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Home Renovation Turns a Dreary Interior Into a Soothing, Elegant Space

Ten minutes after Loi Thai spotted his current house he knew he was going to buy it. After an 18-month renovation that took the house down to its studs and back, the once cramped, dark and dreary interior was transformed into a series of open and inviting light-filled spaces.

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By Terri Sapienza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ten minutes after Loi Thai spotted his current house he knew he was going to buy it, and he wasn't even looking to move. Just two months earlier an extensive renovation and restoration of his previous home had been completed.

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But the heart wants what it wants. "It was so unique," he said. "I was in love."

After an 18-month renovation that took the house down to its studs and back, the once cramped, dark and dreary interior was transformed into a series of open and inviting light-filled spaces. Since April, Thai has been living and enjoying life in his new home in upper Northwest Washington.

It was the home's exterior that initially caught Thai's eye. On a street lined with farmhouses and foursquares, the Mediterranean-style stucco house with a green-glazed tile roof and deep wraparound porch stood apart. So did the series of French doors and windows that lined the facade, the expansive yard and the location atop a small hill, privately set back from the street.

The interior was a different story.

"The inside was awful," Thai says. "It was very dark, the rooms were odd proportions and the flow was very choppy."

Aside from the addition of central air conditioning and a 1950s kitchen, the house had not been updated since it was built in 1916. Rooms were small and dark, the floor plan was confusing and there were too many windows, doors and radiators to properly place furniture. But Thai and his partner, Thomas Troeschel, recognized the good structural bones of the house and decided to gut the inside and make it their own.

"It's very European and gracious," Thai says about the house. "And it hadn't been added onto badly, which we liked. We wanted to put our own stamp on it."

Putting their personal stamp on the house was simple enough for Thai and Troeschel, who are owners of Tone on Tone, a Bethesda shop they opened in 2004 that specializes in 18th- and 19th-century painted Swedish antiques. (The name of the shop reflects the gradations of pale colors found on Swedish pieces.)

To help them achieve their vision, they called on friend and architect Stephen Muse. "Stephen is a client of ours, and we wanted someone who understands our furniture," Thai says. Because, he adds while looking around his home, "as you can see, I'm my best customer."

Four small bedrooms were broken apart and converted to two larger ones. Some doorways and stair railings were eliminated to open up rooms. The front door was moved from the center of the house to the left side, and several windows became full-length French doors. All the radiators were removed, and an addition on the back provided space for a new kitchen, dining room, sitting room, powder room, mudroom and back terrace.

At 3,000 square feet, the house is big but no mansion, which is exactly what Thai intended. "I didn't want a big house," he says. "We wanted stately rooms in a manageable-size house. It didn't make sense to have too many bedrooms because all of our relatives live in town." Thai grew up in Arlington, Troeschel in College Park.


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