The home's rear façade prior to the renovation.
The home's rear façade prior to the renovation.
Arches and ornamental brick on the home’s front façade were preserved during the renovation.
The newly configured kitchen features painted cabinets designed by Hill and built by Seven Trees Woodworking in New Holland, Pennsylvania, as well as a white quartz waterfall island.
An exposed-brick wall was painted white while new clear-glass doors admit light into the once dark and gloomy vestibule.
Built-in bookcases, pilasters, an elaborate mantel and a new tile surround salvaged from a Baltimore row house upgraded the living room while restoring its historic charm.
The living room and front vestibule before the renovation.
The Victorian-era fireplace surround and period-appropriate mantel, ceiling beams and moldings reintroduce elements removed by previous owners.
The main staircase, previously enclosed by drywall, is now open and airy.
In the revamped primary bedroom, a new tile fireplace surround adds a dash of color.
The third-level lounge includes a vaulted ceiling, a white-painted, exposed-brick wall and glass doors opening to a balcony with space for dining and sunbathing.
Glass doors, a new layer of brick and stone steps connect the reconfigured kitchen with the rear garden in a Shaw row house remodeled by architect Josh Hill. The redesign corrected previous renovations of the home, originally built in 1889.
Grant Bermann and Ryan Velandria McCarthy fell in love with the Italianate brick façade of the 1889 Shaw row house when they purchased the property in 2015, but were less impressed with the interior. “The house had been renovated a few times in an incoherent way and its character had been stripped away during these piecemeal projects,” says McCarthy. “We had to use our imagination to visualize what it might be like.”
The couple, both attorneys, hired Josh Hill, a principal with Hill and Hurtt Architects, to realize their goals, which included introducing period-appropriate details and charm, increasing natural light and modernizing the layout with a more sensible placement of the bathrooms and kitchen.
“Ryan and Grant didn’t really nest in their new home because they knew they were going to remodel it,” Hill relates. “The interior was so disappointing compared to the exterior. The living and dining rooms had been combined into one big space, the moldings had been replaced with drywall and the fireplace tiles had been removed.”
Phase one of the renovation started with a reconfiguration of the first floor. “The kitchen had an awkward layout with a powder room in the middle so when you opened the oven door it banged into the powder room door,” recalls Bermann. “Josh moved the powder room and demolished a back staircase to increase the size of the kitchen without needing to build out and lose any garden space.”
The back elevation had been neglected in the home’s previous iterations, so Hill designed a new rear façade with a second layer of brick, stone steps and floor-to-ceiling glass doors that re-center the kitchen and connect it to the garden. “We don’t want the back and front of the house to match,” he explains, “but we do want both entrances to feel important.”
To add charm to the open dining and living rooms, each of which has a fireplace, Hill installed Victorian-era fireplace surrounds and mantels. He layered in crown moldings, ceiling beams and pilasters to define the spaces. “The fireplaces, built-in bookcases and cabinets are the focal point for this level, and we were even able to find a mantel with a pair of lion’s paws at the base,” he notes.
In the kitchen, the goal was to marry modern style with the home’s Victorian details. Hill accomplished this by extending white oak flooring throughout the main level, adding simplified moldings that echo those in the living and dining rooms and choosing simple, white-painted, flat-panel cabinets and a white quartz waterfall island.
Few original architectural elements remain in the interiors other than an elaborate newel post. “The vestibule and staircase were completely redone and opened to the rest of the floor plan,” says McCarthy. “The staircase had a partially exposed brick wall, and we were able to completely expose the brick and paint it white.”
A large skylight above the staircase on the third floor bathes the stairwell in natural light. While the front windows couldn’t be altered because of historic preservation requirements, new larger windows across the back of the house are double-hung to relate to the originals.
The plan reconfigured the second floor, where the two bedrooms that once shared a bath were allotted their own en-suite, marble-clad bathrooms. “The primary bedroom had a large 1980s Jacuzzi in the corner that we took out,” Bermann observes. “The rooms are more rationally proportioned now, with the primary bedroom centered around the fireplace.”
A new staircase boasting visibility to the first level leads to the third floor, replacing what McCarthy calls a “tunnel-like” stair. “My favorite room is the third-floor lounge, which has a slanted ceiling that reaches about 15 feet tall at the highest point,” says Bermann. “The first floor is where we entertain, but the top floor is where we enjoy day-to-day life, especially with the balcony overlooking the street.” The third floor also houses closets and a full bath.
The couple’s happiest memory in the house is their wedding day in 2018, when only the first floor had been renovated. “We were married under the chandelier in front of the fireplace by Jim Obergefell, a dear friend who was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that allowed same-sex marriages,” says McCarthy. “It was understated but beautiful, with a small reception in the new kitchen and dining area.”
Architecture: Joshua O. Hill, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB, Hill and Hurtt Architects, Washington, DC. Contractor: Cem Sevim, Buffalo Company LLC, Washington, DC.
DRAWING BOARD: Q&A with architect Joshua Hill
How do you reconcile modern tastes with historical vernacular?
It’s always a challenge to recall an earlier era while not wholly replicating it. No one wants an 1890s kitchen, and everyone wants more natural light and flow. Reconfiguring the floor plan while keeping or adding details can provide the right results.
How do you decide what to restore and what to replace in an older home?
It can be hard to take away something such as a beautiful oak staircase that’s in the wrong spot, but we have confidence that what we put back will be better. We try to preserve as much as we can in every home. In this house, most of the original details were taken away in earlier renovations.
What are common renovation mistakes to avoid?
Renovating can be an emotional ride, so you need to work with people you trust and like. It’s important to hire the right builder and design professionals who will work as a team. The other mistake people often make is being unrealistic about their budget and then needing to cut corners. You need to understand the costs from the beginning to make the right choices.