Every once in a while Wendy and I like to take a stroll around Old Town on a nice Sunday afternoon and wander into an open house if we run into one along the way. Wait, who am I kidding? Correction: almost every single weekend Wendy and I like to stalk the local Old Town house listings to see what is new to the market and what is going to be open on Sunday, often planning the houses we'll visit several days in advance. If an old house peaks our interest, we head out to snoop around, rain or shine, freezing cold or blistering sun. We're obsessed, we know, but we're passionate about homes. And last weekend was no exception to our weekly adventure.

Using Redfin, our real estate iPhone app of choice, Wendy and I noticed that a house we absolutely love was recently placed on the market. One of Old Town's older homes, built in 1783, this house is located on the quaint and historic "Captain's Row" section of Prince St. Captain's Row is a one block section of the street near the Potomac that retains the historic cobblestones that once lined Old Town's streets. The portion of the street was named for the ship captains that often lived in the vicinity, and the subsequent houses they built for their family members.

The house, though modest at first glance, is rather impressive if you know a little of the back story.

When we first moved to the area in 2000, this house and the house to its left were essentially falling apart. They had long since been occupied, and this house was in rough shape from the rusted roof down to the dirt floor basement. The house was over 220 years old and was in need of some serious TLC.

Sometime around 2004-2005, Wendy and I noticed work starting on these two houses. One day while walking buy, we saw a gentleman standing out front and struck up a conversation about the work he was overseeing. He was the owner of the houses and had purchased both with the intent of restoring them and selling them.

We're not talking about house flipping here, we're talking about an actual restoration done right, to make sure the next person that come's along doesn't throw granite counters on an otherwise unstable structure and call it "elegant." And he was doing a great job. For example, see the 12 over 12 window sash -- true divided light -- custom made from mahogany, and glazed with salvaged wavy glass. If you want something similar for your house, an Amish man named Yoder who lives up in Pennsylvania can do it for you, but he doesn't have a phone and you need to find him. I passed his name along to  Bill from Enon Hall many years ago and he used Yoder for his window sash and doors as well.

In talking with the owner, we realized his love for old houses runs deep, as he also owns what is thought to be the oldest house in Alexandria, built in 1734, on the corner of Prince St. and St. Asaph. After he purchased it, he removed the inappropriate siding and brought it to what you see today. 

We've been on a tour of the house, which is surprisingly large (greater than 3,000 sqft), and boasts a full gourmet kitchen, four working fireplaces including a massive cooking fireplace, and original privies (toilets) in the back yard.

But enough about him and his glorious old house, and back to our open house fun. As I was saying, Wendy and I excitedly ventured out to the open house as we've long wanted to see what the renovation was able to accomplish. Upon entering the house, you really felt like you could have walked back in time. The floors are original and undulating from many years of settling. One of the first things you see is the working fireplace with original mantel. 

And when you glance up at the ceiling, the exposed beams in this room give it a very comfortable feeling.

Although it is only two rooms deep on each floor, the house is actually four full floors including the finished attic and basement, which is why it is over 2,200 sqft. Each floor is nicely done with adequately high ceilings. Nothing in the house screams contemporary or modern, and all finishes are appropriate for the house. The attic finished space is a nice additional room, though a dormer off of the back would have been nice for some natural light.

But the real highlight of the house is actually the basement. When we spoke to the owner he was in the midst of a basement excavation, digging out the shallow dirt floor to accommodate an actual living space. The result of what they did was stunning.

A rebuilt stone foundation on all exterior walls feels like it has been there since the house was built. And the large brick fireplace/wall, dives the kitchen from the informal dining area.

This basement also shows off reclaimed heart pine flooring and the original timbers used for the basement structure of the first floor.


It even hides another half bath just off of the kitchen with one of the best walls I've ever seen in a bathroom.

As you can see from the photos, the time and effort spent restoring this home went above and beyond what you typically see in a normal house on the market. And, the level of effort is appropriate given the historic significance of the home.

So after we go through a house, usually on our way out the front door, Wendy and I play a game. We call that game:

Would You Trade?

It is often a little exercise in delusion. We say, "If someone offered you that house for our house, would you trade straight up?" I say delusion because the asking price of the house doesn't matter, it is just a completely and total hypothetical.

And the verdict with this house:

Wendy: No. I love the area, the curb appeal of the home, and the home's age offers so much charm. But having my kitchen in the basement, as beautiful as it was, just wouldn't work for me. The general floor plan of the house is what leads me to say no on this one.

Alex: Maybe, but probably not. The house has so much going for it, perfect location, wonderful age, great restoration...but the kitchen is in the basement, it has no parking, the yard is tiny, and for me, the renovation is done. Basically, I would love to live in that house, but I don't think I could trade ours for it.

Do you like going to open houses if something is in your neighborhood? Do you stalk open houses like we do? Are you on a first name basis with many of the real estate agents in your area like we are? Please let us know.

Interested in reading about other interesting homes for sale? Want to offer your take on "would you trade"? Check out the Open Housing section of Old Town Home.

Comments 2


Lisa Schulz
5/18/2011 at 2:26 AM
Instead of "stalk" we like to "tour" old Rhode Island mansions, but I can't believe this house is still a private residence. We toured one last weekend that is three years newer, owned by the RI Historical Society.
Old Town Home
5/18/2011 at 2:26 AM
Old Town was one of the first places in the country that was put on the National Register of Historic places when the register was established in 1966. Today, there are over 40 individual places in old town that are on the register. With so many old places around us, they tend to focus more on the historical significance of a building or location rather than the building itself. As a result, there are a lot of 18th and early 19th century places around us that are very cool but still private homes. We <3 to stalk all of them :-)
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