Renovations allow professionals and homeowners to exhibit personal touches.
By Jennifer Shapira
Imagine a kitchen where there is a place for everything, and everything IS in its place. Now imagine that’s your kitchen. While that sinks in, consider how one couple achieved that kitchen and, ultimately, a whole new house.
With a little hard work, elbow grease and some thoughtful discussions with a simpatico contractor, an Annandale pair put their stamp on a custom-built kitchen and brought new life throughout the rest of the house.
Some 30 years and a couple of grown kids later, they were all too familiar with their house’s limitations. Now empty-nesters, they knew it was time for a change. They just weren’t sure how—or where—to get started.
The kitchen was job one, says David Foster, president of Lorton-based Foster Remodeling. “They toyed with moving and knocking down the house and building something new, but really there were a lot of things they liked about it,” says Foster. “They had a two-acre lot, they really liked their property, and the house had a lot of memories with it. And they didn’t really want to start all over again.”
The open-and-shut case was made to get started updating, personalizing and making every inch of their 1950s-era home more livable.
Indoor renovations are on trend today for two main reasons: If smartly engineered, they improve a homeowner’s quality of life and increase resale value, when and if it becomes time to sell.
With an eye toward the future, homeowners can work toward a return on their investments. Even if you don’t plan to sell your home for decades, there can be small and large enhancements to consider.
Experts say that more homeowners are choosing to stay in their homes and add on to their current structures rather buy a new house. The most frequent improvements that people make are to kitchens and master baths, she says. However, over the last few years many homeowners feel that they shouldn’t move out of their existing homes. And that’s a direct effect of the state of economy, says McLean-based interior designer Shanon Munn.
“People want to do something, but they want to do something that improves their life immediately in the home that they’re in,” she says.
But even though “renovation” may seem like a big word, small changes can make all the difference in quality of life. They can be simple fixes like a new coat of paint to hanging some artful orbs above a new island, to something more daring and expensive like a whole-house remodel.
“The last couple kitchens that I’ve worked [on] have been kind of light renovations because people want to live in their house while they’re doing it,” says Munn. That means looking to upgrade to a new countertop, backsplash or hardware.
“You can completely change the look of your kitchen by putting in a new backsplash or adding new cabinet knobs or pulls,” she says. Consider a new sink. If you can update some of the elements and tolerate some of the others, those are small renovations that can still make a dramatic impact.
“Thinking about function and how you live in the space helps dictate the solution,” says Jerry Levine, president of the Levine Group and 2011 president of the Washington, D.C. chapter of National Association of Remodeling Institute (NARI).
“In the first half of the 20th century—even into the ‘70s—homes were much more compartmentalized,” says Levine. There were designated activities for designated spaces, and, depending on the activity, you moved from room to room. People don’t live like that anymore. “In the remodeling world, we’re trying to change older houses to fit the more modern lifestyle,” remarks Levine.
When it comes to return on investment, there are a couple of things to factor in if you’re thinking about a remodel. It’s not just about garnering the best returns; it’s about taking a close look at what makes sense for you and your family.
Home improvements can be classified in one of two ways, though they have been known to comingle, says Levine. The first is the “have-to-do” project. That is: What does the house need right now? That’s the repair or upgrade you know you need to take on.
The second type of project is the “want-to-do” project, and those are of the ilk that involves some discussion among family members about how to improve life in the home. The key question there, says Levine, involves how long you and your family intend to stay in that home.
Kitchens, bathrooms and additional social spaces are the areas in a home that typically boast the biggest returns on investment. Homeowners want to be able to interact with friends and family while performing other tasks, he says. A kitchen suits that definition perfectly. Same with a finished basement.
Foster transformed the Rogers’ work-around kitchen into something significantly larger and much more workable. A well-placed arched window overlooks the wooded backyard, professional-grade appliances were installed, and a dishwasher and Sub-Zero refrigerator are integrated into the Shaker-style cherry cabinetry. A granite-topped island invites conversation and food preparation at family gatherings. A strategically placed pot filler sits above the burners and cooktop in a recessed tile backsplash. Foster added tall pantries perfect for storage, adding roll-out shelves for convenient ease of use.
Foster talked with the Rogers about their specific needs and, before long, Mrs. Rogers had a cabinet that housed her dining room table’s leaves. She now has easy access to those extensions. (No more toting around the house to carry them to and fro.) They were placed in their own cubbyhole, now close at hand and well-situated.
