OSBP At Home: Our New House + How We Got Here

And now, a little introduction to our not-so-new house! Aside from Sophie, my marriage, and my business, the house consumes more of my time and energy than anything else, some of it good and some of it really stressful. I’ve already talked a little bit about our plans for the front and back gardens and my office, but I thought it might be best if I shared the layout of our house, a few photos, and the story of how this became our house before delving into the subject any further.

Capitol-Hill-DC-Rowhouses

Not our house, but our neighborhood / Photo via The WIHN

Before we bought our home, we were in our third year of happily renting the second floor 2 BR/ 1 BA apartment of a rowhouse in Capitol Hill. It wasn’t a huge apartment and Sophie’s nursery was only slightly bigger than a closet, but the layout worked for us, the rent was affordable, and we really really loved our neighborhood. We figured we could make it work for a little while longer. But in early December 2012, our landlords asked us to move out so they could ostensibly renovate the building. I didn’t want to rent again, so we got in touch with a realtor.

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Our old front door / Photo by me via Instagram

What followed was two incredibly draining and discouraging months of house hunting. Capitol Hill is one of DC’s most competitive housing markets, so we knew that we weren’t going to find our dream house in our price range, but we barely found anything at all. Houses beyond our budget came on the market only to go under contract two days later, and houses within our budget required extensive renovations that in reality pushed them out of our budget. We put in two offers on houses that we didn’t really love, neither of which were successful. We started to look at other neighborhoods, but nothing jumped out at us as worth leaving the Hill.

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Our new mailbox / Photo by me via Instagram

When we visited our house for the first time, we didn’t love it right away but we didn’t hate it either. It had the bare minimum of what we were looking for (two bedrooms, close to a metro station) and it was in our price range, but it also needs lots of updates and was missing two things that I really wanted in a house: a finished basement and central air conditioning. We figured this was probably the best that we were going to be able to afford in Capitol Hill, so we put in an offer anyway and it was accepted a few days later. Here’s the layout of the house, just so you don’t get lost on the tour:

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Downstairs // Upstairs

Totally not to scale (click to enlarge)

Our home is a typical long and narrow DC rowhouse. It was built in 1923, with an addition that we think was added to the back of the house in the 1950s. Our house is not a grand Victorian like the homes in the top photo, but is probably closest to a basic Federal style rowhouse. The house is fairly small at 1200 square feet. It has two bedrooms (one of which I’m using as my office), a den that we’re currently using as our bedroom, and one and a half bathrooms. Please note, all the photos of our house below are from the MRIS listing of our house and feature the arrangements of a staging company. Apologies in advance for all the small images!

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When you enter the house, you step straight into the living room. The living room is narrow and much smaller than the living room in our previous apartment (sigh). We’re still trying to figure out the best layout and seating arrangement, particularly for entertaining. We’re planning to do built-ins along the wall with the shelves, and if we stay in the house long term we’d love to remove the wall between the living room and kitchen to add an eat-in peninsula and open the space up even more.

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The kitchen! This room frustrates me probably more than any other room in the house. We knew right away that it definitely wasn’t our taste, but after living here for a while we’ve also learned that the layout is very awkward and there is a lot of wasted space despite the large room size. The sink and stove are practically adjacent to each other, which means we don’t have much counter space for food preparation. The floor needs to be leveled (it slopes down towards the middle of the room) and the laminate flooring shows every speck of dust and cat hair. Oh, and see the gray backsplash? Yeah, that would be corrugated cardboard made to look like tin tiles glued directly to the brick walls and running behind all of the upper cabinets and appliances. Awesome. Any talented kitchen designers out there looking for a challenge?? I don’t even know where to start with this room.

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Moving on! The staging company made the room behind the kitchen look like a dining room, but we were able to fit our little four-person dining table in the kitchen. Since this room also contains our washer and dryer (hidden in the closet on the right) we use it mostly as a laundry/storage/cat room. There is also a half bath in the corner opposite the laundry machines (left).

