Richmond VA

Our House | Before + After

Three years ago, almost to the day, we made a bid for a century-old house on a corner in the Museum District.  Standing in the front yard, waiting for our turn to go inside the property facing foreclosure, I knew it was meant to be our home.  It took four months to close on what was called a “short sale.”  We took another six months to finalize architectural plans, sell our former home, and gather the finances to begin renovation and restoration.  John and his team spent about a year getting the inside to the point that we could leave the apartment we rented and officially live in the house we had affectionately named “Honor’s Corner.”  We spent an additional year completing the exterior of the home and other projects outside.

This summer has brought a real slow down around here.  We finally just live here.  The construction mess is gone and for the most part the house has settled into the block.  We still get an occasional knock on the siding as passersby, heading to Carytown, try to determine our siding material but for the most part we are just another house on the block.

We have tried to gather photos that best represent the transformation of our home.  Because we opened up the interior, it is impossible to get “Before & After” photos that line up perfectly but you can get the general idea.  Many thanks to Mallory for helping me get this culminating post together and thanks to you for following our journey.  It’s really been meaningful to share this transition with family and friends.



final shot




The wall between the front and center rooms was removed so the living room now opens directly into the kitchen.


We removed the fireplace and added French doors opening to the side porch.




We relocated the stairwell to the center of the house to make room for a foyer, shoe bench, powder room, and coat closet.stairs2






The kitchen and a full bath were at the rear of the house.DSC_0481

We added a row of windows in the kitchen, reconfigured the bath, and made a 1st floor master suite.DSC_0145




The former mud room retained its purpose but we added a laundry area with cabinetry. The hole leads to the cat box!DSC_0535


This is the center room at the top of the stairs.DSC_0722


The attic was opened up in the center of the house to highlight the interesting roof angles and flood the space with natural light.
A loft was added to provide space for additional family members and visitors to sleep.  It houses a full size bed!


better flex room



my room





Beforeep before

Afterep after2







IMG_1838 (1)


Photographs used throughout this blog post are courtesy of Mallory, Alferio Productions, and Adam Goldsmith Architectural Photography

We Are Done!

Three fabulous words.  Are any of us ever really “done” with a house? Probably not, but we are calling the construction phase complete!  If you have been following the blog you know that we had some major delays with completing the back, exterior of the project.  Multiple city permits, John’s stroke and late winter snows complicated getting across the finish line.

This entry wraps up several components of the back area.  It’s sort of a lot to take in but I just didn’t have it in me to write about the house while John was struggling.  But now that he is much better, it is a joy to share his work!  This weekend we celebrated his 65th birthday at Honor’s Corner with some of his best friends and people who worked closely with him on the house. Many of his friends had heard him talk about the house but had never been here.  Patrick showed them hundreds of pictures and they were in awe of the reconstruction and John’s attention to detail.  It was wonderfully fitting to celebrate his work, his life, recovery and retirement in our home.

This is John with his best friend from life, Barry and his wife Temple Glenn.


Here is a look back over the past few months finishing up. Some of photos are from last fall, before John had his stroke.

Clearing an area for the back porch steps.



 The steps were made from the few remaining pieces of Ipe used on the front porch.


You may recall that the rain water from the front half of the house is funneled into an underground basin in the center of the front yard.  The rain water from the back half of the house feeds into a huge bladder we placed under the back porch.  The 1800-gallon Rain Water Pillow was designed specifically for our area and was delivered to the house, tightly folded in box.



We stretched it out on the back porch, measured and then shopped for the necessary accessories.  We needed a huge piece of plastic to cover the dirt beneath it, topped with outdoor carpet for protection.  IMG_8255



John reading the schematics for plumbing set up.


Each end of the porch has a downspout that dumps into a screened pipe that feeds into a central pipe that dumps into the pillow.IMG_0093

IMG_8286There is a solar powered aerator that circulates the water and there is a pump that allows us to access the water. The pump is attached to a hose bib on the side of the house. We have a remote control that turns the pump on and feeds the water to our garden hose for use around the yard.  We have been watering plants and washing away the spring pollen from our porch and cars.