As Foster talked with the Rogers about their interests, he began to see their ideas take shape. It became apparent that they had a pretty substantial wish list that extended far beyond the kitchen. Foster guided them through an extensive whole-house remodel.
Beyond the house’s original footprint, he built an arts and crafts studio for the wife’s painting and stained glass projects reachable by a breezeway, built out their master suite and, for all-out comfort, the bathroom is toasty with heated tile floors and a post-shower body dryer that Foster located overseas. Foster even incorporated one of the wife’s stained glass pieces to serve as an accent window in the master bath. The living room and dining room were opened up for maximum flow, and hardwood floors were installed throughout.
Perhaps the most important whole-house convenience, as their neighbors can attest, is the addition of a generator. So even if they lose power, and they certainly have thanks to recent winter and summer storms, everything from the refrigerator to the media room remains powered up. Neighbors are welcome to charge their cell phones and tune into the news.
Most important, the home suits their needs as they grow older, says Foster, and it’s now maxed out for convenience. Window treatments are remote-controlled with the tap of a finger. The wife’s paintings are exhibited throughout the house, and better viewed thanks to the gallery feel of the newly installed track lighting. The old wood fireplace in its original red brick surround was replaced with a dramatic stone gas version; and themantle above, is a salvaged beam from the house’s demolition.
The newly built-out lower level includes the media room, tricked out with the requisite large-screen TV, a home office and a continuation of the kitchen’s cherry cabinetry. Foster translated their needs and wants into a design that maximizes their usable space.
Add Some Sparkle
Don’t underestimate the impact that lighting can have in a renovation, says Susan Nottoli, showroom manager at Dulles Electric in Sterling. In kitchens and baths, people are still putting in recessed lights, she says, but she adds that today’s options are of higher quality.
Additionally, “there are wonderful finishes now like brushed nickel and bronzes,” she says, which allow designers and homeowners a welcome opportunity to add punch and personality to previously institutional-type fixtures. She says those rooms are also hotspots for suspending pendants of all shapes and sizes.
Choose from art glass for a little splash of color, or look to pick up the color theme in kitchen backsplashes or countertops, she suggests.
Nottoli has seen a surge of interest in LED lights over traditional incandescent bulbs because they produce less heat and energy but radiate the same amount of light. LED lights are more desirable today because they are dimmable and have less of a blue tinge, casting a much warmer glow than they did just a few years ago.
There are other ways to express architectural detail when it comes to lighting. Also in vogue are tray ceilings, where soft light bounces off the crown molding, or above or below the cabinetry. For a pretty nightlight effect, Nottoli says, consider illuminating glass-front cabinets, which offers the homeowner a chance to showcase favorite dishes or vase.
Small Spaces, Big Impact
Washington, D.C.-based interior designer Erica Riggio believes that everyone has the right to feel comfortable in his or her space, no matter its size, no matter its price level—whether rented or owned. To Riggio, everyone is entitled to reside in a state of comfort and high design.
From her work on beautifying a powder room to that of a rented two-bedroom bachelor pad in Chinatown, she says, without having to spend a lot of money, “there are lots of ways that you can feel good in your space.”
With permission to paint the walls in the Chinatown apartment, she created a hip-urban-retro look in chartreuse and gray tones. She rocked her own handmade wall art with 45s she scored at the Salvation Army that suited the roommates perfectly. For that project she shopped consignment and IKEA. And her mini-renovation was a success.
“We met their budget; we made it work,” Riggio says. “We went where we can find really great deals—some of it used, some of it not.”
It was a quick-and-dirty job, says Riggio, who completed that project in record time and with a low budget. But of the finished product, she says the bachelors “were really happy!”
It’s true that home improvements can consist of large-scale additions, but there are also tiny, smart design moves that arise from a thoughtful contractor or designer who really understands your needs, and works to add just a little more comfort into your life, often in ways so tiny and unexpected, yet so welcomed, you have no idea how you lived without them.
And if you can get more bang for your buck, so much the better. In some cases, you may have no intention of selling, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live like it.
Q&A With Ted Rogers
Annandale homeowner of whole-house remodel by David Foster, Foster Remodeling:
How long have you lived in your home?
“We purchased the home in 1983 and have lived there ever since; 28 years.”
At first you were only interested in a minor kitchen remodel. How did you go from that to a whole-house renovation?
“[We] wanted a nice kitchen, and the existing home did not provide the requisite layout. Additionally, the heating and cooling system was from the original design and needed to be upgraded to the modern more efficient units. We had looked at selling and purchasing a more modern home; however, of all the homes we viewed (and we looked at quite a number throughout the region) were poorly built and possessed the cheapest fixtures. That, and poor insulation in the existing house, made the whole-house renovation the logical choice.”