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Outside! After 10 years of living in apartments without any real outdoor space, our little backyard is one of my favorite features of the whole house. I love that there are areas for both entertaining and gardening. We’d eventually like to tear down the weird and unfinished little rear entrance (left) and build a pergola over the back entrance. And hey, a garage! That was a nice surprise, as these are pretty rare on the Hill. There is a small unfinished storage/workplace above the garage. And I’d eventually like to replace the makeshift wood stairs (right, and so not up to code) with an iron spiral staircase.

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Bathroom1 Bathroom2

Bathroom5 Bathroom3

Heading upstairs (from the living room), there is a small landing and the only full bathroom in the house. We’re planning to completely gut the bathroom and start from scratch. The shower is tiled with some sort of slate floor tile (maybe this?), which I’m pretty sure isn’t meant for bathrooms because it’s starting to crumble each time we take a shower and there is water leaking into the walls. We’re hoping to tackle the bathroom in the very near future!

OSBP-at-Home-MRIS-Den3 OSBP-at-Home-MRIS-Den

This is the den on the second floor. The previous owners filled the room with wall-to-wall Ikea Pax closet units and essentially used it as a dressing room. We removed most of the Pax units and currently use it as our bedroom. It’s a small room, but it works for now. Above you can see the original exterior wall of the house (right) with a funny little window into the back room.

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The two official bedrooms. On the left is the back room that I’m currently using as my office. The room on the right is located at the front of the house and is now Sophie’s nursery. Both have come a long way since we moved in and probably feel the most “finished” of all the rooms in the house.

So that’s our tiny little house! As I said in my new year goal post, it’s good enough but not exactly what we were looking for in a home. Most days I feel really overwhelmed by everything that we both need and want to do to this house. But I’m trying to be more chill about things and I’m hopeful that I’ll feel better once we get a few small projects out of the way. I think our biggest regret is purchasing a house without a finished basement. We really need a separate area for the cats outside of our living space, much less right next to the kitchen, and I would do almost anything for a dedicated laundry room. We have an unfinished half basement under the rear part of the house that contains our furnace and water heater, and if we decide to stay here long term we could theoretically dig out and finish the basement. But that’s a huge project that would involve a second mortgage-like loan, so there are several giant question marks next to that idea.

In the meantime, there are plenty of things to keep us busy around the house, from cosmetic improvements and electrical and plumbing updates inside to painting the exterior and working on the garden outside. Considering it took me nine months just to share the MRIS photos from our house, I am obviously not a home blogger, but I’ll do my best to share updates along the way!

I’ll be back to regular content next week โ€“ and we have a cocktail recipe coming up later this afternoon! Have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday! xoxo

  1. Thanks for sharing your journey to finding a new home! Even though you live on the opposite coast, your story sounds a lot like ours in the Bay Area. With all of the money coming out of Silicon Valley, we were getting priced out of homes left and right in Oakland and Berkeley (what frustrated us to no end was that homes would bid up $200K-$300K above asking and the buyer would be expected to make up any difference between the appraisal and sale price!). We too ended up with a home we didn’t hate but didn’t love as the layout isn’t perfect and it did require major renovations as soon as we got the keys: replace all the plumbing, re-do the kitchen, a whole new master bathroom (it was all 70s pink with cracked, moldy tiles), and a partial new roof. We are looking at replacing all of the windows (some are leaking – yay!) and the whole roof as soon as we can scrape the money together. Sigh. Owning a home is both a wonderful privilege and a total headache. {Good luck as you continue making your new home yours!}

    • Hi Colleen!

      Yes! I think there are a lot of similarities between the DC and Bay Area housing markets, both buying and renting. Houses here also usually sell for above asking price (including our home), although luckily our house appraised for right at the final sale price. Sometimes it really makes me question our future in DC, but I love this city so much and hate the thought of leaving!

  2. Ugh the DC housing market depresses me so much. It seems like Capitol Hill is supposed to be one of the more affordable, safe enough places to live in the city! I grew up in southern Fairfax County and always vowed never to live that far from the great urban areas of DC, but I don’t know how we’ll ever afford even a fixer upper around here. At least you aren’t throwing your money at a rental anymore, and who knows? Maybe after a couple years of gradual improvements you’ll love it, or you’ll make enough improvements to gradually climb the property ladder to a house you do love. At least you have a job you love! That’s no small feat in this city ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Sarah!

