By Cassandra Sturos
Looking for some tips on how to fix up your homestead? Check out these Northern Virginia bloggers, who are building a strong following with their savvy DIY skills.
These married home innovators turned blogging sensations invite you into their house (in Virginia) and their young love, which handily enough is the title of their blog: Younghouselove.
Check out their savvy home decorating tips and tutorials, along with loads of other fun ideas on painting, crafts, DIY projects, money-saving tips and more. This blog has so much to offer for the DIY-er that it could make your head spin, but in the good overwhelming way.
Start by taking the house tours of all three homes that the couple has now lived in, all the way up to their current home and check out the before and after pictures. Then to feel inspired, start in on the projects section (which is ample) or take a peek at how the couple used their knack for craftiness on their wedding day. All the home decorating excitement offered in this blog will have you itching to put down the remote control, find a paint brush and hot-glue gun and get artsy. http://www.younghouselove.com/
Pretty Handy Girl
Brittany Bailey, who grew up in Northern Virginia, A.K.A the Pretty Handy Girl is pretty modest, because she is more than pretty handy, she is downright impressive.
Besides taking on home repair, electrical, lighting and plumbing projects, Brittany went into labor with her second son while trying to fix a bathtub at eight and a half months pregnant! Now that’s a can-do spirit!
But don’t be put off by all the handiness, because Brittany gives great step-by-step instructions on all her home projects and how to build up your tool kit. She even owns power tools (and has tutorials on how to use them) but encourages you to start out basic and embrace becoming handy. And there’s no better way than by cruising her sight for ideas from holiday creations to installing a toilet seat. http://www.prettyhandygirl.com/
Interior designer Holly Holden has a knack for the classics. A Richmond native, Holden recently authored The Pretty and Proper Living Room, a design book which displays the elegance of colonial decor at home.
Holden, whose work has been featured on HGTV, lays out in meticulous detail every facet and function of designs emblematic of Virginia’s colonial heritage.
With a wealth of colorful photographs and vivid descriptions, The Pretty and Proper Living Room is a must for fans of the Colonial aesthetic. You can purchase the book on Holden’s website or on Amazon. -Carten Cordell
Autumnal Tones Are Steeped in Tradition
By Jennifer Shapira
Fall. The word itself is synonymous with color. The last of summer’s blooms and scents give way to a backdrop of foliage in vibrant reds, oranges and yellows.
“There’s just something about fall,” says Renatta Holt, a designer at Merrifield Garden Center. “Even if, typically, you don’t like oranges and yellows in your garden, when it gets to be September and October, people are just longing for fall colors.”
People by their very nature tend to be seasonal, says Sandra Hambly, principal interior decorator at Herndon-based Décor and You DC. People won’t necessarily decorate in anticipation of a season, but they are often inclined, she says. “We certainly have clients that are more attuned to sort of be in the fall or winter color, and then we do have some clients who like change it up.”
There is a small percentage of her “client base who will want to do a room in neutrals, for example, and they will want a spring rug and a fall rug, and then coordinating spring or fall accessories,” she says. The idea: Keep the base of the room the same, but add some seasonal punch.
The “in” and trendy [paint] color now is all about gray,” says Michael Sapienza, regional director of Decorating Den, adding the popular color is a direct correlation from the runway to interior design.
“Gray, gray, gray is what we’ve been saying all year,” he says. “Gray with accents of citron yellow, navy blue, emerald green. It’s everywhere. You see it in the clothes, you see it at Crate and Barrel. You see it on the furniture in all the lines that we do. You see it even in carpets now. It’s crazy.”
Sapienza is a fan of a number of Benjamin Moore grays: the lighter hued Collingwood OC-28, Old Prairie OC-42, Gray Owl OC-52 and “a little deeper” Stonington HC-170 and Edgecomb HC-173. “I have used and loved them all,” he says, adding they work “great with dark wood furniture and crisp white woodwork.”
Hambly agrees. “Pewters, charcoals and grays have been hot this past year,” but based on the vibrant color splashes she saw at the High Point Market this past spring, she says she’s very happy to see a resurgence of color. She recalls a recent makeover of an elegant library-slash-cocktail sitting room in Vienna in which she paired cool pewter tones with her take on Pantone’s sunny Lemon Zest 13-0756, one of its selected spring 2013 colors. The high-pile rug beckons bare feet; the two chairs invite unwinding—drink in one hand, book in the other.
“There are a lot of economists who say that people have started using gray, not to really be fresh, but because that’s the mood of the country,” Hambly half-jokes. “I think some of that’s true. And what’s really fascinating is that this year it was so evident that the colors were so much more vibrant than they’d ever been—we definitely saw those sorts of Pantone colors—and supposedly that’s because we’re feeling more optimistic. So now everybody wants a pop of color, in their clothing or in their homes,” she says. “It’s fascinating. We were really happy to see bright colors.”
Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, says rich accent colors like the gemstone-hued emerald, Pantone’s 2013 color of the year, can “add a luxurious feel to any room.” But she says, the “unexpected pop of color,” doesn’t have to come from paint.
“We are already seeing many (emerald) home accessory colors, particularly in glass and ceramics, lamps, but there are some wonderful examples in home furnishings such as chairs, pillows, bed and dining linens, tabletop and housewares,” she says.
For the more daring: Eiseman suggests, “an accent wall can be a beautiful statement.” Another idea for interpreting the year’s most on-trend hue: “turning a small powder room into a jewel box with emerald paint on the walls.”
But for those who are color-shy, and can’t envision painting a room or accent wall, there are more casual ways to introduce bolder palette choices. Consider painting a stair runner or the floor of a room, even the mantel for a quick update to a fireplace. For the DIY-er, minimal cost and effort is all there is to lose.
