical-style building that led one zoning commission member to remark on the building’s unusually ‘historicist’ look. That was intentional, explained JBG reps, who said that Schwarz has gone to great lengths to look at precedents in the neighborhood and incorporate them so that the building looks as though it's been there for years.

All of the units—a mix of one- and two-bedrooms—will most likely be rentals and will include 12 affordable units that fulfill the District’s inclusionary zoning requirement. At an average of 970 square feet, the units will be a bit bigger than those typically found in new high-rise buildings. “We’re serving a different market—more of a mature renter-by-choice who wants to stay in place,” said James Nozar, a development manager for JBG.

As far as retail goes, the company hasn’t decided on the exact balance yet. So the only element fully in place is the Rite-Aid, which will return to its corner spot after construction is finished.

Some of the meetings that occurred this year between JBG and the neighborhood were an effort to determine the project’s community benefits package. In the end, the PUD submission contained a general clause that JBG would contribute $600,000 for amenities like streetscape improvements, alternative transportation options such as Capital Bikeshare or Zipcars, establishment of a business improvement district, and school or recreation programs. Exactly how the funding will break down will become clearer once the zoning commission's public hearing occurs.

JBG reps say a mid-2013 groundbreaking is possible, but construction is more likely to begin in the third quarter of next year.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reviving Springdale

by Beth Herman

Prominent in Montgomery County agricultural circles, newlyweds Edward and Deborah Lea moved into a 2 1/2-story stucco house on 27 acres circa 1837-38. A gift from Edward's father, Delaware transplant Thomas Lea, Sr., the property in still-bucolic Brinklow, Maryland became home to a young couple who, along with their progeny, would continue to impact the community.

Nee Springdale Farm, the Leas became stalwart stewards of an agricultural site that also supported a tenant house, spring house, smoke house and a stone mason-constructed bank barn. Credited with acquiring one of the first threshing machines in Montgomery County, Edward became a progressive member of the local horticultural society, one of the founders of the Sandy Spring Farmers' Club and incorporators of the Savings Institution of Sandy Spring. According to historical records, Edward Lea "...reached out for better ways of doing things in home and farm."

At the end of a multi-year search for a singular 18th or 19th Century property, homeowners Johanna and Larry Weekley acquired Springdale Farm which had succumbed to years of complacency by well-meaning but aging subsequent homeowners. But just as it had reflected the Leas' ambitions and agrestic achievements (Deborah made local history when she became the first in her area to successfully can applesauce after 1850), Springdale would also become a manifestation of the Weekleys' passion as curators of regional history and coveted antiques. Perhaps paramount to that, it would become a pristine canvas for what unarguably was Larry Weekley's transcendent botanical vision.

Brass tacks

"To begin with, we needed to remove a bad addition in the back of the house," said JoAnn Zwally of Ashton Design Group, adding the program was to replace it with an historically correct one. The addition would contain a new kitchen, family room, master bedroom and bath. The rear facade would include a half moon-shaped terrace with wide steps that would eventually overlook one of the homeowners' many gardens. A neo-Colonial two-story porch with columns and a metal roof, added in the 1930s and which spanned the entire width of the facade, would need to be replaced with a Greek Revival porch with simple square columns and a wood roof - emblematic of the period.

According to Zwally, removal of the 1930s porch revealed evidence of footings and marks on the front facade indicating the exact placement of the structure's original porch. By the same token, it also required clean-up of dirt mounds used as fill in raising it up to the height of the front door, which had covered basement windows and some of the stone foundation, also resulting in considerable termite damage.

Restoring the 856 s.f. two-story tenant's house occupied in generations past  by various farm hands who were given shelter, certain foodstuffs and a garden (and which was later leased out by the Weekleys), refurbishing its kitchen, flooring, single bathroom and walls was on the agenda. The homeowners were then able to move in to be closer to the larger renovation of Springdale's primary residence.

Room with an historical view

In historical design, Zwally noted symmetry is a key component. Accordingly, the addition's kitchen reflected this in its fenestration. Double-paned banks of windows, which extend down to the sink and stove, match banks on the other side - divided by a French door. A kitchen farm table was forged by local craftsman Dr. Joe Reitman, who also made an armoire for the master bedroom. The Weekley's son Jon, log furniture maker and owner of Denver-based Medicine Wolf Co., created the kitchen's rustic corner table and a pair of aspen and spruce rocking chairs on the master bedroom balcony. (In an even later renovation, a butler's pantry was fashioned from a space off the kitchen, replete with undercounter Sub-Zero refrigerator, and items such as granite countertops were added.)

