A 19th-century rowhouse is reimagined for urban family living

The kitchen has an 11-foot island flanked by cabinetry. Below the counter on one wall, an Urban Cultivator grows herbs and microgreens year-round. The French door wall oven is by GE Cafe, and the hammered-copper backsplash is from Etsy. (John McDonnell)

When Roshni Ghosh and Alaap Shah found their 1,400-square-foot Shaw rowhouse in 2009, they were drawn to the 1892 details: high ceilings, six stained-glass windows and four fireplaces. The small rooms in the two-story house felt cozy, and they liked the location near the lively U Street corridor.

A few years later, they found themselves with a toddler and two busy careers, running out of closet space, office space and outdoor space. The outdated plumbing and electrical systems were wearing out and could not support modern appliances and technology. Tired of tripping on toys in the living room and having only one full-size bathroom, they contemplated moving farther out. But real estate searches in other Zip codes made them realize they couldn’t bear to leave their walkable neighborhood.

When they bought the house, Shah says, they weren’t thinking of raising kids there, but eventually they changed their minds. “We love the vibrancy of the arts and music scene in the area, as well as the diversity of the population,” Shah says. They liked the proximity to the Metro, playgrounds and shopping. And Shaw was, Shah says, becoming, arguably, “the epicenter of cool in D.C.”

The couple decided to stick with their little house. “We finally decided we wanted our dream house in the house that we already loved, but we knew we’d have to use every little part of the place to get what we wanted,” Ghosh says.

Today, after a renovation by architect Carmel Greer of District Design, the couple, now with two boys and two dogs, have a smart, kid-friendly home that has doubled in size and is full of modern, grown-up amenities.

Instead of a first floor with chopped-up rooms, there’s a big open space. The front door opens into a living area, followed by a sleek kitchen in the center of the home, defined by an 11-foot island, and then a dining table at the end. Greer had the dingy crawl space dug out to add a family room, wine room, full bath and office.

By adding a third story, Greer was able to give the family a master bedroom, a home office, generous storage and a spacious master bath, as well as a small roof terrace with views over the city. “Putting the master suite on the third floor provides additional privacy and a general sense of getting away,” Greer says. The reconfigured second floor holds the bedrooms of Rivan, 6, and Talin, 1, a guest room, and two full baths.

The house checks all the boxes for comfortable family living. Laundry areas were designed on two floors to give the family options. Storage cubes, made of reclaimed crossbeams from the house renovation, are hung on the exposed brick wall just inside the front door to hold keys, dog leashes and shoes. Two offices on different floors give each parent a space to work at home. Ghosh, 41, is vice president and chief medical information officer at Premier, and Shah, 39, is a lawyer at Epstein, Becker & Green. Having their own places to retreat with their laptops helps “accommodate the work-life balance,” Shah says.

Other features express the owners’ lifestyle and passions. Child- and dog-friendly features include durable quartzite counters and a matte finish on the floors to help protect against scratches from little hands and paws. Cooking and entertaining are always on the menu. Under a kitchen counter is the Urban Cultivator, which looks like a wine fridge but is an automated indoor garden that grows herbs and microgreens. On a recent visit, they were growing sunflower greens, sweet pea shoots, mustard greens and micro-basil. The wine-loving couple had a temperature- and humidity-controlled wine room installed on the lower level to store the bottles they pick up on trips to vineyards. The floor is made up of 1,500 wine corks they have been collecting for 15 years.

Shah and Ghosh are thankful they could stay in the house they love. “We are tremendously grateful we could build our dream house in Washington,” Shah says. “We are so blessed we were able to stay.”

The couple did feel bittersweet about having to remove so much of the original interior of the house. They made an album of relics found behind mantels and tucked in walls: a 1940 receipt from Gelb’s Grocery on Florida Avenue, a photo taken in 1875 by Julius Ulke, a 1966 D.C. Public Library card and an 1892 receipt for a payment of 20 cents. They saved all the original glass doorknobs (replacing them with a modern version by Emtek) and are looking for a way to display them.

They are happy they can preserve these things that tell the story of their home. “We fell in love with the house because of its historical beauty,” Ghosh says. “That motivated us to reinvent the home to be beautiful in a more modern way.”

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