Plans for a cosmetic remodel ballooned into a full gut renovation

The house had been added onto at least twice. The front porch was mostly closed-in, and a front-facing dormer had been added to the third floor. It was opened up and simplified during the renovation.
The house had been added onto at least twice. The front porch was mostly closed-in, and a front-facing dormer had been added to the third floor. It was opened up and simplified during the renovation. (EL Studio; Anice Hoachlander)


Eric Carter and Lauren Herrington were living in a farmhouse they loved in the Palisades-Kent neighborhood in Northwest Washington but were running out of room as the family expanded to five — plus a dog.

“It was a cute little farmhouse that we bought in 2002,” says Herrington, 47, a veterinarian who is currently taking a break from practicing. Eric, 48, is an executive with a legal staffing firm.

“We got engaged on the front steps and originally wanted to keep the house,” says Herrington. “It was built in 1888, a bit higgledy-piggledy with weird-shaped rooms and a backyard.”

The family enlisted Elizabeth Emerson, principal and co-founder of EL Studio based in D.C., to plot an addition that would keep the family in the farmhouse. “It was on a slope that made it economically impossible to adapt that house or build new on that site,” say Emerson. “After trying hard for several years, we came up with a design that they really loved but they couldn’t afford it at the time. So, they decided to put it on pause.”

With the arrival of their third child, things were coming to a head. Then the family got wind of a house for sale a few blocks away.

The prospective place had four bedrooms, five baths and an in-ground pool in the backyard.

“We walked in, and the backyard was stunning,” Herrington says. “It had the indoor-outdoor living we wanted, and we thought it just needed cosmetic repairs.”

The family paid $1.867 million for the new place and decided to stay put until repairs were finished. The design team switched gears and huddled for a year while the family continued living in the farmhouse.

Peeling back older renovations

The new house began life as a bungalow but had been added onto at least twice. “It almost looked Victorian,” Herrington says. “There were stained-glass windows, Victorian-style light fixtures and a tile backsplash in the kitchen with fish on it.”

In one of the renovations, a third-story dormer had been added to create a bedroom suite. The front porch had been closed in and a rear porch had been added. Moving the dormer and reversing the functions of both porches figured into the new design scheme.

With a plan in place, demolition began in August 2020 with the pandemic playing an active role. Added Dimensions, based in Takoma Park, Md., signed on as the builder. As the layers were peeled back, the demo became more invasive.

The floors on the second story were bowing because there weren’t enough joists. The covered front porch had been barely closed in. The stairway was hanging on drywall, Herrington says.

What was supposed to be a cosmetic fixer-upper quickly ballooned into a full-blown gut job. “There were multiple times after we demoed and started rebuilding that we thought we should have just torn it down,” Herrington says. “But I think it was still advantageous to do as a renovation.”

With the pandemic in full swing, the new house and its swimming pool did offer some solace. “It was our covid treat,” Herrington says. “The crews would finish up for the day and we would come down with cocktails, put lawn chairs up, envision what it would be like to live here and what it would feel like to finally be in.”

In November 2021, they finally made the move. The home’s front facade was drastically changed as the existing third-floor dormer was removed. The front porch was uncovered to resume its role as a simple, coffee- and cocktail-sipping porch. The immediate effect led many of the neighbors to ask the family why they made the house smaller, but the living space was expanded by about 800 square feet. The exterior of the house is painted black.

The front door opens to reveal stairs bordered by a clear glass railing that leads to the upper floors and down to the basement. The expansive living room is off to the left. An entrance walkway leading from the front door is clad in gray Mutina tile patterned to look like hardwood. The living room floor is European white oak imported from Portugal.

The interior walls separating the living and dining room were removed, with headers now carrying the load of the upper floors. The original plans called for two separate rooms divided by pocket doors, but the homeowners changed their minds and went with a no-walls approach.

Heading straight past the living room leads to a wet bar on the way to the kitchen. There’s a souped-up butler’s pantry tucked behind the wet bar, which was the original location of the kitchen. The galley-style pantry is illuminated by existing skylights shining down on a mix of Henrybuilt walnut cabinetry in an iron-colored stain mixed in with open shelving.

The pantry is directly linked to the main kitchen, which is defined by a large island that helps hide the base cabinetry, also from Henrybuilt, and a Mercury range from Aga. The island offers seating for four, contains a sink and is topped with PaperStone. Other appliances include a Thermador refrigerator and a wine fridge from Sub-Zero.

“The pandemic changed some of our appliance choices because you couldn’t get them,” Herrington says.

‘We do love this house’

What used to be the home’s back porch was captured and brought inside, which helped expand the dining room and kitchen. The move also connected the family room, which is tucked into the rear corner and used to be anchored by a massive, stacked-stone fireplace.

Herrington wanted to keep a fireplace in the space but wanted something more contemporary. The team explored ways to add built-in furniture around the existing hearth to make it more inviting, but nothing worked, so it fell via the sledgehammer. A new, suspended fireplace was sourced from Focus Fireplaces based in France. Some of the models can be rotated but some building codes require that they remain locked in place.

There is a mudroom adjacent to the basement stairs, which lead down to a family hangout space, storage and a full bath. To make up for the space lost from removing the dormer on the front of the house, the new design bumped up and over what used to be the back porch.

The second level has a laundry room, kids’ rooms with full baths, and the primary suite. The main bath has a stand-alone soaking tub from Duravit and a separate water closet. The vanity was also sourced from Henrybuilt with a Corian top. The shower is curbless and doorless. The tile also came from Mutina. The third floor holds a home office and full bath.

When the family bought the new place, the old farmhouse still held a place in their hearts and because they had moved in the past for work opportunities, the possibility of another exit was on their minds.

“We’re always one foot out the door if an opportunity presents itself, but we do love this house,” Herrington says.

Because of unforeseen construction issues, the budget for the renovation became fluid and resale was always on the family’s mind. Renovation costs remain private, and the biggest challenge of the project was the uncertainty.

“You’re handing over a lot of money for a long time before you see results and even then, you’re a little nervous about — is this going to pay off?” Herrington says. “Will it actually look like what’s on paper?”

But, comfortable in their new place, the family has no doubts about their investment.©


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