“A simple upgrade is to paint small pieces of furniture,” says Sue Kim, color strategist at Valspar. “Use bright colors like Valspar Iris Moon 4004-9C and Valspar Mustard Glaze 3006-3A on chairs or side tables to add pops of color. These smaller pieces allow for some change without being too overpowering.”
Hambly is also a big of fan of wallpaper, so much so, she says, “we try to work it into every space. And there are some real easy places where we think it makes a major impact.”
Her favorite spot for papering? “We love to put it on ceilings, because it’s kind of the fifth wall—or the sixth, if you do the floor—and so for people who might be a little nervous about putting it on four walls, we suggest the ceiling,” in bedrooms, foyers and powder rooms. Add a chandelier, she says, and “when the light hits it—it’s fantastic.”
Today’s wallpapers have really exploded into gorgeous textures and patterns. Hambly says the 1980s saw unadventurous mini-prints, but today’s makers are turning out vibrant graphic, geometric designs. “We love to put them in shadow boxes and then hang artwork or mirrors on top of that because that’s just a really great textural element,” she says.
Quick Change Artistry
While most experts would agree that the average homeowner doesn’t regularly change out paint color or wallpaper with the seasons, in an entryway or powder room, for example, they say people like to seasonalize living spaces by adding clever, colorful touches.
Perhaps it’s a back-to-school-inspired lampshade to freshen up a reading nook, or a couple of throw pillows that provide some pep to an otherwise neutral sofa.
The trick, experts say, is to rotate often. And if you don’t break the bank on these accessories, you can do so a few times a year.
An important tip: Pare down before embellishing. That’s how guests really take notice of the changes in a home, says Sapienza. Remove the clutter—even if it means concentrating on just one area of the home—and start anew.
One of the easiest areas of the home to seasonalize is the entryway, says Sapienza. Dressing it up with in-season flowers is a good idea, it’s cost-effective and a quick fix. But he also suggests keeping the space as clean and simple as possible. “Because then people will notice when you actually do change things,” he says.
“A lot of times, people put so much clutter in that first room of their house,” he says of the front hall area. By virtue of its location, it’s a classic dumping zone for mail, shoes, book bags—often a literal shedding of the day’s detritus.
Sapienza also suggests mounting an eye-catching mirror for instant interest. “Whether it’s oval, rectangular, etc., depending on the size of the space, a mirror can really liven up an entryway.”
Punches of Pumpkin
Deep purples are really starting to come into trend, says Alyson Skinner, co-owner/decorator of The Suite Shoppe. And while most homeowners in this area aren’t repainting their neutral blue-greens and sea glass walls, aubergine accents can provide a touch of fall.
“When you bring in the fall colors, if you have a very pale blue or green wall, that works really well,” she says. “It really pops against it and looks really nice.”
There are a number of small ways to introduce shades of fall color into the home, with minimal effort. Purchase an inexpensive pouf in a bold color to add seating and personality to a living area. A couple of throw pillows, or a throw blanket provide a bright makeover to a neutral couch.
Make a quick seasonal update to a powder room: add vibrant hand towels and coordinating decorative soaps. Place a cinnamon-scented candle in a pretty holder and a branch of autumnal leaves to a small vase. If there’s a shelf of photographs or other keepsakes, shop a local farmer’s market and add a tiny gourd or two to add a little more fall interest. In a foyer, fill a tall, clear glass vase with pinecones or acorns, then add low-maintenance branches of red or yellow twig dogwood, or snips of shrubs like iridescent purple Beautyberry or scarlet Burning Bush.
And don’t neglect the front of the home. At the front door or the porch steps, add pots of classic gold chrysanthemums or gorgeous blue asters.
There are also perennials that have rich oranges and reds colors; grassy sedges called Carex, Evergold and Toffee Twist, says Holt. “They’re great to use in arrangements or in containers by your front door because they’re basically evergreen perennials, and they’ll be around for most of the season.”
And everybody still loves that old Martha Stewart trick, says Skinner, of pumpkins stacked like snowmen. “That’s so easy to do. And if you do that, everybody walks by and says, ‘That’s so cool!’ That’s still a great way to give your front porch a sophisticated look.”
And while Pantone’s color of the year may seem more spring—even winter—but decidedly less fall, emerald is a color that designers and decorators say can transition into winter and its ubiquitous presence at holiday parties. In the home and just outside, think pine-scented evergreens, red-berried holly and festive front-door wreaths.
All that is in the not-too-distant future. But for now, the focus is on autumn.
“Fall makes us feel a certain way,” says Holt. “You get rejuvenated. It’s cooler, the air has a different smell and everybody is just clamoring for those bales of straw and chrysanthemums and pumpkins. It’s something that happens to all of us.”
Bring it on.
By Meghan Furey
Create Your Own Lights for Warm Summer Nights.
Coming from a very crafty family, I always love finding ways of keeping money in my pocket, and so with Pinterest and blog searching, I have been finding easy and fun ways of creating my own outdoor votives with items I find around the house. For those evenings when you are relaxing on porch with friends and family or warm weather events when you are setting up table arrangements, these DIY votives are simple and beautiful ways of adding a unique touch to your outdoor décor. Here are some of the surprising things you may find around the house that can actually make your life a lot brighter!
Mason jars are probably one of the most popular ways to create your own outdoor lighting. The patterns on these jars create a beautiful authentic feel to your home’s outdoor décor. One can just place candles inside the jars, but many projects involve filling them with other materials such as floating candles in water or placing them in sand or pebbles to make them more ornamental. These jars also look great when wrapped in twine or ribbon, painted or even bedazzled with glitter. One can go on and on about how you can decorate these jars, and even when they’re just plain, they add a simple and unique light to any outdoor space.