We seem to categorize events into “before and after stroke.” It is impossible to live in this home and not think of John daily. We knew that he was going to retire from major projects after our home was finished but now we know that we are the beneficiaries of a lifetime of knowledge, expertise, and perfectionism that is not to be duplicated. For a short while, this thought made me sad.  Thankfully, it now brings a smile to my face. We are so fortunate to have John and this lovely home!

This is what the carport area looked like shortly before John had his stroke.

IMG_9773John had hired Orie to construct the posts from the old fireplace bricks.  We had moved those bricks around a dozen times, reusing them all over the house.  We had only about 2 dozen bricks left after the carport was completed.  Orie grumbled that it was really tough to use them because of their uneven, non-uniform shape.  He did a spectacular job and the end result is a great look for our home.

IMG_9786I had planned to take a panoramic photo daily of the construction but I lost my enthusiasm for the whole thing with John in the ICU, fighting for his life. This is the last picture I took of the pillars the day before John went to the hospital.

IMG_9795The posts were finished the following week and stood there like our own Stonehenge for about a month until one of John’s best friends could get a work crew here to build the carport.  Scott had been sporadically involved with the project since it began.  At John’s bedside he whispered to me that he would help see us to the end.  We chuckled that since John had lost his memory we could just tell him that he had finished this final part, but just didn’t remember!  John can laugh about that with us now since most of his memory has, in fact, returned.

Scott’s crew was awesome!  They came to work in nearly zero degree conditions and a couple of times had to dig the wood out of a snow pile.  We had three, late winter snows while they were working on the carport.


The beadboard ceiling proved to be a real challenge and took three days to install!




IMG_0052I had to become the contractor of sorts.  I learned to pull permits and call in inspections.  I was forced to coordinate the timing of the garage door installation, electrical wiring, light installation, roofing and siding, and final painting. I gained a real appreciation for what John had accomplished the year prior to this brief time that I was forced to step in for him. Scott’s crew, Chuck and Michael, were kind and supportive.  We talked daily about how to proceed. I felt lost without John. Since the beginning he was there to talk me off the ledge or confirm my creative vision.  Chuck was a good stand-in for John.  Together, he and I figured out the details for the carport which has a closed side to the alley, a garage door to the side street, and two open sides to the back yard. Once Chuck was done, the roofers returned to install the same metal roof they had put on the house and the back porch. They had to work in the snow too!IMG_9908

DSC_0001Buckeye Builders were a welcomed sight for me!  We had become friendly during their long days of installing the house roof and one of the guys, Bobby, had visited John in the ICU several times while I was there. (Side note: this is another “Bobby”, not to be confused with Bobby Wood.) This Bobby quickly became another substitute for John.  We clicked and he could see my vision for the back space.  When our fence contractor fell through, Bobby stepped up and offered to tackle the fence and the platform deck.  It seemed everyone was pulling together to finish John’s project with precision and care.




It was inevitable that the landscape work, fence construction and deck installation would be intertwined for several days.  Thankfully Bobby helped me navigate the timing.  We ended up with 10 guys working together for about a week to completely transform the back yard.  The fence went up, the sloped yard was dug out for the platform deck, stones were laid, shrubs were planted and mulch was spread.  I wish we had used the time lapse camera!  We could have been on a show called “Back Yard Transformations.” Kudos to Buckeye Builders, Rock Creek Innovations and Classic Exteriors Construction for seeing us through to completion!

Added to the mix and confusion of sawdust and stone throwing were our painters, Donnie & Kathy.  John has been close to the dynamic duo after many years of working together. They have become trusted friends to me as well and I was thrilled to have them hang around for a week or so to caulk and paint the carport.  They were painting in a total mud pit before the gravel and mulch were put down. Notice they both have plastic bags on their feet!

These are not the most flattering photos but I wanted you see their sweet faces again!


Yes, Donnie is wearing two pair of glasses. He says bifocals don’t work for him, so he just keeps two pair handy. He is a hoot!

IMG_0379Here is a look at the walkway from the carport to the back porch.



IMG_0486Here is a look at the construction of the platform deck.





The deck is made from a Brazilian hardwood called Balau. We ran out of the scrap Ipe used on the front porch but were able to get our hands on this selection, also left over from the New Kent Winery project.  Balau is a bit lighter in color and a little softer but behaves like Ipe and is expected to last for several decades as well.IMG_0491

Side of house before and after.