      The DC housing market is super discouraging, isn’t it? Unless you happen to be a lawyer or a lobbyist or something, but I honestly have no idea how most people afford even the nice houses in Capitol Hill, which is rapidly being priced out of its “affordable” reputation along with Shaw, Petworth, Bloomingdale, etc. It’s so very different from when I moved to DC 10 years ago! When we were entertaining neighborhoods outside of Capitol Hill we looked at a few houses in Brookland and Michigan Park, which were lovely and much bigger than what we ended up with, but we ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the longer commute for my husband to his job.

      We’re trying to approach the house exactly the way you’ve described: do a few things to make it better for us now, then reevaluate in a couple of years. We are encouraged by the fact that we’ll get back any equity that we put into the house, it just feels kind of deflating to put so much energy (and money!) into buying a house that we’re not 100% in love with. But hopefully we’ll grow to love it over time.

      And yes, I’m so so so very lucky to have a job that I love in a city that I love. I just wish this wonderful city was a teensy bit more affordable so we could feel more comfortable putting down real roots here!

  3. I love these house posts, I’m glad you’ve started posting them ๐Ÿ™‚

    The house is going to turn out so great, it has a lot of potential!

    • Thank you so much Shelby! It’s such a huge part of our life, it seems weird not to share it with everyone โ€“ย but I’m definitely glad that the posts are being well received!

  4. Congratulations on your beautiful home. I love your blog & have been a long time reader but seriously 18 obnoxious blinking ads about congratulations you may have won an iphone is so incredibly annoying–

    • Hi Ella,

      Thank you so much for stopping by and for reading OSBP!

      You definitely should not be seeing 18 blinking ads on my blog page. Most of the sidebar ads are small stationery business advertising on OSBP, while other ads are filled by larger ad networks that work with bigger companies relevant to the content on my blog. I use Google AdSense as a default in case there is a gap between ad rotations, but those ads are targeted by relevant factors like location, keywords, etc., so should also be relevant to you. If you see annoying ads that look like they don’t belong on OSBP, please send me an email with a screenshot so I can investigate further!

  5. This place looks like it could be wonderful without too much work (space above garage turned office?). That said, we moved into a great house 2+ years ago and it still doesn’t feel like mine. I’m trying to take it room by room (like Anne Lamott’s bird by bird) but I completely relate to the feeling if frustration. I do love scowering pinterest and blogs for new ideas…and I bet you could do a good trade with an interior decorator for some fun ideas. Excited to see your transformations!

    • Hey Emily!

      Most of the rooms could be wonderful without too much work โ€“ย there is some really outdated electrical throughout the house that needs to be updated, which may or may not involve chiseling out space for wires and cables in our brick walls (ugh…), and what is left of the original woodwork in the house could use some love, but otherwise most of the rooms are in good shape.

      The kitchen and main bathroom are complete disasters and huge undertakings, and I find myself most overwhelmed by the kitchen because it really needs to be gutted and started from scratch. It looks good in photos (sort of), but when you dig deeper into it there are so many problems that drive us crazy on a daily basis. The storage above the garage is sadly too small to convert into an office โ€“ย my 5’2″ self can barely stand up in the unfinished room as is โ€“ย but for now we’re pretty thrilled to have that space for storage and as a workroom for projects and gardening supplies.

      It’s so tough to make a house a home when you’re both working all the time and raising a tiny human! I’m also trying to go room by room, or at least as much as I can when some thing require changes in other rooms. I do love your idea about trading with an interior designer!

  6. Hi Nole!

    I think your house is adorable and living in the Metro DC area as well I think you were really lucky to find it. We live outside of DC in Ashburn, VA because though both my husband and I would like to live in DC we just couldn’t afford it. I do love our home though and many times I like being removed a bit from the city. We don’t go into DC anywhere near as much as we’d like too but we’re hoping to change that this year.

    I am excited to see what you do with the space in terms of decorating especially after seeing the pics of your old apartment.

    I also think it’s good it’s good that you are taking things slow, we’ve been in our home for two years in April and we are still decorating, sometimes I wish it was all done but most of the time as we find the perfect piece for a space I’m happy that we waited and didn’t rush and settle on something just okay to get it done. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Happy New Year!
    Shayla

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