Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park Street Pictures

Our top floor renovation is on hold, but we have been building a set of Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park pictures on Picasa. We are in the early stages now but added about 80 pictures of the neighborhood, tagged to their physical locations, to my Picasaweb site here


These were shot out of the sunroof of a Honda Element. In the fall we will try to produce some panoramic pictures of full row house blocks.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Introduction: Parker Flats Hard Hat Tour Photos

I went to see the progress on Parker Flats, http://parkerflats.com, a near-complete condo conversion in Ledroit Park during a hard hat tour last weekend. They have made a ton of progress turning a 100+ year old, abandoned and collapsing elementary school building into several dozen beautiful condominiums with a number of original details.

The attention to detail on this renovation was very evident and construction quality felt extremely solid. Pictures from this tour are posted following this introduction.

Note you can click on these pictures for larger versions

Parker Flats: Aerial Before View

This aerial view shows the school yard and school as it stood before renovation. 2nd St NW runs across the lower part of this picture. Note the roof had caved in (see picture under cupola below [/url]to see how this was repaired). Lot to the left was dug down three stories, filled with a parking garage, and now a large condo building is nearing completion on the former recess field.
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Parker Flats: Main Staircase

The renovated Parker Flats retains its original stone and metal stairway (2 of them, actually). This is the view up from the main first-floor lobby. Note 10' wooden arched window - the quality of this construction job is great.
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Parker Flats: Top Of Main Staircase

This picture is the top landing of the stairway - the room through the doorway is below the main cupola of the building.
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Parker Flats: Neighborhood View

This view to the Northeast shows the flat roof of Flagler Place condominiums and the peaks of Bloomingdale beyond.
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Parker Flats: Penthouse Condominium

One of the top-floor apartments - there are four surrounding the main cupola. Note vaulted ceiling, skylight, and intricate plaster job.
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Parker Flats: Huge Windows + Exposed Brick

Second floor condominium with 10' windows and cleaned, pointed historic brick wall

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Parker Flats: Landscape Contour Foam

The courtyard between the original and new condo units was completely dug out, a garage built underneath, then sheets of 4" thick styrofoam were laid out and cut to approximate the desired new contour. These were then covered with dirt, presumably to be landscaped. You can see the styrofoam used to create a light weight contour under this stairway.
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Parker Flats: Exterior Renovation Instructions

A blueprint was laying open in one of the units to a page listing the general exterior renovations - thorough and professional.
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Parker Flats: Another Original Switch

This switch is in one of the basement units. The brick around it had not yet been cleaned, as the upstairs areas had. Overall the basement was the least complete; the top two floors were essentially done.
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Parker Flats: Original Detail

In several places, the renovation had cleaned original switchplates and switches and left them in the exposed brick. This is at the ground floor stairwall.
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Parker Flats: Inside Cupola

Another example of keeping original materials is the combination of two original and two new laminated beams supporting the peak under the cupola. Some of that peak had previously been collapsed, so the renovators apparently have cut out all damaged original beams and rebuilt with newer technology. It looked solid.
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Parker Flats: Original And New

In some areas, original wood was re-used. Much of it was replaced with new materials, and the re-used portions were never damaged in any way that I saw.
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Parker Flats: First Floor Windows

Enormous (10 feet or so), striking wooden windows matching original arched tops on the first floor front.
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Parker Flats: Unit Entrances

First and second floor units adjoining common areas at each staircase are entered through a new-construction extension jutting out into original brick hallway.
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Monday, April 2, 2007

Rowhouse Project: Refinishing Original Hardwood Floors

The house's previous "renovators" had the covered the entire second and third floors with Home Depot's cheapest carpet, an off-white berber that looked presentable for about a week before it started unravelling and getting filled with dirt.

As the condition of this carpet got worse and worse, we started to realize that some sort of hardwood floor was underneath and refinishing the hardwood floor to look nice was a distinct possibility.

Over the course of several months, we pulled the carpet off the stairs, pulled out tens of thousands of old carpet tacks and staples, sanded the stairs down to their original wood, and coated with Minwax Dark Walnut stain and two coats of Minwax Polyurethane for floors. The stairs looked good - certainly better than the berber - so we decided to take the plunge and remove the second floor carpet entirely.