Basement walkway before and after.IMG_0143




A utility area for the house generator, trashcan and recycle bin, is screened by the shorter fence.


IMG_0603The outside view from Auburn Avenue.


What’s Next?

On Mother’s Day, Honor’s Corner will be on the Museum District Mother’s Day Home & Garden Tour.  Our Architect is taking advantage of the house being clean and ready for the tour and is sending his photographer to document the house for his website.  There are sure to be plenty of high quality photos to share after his visit!

How much longer?


This photo was a test shot with my new iPhone right after Thanksgiving to send my sister-n-law.  My brother had just taken out the wall between their kitchen and dinning room and they were adjusting to noise bouncing around the newly open space.  I sent this to her so she could get a sense of our open space. With our kids home for the holiday we had a lot of noise bouncing around and up and down!

With the holiday behind us we are back into renovation mode. It’s hard to fathom that we are not actually done yet. We came upon a huge obstacle this past fall that forced us to come to a screeching halt. We were caught in a bureaucratic snare that was by far the most frustrating part of this journey.  The situation was very emotionally charged for me and I could not write about our plight with objectivity until now. It is a very long story.  I will hit the highlights.

In late April, 2014 we approached the city about the utility pole in the alley blocking the entrance to the old garage.  We wanted to remove the dilapidated, cinderblock garage and replace it with an open carport but the pole obstructed the entrance. The simplest solution for city officials at the time was to grant us entrance to the carport from the side street instead of the alley. New curb cuts on city streets are very limited and a cherished commodity, though granted by code to corner homes that border an alley; a fact that I was unaware of until John and I met with the city to ask about moving the utility pole that apparently belongs to Verizon, not the city.  We were surprised but thrilled and set about removing the old garage and making the changes to install a driveway and a parking pad with underground piers for the carport.  That work took place during an oppressive heat wave in June.

July and August were slow months as we needed to catch our financial breath and John took a much needed hiatus from daily work at Honor’s Corner.  Our adult kids were in and out and we used the time to get acquainted with the house and settle into the neighborhood.  When September rolled around we focused our attention to the final stage: the carport and the backyard landscaping. We hired a draftsman to produce the professional renderings for the carport and took them to the city to obtain the building permit.  Back in April we had discussed the plans with the permit office representative but only had hand-sketched ideas so we were not able to file for the carport building permit at that time.  In October I took the plans to the city.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 6.55.13 AM

A week or so later I received a call requesting that I meet with the zoning office about the plans.  John went with me.

We were informed that the driveway width and carport placement were out of compliance for the Museum District.  This is where the snare begins.  Because we are a corner lot and abut an alley we are allowed a 9-foot (one-car) driveway.  We were permitted and had installed a twenty-two foot (two-car) driveway.  Additionally, because our side street has homes that face that street, our carport could not stand in the plane of those front yards. Meaning, our carport could not be relocated to the side of the yard where the driveway and concrete pad, with several under ground concrete piers, had been installed. Because there was already a two-car driveway and garage directly across the side street from us, the city had allowed us to mirror the design; to keep with the neighborhood aesthetic.  These details were discussed back in April during our application for the original permit.  Apparently there had been some changes to design ordinances for Museum District several years ago that were not verified before our permit was issued.

John and I sat across the table from a very sweet, frustrated, helpless zoning representative that could only tell us that we were out of compliance and could go no further into our project. She didn’t know if we would be forced to tear it all out, use it as it was or wait for the city to come remove the permitted structures.  I fought back tears and John fought back screams and fist slamming.  It wasn’t her fault.  It was someone’s fault that we had been given the permit and spent several thousand dollars in preparations to get to this point.  Assigning blame was irrelevant. We just needed a solution.

The solution came from weeks of meetings with every level of the Zoning and Planning Commission and our city councilman.  In the end, the only entity that could rectify our predicament was city council.  We had to be granted a special use permit to place the carport on the east side of the yard and to have a two-car driveway.  Neither of these are uncommon in our neighborhood, just out of compliance with the most recent ordinances. Obtaining a special use permit requires that the home owner complete extensive paperwork and post a large sign on their property notifying neighbors of the request. The paperwork is sent to city council for review at their monthly meeting.  Along the way the paperwork and plans are reviewed by design committees and neighborhood associations for required endorsements. Once reviewed by city council, Z&P sends a letter to neighbors within 150 feet of the property line on all sides and a public hearing is held. The results of the public hearing are then presented to city council again for a final vote of approval.  It took just over two months for the process to play out.  From what we have learned, two months is lightening speed! We are so very grateful to the Z&P official assigned to our case and our city councilman for helping us navigate the process and expediting the paperwork.

