Special to The Washington Post

View Photo Gallery: This historic home near the National Cathedral has been carefully expanded and renovated by its current owners.

In the Washington historic home market, it’s unusual for buyers to find a place that doesn’t need tinkering to make it work. And if the tinkering involves substantial remodeling, it’s hard to pull it off successfully without going crazy in the process.

But Mark Zawadsky and his wife, Sarah Slusser, did pull it off after they purchased Rosedale Cottage in Cleveland Park, with sanity in tact.

About two years ago, they bought my all-time favorite listing, an enchanting Cleveland Park cottage with an unobstructed view of the National Cathedral and Rosedale Park. Although it’s in the middle of a major city, the park setting makes it feel like it could be in the English countryside.

This home’s history is a bit fuzzy. It seems to have started off as the pig barn on the Colonial-era farm that dated back to George Washington’s day. At some point in the early 1900s, the barn was razed and turned into a guest cottage for the Rosedale estate. When the National Cathedral owned the property, it housed the St. Alban’s art teacher there. Then Youth for Understanding bought the tract of land and turned the cottage into a sort of rabbit warren of bedrooms to be used for a youth hostel.

When the previous owners, Julia Watkins and Martin Walker, bought the cottage as part of the Rosedale Park project, it was a wreck. Even though they had beautifully restored it, the house needed some expanding to make it work for the new family.

For the new owners, the house was one bedroom short, a condition they corrected by expanding the house by seven feet and bumping out the roof on the second floor. They redid the kitchen, and they enlarged the living room with a sunny south-facing addition. Finally, the unfinished basement was dark and funky, so they expanded it and finished it as a play and exercise area.

Although the photos (before and after) tell a story of what they did, here is how they did it right:

**They hired the right architect. Before they made an offer on the house, they brought Tom Kamm to look at the place and help them understand what they could and could not change.

**In addition to being very knowledgeable about historic homes, Kamm also knows his way around the historic preservation community here in Washington, a group that has stopped many renovators in their tracks. He was able to navigate through all of the approvals they needed to implement his plans, both from the Cleveland Park Historic Society and the D.C. government.

**They did not hire the lowest-bid contractor. They hired a master contractor who won the 2011 Custom Builders Award of Excellence for this project. Zawadsky spoke kindly of the contractor even after the work was finished.

Almost all of the work was completed before they moved in with their children. In old houses, there are always lead paint issues as walls get knocked out and contaminated dust covers every surface. And it’s never a great idea to try to live this type of construction zone, even when it is mostly complete.

The first time I saw Rosedale Cottage, my heart skipped a beat. When I saw it again last week after its big facelift, the same thing happened.

Pat Kennedy is a real estate agent at Evers & Co. and a blogger on Active Rain.

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