Once you have the Mason Jar lights made, there are so many ways you can arrange them too. One can simply them set on tables for dinner lighting. Many DIY bloggers have also created chandeliers or hanging lanterns like Holly did with her Mason Jars on Chez Beeper Babe. While creating a chandelier or hanging lantern may sound more complicated, both projects are a great way of spending time saving some dimes.
Tin cans are also an easy and accessible material to use to create beautiful lighting for those fun summer backyard parties or even just for your outdoor seating areas. Tin can lanterns can be a shiny decoration that glitters in the light and glows in the dark when lit. Most cans are opaque, which allows the holes punched in create beautiful prints and patterns. From birthday parties to outdoor dinner events, these votives can be a personal and unique ornament for any outdoor event. The cans can also be painted to match with other outdoor furniture or to make them even more festive décor like. .
While these luminaries look great on tables, many DIYers say that they look just as amazing hung. Decorating a backyard with strung up tin can lanterns would make an excellent source of light in any part of your outdoor space, and all without busting your wallet. Not to mention, it is an excellent summer activity for the kids to showcase their creativity to your friends and family!
Despite its narrow opening, wine bottles can be made into and are beautiful sources of light for any outdoor gathering. With their various glass hues and shapes, wine bottles can be versatile décor pieces that create a summery glow without spending more than a bottle of wine (literally).
A great wine bottle votive can also eliminate those nasty mosquitoes in your yard by creating a wine bottle tiki torch. By placing a using citronella torch fuel on a tiki wick in a wine bottle, you can make an effort in fighting against these pests while also creating a nice ambiance for your outdoor space.
With a glass cutter, you can also make a beautiful candle cover with a wine bottle . This creates a beautiful glow that can last all night long. With long-lasting light like this, you can enjoy those summer nights hours on end and the people you are spending them with. After, that is what summer is all about, right?
Experts offer tips on achieving your perfect green space.
By Jennifer Shapira
The perfect backyard is a landscape colored with four-season interest, is high on style and low on maintenance. Achieving the combination makes for an ideal garden, but even scoring some of those details is a welcome start.
Everyone wants to make their outdoor space more inviting, more in keeping with their lifestyle. Everyone loves the idea of grow-your-own vegetables, or herbs, of being able to snip off some basil or rosemary and toss it into a summer night’s dinner.
Who doesn’t want fresh-cut flowers, like whimsical, sun-loving hot-pink cosmos or cheerful black-eyed Susans cut right from your own plot? Or sitting beneath the cool shade of a sugar maple in summer that in autumn turns a bright red? Or the gorgeous springtime sculptural dogwoods that bloom white or pink in early spring?
Sound like a fantasy? Local experts can help you make that a reality. They’ll visit your property, complete a total site analysis, paint a picture catered to your wants and needs, show you what will do well in your yard (and inform you of what won’t) by helping to identify proper plantings, suggest the right hardscaping materials and add in the all-important design accents, making it all come together.
For the creative homeowner, much of this, if not all, might seem like a series of do-it-yourself projects, but to get everything just right, it’s best to seek the advice of a professional, says Tom Harley, landscape designer at Meadows Farms Nursery. Such collective experience will keep your project on schedule and free of errors, and you will no doubt be pleased with the final results.
In Northern Virginia, Harley says, most of the landscaping requests he receives are modest. He hears a similar checklist from almost every homeowner. “They want low-maintenance, color all year and inexpensive—that’s what they’re hoping for,” he says.
Sounds simple enough. But plans, materials, plants and accents can start to add up. So how to proceed on a budget?
“A lot of times people will come to me and have no clue what they’re looking for,” says Harley. “They just know they want their backyards to be beautiful. They want to soften the architecture, get plants into the ground that grow in and just keep getting better every year.”
But he, like many experts, cautions homeowners that a “no-maintenance” backyard simply doesn’t exist: One still has to water and weed.
“You’ve got to do some work to get things established. But once established, you shouldn’t have to do anything ever,” he says. “You shouldn’t have to prune, or do anything, if it’s done right. That’s the whole reason we’re there.”
Through a series of in-depth lifestyle questions: (How should your garden grow? What styles do you like?) Harley is able to dissect a homeowner’s bullet/wish list and help them to realize a vision for their outdoor space. Quite often, he says, he’ll insert himself into the design plan: If the space were his, how would he design it? What trees and plants would he choose? That’s when he says a mix of knowledge and creativity goes a long way.
“Maybe they show you a picture in a magazine,” he says. “A lot of it has to do with budget. You’ve just got to be ever-mindful of certain things: budget, drainage, engineering. Then it’s taking all those factors and coming up with a solution.”
While there are a number of common denominators, Harley, like most landscape professionals, is quick to point out that no two jobs are exactly alike. But he has noticed that more people are focused on a beautiful landscape, and that’s usually where more of the money goes.
Project Timeline (Job Process)
Tom Harley, Landscape Designer at Meadows Farms Nursery
1. Client contacts Meadows Farms.
2. Meadows assigns lead (usually within 24 hours).
3. I call client to set appointment to meet (usually day I receive the info).
4. Appointment is set with client (anywhere from the next day to two weeks out or more, depending on clients/my schedule…usually about a week).
5. Goal is to provide a plan and estimate at the time of the appointment (and to get deposit for job at that time); however, depending on the scope of the job it can take longer. Ninety percent of the appointments I go on, the plan and estimate are completed impromptu.
6. The job is entered into “the system,” a computer contract is generated which needs signature and deposit, plan all in order. (This can be done in a hour or over several days.] Then, the client has to put down their deposit, usually 50 percent down. and, it’s really up to them when they are ready to proceed.
7. Once everything is turned in and approved by management it goes to scheduling (takes about one day) and the client is called to schedule an installation date. Usually the job is scheduled to begin within two weeks of the deposit, although this can vary depending on the clients’ preferences. Most often the work is completed in one day, although depending on the scope of the work, it may take a weeks to complete.
