The house is in Belle Haven, a subdivision just south of Alexandria; the majority of the houses, including ours, were built before World War II. The house is now for sale and I toured it with a real estate agent.
With a level of detachment and objectivity that is only possible if you wait 26 years before visiting your childhood home, I belatedly realized that I grew up in a late-1930s version of a “Not So Big House,” a highly efficient, 10-room, 2,650-square-foot floor plan above grade with a finished, walkout basement of about 800 additional square feet.
Moreover, the house has many of the features that buyers are looking for today, including four generously sized bedrooms spread out over three floors plus a fifth and smaller one in the finished basement, large closets (including one bona fide walk-in), well-proportioned spaces that are relatively easy to furnish and some unusual details including a pair of lead glass windows on each side of the living room fireplace that were hidden behind plaster the entire 45 years that my parents owned the house.
Our somewhat odd-duck floor plan (in the entire subdivision of more than 400 houses, only three have it) was originally built for a brother and sister, not a typical family of that era. Nonetheless, it proved to be easily adaptable to a growing household (our family grew from four to six, and some years later, my grandfather moved in) and the floor plan would suit many households today, including those with multiple generations, stepfamilies and families with teenagers.
The bedroom and bath over the garage have enough separation from the hubbub of the main living area to be an in-law suite or a room for a teenager who wants to be at some remove from his or her parents. The second floor has two bedrooms, each roughly 12 by 22 feet (larger than most master bedrooms in brand-new, comparably sized houses) and a single bathroom.
The two rooms can be combined as a master suite with an adjoining sitting room (as it is currently furnished) or treated as two separate bedrooms, one for the parents and one for younger children who still need to sleep near Mom and Dad.
The single bedroom and bath plus a sitting room on the third floor afford maximum privacy for a nimble granny who could climb two flights of stairs several times a day, an au pair or a teenager who doesn’t want to share a bathroom with a stepsibling of the opposite sex (a common issue with stepfamilies). The fifth bedroom and bath in the walk-out basement has a separate entrance that offers both privacy and independence for an adult child temporarily living with his or her parents.