Because we face two streets, we technically have two front yards and thus were required to post two signs.  A neighbor, who was granted a special use permit by city council the month prior, gave us his sign and we made the additional one ourselves.


There are positives to be found through most unpleasant situations and ours is no exception. We talked to dozens of neighbors and made some new friends!  We became acquainted with our city councilman, Jon Balilies, son of Virginia Governor Gerald Balilies who served the state from 1986-1990. He actually lives on our street but I had never met him and hesitated to reach out to him. That was silly, I found him to be a down-to-earth, no nonsense, genuine person who works tirelessly for our district. It was fun and interesting to see some of the intricacies of city government.  We attended our first city council meeting, figured out the best places to park around City Hall and gained a appreciation for governmental procedures.  I was forced to develop some more patience, which is always a good thing! On December 8th our special use permit was approved by city council!

We are now waiting for the brick mason to build the columns and then John and Patrick will build the carport.  Once it is in place, the landscape work con be done and the fence can be installed.  We have been asked to participate in the Museum District Mother’s Day House tour so we are aiming for 100% completion by May, exactly two years from the first hammer of demolition!

Mallory was instrumental in developing a landscape plan for the backyard and putting it on paper.  The white ring is for flowers and there will be grasses dispersed among the rocks and a planting area under the tree.  We are pretty excited about having a low maintenance entertaining area that provides drainage for rain water to stay on our property.  The yard looks a lot bigger in this diagram than it actually is.  It will be fun to post the pictures after installation!

backyard plans

Life is about the journey, not the destination.

Today is the second anniversary of our ownership of Honor’s Corner.  It’s been two years since we closed on the house and here we sit, chuckling about the fact that we still aren’t quite done. Is anyone ever “done” with their home? It’s Thanksgiving Eve, our girls are home and Mallory just reminded us that life is about the journey, not the destination. Since we moved into the house this past spring, we have definitely been enjoying the journey to the finish line.

We did reach a significant milestone this week; we closed the building permits on the house! After tidying up a few loose ends on the front and back porches, were able to pass the final inspections.  I have to say that it feels pretty fantastic to be free from paperwork and check lists.


Well…almost free.  We have one lingering permit for the carport but that’s a story for a future post.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We passed the energy tests!

Earlier this week Honor’s Corner passed the final energy audit.  The audit measures the “tightness” of the home by evaluating two features: the exterior seal and the internal ductwork.  Basically, the tests let you know if you have any leaks or holes in your home.  Anyone can have the tests conducted in their home for about $300. The measurements obtained during our tests are part of the total energy model used to calculate our EarthCraft and LEED ratings.

We have actually had the outer envelop tested three times.  Back in March, as a proactive measure, we hired an independent company to come to the house and conduct a blower door test.  At that time we were mostly looking for gaps in our insulation so that we could fix anything before the siding went on and we had the final certifying test.  At that time, the auditor said that our house was one of the “tightest” he had measured.  There is a fine line between having it tight enough for efficiency and too tight for healthy air exchange.  You need to have some fresh air entering your home.  If the outer envelop gets too tight then a whole house fan could be necessary.  At that time, without siding, caulk or paint on the house we were right where we wanted to be.  We didn’t have the ducts tested because Delta Temp, the company that installed the geothermal heating and cooling system, had already tested it as part of their routine service.

The second test took place in July when EarthCraft came for official testing.  The outer envelop test went as expected but there were some issues with the ductwork testing so they had to reschedule.  The third time was a charm.  Brad and Paige came back this week and repeated the blower door test for the outer envelop and were able to successfully complete the duct test.  Both tests indicated that we are in the high efficiency and healthy zones!

A blower door is a big fan that mounts into the frame of an exterior door. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the air pressure inside. The higher air pressure outside then flows in through any unsealed cracks or openings. The test simulates 20 MPH winds blowing on the house from all 6 sides at the same time and determines air infiltration into the house.