8. The balance due for the job is collected upon completion and this is usually the last item to be taken care of. However, there may still be additional work to be done such as add on work, any plants not on site because it was not in inventory, etc.
9. Follow up of whatever is necessary is done as soon as possible, depending on the situation. There is also a lifetime warranty on all the plants we install, so even years after the job is completed we may be called on.
Some Things to Note:
Generally, it takes about a month from womb to tomb for an average job of $1,000 to $20,000. However, if you are constructing a swimming pool in Fairfax County it is going to take four months minimum from the time you submit your plans until you to get your permit. It will take even longer if you are in an RPA (within a hundred feet of stream). Larger projects like this can take months or even years; require engineered plans, impact studies, etc. Other projects, like decks that require permits, can be in your hands in one day to two weeks. It really varies, but in general the bigger the project, the longer it takes. No permits are required for plantings or most patios and walkways.
Projects any space can take.
By Jennifer Shapira
If an improved backyard is the goal, but keeping costs down is the priority, there are a number of small, inexpensive upgrades that can provide impact. Allen D. Ford, install sales coordinator at Lowe’s of Alexandria, has a number of suggestions to save some green, while incorporating style and personality to an outdoor space.
Spruce up any patio with updated furniture; shop around for a bistro set that is a step up from the traditional color palette. Cheer up the space and go bolder with a pop of rich color. Try your hand at growing your own edibles; plant your favorite herbs and vegetables and practice in small pots that sit on the steps of your deck.
You want your outdoor space to feel secluded, private, your own. Creative landscaping can be the key to providing that kind of escapist feel. Put in a simple waterfall to add interest, and in any desired look—go natural, modern, classic, formal or Asian-inspired. The bubbling sound of a water feature can do double duty: It can bring a relaxing vibe to any backyard area, while masking the hum of traffic from a nearby busy thoroughfare.
“Defining areas is a big thing,” says Ford, but it doesn’t have to be a big job.
Increase a home’s curb appeal with neatly trimmed lawn edges, and create a hardscaped zone with interlocking pavers abundantly available in sizes, shapes and colors to complement your home’s style.
Consider adding an inviting bench to a favorite garden area. “It would draw more people out into your yard to get a closer look at the landscaping you’ve done,” says Ford. “You’d see the butterflies that it draws, the hummingbirds that it draws. It’s just a way to get people out there and look around more at the yard and flowering trees.”
Another low-cost tip: Showcase a particular tree or garden feature with a low-voltage spotlight. Point the beam up or down to kick up a little DIY garden drama. For instant ambience, place a number of lights low to the ground to illuminate a stone pathway, or go even simpler with string lights threaded through a gazebo or pergola.
Harley, who lives in a forested area, has spotlights trained on favorite trees: a hemlock, oak and beech. “It makes something ordinary look extraordinary at night,” says Harley. “I really like what that does for a place.”
8 Outdoor Products
1. MoMA Store Bistro Set
Give your patio or garden area an instantly stylish update with MoMA’s zippy bistro set. Constructed from sturdy steel, the bright orange table and chairs offer an inventive take on the Parisian classic, providing the perfect outdoor perch for a morning coffee or an early evening cocktail.
Bistro Table, $246 and Bistro Chair, $99; momastore.org
2. Felco Pruners
For the more-than-casual DIY gardener, a pair of red-handled Felco professional-grade pruners are a must, says landscape architect Jennifer Horn. The strong blades make clean cuts instead of pinching or tugging branches, which can cause damage. But, she cautions, “You can get tired from using them,” so expect a workout.
Felco pruners, $49.99 and up; available at Merrifield Garden Center and amazon.com
3. Color-changing Waterproof LED Light Patio/Bistro Set
These geometric remote-controlled color-changing LED-lit patio pieces add a sci-fi flair to any outdoor area. Translucent white when powered “off,” the rechargeable pod-like mod seating provides a vibrant, warm glow at night, turning any backyard into a party zone.
Color Changing Waterproof LED Light Cube, $129.99; amazon.com
Ibiza chair, $229.99; brookstone.com
4. Garlic Juice
Everyone in this area knows mosquitoes can ruin any outdoor gathering in the summer months. Landscape architect Jennifer Horn suggests spraying organic garlic juice which plants absorb, so there’s no lasting pungent garlic smell in your garden. “If you have a large, substantial, garden space, that’s a great way to help keep mosquitoes at bay,” she says.
Mosquito Barrier, $29.95 per quart; mosquitobarrier.com and amazon.com
5. Rain Barrel
Hook up a rain barrel kit to a downspout outside your home, and let the rain fall from your roof into the airtight cistern where the water will stay until you’re ready to use it. Most barrels hold upwards of 50 gallons of water, so you’ll save some green on costs associated with watering your plants, and feel good about reusing natural resources.
Rain Wizard 50-Gallon Black Recycled Plastic Rain Barrel with Spigot, $137.80; lowes.com
If an outdoor space is at a premium or the backyard is the size of a postage stamp, add visual interest with a simple trellis that you can easily push right into the ground, says Allen D. Ford, install sales coordinator at Alexandria’s Lowe’s. Create a sort of vertical garden with a pretty climbing vine such as clematis or a perfume-scented rose.
Garden Treasures 24”W x 72”H Zen Garden Trellis, $39.97; lowes.com
Add a stylish update to any garden space with an easy-to-install spotlight. Accentuate the positive: Illuminate a favorite tree or shrub or water feature. Whether you’re hosting a gathering, or enjoying a quiet evening, the light creates ambiance and “makes something ordinary look extraordinary,” says landscape designer Tom Harley.
