Remade With a Studied Eye

By Beth Gilbert
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, February 2, 2008

Stephen Yeonas Jr. sent a bunch of college students shopping without a budget -- and he doesn't regret it.

"Go shopping, get whatever you want and don't worry about the price," Yeonas told a group of interior design students from Marymount University.

As a class project, the students decorated a house that has been renovated by Yeonas's McLean home building firm, Yeonas & Ellis. Everything they bought had to come from Ikea, the low-cost Swedish furniture store. Otherwise, Yeonas, a Marymount board member, and his partner and sister, Stephanie Ellis, gave the budding designers carte blanche.

Located about a mile from the Ballston Metro in Arlington, the 1941 house in the 5300 block of Wilson Boulevard had been slated for demolition. It's part of what will be an enclave of six houses; when Yeonas & Ellis purchased the land, it planned to build all six new. Because of zoning regulations, though, the company decided to keep this house and enlarge it from approximately 1,100 to 1,800 square feet. The cluster now includes one new house, a second older house that may be renovated and three empty lots.

The house went on the market Jan. 17 for $699,000 and is being sold furnished. Interest and curiosity have lured steady traffic through the weekend open houses.

"The students did an exceptional job -- it's a youthful and hip design while still being totally functional," said Siobhan Rausch, an Arlington resident who visited the home with her mother-in-law and 4-year-old son, who liked all the orange.

"My students chose everything -- from plumbing fixtures to kitchen cabinets," said Jean Freeman, an interior design professor at Marymount who oversaw the six-month project. When Yeonas presented her with the idea, she initially gave her senior class just a few days to present its ideas.

The house had been gutted, so they worked from floor plans and used the Ikea Web site to select almost everything, including the kitchen sink. Yeonas and Ellis were so impressed with the choices that they asked for more input.

Freeman and her students took the project a step further and suggested architectural changes, such as moving walls, doors and a window. The result is a contemporary interior -- with an open floor plan that "has that 'loft feeling' so many buyers are looking for in new condos, but here they can actually own a single-family home," Yeonas said.

"It was so gratifying to see our designs transformed into a three-dimensional space." said Luba King, a student of Freeman's who worked on the project. King said she liked knowing that people would live with furnishings she helped select.

Yeonas, along with Ellis and John Yates, a friend and real estate agent, came up with the idea to use affordable Ikea products while enlisting the fresh perspective of interior design students at Marymount University. Their marketing strategy was to create a move-in-ready, single-family house as an alternative to a condominium. The students would relate to their target audience and get hands-on experience outside a classroom. Ikea products gave students the flexibility and freedom to make aesthetic choices, and Yeonas retained peace of mind when it came to estimating the cost. All told, they spent about $30,000, all at retail prices. Yeonas bought the stainless-steel kitchen appliances separately.

"I adore D.C. and swore I would never move," said Ann Kessinger, who lives and works in Washington's West End neighborhood. The first-time home shopper, who is in her 30s, had been looking at condos for the past six months, but the monthly condo fees on top of the roughly $600,000 price for a two-bedroom condo finally made her consider looking in Virginia, where her boyfriend thought she could get more for her money.

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