Black, White and Tickled Pink: A Right-Sized Renovation
The remodel of this 1950s brick home in Lyon Village made it better, but not bigger.
Samantha and Richard Drake had a clear set of objectives when they set out to buy their first home together. A vibrant, walkable neighborhood was key. Architecturally, they wanted an old house with good bones that had potential, but that wasn’t so run-down that they couldn’t make it immediately livable. A larger renovation would come later.
Their search ended in 2016 when they found an unremarkable 1958 brick home on a sloping lot in Lyon Village, within walking distance of Metro, restaurants, shops and parks. Neglected for some time, the place was habitable, but it had issues.
“There was a 50-foot tree growing into the side of the house and the backyard was overrun with poison ivy and other weeds,” says Samantha, a marketing professional (Richard is an IT consultant). “There were cracks in the plaster walls in every room, and a raccoon was living in the chimney.”
To buy some time, the couple rolled up their sleeves and took on a few DIY projects. They patched and painted walls, updated the kitchen appliances, added a subway tile backsplash and a butcher-block countertop, painted the existing kitchen cabinets, installed vinyl flooring, replaced some plumbing fixtures and replaced the front entry and garage doors.
But the 3,141-square-foot house had more serious design flaws that elbow grease could not fix. “The floor plan lacked function and flow,” Samantha says. “The primary bathroom and closet were tiny; the kitchen was small and cut off with a poorly planned addition attached to the back; and almost nothing had been updated in at least 30 years—if ever.”
The Drakes lived with their home’s shortcomings for three years, knowing all along that they would eventually remodel. In 2019, they decided it was time.
After seeing and admiring a nearby renovation, Samantha did some “internet sleuthing” and tracked down the architect, Paola Lugli, principal of PLDesignStudio in Arlington. “We loved her aesthetic and that she frequently worked within the footprint of homes (as opposed to knocking down and building new) to help enhance what was there while honoring the original home,” Samantha says. “She is creative and likes to problem-solve—essential for a project like this.”
By their own admission, the Drakes wanted a lot from the redesign. Their wish list included more light, an open floor plan with a larger and more functional kitchen, an expanded primary bathroom and closet, and a laundry room inside the house (it was originally in the garage).
“We wanted a modern aesthetic that blended with the existing home, and we wanted to make sure the flow and function of the home made sense,” Samantha says. “This was especially important downstairs, where the layout was a bit strange, and half of which was/is below grade.”
Born in Italy, Lugli holds a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Rome and practices in both the U.S. and France, where she is a registered architect. “Applying the teachings of the Italian school on two continents gives me a unique perspective in my work,” she says, advocating “adaptive reuse,” the process of finding new uses for old buildings.
Zoning restrictions meant that expanding the house was out of the question, but it didn’t matter; Lugli felt that going bigger was unnecessary.
“We had to take advantage of what was there and reuse it to create new spaces,” says Lugli, who consulted with architect Claudio Conti in Rome on some of the details. “The house’s major problems were that it lacked interior light, had a floor plan that felt like a maze of small spaces, and no connection to the outdoors.”
Working with Jorge Juvinel of J & J Construction in Fairfax, Lugli gutted the two-level residence, removing asbestos paint in the basement, most of the interior walls, and the aforementioned tree root that had grown into the side wall. Once she had a blank slate, she inserted new floor plans, preserving and reusing the existing load-bearing walls.
The reconfigured first floor now contains an open “play area” for the Drakes and their 8-year-old rescue lab, Henry, plus a laundry room/pantry and a guest bedroom and bathroom. Lugli added a new oak staircase with a modern wood slat detail and enlarged the garage, giving the owners the option of tucking a home gym inside it.
On the second floor, she captured the square footage of what had been an enclosed porch to create an open living room, kitchen and dining room space that runs from the front of the house to the back.
Her boldest architectural move was adding two new roof forms—a reverse dormer in front and a flat roof in back—to break up the boxy home’s monolithic exterior. The new roof structures allowed for a 12-foot ceiling in the living room (up from 8 feet) and a 10-foot ceiling in the dining area.
Outside, the home’s main volumes are now defined by contrasting elements. White shiplap siding (James Hardie fiber cement) strikes a dramatic pose against the original brick (painted Benjamin Moore onyx), while a pink door and pink window trim add a touch of whimsy. Lugli calls the aesthetic “a contemporary interpretation of vernacular elements and materials.”
The redo also introduced new spray-foam insulation, new plumbing and a new heating and cooling system for improved energy efficiency, and a home automation system. A covered porch provides outdoor living space in back.
Strangely enough, the remodeled home is about 30 square feet smaller than the original—something that almost never happens. With its striking facade and splashes of color, the cheeky renovation offers proof that bigger isn’t always better.
The house won a 2021 DesignArlington Award from Arlington County. It’s the second such accolade for Lugli, who won in 2015 for another residential makeover.
“We are completely in love with our home,” Samantha says. “It’s exactly what we were looking for. The design is clean, airy and peaceful.”
Renovated in: 2020-2021
Neighborhood: Lyon Village
Square Footage: 3,141 before / 3,108 after
Architect: Paola Lugli, PLDesignStudio
Consulting Architect: Claudio Conti, Rome
Contractor: J & J Construction
Nigel F. Maynard is a writer in historic Hyattsville, Maryland. He’s currently having his own custom home designed and may steal some ideas from this house. Follow him on Instagram @products_hound and @custom_home_hacker.