Portfolio Black Low-Voltage Halogen Flood Light, $18.98; lowes.com
Enjoy the fruits of your backyard labors from a bench-style perch. Choose a classic park-style bench, or a concrete version and place it squarely in your garden among the blooms, or make it a destination at the end of a stone walkway. It will serve as the perfect spot to relax and take in your surroundings—the happy results of hard work.
Garden Treasures 50-1/2-in. L Patio Bench, $118; lowes.com
Photos: Courtesy of Garlic Research Labs, Inc. (Mosquito Barrier); Courtesy of PYGAR USA Inc (Felco pruners); Courtesy of Lowe’s (trellis, bench, spotlight, rain barrel); Courtesy of Main Access (LED light patio); courtesy of MoMA Design Store (Bistro set)
By Jennifer Shapira • Photography by Robert Merhaut
In the Fairlington section of Arlington, the tree-lined streets are positively idyllic, the homogenous black-shuttered, red-brick colonials, grouped in villages, are quaint, the neighborhood is quiet. Owners walk their dogs, neighbors throw block parties, everyone knows each other.
The Fairlington Green historic district is the home and home office of interior designer Dolly Howarth. The condo community, which straddles both Arlington and Alexandria, was built between 1942 and 1944 to serve as rental housing for defense workers and their families. The homes were renovated and converted to condos in the 1970s, and in the late 1990s the community earned distinctions on both the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmark Register.
Having lived in her home for 16 years, Howarth knows her neighborhood, and many of its models, intimately. Though she has modernized her home, and a number of others in her community since the 1970s renovations, she embraces her own home’s rich history, harking back to the 1940s and its origins where she sees fit.
Her home reflects her favorite eras and artistic movements of Art Nouveau, Deco and mid-century modern. Two cases-in-point: the home’s two bathrooms. The basement full bath (and laundry room) adds a bit of retro glamour. Howarth had been on the hunt for a petite sink that made just the right statement. Even though it’s a new addition, the curved basin and towel bar serves as a nod to the 1940s.
When she redid the master bathroom, two floors up, she kept the original style of the banjo-shaped countertop, updating it in soapstone. She chose a color scheme to match the Charles Rennie Mackintosh lithograph in pink, green and black. Three green Motawi tiles are nestled beneath the window, in keeping with the Art Nouveau style.
When Howarth and her husband moved in they figured their condo was a temporary stop. They thought they’d move into a larger home after a couple years. Now, so many years later, Howarth says, “We just love it here. We don’t want to live anywhere else.”
Howarth and her husband’s home, like most of its neighboring units, includes 500 square feet of living space on each level—theirs totals about 1,750 square feet. They found a creative way to expand, thanks to a structural engineer who later helped them see roomy potential in the attic crawl space. They broke through to design a sky lit workspace for Howarth, complete with a dramatic spiral staircase as its entry point, something both she and her husband always wanted in a home.
“It’s fantastic,” she says of the bright loft space. All of the furniture she’s placed there is vintage or used; her newest purchase is a small-scale glossy black Deco-style desk. There are ample shelves for her fabric books, neatly stacked copies of design magazines and interesting eye-popping pieces she’s collected over the years.
In one corner sits a lipstick-red photographer’s chair, its triangular shape notable for achieving the best shot. Howarth rescued and rehabbed a headed-for-the-heap vinyl loveseat and chaise that she scored from the teacher’s lounge at the high school where her husband teaches. The loveseat is invitingly parked in her office; the chaise is in the annex below where her assistant works.
“I couldn’t find a better home, anywhere, with its skylights,” she says, adding that, as it happens, her community, Fairlington Green, is the only neighboring community that allows the addition of skylights. Howarth recognizes that was, indeed, a stroke of luck.
“The natural light is so great to work in,” she says. “And it’s great to make use of that space in an otherwise finite home.”
During the renovation, she and her husband even managed to “squeak out” some additional square footage for adjacent attic storage.
Downstairs on the main level is the kitchen, dining and living room space. Howarth opened up the kitchen as much as she could, rounding the Caesarstone countertop for a 1940s vibe, creating the tiniest breakfast bar, with one chair tucked beneath. The space features a 30-inch by 60-inch desk/work table from Crate & Barrel that serves as Howarth’s dining room table, dispelling any myths that furniture must be used in a conventional way. A bold Farrow & Ball Lotus print accent wall adds depth to the small space. Howarth also brightened up the space with a full-view door that streams in light from the postage-stamp patio.
The finished basement, with its tall nine-foot ceilings, is both a TV room and guest room. A curtain can be pulled to separate the two areas for privacy. Among the mid-century modern sofa and chair is an ottoman that does double-duty: its padded top is easy on the ankles, and the shelf below provides ample storage. To help make the room feel less “cavernous,” Howarth created a border using a striking graphic-print Maharam wall covering for a wide border that meets the tall ceiling.
Her small, well-appointed home suits her and her husband. They have no plans to pull up stakes. At the same time, she jokes, her husband is probably happy their home isn’t larger—she’s able to restrain the urge to design more rooms.
For Sandy Grabowski, making her first home her own was absolutely a labor of love thanks to her older sister, interior designer Shanon Munn, and her handyman (in his free time) fiancé.
By Jennifer Shapira • Photography by Robert Merhaut
Despite the kitchen’s desperate need for a redo (she didn’t even unpack upon moving in) and the obvious importance of personalizing the space, Grabowski says, with her 628-square-foot Rosslyn condo, it was love at first sight. It was so bright, sunny and open; she knew it was “The One.”
“You always hear about how it happens,” says Grabowski. “It sounds like a fable, but you know it when you see it. I felt that way about my wedding dress, and about this space. It just felt right.”
The kitchen was a complete gut job, but thanks to her close-knit resources, and a sisterly connection or two, she knew she could renovate on a less expensive scale than most people.