Besides being covered in thousands and thousands of staples and white paint overspray, about 30 linear feet of the floor boards had been worn through, water damaged, or otherwise splintered beyond the ability of wood filler to fix. Several web articles suggested that we could cut out the damaged boards and insert replacements without needing to rebuild the entire floor - but 1906 floorboards are an odd size that is apparently no longer made today.

Fortunately, Community Forklift - a nonprofit salvage yard for building materials - is located only about 15 minutes away, and they had essentially the exact same pine boards as our existing floor - probably pulled out of neighboring houses. We bought three bundles for $90 and got to work tearing out the rotted flooring.

Removing rotted floorboards without damaging the surrounding material turned out to be fairly painful. Really the only way to do it is using a chisel, carefully, to cut both ends of the board (making sure to cut over the joists), then ripping down the middle of the board, carefully removing, and repeating.

All told, it took 6-8 hours to remove the rotted floors and prepare to replace them. The wood from Communtity Forklift was in moderate shape; about half of it was cracked or had nail holes, but enough was salvageable. Another 4 hours or so spent measuring, cutting, gluing, nailing, and finally sliding the final piece down to keep the tongue and groove structure in good shape.

Off to the Home Depot on Rhode Island Ave NE to get a drum and a disk sander. These turned out to be incredibly easy to use - especially compared to the hand sanders we used on the stairs. Every "DIY" website warns you about accidently gouging your floor using drum sanders (if you let it stop while running, it will definitely grind down very quickly), but the Home Depot rental was really high quality and much easier to operate than I thought. Buy plenty of sandpaper, however - you will use more than you think, and you can return the extra.

Since these floors had not been sanded for 101 years, it took 8-10 passes with 36 grade sandpaper before they became passably level. Once rough sanded, to fill in the cracks, we vacuumed and covered the entire floor with a wood filler paste specifically made for hardwood floor refinishing.

Meanwhile, the entire house was now completely filled with dust. If you are considering doing this yourself, make sure you turn off any central heat/air, close every door, drape plastic over every surface that could possibly have dust seep in - because it will. After letting the filler dry overnight, we completely sanded again - the image showing the drum sander shows the filler once dried and halfway sanded; it worked pretty well, but generated another 1/8" or so of dust on every surface.

The cracks between boards on our floor necessitated it, but I wish we hadn't needed to use wood filler because of the dust and additional sanding.

In a total of about 12 hours sanding and filling the floors were ready for finishing. We returned the sander to Home Depot, arrived 3 minutes before they closed, fought to be allowed in and avoid a late fee, and were then charged for damage to a cord that had been present when we rented the equipment (despite the insistence by the rental guy that the Home Depot would never, ever rent something with any damage whatsoever). The woman in front of us was trying to convince them someone had stolen the tool she was planning to return out of her shopping cart and insisting they review the security video to prove her right. Always interesting.

Finally, finished with stain, let dry for 24 hours and polyurethaned. Unfortunately, we had the brilliant idea to use glossy polyurethane; since then we have seen exactly zero other examples of gloss poly on floors and are now planning to lightly sand and refinish with flat. Gloss looks kind of interesting, but really not quite right and really shows smudges.The project generated dramatically more dust than we expected and took a fair amount of motivation to complete, but the results are as professional as I could hope for and the costs were reasonable.

Friday, March 23, 2007


The top floor currently consists of two main (low-ceilinged) rooms and a roof deck behind. The front area is being used as a home theater...

The back room as a sitting area filled with leftover furniture...

The roof deck, our favorite part, is raised a few feet (for no apparent reason)...

The current plan is to turn the sitting area into a bathroom, the TV room into a master bedroom, and redesign the roof deck.


This blog is planned to record the process of renovating a row house owned by myself and my fiancee. The house, built in 1906 in the Ledroit Park Section of Washington, DC, was repeatedly (and poorly) renovated over the years. When I purchased it five years ago it was an interesting combination of nice and disastrous (windows made of plexiglass in some rooms, basement flooded when washer turned on, etc).

We have made a number of improvements ourselves - finishing the basement, restoring the hardwood floors, etc - but have decided to contract with an architect, Studio 27 Architecture (www.studio27arch.com) to completely renovate the top (fourth) floor, which currently 'features' ceilings that slope down to about 5'5" (I am 6'3"), a leaky roof, a deteriorating deck, and inadequate heating. Studio 27 took measurements yesterday; progress will begin shortly.