From the Archives: A Capitol Hill Renovation Story

by Ambreen Ali

About a year ago, UrbanTurf contributor Ambreen Ali did an article on a young couple who decided to buy the Capitol Hill row house where they had been renting a unit, and renovate the property. We have re-published the article below. The renovation is still ongoing, and you can read the latest update here.

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Originally published in November 2009.

Nearly two years into the renovation of her DC row house, Benny has had many headaches but few regrets. The health care researcher, who prefers not to use her real name, bought the 1901 row house in Capitol Hill with her husband in December 2007. They had been renting part of the three-story, three-bedroom property when their landlords put it up for sale, and they jumped at the chance to buy.

“It seemed beneficial at the price point to buy the house as is and make it ours,” says Benny, who declined to give the sales price, but said that similar homes in the area are going for between $600,000 and $750,000.

Though the 1,800 square-foot house was gutted in 1992, Benny wanted to give the interior a modern upgrade. Her wish list, which she guessed would take a year to complete, included redoing the bathrooms and kitchen, putting in new floors, painting the whole house (exterior and interior), replacing the fireplace, and adding a deck and fence to the backyard.

“When I was growing up, my parents built two of the homes that we lived in,” she said. “I grew up with the idea of picking out things and making your home the way you want to make it.”

Benny regularly scours home design magazines and watches “lots of HGTV” to get renovation and redesign ideas. Her proudest upgrade at this point is the backyard. She had brick planters removed and turned the garden into a lawn, and by moving the outside stairs, she made space for a patio and sitting area.

“The difference that the yard made was extraordinary,” she said, noting that it’s been a great space to entertain on warmer days.

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Backyard in Progress
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The Finished Product

But not all the work has gone smoothly. Replacing the stairs was the first task she contracted out, and not only did she and her husband have to leave the house during the work, but the contractors left construction debris scattered about.

“It was the first contract I worked with. I was not prepared to handle it at the time,” Benny admits. “I learned from that experience to be clear on how you like things done and to mention, ‘Please don’t spray construction debris all over the inside of my home.’”

Here are few things that Benny thinks aspiring renovators should keep in mind:

  • Doing things yourself can really help cut costs: “Painting a room is pretty easy. In the kitchen, you can probably take down cabinets and counter tops by yourself.”
  • Leave plumbing and electrical work to the professionals.
  • Be clear with contractors. Lay out exactly how you want the renovations done, and be as specific as possible. It is also important to not pay for the entire project up front: “You only want to give [contractors] a certain percentage at the beginning of the job and the remaining over the period of time that the work is being done. That way, you feel you have as much control over the job as they do.”

Benny has a number of major projects on the horizon including a lot of painting, renovating the upstairs bathrooms, and rebuilding the deck. Benny realizes that she may never quite be done personalizing her home, but that is okay with her.

“I painted and finished the downstairs bathroom two years ago. I definitely would like to paint it a different color now. It’ll probably never end.”

See other articles related to: editors choice

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/making_my_home_my_own_a_renovation_story/1467

7 Comments

  1. Jordan Styloglou said at 1:16 pm on Monday November 2, 2009:

    Hi, I just recently completed a Kitchen, Bath, Living Room renovation of my Adams Morgan Coop and spent almost a year doing so.  Having learned a ton, I’m now interested in doing something similar with a (Capital Hill)row house.  Is there any way you can post more details, information, pictures or the like around this project or on a separate Urban Turf DC section?  I’d bet there’s quite a few readers out there that would be interested in the topic and learning…

    Thank you!
    Jordan

  1. Benny said at 1:34 pm on Monday November 2, 2009:

    Hey Jordan!

    I’m glad you’re interested in my rowhouse! You can check out all the action at my blog:

    DCRowhouse.blogspot.com

    It shows more of the kitchen and the other projects I’m working on.

  1. Martha said at 3:28 pm on Monday November 2, 2009:

    Great piece and great renovation. I’d like to see a follow-up on this piece in a couple months.

  1. steve the plumber said at 6:11 am on Tuesday November 3, 2009:

    Making My Home My Own: A Capitol Hill Renovation Story

    Thanks for sharing

  1. Yvonne said at 3:02 pm on Tuesday November 3, 2009:

    Thanks for sharing your story

  1. jenny said at 10:55 am on Wednesday November 4, 2009:

    This is a fabulous story and I can not believe the improvements to the backyard-amazing! That table setting looks beautiful too!

  1. Rochester Painters said at 11:38 pm on Wednesday November 4, 2009:

    Wonderful story! I love seeing old homes brought back to life, especially when the homeowners do it themselves. It makes the place that much more special. Great job on this project!

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