Otherwise, she says, “It had everything I wanted,” with two exceptions: there was no in-unit washer/dryer, and no outdoor space. But it turns out those two requirements were practically there anyway: the laundry facilities are steps from her door and, she says, “There’s an adorable little bench below my unit and a beautiful tree that’s gorgeous in the springtime.”
She got lucky on many counts. As it happened, Munn was redoing her own kitchen at the same time. Grabowski had always wanted white cabinets, and her sister’s were perfectly intact. So, together they re-imagined them in Grabowski’s tiny galley kitchen. They installed 15-inch-deep cabinets on the back wall and hung glass-faced cabinets above, to give the kitchen a “beautiful focal point at the end of the room,” says Munn, while creating additional—and crucial—storage and counter space. Here, every inch counts, she says. They chose a counter-depth Fisher & Paykel refrigerator to keep the room visually open and the tall backsplash in coppery mosaic one-inch tiles works to make the room feel bigger.
“The kitchen starts with darker colors and anchors the white cabinets,” says Munn. “The granite brightens the space with reflective surfaces,” she says of the chocolate and metallic countertops placed in an L-shape for ease of flow and maximum efficiency.
“I love the kitchen,” says Grabowski, although she freely admits the transformation from tear-down to tabletop was not always easy.
“I really got to know my fiancé,” she laughs, as she recalls their late spring timeline once the kitchen was stripped down to the pipes: eating take-out, unpacking the microwave, stocking the new fridge, and finally enjoying a functional space. With the exception of the plumber she hired to move the lines for the new sink and addition of the dishwasher, her fiancé did all the grunt work, from laying down the shimmery black floor tiles to putting in the cabinets. The glass-front cabinets showcase Grabowski’s Missoni for Target bowl collection, and on the walls behind the pieces, the sisters hung an IKEA fabric in a big floral print that shows through, adding even more personality.
A full-size 24-inch dishwasher and diminutive range were musts for Grabowski’s lifestyle. For easy access at the stovetop, an ingenious couple of inches were plotted out behind the range to hold her collection of cooking oils and vinegars.
“We also found an extra deep, extra large bar sink that works beautifully as her kitchen sink,” says Munn. And that false panel in front of most sinks is utilized here; Grabowski’s fiancé fashioned a clever flip-down storage tray for those all-important cleaning items like sponges and brushes. But they are very discreetly out of sight. It’s a simple tip, says Munn, something anyone can do to get more out of a typically non-functional space. For DIY-ers, such kits are available online and at home improvement stores.
The living room includes one of Grabowski’s favorite pieces: a slimmed down version of a Jonathan Adler buffet lovingly built to her specifications as a console by her future grandfather-in-law in Kansas City and later assembled by her fiancé. Constructed from Birdseye maple and acrylic, it fits her space just right.
A stylish, modern Jonathan Adler chandelier graces the round West Elm dining room table that can be extended to seat eight, an eye-catching, architectural mirror is mounted nearby, making the room feel at once larger and brighter. A green Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams sofa seats three and a mid-century modern leather lounger provides additional seating in a sort of reading nook illuminated by an oval-shaped Jonathan Adler fixture. All the light accessories were purchased at warehouse sales; the rose-colored Donghia lamp was practically a steal—the sisters love to shop for bargains.
Hers is a fittingly functional and chic space for this style-conscious professional. As a fashion coordinator, Grabowski organizes fashion shows, traveling all over the country for Nordstrom in Tysons.
And she has a to-die-for customized closet to prove it: An entire wall in her bedroom is devoted to her clothing collection. “Floor-to-ceiling! I’m a girl who works in fashion, so I needed a big closet!”
She and Munn tailored to her tastes, choosing the Container Store’s free-standing elfa shelving, and avoided drilling any additional holes; the thinking being: have closet will move to larger digs—someday. A sturdy fabric screen from Arhaus hangs from an IKEA steel rod, so when Grabowski is entertaining, she can slide it to obscure her garments and shoes.
The original closet remains, and currently holds Grabowski’s spillover. But despite its important real estate value for the fashionista, and the start of their new life together, she will likely manage to free up that space for her fiance’s things. Even if it’s no small sacrifice.
By Jennifer Shapira
“Bar cabinets are popular and more readily available now,” says interior designer Dolly Howarth. “They are a nice alterative to full-size buffets and sideboards for small dining rooms.” Because they are “typically slimmer and taller than more conventional pieces, they can fit on shorter walls, and their storage capacity is significant.”
1. Justine Dining Cabinet
$2443 solid oak, $2994 in solid cherry (available in a wide variety of other woods and stain finishes); creativeclassics.com
Small living rooms equal limited space, so Howarth recommends looking for loveseats and chairs with exposed wood or metal arms. They are often narrower than all-upholstered pieces, but the seating area is the same size. Another alternative: armless upholstered chairs. Don’t shy away from them. “They are surprisingly comfortable and have a smaller footprint than arm chairs,” she says.
2. 5008-01 Chair
Starting retail price is $1083 (price depends on fabric chosen); leeindustries.com
3. Ravenna Chair in Atlantic Blue
4. Edward Apartment Size Sofa
Available in a variety of fabrics; $1497; creativeclassics.com
Desk as Dining Room Table
One of Howarth’s favorite tricks, and one she employs in her own home, is using a desk as dining room table. It’s a great way to furnish a small-scale dining space. And for those interested in a custom-size table, today’s options are more widely available from places like Room & Board and Alexandria’s Creative Classics.
5. Sarah Secretary Desk
Solid cherry in six finishes., $726; creativeclassics.com
An ottoman-slash-coffee table is a must in a small family room. Top it with a lacquer tray to hold remotes and drinks and place newspapers, magazines, tablets where they are shielded from view on the shelf below. Even small versions of this type of ottoman are big on comfort and style and just might prove to meet “all of the storage, coffee table, work surface and foot rest needs in a room,” says Howarth.
