April 13, 2022
Back in the 80s when I was young, I’d pour over the floorplans in Southern Living for hours, captivated and studying them intently and imagining the interiors. I didn’t study architecture or design in college, but afterward I worked for large and small homebuilders in marketing roles, often making design and selection choices for spec and model homes. Once again, I had floorplans in my everyday world. I even got certified in new home lifestyle merchandising by the National Association of Home Builders.
At the time I lived in the Fan district of Richmond, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Living among quaint streets lined with late 19th and early 20th century homes was a great contrast to the new ones I worked to build in other areas of town. When the Great Recession hit, I got laid off, started freelancing and re-evaluated a lot.
During that time I was fortunate to be able to take a couple of graduate school classes in architectural history and the decorative arts to further explore my interest in older homes. It was such a fulfilling experience, and I even blogged about it. I studied the design and history of dwellings and places in the region, researched historic artifacts (a highlight being a private appointment at the Library of Congress’ cold storage!), and even presented my research at a symposium at the Virginia Historical Society. I didn’t know where all of it would take me, but I’m so grateful I was able to learn about these subjects in a university setting and to have my research actually produce some important findings.
I thought I would never leave the Fan and pictured raising a family in this historic, urban setting. But then I met my husband, and he had a little cottage nestled in the woods on the other side of the river. It was built probably in the 90s, with vaulted ceilings and skylights. I began to appreciate the quiet and privacy of those woods and some of the advantages of the location and larger lot size (like play space for our daughter).
The Fan became a place to visit for weekend excursions, and in 2014 we found a mid-century ranch with a full walk-out basement on a quiet street. When we first toured it, we were sold by the view from the back deck, which definitely had a similar “nestled in the woods” vibe. It’s a very tranquil setting, plus it’s a short walk to the river.
From the very beginning, I saw a lot of potential here and we have been slowly improving our home with projects large and small. Right away we did a pretty major DIY overhaul of the kitchen. We still have the original cabinet frames but painted everything and installed new doors. We replaced the counters, added a new island and replace the floors. In 2016, a terrible storm gave us a new roof, awesome skylight in the kitchen, new floors again (upstairs and down), and a few other improvements.
Some of the original features have remained, like the tiny footprint of our master bathroom and closets. I share closet space with my nearly five-year-old, as well as her bathroom space in the hall, which is much larger than our master. Our storage areas are constantly overflowing (perhaps I will post on the struggle for minimalism one day!).
I have probably watched more hours of HGTV than should be legal, so since day one I have envisioned an expansion of the master suite with an addition and a bigger kitchen renovation. Eight years later, we are finally doing it!
I have thought and thought and thought about different configurations for this expansion. Last year we found a contractor to partner with us on this journey. Having been through a pretty significant restoration after the storm, we know this project will present challenges, and – though we just officially broke ground yesterday – we’ve already had a number of them.
Some learnings so far:
I have a vision for this project, and I’m so excited to document it. I have no idea what twists and turns will come our way (hopefully few!), but I welcome you all along for the ride, or to share in it if this is your scenario, too!