You did a media room, a new fireplace, master suite, new kitchen and an arts and crafts studio. What is your favorite new thing about the house?
“I am quite pleased with everything about the house, and it would be hard to select any one thing. Surprisingly, it is the little things that we enjoy: the filtered hot and cold water dispenser in the kitchen sink, the heated master bathroom floor and the wheelchair-accessible shower. On a larger scale, it is the great room that we created by removing all walls from the existing living room area.”
What are your wife’s favorite new features?
“She shares my thoughts; however, as an artist, she had track lighting mounted to highlight her many paintings that are hung throughout the home. Wanda had David install DC power available to the windows, which enabled her to have remote-controlled electric curtain window treatments.”
How do you like using the generator? More to the point, how do your neighbors feel about it?
“The generator is definitely a convenience; however, with the heating and cooling depending heavily on electricity, having a generator powered by natural gas was a nobrainer. On David’s recommendation we selected the largest air-cooled unit available at the time, and we are not sorry. A few months ago we lost power for two days. We welcomed the neighbors to charge their cell phones and watch the nightly news on TV. So I would say the neighbors are happy to have it available.”
Top Improvements for Home Renovations
If you’re interested in making renovations to your home, experts say these are the main areas to consider for best resale value:
Modern, Open (Bright) Kitchen: These days, it is important to have a functional yet modern kitchen (granite and composite stone countertops, adding islands). Kitchen redos include state-of-the-art, well-functioning, sometimes professional-grade stainless steel or custom integrated appliances. Lighting options have switched to elegant and artistic pendants, and essential task lighting. Hang a pendant with a splash of color that picks up your backsplash, says Susan Nottoli, showroom manager at Dulles Electric.
Finished Basement: From media rooms to rec rooms, the flexible use of a finished basement is essential to a home’s increase in value. That’s something people do to give themselves more living space, but add value to their home when the market does turn arond and they can sell,” says Amanda Welch, interior designer at McLean-based Ambi Design Studio.
In-law suites: Many homeowners would rather have their parents move in with them than into assisted living. Build-outs that combine a couple of bedrooms in a home to creating entire apartments for elderly family members is something David Foster has seen a lot of over the past few years. Doorways are widened, thresholds are rollover-able, grab rails are added, appliances are placed at comfort height; all of these changes are examples of the need to make the aging population more comfortable.
Powder rooms: Don’t underestimate the purpose this little room serves. Aside from the kitchen, it’s one of the most used and most frequented guest spaces in the home. The easiest and quickest fix is to punch it up with a new coat of paint, suggests Bob Bell, a specialist in contractor services at Home Depot in Reston. Hang a new mirror, dress it up with a new vanity, or put in a new light fixture. Showcase pieces of a favorite photo collection. Express yourself. This is a little room can reflect your personality. Change it as you see fit.
Artistic use of tiles: Shanon Munn, owner of Ambi Design Studio, says as the options continue to grow in ceramics and porcelains and decorative tiles, there’s a trend toward the extremes in size choices that she is placing in kitchens and baths. “People are either going with the mosaic or the really large 18 by 24 tiles,” she says. Homeowners are choosing cool recycled glass or patterned ceramics to achieve a custom look. And in the renovation of a master bath suite, warming tile floors are practically a must-have.
Strategies for finding excellent contractors
If you’re looking to remodel, or even just thinking about it, there are certain things to look for in prospective contractors. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) offers some suggestions.
How long have you been in business? Or how many projects like mine have you completed?
Ask for references, but be cautious that there’s more to it than that. Find out who they’ve worked with, and what they thought of the results.
Believe it or not, good communication is the most important skill a contractor or a contractor group can have, says McLean-based interior designer Shanon Munn. Sure, their craftsmanship should be admirable, and it should fit your style and needs, but if the contractor has trouble returning calls or isn’t able to produce cost estimates in a timely manner, those are immediate red flags.
“No project goes from start to finish without some kind of hiccup,” says Jerry Levine, NARI’s 2011 D.C. chapter president. He advises asking contractors to describe a time when something went wrong.
Remodelers and contractors:
Blue Moon Construction
23421 Spice Bush Terrace, Ashburn; 888-209-8352
Bowers Design Build
6715 Whittier Ave., McLean; 703-506-0845
Case Design/Remodeling Inc.