6. Avery Ottoman
Solid Maple base available in a variety of stain finishes; $684 fabric, $722 leather; creativeclassics.com
Interior designer Shanon Munn and her sister Sandy Grabowski are devotees of the Container Store’s fit-anywhere, chameleon-like elfa shelving. From corresponding wood veneer shelves to platinum ventilated racks, standalone or no, the elfa solution will always fit and store, no matter a room’s style.
7. Elfa Shelving
Prices vary; containerstore.com
A sleek, wall-leaning laptop desk is a perfect space-saving solution for the person who needs a place to park a few essentials (small computer, a few books, a slim storage box) and is able to minimize clutter.
“The leaning office shelves incorporate a desk to create an office area that doesn’t look office-y,” says Munn.
8. Linea Leaning Desk
For a creative way to display the spines of favorite books in a home library, consider this sturdy vertical bookshelf. Constructed from steel, the free-standing Sapien has a weighted base that will support even the heaviest hardback tomes. Sleek and stylish, it looks great in any room, even adding some color and personality to a corner spot.
9. Sapien Bookshelf
Add some punch to a small home office with Container Store’s storage boxes. Available in primary colors, sherbet tones and florals, these sturdy containers come in several shapes and sizes and will suit basic filing needs and complement your home’s hues. They’ll make any desk or shelf look neat and orderly. For the extra-organized, slip a homemade label into the provided slot.
10. Bright Stockholm Office Storage
$9.99 to $12.99; containerstore.com
McLean-based interior designer Shanon Munn, who helped outfit sister Sandy Grabowski in her fashionable one-bedroom Rosslyn condo, shares some of her favorite tips for making the most out of small space living.
Keep clear sight lines between each room. Do not block the visual flow with “separating” furniture pieces. Instead of using my sister’s sofa as a divider between the living room and the dining room, the spaces open to each other.
The closet in the bedroom was too small so there is a free standing elfa unit in the bedroom that goes floor-to-ceiling. There is a sliding (fabric) panel that slides in front of the unit to hide it from the rest of the bedroom.
Munn hung off-the-rack silk draperies floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall in the living room, creating unity between the dining and living areas and making the entire space brighter.
The leaning office shelf incorporates a desk to create a work area that doesn’t look “office-y.” When a chair is removed from the workspace, the unit is simply a wall-length decorative shelf. Munn adds that when you can see the wall show through a piece of furniture, a room instantly feels larger.
Mirrors, mirrors, mirrors! They make any space brighter and larger, and an architectural piece can add style and dimension.
photos: courtesy of creative classics (Bar cabinet/sideboard, Edward Sofa, sarah secretary desk, avery ottoman); courtesy of Lee Industries (5008-01 Chair); courtesy of World Market (Raveena Chair); courtesy the container store (elfa shelving, leaning desk, stockholm storage boxes, sapien bookshelf)
Owning a home doesn’t necessarily mean you can use it however you wish.
By Mike Conway • Photography by Robert Merhaut
Sometimes, what you don’t know can hurt you, especially if you’re a homeowner. Take, for example, the case of Iraqi war veteran and Fairfax County resident Mark Grapin, 53, who before departing for another tour of duty in the Middle East made a simple promise to his children—when he returned, one year later, he would build them a treehouse.
It was a simple promise, given by a parent about to leave his children behind for a year, and Grapin secretly assumed, or perhaps hoped, that it would never be remembered. Upon his return, though, he soon learned a universal truth about parenting: When you make a promise to a child, especially a promise that you hope will be forgotten, the child will not only remember it, but will expect you to come through. So while daddy may be a superhero, against his children you can expect that superhero resistance to fail, especially when, weakened by fatherly guilt after a year overseas, he faces the big, goopy kryptonite eyes of a disappointed child. For whatever else Mark Grapin may be, he is, most of all, a dad. One that made a promise.
“OK,” he told his children. “Let’s build a treehouse.”
As an intelligent man and conscientious citizen, he knew that he needed to make sure his treehouse would be legal. He called the county and inquired as to whether or not he would need a building permit. “The guy on the other end of the line just laughed,” Grapin recalls, “and said ‘just don’t build something that will fall apart and hurt your boys.’ He told me I wouldn’t need a permit. So I thought I was clear.”
Grapin’s property, though, sits at the intersection of two residential streets, facing diagonally to each of them. The peculiar wedge-shaped layout of his property means that he has very little backyard, a triangular front yard and small expanses of lawn on either side of his house. The location of two large maple trees on one side create an ideal space for his treehouse and, lacking a backyard, he figured it was far enough from the road not to run afoul of any setback requirements. Fourteen-hundred dollars later, after setting pylons into the ground for support, installing sides and putting on the roof, the county came calling. Somebody had complained and he’d received a citation for violating the county’s zoning code.
“It never occurred to me that we could have a zoning issue—the thought never even crossed my mind,” he says.
The treehouse was, it turns out, “too far forward of the house,” even though the shape of the property eliminated any possibility of it being otherwise. Because the side yards each abut a street, he had run afoul of ordinances intended to keep people from building structures in their front yard. “There’s no place on the property that would have been acceptable to the county, the way the codes are written,” Grapin says. The fact that his house faces two roads, rather than one, means that almost his entire property is, in the eyes of the county, the front yard.
The story became a local media sensation, and Grayson Hanes, a local attorney from Reed Smith in Falls Church, agreed to represent Grapin pro bono. Eventually, after countless hours, numerous newspaper articles, a letter from Representative Jim Moran to the board, and a great deal of wrangling, Grapin was granted a five-year limited exemption, which should be long enough for his boys to grow up and lose interest in the treehouse.
