My home demolition: The architecture

My name is Mary. I’m an aging person with an aging house. I’m going to tell the story of transforming my house from something I don’t want into something I do...

In my family, I am never too far from architects. My sister and brother and sister-in-law are architects, and my mother was an architectural historian. But that doesn’t mean I know what to look for when I went around shopping for one. My sister lives close by but is consumed with another project. Besides, in case I start yelling at my architect, it’s better that it not be a family member.


Peter VanderPoel and Ed Gill in front of Mary’s house. (Mary McCutcheon )

When we embarked on the renovation of that house, Peter and I were both interested in putting solar panels on our roofs. Peter used his neighborhood connections to assemble a cooperative of people who all went together on the project, so we saved money and shared our experiences. If you are ever interested in doing a similar project, scout around for others and cut a deal with the solar panel providers. It might work out well.

When I bought the house across the street last fall, I naturally approached Ed Gill and Peter VanderPoel again. I lured Peter into the idea by promising him that “we’d have some fun” with all kinds of new technology. I also think the green objectives I had for the house appealed to him. Once I had him on board, I told him about the other goals.

The house should not take up much more of the present footprint. In fact, if we can call it a renovation rather than a new construction, we can keep the present sub-minimal setbacks from two or three property lines. The current house was cobbled together from a 1928 core over 40 years. It is missing a sense of coherence, but I like its low and modest look. If I want to have three bedrooms, though, I am pretty much stuck putting a second story on top, and if I want to house my live-in health care aide (when the time comes), I want to have a finished basement.

The horizontal and simple look as well as the energy efficiency can both be achieved with a shallow pitched roof and eaves that extend out on the south face of the house. Here’s one of the “houses of cards” that Peter made:


(Peter VanderPoel)

As I think more about this elevator, I’ll have to do some research on questions like: Does the distance between levels have to be exactly the same? Do the doors have to open in the same direction on all the levels? And what happens if I get stuck in the elevator when there’s a power outage?

Peter has sketched in the shaft area but both he and Ed advise against putting an elevator in until “the time comes.” This is probably a good idea because elevator technologies may improve, and I might as well have the best possible one when I actually need it. Besides, in the near term, the shaft can serve as storage.

Mary McCutcheon is a retired anthropology professor at George Mason University.

Read her first installment of My Demolition Saga

Read the second installment here.

Do you have your own home renovation story to tell? E-mail Olga Khazan or contact us on Twitter: @postrealestate.

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