There is a frame and flexible panel that fits into the doorway, a variable-speed fan, a pressure gauge that measures the pressure difference inside and outside, and an airflow gauge with hoses.

Setting up the blower door test back in March.


An infrared camera is used to identify “hot spots” where there is a leak or gap in insulation.  This tool is so sensitive that it detected a hole in the foam insulation about the size of dime in a narrow corner in the peak of the attic.  Here the tool is showing where the glass of the window and the frame meet.  It detects a sliver of heat exchange.  The guy chuckled when I seemed concerned about this and he dismissed it as “nothing.” IMG_6897

Paige from EarthCraft is using the same tool to follow ducts behind the wall to see if there are any leaks in the system.DSC_0024

Brad is covering the air intake with tape.  All the vents in the house are sealed during the testing.DSC_0015

Black plastic covers are placed over some of the high vents.DSC_0010

An air pressure gauge is inserted into a vent during the duct test. DSC_0006

This contraption sucks all the air out of the ducts.DSC_0022

The doors have to be kept closed during the testing.  Once the fan was removed the dogs made a quick escape through the hole.  You can see just the bottom of Shelly’s legs as she darted away.  Luci exited right behind her! DSC_0013

John completed his paperwork with Richard (LEED Consultant) documenting his construction methods and materials.


We have submitted all of our receipts (proof of purchases) and paperwork to Richard who will finalize documentation with EarthCraft.  Together they will calculate our points and file for our certifications.  We are really looking forward to wrapping up that part of the project!

Another set of heroes are on the scene!

The summer months brought a slow down to Honor’s Corner.  We needed a financial respite from the constant check writing and John needed to go live his own life for a few months.  We spent the summer getting used to the house and enjoyed as much time as possible with our youngest child, who has since left for college, and her older sister who was home for a few weeks.  Cooler weather has arrived and we are focused on the final phases of the project!

Honor’s Corner To-Do List

1. Finish exterior painting

2. Back porch finishes (ceiling fan, lights, floor trim)

3. Back yard landscaping (drainage system and plantings)

4. Carport construction

5. Fence design and installation

6. Rain Water Pillow and downspouts installation

7. Inside punch list (paint touch-ups, toilet wobble, baseboard trim in loft, one electrical outlet that doesn’t work)

8. Final Inspection for LEED and EarthCraft Certifications

Some of these items are pretty big;  the carport and back yard landscaping for example, but all the items are actually in the works.  We have a landscape plan, the carport plans are with a design company and the exterior painting is almost complete!

The remainder of this post is dedicated to our painters.  They have really become part of the family since their arrival in January to paint the inside.  I call them “The Dynamic Duo” and Patrick jokingly calls them “Donny and Marie”.  Whatever we call them, they are definitely on our hero list!

Donny and Kathy are more than painters.  Much of what they do is repair and preparation.  Donny is the “King of Caulk.”  He used about 30 tubes of caulk on the inside and is now approaching 40 tubes on the outside!  The inside was completely new construction as is much of the outside.  Over half of the siding was replaced, all of the windows were replaced, a back porch was added and the front porch was completely sanded and refurbished, including the ceiling, columns, rails and all the trim.  Donnie & Kathy have a finely-tuned process. Donnie does all the caulking and sanding while Kathy makes the rounds with the primer and the first coat of paint.  They move methodically around the perimeter of the house, inspecting every single inch of the surface.  Once the area is repaired, sanded and caulked, Donnie joins in the painting process until that area is complete and then they move onto the next area.  Contrary to popular belief in the neighborhood, Donnie & Kathy are not married. They are long-time friends and business partners who complete each other’s sentences and anticipate each other’s moves.  Donnie & Kathy have been painting together for over 30 years.  They have an incredible work ethic and are perfectionists.  To prevent burn-out they work 6 hours a day.  They arrive everyday at 9AM sharp and work until 3PM without taking time for lunch.  They have been dedicated to our house since early August and have missed only a few days due to rain.  We smile everyday at the progress and have 100% confidence in everything they have done for our home!

Here is a look back at the two-tone siding before painting began.


One of the first areas to receive the new color: Aqua Bay!


Donnie working his magic with the caulk gun!IMG_8062 IMG_8022

John’s summer respite from the project was interrupted occasionally when large pieces of trim needed replacing.  I was happy to get a picture of all three of them early on working on the same side of the house!