701 Park Ave., Falls Church; 703-241-2980
Dee David & Company
7906 Sycamore Drive, Falls Church; 703-560-6601
7211-H Telegraph Square Drive, Lorton; 703-550-1371
Michael Nash Design, Build & Home
8630-A Lee Highway, Fairfax; 703-641-9800
NVS Kitchen & Bath
8982 Hornbaker Road, Manassas; 703-378-2600
800 W. Broad St., Falls Church; 571-765-4450
400 N. Washington St., Falls Church; 703-534-2500
Sun Design Remodeling Specialists Inc.
5795-B Burke Centre Parkway, Burke; 703-425-5588
The Levine Group Architects and Builders
2323-B Stewart Ave., Silver Spring; 703-525-4646
Tradition Homes, LLC
1497 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 100, McLean; 703-987-3444
808 N. Danville St., Arlington; 888-814-8748
Kleppinger Design Group
2809-A Merrilee Drive, Fairfax; 703-208-2208
Lauren Leiss Interiors The Pure Style LLC
Lee Design & Interiors
1020 King St., Alexandria; 703-683-7013
Rachel James Interiors
8300 Boone Blvd., Suite 500, Vienna; 703-848-9255
Shanon Munn, ASID, Principal
Amanda Welch, Allied ASID
Ambi Design Studio Inc., McLean; 703-597-8401
Redefined Design LLC; 703-851-2412
Susan Nelson Interiors
1104 Jonquil Circle, Great Falls; 703-244-1601
U Design for the Home
4735 Jefferson Davis Highway, Fredericksburg; 540-710-2390
Dominion Electric Supply Co.
14605 Lee-Jackson Highway, Chantilly; 703-631-8300
5053 Lee Highway, Arlington; 703-536-4400
33 Fairfax St. SE, Leesburg; 703-777-1555
7471 Mason King Court, Manassas; 571-921-1050
22570 Shaw Road, Suite 150, Sterling; 703-450-5700
1362 Chain Bridge Road, McLean; 703-827-0090
Goodwill (Area Locations)
22405 Enterprise St., Sterling; 703-444-5186
2421-A Centreville Road, Herndon; 571-346-1046
9960 Main St., Fairfax; 703-349-1806
2936 Annandale Road, Falls Church; 703-663-2762
Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia
716 S. Glebe Road, Arlington; 703-521-9890
7770 Richmond Highway, Alexandria; 703-360-6700
4262 Entre Court, Chantilly; 703-953-3747
Red Barn Mercantile
113 S. Columbus St., Alexandria; 703-838-0355
Salvation Army (Area Locations)
2421-A6 Centreville Road, Herndon; 703-713-6691
10 C Cardinal Park Drive, Leesburg; 703-771-3371
4915 Ox Road, Fairfax; 703-385-8700
11201 Balls Ford Road, Manassas; 703-686-4607
105 S. King St., Leesburg; 703-443-0058
The Old Lucketts Store
42350 Lucketts Road, Leesburg; 703-779-0268
116 King St., Alexandria; 703-4662
European Country Living
1006 King St., Alexandria; 703-778-4172
Green Front Furniture
10154 Harry J. Parrish Blvd., Manassas; 703-396-8560
Le Village Marche
2800 S Randolph St., Suite 110-A, Arlington; 703-379-4444
125 Mill St., Suite 4, Occoquan; 703-490-2244
Pear Tree Cottage
130 Maple Ave. E, Vienna; 703-938-1331
The Keeping Room
8405 Richmond Highway, Suite G, Alexandria; 703-360-6399
The Nest Egg
11940 Grand Commons Ave., Fairfax; 703-988-0944
11409 Sunset Hills Road, Reston; 703-689-3404
111 Church St. NW, Suite 201, Vienna; 703-242-1790
Willow Street Decor
203 Washington St., Occoquan; 703-497-2070
203 S. Union St., Alexandria; 703-299-6200
7505-P Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; 703-714-0161
Barrett Tile Co.
9203-I Enterprise Court, Manassas Park; 703-369-4114
Collins Tile and Stone
40405 Lenah Run Circle, Aldie; 703-965-2090
8455-B Tyco Road, Vienna; 703-734-8211
Enterprise Bath and Tile
4094 Majestic Lane, Suite 236, Fairfax; 703-961-1044
Fairfax Marble and Granite
13913 Willard Road, Chantilly; 703-378-1080
2720 Dorr Ave., Fairfax; 703-204-2222
929 W. Broad St., Falls Church; 703-237-8400
McLean Tile & Marble
6827 Tennyson Drive, McLean; 703-734-7040
Northern Virginia Tile Company