In our never-ending quest to see the inside of nearly every house in Old Town Alexandria, Wendy and I are quite familiar with the area. When we learn of a local open house, a quick glance at the address usually sparks a discussion where we can easily identify the specific house in a specific block, and even specific details that we enjoy about the house. However, last weekend our open housing experience was just a little bit different. In honor of today's post, we're going with our newly created Old Town Home logo that is more fitting for the house we toured. We hope you enjoy.

Old Town Home

In the middle of the week we noticed a listing for an open house in the 200 block of North Fairfax Street. This particular block is filled with very historic and large to very large homes. Many of these homes we would easily and quickly trade our place for, but we didn't immediately recognize this listing as one of those homes. Instead we went back and forth, "Is it the house with the two front doors? Or is it the large painted brick house? Is it the one with the brick facade over clapboards? Which side of the street is it on?" Then it dawned on us, the listing was for the very large back half of an equally impressive building that fronts the street. That front building was turned into condos, but this back section is being sold as a single home with large yard and garage/carriage house. Since we had never seen the inside of this house, and barely even recognized the outside, our interests were piqued.

Before I go any further in our open house recap, let me first say that I am not going to be on my soap box about a bad renovation. All of the ill I may write about this property is not meant to detract from the home's value or potential. The agents who are listing the house know the shape of the house, they're not trying to sell this as a finished renovation or anything, and they know the right owner with the right bank account needs to come along to bring this home back to its former glory. The house is what it is, which is why it is listed "as is." I going to try to focus on what the house is today and speculate on what it could become.

As I said, the house is the back portion of what was a very grand residence. The portion that is for sale has a large four bedroom and four and a half bathroom living space, spacious garden, one car garage, and carriage house living area with full bathroom that can be rented out. It is about 3,600 sqare feet of living space over three floors. The specs are impressive and obviously provides plenty of space for just about anyone.

Since the house isn't on the street, it doesn't really have a front door. Instead you get to the house by walking down the alley next to the house and into the back yard. When walking up to the house you are greeted with this rather unexpected and impressive view in a style you don't normally see in Old Town.

The back yard is the first thing that welcomes you. Though far from its former manicured glory, you can see the potential for a very cool, large, and private space. There is even a small soaking pool/water feature.

Before entering the house, the agent warned us that the home had been fully renovated in the early to mid 1980s, and that many of the home's historic items had been removed during this time. It was disappointing to hear this, but going in we were expecting the absolute worst.

What we were faced with was a house that hadn't really been touched since that 1980s renovation. And when we say 1980s renovation, we mean 1980s renovation. 

The home had been lived in until very recently, but we believe the owner was quite elderly and hadn't been able to properly maintain it for some time. Many of the rooms had mold, crumbling or holey walls, water stains on the ceilings, or gaps and cracks in disintegrating bricks and windows that let the elements inside.

The renovation was interesting to say the least. The main stairs had been replaced with something out of Miami Vice, there's carpeting and bad wallpaper throughout, and the kitchen sports the latest and greatest appliances and cabinetry from the 1980s.

Let's not forget the windows or doorways to the other portion of the house that had been blocked off and converted to mirrored elements...there was even a mirrored ceiling or two thrown in for good measure.

The bathrooms are all classic examples of late 1980s styles and renovation. I felt like I was walking back in my grade school friends' houses. Maybe there is something to Back to the Future being set in 1985.

Floral wallpaper, wall-to-wall teal carpeting, and mirrors were the clear recurring theme.

Ok, now that I've gotten all of the bad news out of the way, lets talk about some of the great stuff this house still has. The home was originally built in 1805 and still has a fair amount of character intact. From random width heart pine flooring to original doorways with fanlight details.

Looking around this home it is quite obvious that it was once very impressive and could reclaim that reputation if the right buyer comes along. Just look at the massive fireplace at one of the basement entrances.

To the credit of the sellers, rather than slap a few coats of paint on it an try to pass it off as more than it is, they've left the home in its current state and are simply looking for a good buyer. This is a project and a half for sure, but one that the right contractor and owner team could do wonders with.