Large pieces of trim on the front were completely replaced.DSC_0065

Shelly and Luci love keeping them company during the cooler temperatures! (Kathy is painting the doors “Annapolis Blue” as I type.)


Some days Luci has refused to go inside.  She is 16 years old now and uses a ramp to navigate the stairs. She will have a more permanent set up in the back yard when we finish up the landscaping.  Luci loves to be outside with Kathy!


John and Donnie have utilized two-part wood epoxy to restore small areas of rot on the original trim.

The front porch ceiling was caulked, sanded and primed before final coats of paint were applied.DSC_0032

photo 1

The house has three tall peaks that had to be sanded, repaired, caulked, primed and painted.



Donnie is hilarious.  He took a break from the painstaking process of painting the back porch ceiling for me to get a picture of him in his finest.  He is sporting a neck brace, back brace, ace bandage on his painting wrist and tape over his glasses to keep the paint from splattering in his “one good eye.”  What a mess!


Kathy on the other hand is quiet and graceful and rarely has a splatter on herself.  Her small hands ache some from decades of painting and most often I see her painting with a 2″ brush!  Her attention to detail is mind boggling!


They should wrap up in the next two weeks!


BTW: Neighbors were a bit surprised at first by the bold color but dozens of daily comments indicate that it gets the thumbs up.

Here’s what it looks like today…

DSC_0001Special thanks to my sweet friend Wendy Morton who helped me select the house colors and gave me the confidence to actually use them!

Lots of photos of the past two weeks!

In the sweltering heat we had three amazing teams transform the backyard and outside of the house.  We had a demo crew and a driveway installation crew that worked together to remove the old garage and form up an entirely new parking area for the backyard.  We also had a siding crew from Classic Construction Exteriors, Inc working to put up the long awaited siding. The garage was in the back right corner, attached to the neighbor’s garage.  It was badly cracked and the entrance was hindered by a large utility pole.  The neighborhood was happy to see it come down.  One neighbor caught wind of our plans and was able to salvage hardware to make repairs to his garage down the street. photo8

photo 7

When the dumpster was delivered I was able to catch a glimpse of how the sidewalk was damaged by the well digger and dumpster deliveries over the past 18 months. DSC_0039

The first bite into the garage!DSC_0047



Going after the roof.DSC_0067

Knocking down the front.DSC_0074

With the garage completely removed, the second team arrived to grade the area for the driveway and parking space.DSC_0078

Because the utility pole was directly in front of the former garage entrance, the city allowed us to cut in a driveway from the side street and install a new parking area on that side of the yard.  We will have a covered parking pad that will be closed to the street and alley but open to the inside yard.  We will do some repair to the neighbor’s garage where our’s was attached and then paint it white to match the rest of his garage. Notice the boss’s little boy who came along with his Dad to check on the team. He had a blast playing on the dirt pile and throwing dirt clumps!  DSC_0098


The damaged sidewalk is removed and the area is prepared for a new walk and driveway apron.

The massive granite curb has to be removed to make room for the driveway.DSC_0082


The heavy granite broke into pieces as it was lifted.  The pieces are being saved for future projects.DSC_0085


The city has very specific requirements for the installation and an inspector was on sight each day to be sure the layers of gravel were prepared properly and the concrete was poured correctly. DSC_0108


A vapor barrier was installed before the concrete was poured.DSC_0112

Tamping down the new sidewalk and driveway apron.DSC_0115

Many hands make for fast work! In less than an hour the team had the concrete spread and leveled!DSC_0125




A “Broom” finish was applied so that the concrete won’t be slippery when wet.DSC_0144

The team followed the same procedure for the sidewalk the next day and one an additional day was needed for the driveway apron.DSC_0146

In the end the parking area was “scored” with a saw to allow for expansion and contraction and hopefully reduce cracking in the future.DSC_0148


Here is a “Before & After” look.  Eventually the parking area will be covered and enclosed by fencing.


While all this was going on, the Hardiplank crew arrived to install siding to the house. Much of the gray siding was removed last summer in order to repair the rotted walls. The tan material is the new siding with a primer coating.  All of it will be painted the same color later this summer. DSC_0094

Just getting set up on the left side of the house.


 Left side complete!DSC_0146

The painter should be here in a couple of weeks!DSC_0147