Remaking a Georgetown house

September 19, 2012

D.C. Council member Jack Evans and his wife, Michele, a decorator, needed to turn his narrow 1876 Georgetown rowhouse into a comfortable home for their new blended family of eight. Michele’s proposal: Toss the traditional first-floor layout, but carve out places for all six kids to have their own bedrooms. His vote: Go for it.

The Evanses hired Washington architect Dale Overmyer and embarked on a year-long renovation and redecoration completed last November. The plan was to forgo the formal living room, dining room, kitchen and back patio layout found here and in many of the area’s 19th-century townhouses. They tore down the first-floor walls, creating one stylish family zone with places to cook, eat, study, work, entertain and lounge. At the back of the first floor, a curtain of glass with massive French doors opens onto a playful garden room. There, Sunbrella sofas curve around a fireplace and outdoor TV. Last Thanksgiving, 18 people feasted, warmed by two patio heaters.

Overmyer says the project took the concept of the family room as the traditional gathering place for parents and children and redefined it. The open first-floor layout, he says, is ideal because “parents can connect with their children more of the time when they are in the house.” The basement remodel created a kid-friendly lounge plus two additional bedrooms.

When Jack Evans and Michele Seiver got married in September 2010, they each brought three children from previous marriages into the household. Although the two eldest are away at college, there are still four high-schoolers, with all their backpacks, cellphone chargers and sneakers, living at home. Each day is crammed with after-school activities, community meetings, plumbers, back-to-school nights and shopping lists. Jack (D-Ward 2), who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1998, says he plans to run the next time there’s a mayoral election. His schedule, in addition to the kids’ activities, is jammed with council meetings and evening and weekend events.

When they’re home, the family likes to spend as much time together as it can. And everyone pitches in to keep laundry spinning and hockey bags off the floor. As Michele puts it, “Perfection is no longer the goal. Don’t sweat the petty stuff.” She keeps things moving forward by sticking up reminder Post-it notes to herself, trying to keep one step ahead of a family in constant motion. Michele is a gourmet cook, but in a time crunch she can also quickly whip up breakfast for dinner.

On a recent day Jack, 58, who has represented Ward 2 since 1991, was on a call in the front of the house discussing Metro operating hours after Nationals games. With the open plan, a visitor could imagine any of their four teens grabbing a handful of trail mix from the glass jar on the kitchen island, doing homework at the table outside or cradling a laptop on the kitchen banquette.

Because space in an 18-foot-wide house is tight, Michele, 55, keeps her papers stashed in an Elfa rolling file cart and parks it wherever she can find a sliver of space. “Step into my office,” she says, lifting up a sofa cushion and retrieving her calendar.

The Evans story is well known in D.C. political circles. Jack Evans found the then- run-down, four-story brick house in 1996, when his first wife, Noel, was pregnant with triplets. The house has beautiful views of the gardens at the historic Bowie-Sevier estate from the back yard and from decks on the top two floors. They renovated, turning the former rooming house back into a family residence. (“We found 29 phone lines in the house,” Jack recalls.)

Noel died of cancer in 2003 at age 46. Jack juggled single-dad duties for the triplets, Katherine, John and Christine, now 15, with his work as a council member and a lawyer. He met Michele Seiver, who was divorced and had three children, in 2007. They dated for three years before they married. Michele, a Wyoming native, once was a buyer at Garfinckel’s but eventually pursued her interest in decorating and design. Her children Sam Seiver, 22, and Maddy Seiver, 19, are away at college and Jack Seiver, 17, is a high school senior.

Although a 3,600-square-foot house would not be considered small, it is a bit challenging for a family of eight (and Kelly the golden retriever) and all their skis and basketballs.

“Almost everything had to have a dual purpose,” says Michele. Under the breakfast banquette are storage drawers for pie tins and tart pans; a black demi-lune table camouflages a radiator and doubles as a sideboard.

There were already five bedrooms in the house: three on the third floor and two on the second floor. To get two more, they dug out the basement to fit a pair of bedrooms separated by pocket doors.

The family kitchen, with its Carrara marble center island and white faux leather banquette, has a French bistro feel. “Michele invested tremendous personal energy and expertise into the kitchen,” Overmyer says. “She loves to cook, and she shopped for things that were compact and functional.” They incorporated open shelving and a hanging magazine rack. Sleek, espresso-colored wood cabinets stretch to the ceiling and are accessed by a rolling library ladder. There is a tall, built-in wine cooler. “It’s supposed to be filled with fabulous wines, but now it’s mostly water and soda,” Michele says. In the corner, there’s a small potting area with a soapstone sink.

The outdoor room was the only new living space. “If you have a bigger family, you usually do an addition, but we could not increase our square footage,” Michele says. “We could, however, add an outdoor room to use eight months of the year.” She went for hard-wearing furniture: a zinc-topped folding table and galvanized steel chairs. She found the best deals for custom weatherproof cushions at Cushion Source. The outdoor TV from Frontgate is housed in a cabinet with a copper roof to withstand the elements.

Michele has learned to live “smaller and leaner” with no hall closets, attic or garage. In the winter, patio cushions have to be stored under beds.

But what Georgetown houses lack in space, they make up with charm.

Many evenings you’ll find the council member sitting in the front bay window working under the glow of a lamp at a limestone-topped table that is in effect the family dining room table. (It can accommodate just eight.) “Jack loves to sit at the front table and connect with the community. It’s a real urban way to live,” says Overmyer, who happens to be a neighbor.

“I guess this was the only place really left for me to claim,” Jack says, plunking down his mobile devices on the limestone. “But being right here at the window is nice. I’ve come to think of it as my front porch.”

Living stylishly in small spaces

Whether you have a large family or a small house, or both, there are tricks to making your home seem spacious, stylish and organized. Michele Evans offers her range of ideas that create the illusion of space, keep rooms organized and save time.

1. Use time-saving cleaning devices. Jack Evans bought Michele a Neato Robotics robotic vacuum to help keep up with the dog hair shed by Kelly, their golden retriever. The XV-21 model is designed specially for pet owners and allergy sufferers.

2. Conserve kitchen counter space. Seek out small appliances that preserve valuable counter real estate. At Brew Express, Michele found a coffeemaker that is built into the wall.

3. Create storage in unexpected places. Make use of out-of-the-way spaces to house frequently used items. Because there is no coat closet, Evans asked the contractor to build in a knee-high wall slot in the vestibule to stash umbrellas.

4. Make a clear choice. Lucite is a chic material for end tables, coffee tables or chairs, especially in small rooms. Transparency gives the illusion of more space. The Evans house has several small, clear end tables. Michele is a big fan of Kartell’s Louis Ghost Chair by Philippe Starck, and she has one at her mirrored vanity table.

5. Go keyless. In a large family, house keys get misplaced and kids can get locked out. Her solution: Install a keypad lock system with a deadbolt and give each family member the code. There is no key to carry. She found one that cost about $110 by Schlage.

The home and design coverage of Jura Koncius has taken her inside hundreds of homes, from tiny studios in Penn Quarter to country castles in Warrenton. Jura also hosts the Home Front live chat, Thursdays at 11 a.m. ET.
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