In the new family room, a fireplace mantle was reused from the demolished 1930s addition, and in fact the house now boasted six working fireplaces including a new one in the master bedroom. While the existing ones, whose chimneys were relined during the renovation, had black slate facades, the fireplace in the new master was faced with delicate Delft-style tiling.

A foyer in the existing house was refreshed to follow the dominant navy and terracotta colors in a Hamadan tribal rug in the Weekleys' possession. Expressed in Greeff wallpaper in a spectacular Phoenix pattern germane to the Colonial period, the motif follows a wooden staircase all the way up to the residence's third level. Fabric that accompanied the Greeff paper was used for window treatments in the living and dining rooms, and navy accents can also be found in the new family room and kitchen and in bedrooms. In the living room, a Weekley family 18th Century Chippendale clawfoot wing chair was covered in a navy and terracotta flame stitch.

Arbiters of Colonial good taste, many of the home's antiques had a familial provenance through Johanna Weekley's ancestors, the Hyde family. Journeying from 17th Century England to Connecticut and ultimately settling in 18th Century Bath, Maine, the Hydes - founders of iconic (and still thriving) Bath Iron Works - passed down a Connecticut cherry Queen Anne highboy, the aforementioned wing chair, 18th Century Delft chargers, brass andirons and more. Additional antiques acquired for Springdale included a Hepplewhite mahogany bow front chest with original brass and a New Hampshire-forged grandfather clock.

Upon construction the house had not been electrified though was naturally updated over the decades. Still there was no overhead lighting in the existing part of the house and care was taken during the renovation to honor that fact, except for a foyer fixture and dining room chandelier. In the addition, recessed lighting was used.

Quarter sawn oak flooring found in the existing part of the house, milled from local trees, was repaired and preserved. Zwally also noted that when refurbishing the home's third floor beams, plaster was removed to reveal actual trees with bark and pegs, presumably taken from the property at that time to build the structure. The home's existing exterior is stucco over brick; the addition is stucco over frame.

Gardens in stone

Outdoors, and when Larry Weekley, who has since passed away, retired, he exorcised his inner landscape architect and put it to work suffusing Springdale's acreage with an explosion of flora rivaling the massive scale gardens of European palaces and grounds. Zwally said in many ways the focus of this property is its magnificent gardens.

"The original property had many specimen trees," she explained, noting the Leas and successive homeowners, the Mannings, were interested in cultivating such. "Larry bloomed each spring. He built walls. He built wattles. He built ponds." As a result of a serious drought one year, he constructed an underground water system to ferry water to his gardens in the future. The old stone bank barn erected on the property when the Leas moved in was destroyed by fire in the 1940s, its ruins resurrected and repointed by Weekley into a walled-in, deer-proof garden defined by irises, peonies, roses, foxgloves, hybrid daylilies, baptisia, mums and more.

Currently on the market for $1,399,000., Springdale Farm's "bonus room" comes in the guise of its original spring house. Used by the Leas and Mannings to cool milk and butter, Zwally said it is delightful inside even on the hottest summer day, and the Weekleys used it to cool beer for their generous summer parties.

"At Christmas they always made the best eggnog served in little Limoges cups," the designer recalled of her years in the homeowners' social circle following Springdale's renovation. "You'd sit by a roaring fire. It was the highlight of my season."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Your Next Place

I'm not usually one for nostalgia (in general, the past sucked - as far as I can tell, human history was mostly a morass of pestilence, cruelty, and few to no wi-fi hotspots), but they really don't make them like this anymore.  Dating from 1917, this space has more Old World charm than Jeremy Irons in a monocle.  From the deep-scarlet dining room walls to the quirkily adorable kitchen (that tiny-tile floor is straight out of "Annie Hall") to the vintage woodwork in the bath (yes, the bath) to the double-height screened-in porch, it seemed like everywhere I looked, I saw something wonderful that I'd never seen before.  (Sort of like when I was 11 and I found my Dad's Playboys.)