The large balcony overlooking the yard feels like something straight out of the New Orleans French Quarter, and you can just feel that there were once great parties that took place here. I can picture it as a sleeping porch with a beadboard ceiling, a few large and slow rotating fans, and several chairs for lounging. If you squint really hard you may be able to see it too.

At nearly $2 million, the price for this home is far from cheap, and I'm not even going to hazard a guess at what the renovation costs may reach (ok, maybe I will... $700k-$1m), but this home is absolutely in need of the right buyer.

To bring this home back from the 1980s to the early 1800s, any buyer will need to make extensive use of salvaged materials from various sources, period appropriate details, and an excellent landscape architect to transform the outdoor space into a feature rather than an afterthought. The home still retains enough of the original elements, such as the large windows and fireplaces, that you can use those as the jumping off point for the rest of the house.

The whole renovation will need to start from the outside and work in. The roof is suspect with lots of water damage on the third floor ceiling. Walls have evidence of water infiltration through some black mold and crumbling bricks, so an expert mason and significant repoint is also in the cards.

I really hope the right person comes along. This house is way too large, way too cool, and way too intact to be chalked up as a lost cause. I think the worst thing that could happen would be for a developer to buy the house and turn it into a few more condos.

Oh, I almost forgot one of the oddest features of the home. A large two story oil mural was painted in 1986 on the wall in the stairwell. It is a massive nature scene that highlights a boy who is apparently drinking from the stream. The only thing is, the boy appears to be face down and possibly drowning in the water. It may be one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen in an open house.

But all of the quirkiness aside, if you've got really *really* deep pockets and are looking to take on a massive renovation in the middle of Old Town, this may be the house for you. Space, yard, parking, privacy, and history are all here waiting to be recovered from what it is today. And honestly, how often do you get to experience mirrored walls under grand arches in narrow bathrooms?

If you're interested in more information on the house (I'm looking at all of the lottery winners, professional athletes, and captains of industry who read our blog, I'm sure there are tons of those), check out the home's listing on the Keller Williams website.

And now or our game...

Would you trade?

Alex: Nope, no way. I think you know I like a good project, but this one may be too much. We've put too much into our house to abandon it for something that is missing most of its original detail. And our home's floor plan and flow, though smaller, work better than this house. I also don't think we could afford the renovation and annual taxes. Remember, this is an even trade game as far as the sale price of the house, but we still need to function within our own realistic funds, and I don't think our funds would be cutting it on this one!

Wendy: Does anyone remember the movie The Skeleton Key with Kate Hudson? This place is just about as creepy and reminiscent as the large southern home featured in that movie. From the algae-laden pool, to the molded walls, to the horrifying 1980s decor, nothing screams "get me outta here" quite like this real estate gem. I know, I know. Anything is possible with enough time and money, and I'm sure this structure could be restored to its once impressive and imposing glory. But I'm just not up to the task. Plus, even with reconfiguration, I'm not a huge fan of the floorplan nor would I want to have to enter my home from an alley. Maybe my judgement is clouded by my obsession with "my" house on Lee Street, but I'm going to take a pass on today's Open Housing feature.

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.

Photo Credits: Listing agent, Keller Williams Realty, and Susan Cook where "2011 MRIS" is noted.

Comments 6


Spencer Koch
12/14/2011 at 4:17 PM
I would like to know how the place smelled LOL.
Old Town Home
12/14/2011 at 7:18 PM
Surprisingly enough, it wasn't that bad. A little musty maybe. That's an odd thing about old houses. A new house that is wet will smell really bad, but that's because it has tighter seals. Old houses have so many poorly insulated areas that the smell tends to escape and never builds.
12/15/2011 at 6:37 AM
The colonnade reminds me more of a Charleston side piazza. Taking down those foggy sliders and opening the colonnade back up would be the coolest and easiest improvement.
I agree! Those sliders have to go. I can only imagine what an amazing entertaining and lounging space it could be, especially when it overlooks a well manicured garden. I can picture myself with a nice cold glass of lemonade! :-)
1/4/2012 at 3:23 PM
What a beautiful house! It definitely has great bones and could be something spectacular with the right people in charge. The porch and garden sell it for me.
I agree with you Sam about the porch and garden. They could be pretty amazing with a little (okay, a lot) of TLC.
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