According to Mark Shaffer, an attorney at Reed Smith who assisted Hanes, Grapin’s difficulties are not uncommon. “People think that, because it’s their property, they can put up any structure they like. But anybody can complain anonymously about any structure that they believe is in violation of the zoning laws. If it is in violation of an existing zoning law, they will get a notice and the county then has the power to make the owner take it down.”
“Unfortunately,” he adds, “[the county] frequently won’t issue an opinion ahead of time.” In Grapin’s case, it meant he was $1,400, and countless hours, into the project before anybody said he couldn’t build it.\
Other attorneys around Northern Virginia cite similar instances of people being burned because they didn’t know, or understand, regulations pertaining to zoning. In Loudoun County, Benjamin D. Leigh, from Atwill, Troxell and Leigh in Leesburg, says residents sometimes run afoul of the law in how they use a property.
“One of the most frequent examples I come across,” he says, “occurs when somebody purchases a historic structure and restores it, only to discover that they can’t use the space as they had intended. Say, for example, if they took an old building adjacent to their property and wanted to convert it into an office. In Loudoun County, at least, that isn’t necessarily permitted.”
“Zoning law is its own thing,” says Paul Terpak, an eminent domain specialist at Blankingship & Keith in Fairfax, citing Grapin’s case and others. “A homeowner can’t just assume he can do things without checking zoning.” He says, though, that legal potholes for homeowners exist outside of zoning as well. He points to a nightmare scenario that occurs when a homeowner wakes up and suddenly discovers their property is in a path of condemnation under eminent domain.
“Sometimes,” he says, “there are projects that are planned for 10 years or more before they happen. Nothing is happening with them—they aren’t funded—but one day someone who bought a property wakes up to discover they are in a path of condemnation.”
Terpak gave an example from his experience: “I had a client some time ago—he had put a million dollars into his house, and then found out they were taking away his front yard. He would literally walk outside and be four feet from the road.” The owner became despondent, having invested so much into the property with no idea it would be seized.
According to William Casterline, Terpak’s partner at Blankingship & Keith, “it can be a tricky issue, because the seller [during the time of purchase] may not even know about the condemnation.”
Before any property is seized, though, a notice of condemnation must be sent to any property owner. “When buying a property, have the seller represent in writing that they have received no notices of condemnation,” recommends Casterline. Once you have done that, you will be able to show either that proper notice was never sent, in which case you can challenge the condemnation, or that the seller misrepresented the property, in which case you will be entitled to damages.
Granted, your average suburban home at the end of a planned cul-de-sac may never need to worry about eminent domain. That, in and of itself, can create problems for those who might.
“I think it’s rare that a real estate agent would look that kind of thing up,” says Casterline. “Most real estate today is in subdivisions and they don’t need to worry much about condemnation.” Homeowners on major roads, though, or abutting a utility right-of-way, would be advised to stay informed. “Look up the county and state long-range plans,” says Terpak. “Do your homework.”
Trey Davis, assistant director of governmental relations at the Virginia Farm Bureau and an expert on eminent domain, says that the recent Virginia eminent domain amendment , which went into effect January 1, puts the burden on the condemnor to prove that the property is being taken for a true public use, which gives some additional powers to property owners to fight an eminent domain seizure. But it essentially just codifies existing law. He suggests being “proactive, rather than reactive,” keeping one eye on the news and asking questions of local government immediately if you believe you are at risk for a seizure. “You want to have the background behind you.”
Casterline believes that most homeowners are likely to have problems not from any government agency, but from their fellow homeowners, either through restrictive covenants attached to the property, or an HOA. A returning war veteran eager to build a treehouse for his children is much more likely to run into trouble from his own community, if his creation runs afoul of neighborhood policy.
“The legislature requires the seller to give the buyer an HOA packet, as part of the contingency, containing the restrictions and assessments and other information about the HOA, after which there’s a period where you can back out, if you discover you can’t, actually, have a treehouse, or something else you might want.” Casterline goes on to say he does not believe he has ever met a homebuyer who would back out of a deal simply because he can’t have a treehouse, but does believe it pays to know what restrictions your home will be placed under. He goes on to add, though, in reference to HOA packets, that “many people don’t actually read those things.”
Casterline says that the most important elements in any real estate transactions are contingencies, which are attached to the terms of a real estate deal before it is ever signed and which, if not fulfilled, can void the contract. For example, he cites the need to attach a contingency for a qualified home inspector to examine a property before completion of a sale. “Almost all houses are sold today ‘as is,’ which means that there is no representation of a warranty. Therefore, it’s up to you, as the buyer, to get an inspection.” Any problems turned up by the inspection allow the buyer to ask that those items be repaired, that they renegotiate the contract, or allow the buyer to simply walk away from the deal.
When negotiating the contract, it’s important to put in contingencies to cover any potential issues, whether it be for radon or mold, title issues, financing or whatever else might be of concern. Since most real estate companies use standard forms, a lot of those contingencies will already be covered. And as Casterline points out, “the standard contracts are pretty well tested, and a real good, experienced realtor will be able to deal with them.”
Contingencies, of course, would not have helped Mark Grapin and while a certain familiarity with the law would have been useful, more useful still might have been a bull-headed determination to push through.
“The system isn’t designed to grant permission,” he says. “If I’d asked permission [from zoning] they never would have given it. There would be no reason. But by the time the county came to check out the treehouse, I’d already finished and was putting paint on the thing.” While he started the project ignorant that he might be afoul of the law—an ignorance compounded by his assumption that, having checked on building permits, he was clear to proceed—it could be argued that his cause received an assist since he already had a largely finished product the community could see.
“We had great support from our neighbors,” he says. “In fact, one of them pointed out that it’s hard to imagine a drug deal going down in the shadow of a treehouse.” The neighbors, who rallied to his support, eventually drew national attention to his story.
He adds, though, that “if somebody had told me the amount of aggravation this treehouse would cause, I never would have built it.”