But this warm, house-like space also sports all the latest updates, from the exquisitely-appointed chef's kitchen to the fully-renovated bathrooms.  The living room is warm and has softly glowing hardwood floors, and the dining room features extensive built-ins and a breakfast bar that opens onto the kitchen, so while your significant other cooks, you can sit there and tap your fork and knife on the counter impatiently until they fling a hot skillet of gravy at you.  The kitchen has antique cabinets that are to die for (not literally;  please don't harm yourself over cabinetry), and a top-quality chef's range.

The bedrooms are equally classy, and the baths sport all the modern finishes you've come to expect (marble, glass doors) after spending too many weekends in Las Vegas.  Outside, is the long screened-in balcony-slash-porch; I could sit out here all day, just putting my feet up and thinking about life and tossing balloons full of ink down onto people who don't pick up after their dogs.  You'll also have access to the building's roof deck, which sports breathtaking 360-degree views.  All in all, it's sort of the perfect place; if it was pre-bubble, I'd totally take out a liar loan saying I make a million bucks a year and buy the place.  It would totally be worth going to prison once the jig was up.  (All those people did go to prison, right?)

1870 Wyoming Avenue NW #104
3 Bedrooms, 2 Baths

Thursday, January 10, 2013

10 Questions with ... Jack Evans


Currently in his seventh term representing Ward 2, Jack Evans is one of the most decorated and influential members of the DC City Council.  Holder of an economics degree from Wharton and a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Evans started out at the SEC, and currently serves as counsel at Patton Boggs.  Recently, Evans graciously took the time to offer us a glimpse into his always-busy day-to-day.

1. What's a typical day for you?  

I get up at 6:00am, get the kids up, eat breakfast, (I used to drive them to school but now they have their learner’s permits) and the 3 triplets take turns driving themselves to school (as I am in the passenger seat, of course). Once I get into the office, depending on the schedule, I have a series of meetings throughout the day or a legislative hearing/legislative session. I go home, pick up the kids, try to have dinner with them and several evenings a week, I attend community meetings/events in the evening, and my day ends around 9:30.

2. What or who is your biggest influence?

Personally – my parents. Professionally – Abraham Lincoln & John Kennedy

3. What neighborhood do you live in?


4. What is your biggest DC pet peeve?


5. What is the #1 most played song on your iPod?

"Mack the Knife"

6. Favorite DC haunt?

Café Milano

7. What's your favorite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon?

Read the paper and go for walks in the park.

8. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Washington, DC.

9. If you couldn't be a councilman, what would you be?

Rock singer.

10. Name one thing most people don't know about you.

I’m an open book!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Your Next Place

This fantastic house is truly one of a kind; from the front, the house is subtly set at an angle to the street, and features a large, perfectly round porthole-like window.  The rear, which faces the woods, is a long flat plane that has more windows than Microsoft headquarters.  (Been waiting to use that one for months.)

Inside, it's got fantastically high lofted ceilings, minimalistic white walls, and incredible views from every room.  It's like an urban ski lodge decorated by Stanley Kubrick.  The living room is a huge open space built around a fireplace, and the only slightly smaller family room features three, yes, three separate sets of French doors (or, as I like to call them, "freedom doors") leading outside.  Elsewhere, the master bedroom is just HUGE, and has three closets, each of which is larger than my entire apartment.  The master bath is a super-edgy, spartan porcelain chamber, with a glass-walled shower and a sweet soaking tub, like a really hip art gallery with a toilet in the middle.

The lower level is an in-law suite that you could rent out, or just use as an emergency "this marriage sucks, I'm living downstairs this week" bunker, like my parents do.  Across the entire rear of the house is a huge wooden deck, from which you look out into some legitimate woods.  Not the usual forest-ish wooded areas in the city, where even with full leaf cover you can still see your neighbor doing a Zumba DVD in their living room through gaps in the canopy.  This is serious greenery, where if you hear a growling sound out there while sitting on your deck at night, you should probably just start randomly firing your shotgun into the dark, like Yosemite Sam or something.  When the cops show up, just tell them a real estate blog told you to do it.  I'm sure that'll go over really well.

6633 31st Street NW 
5 Bedrooms, 3.5 Baths


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