A family’s renovation of nearly their entire home in North Arlington, Va., started with a desire for a better laundry room.

Phillip Ross and his wife, Ylang Nguyen, found themselves unable to keep up with the laundry generated by their family of five, which includes three boys.

“The laundry machines were in a closet in the kid’s bathroom,” says Nguyen, 47, who works as a vice president at a local tech start-up. “The washing machine had broken down multiple times because I think we were overfilling it. The dryer vents kept clogging because there was a long vent that went through the attic and then out of the house. We needed a laundry room, and that’s what started the project.”

Their home is a 42-year-old, 3,200-square-foot central hall Colonial renovated by the original owners in 2009. A great room had been added onto the back and the laundry area had been moved upstairs to provide space for an office nook/outdoor tool shed combination that popped off the side of the house.

Ross and Nguyen, who grew up in Northern Virginia, paid $790,000 for the house in 2013. They were initially outbid on the sale by another prospective buyer who wanted to put a different addition onto the house. That expansion was nixed by a legal clause and the deal fell through.

To Ross and Nguyen, the house was in a desirable neighborhood for schools and although it wasn’t perfect, it was livable and available. “We had put offers on two other houses, the market was really hot in 2013, and we were outbid multiple times,” says Nguyen.

Before the sale, the family had been renting a 700-square-foot walk-up in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. They moved there in 2008 from London as the birth of three children and a desire to return to Northern Virginia had them looking in Arlington. “We made the move because our families are still here plus the stress and cost of raising small children in New York was too much,” says Nguyen.

When the family bought the house, they had no plans to renovate until the laundry situation piled onto other emerging issues. “There was no natural light in the kitchen even in the middle of the day,” says Nguyen.

The lack of light was compounded by bad flow on the entire first floor. “Right at the bottom of the stairs there was a powder room, and the HVAC stuff was connected to it,” says Ross, 49, a stay-at-home dad. “It didn’t make sense. Besides the useless office space, the powder room and the HVAC dominated the ground floor — it blocked everything up.”

The family consulted with Elizabeth Emerson and Mark Lawrence, the principals and co-founders of EL Studio, which has offices in New York and D.C. Nguyen had worked with Lawrence’s wife and knew the practice. The architects saw a combination of potential and problems. “The kitchen was located right smack in the middle of the floor plate,” says Emerson.

“They wanted better flow,” Emerson adds. “The spaces were disconnected from one another, and it wasn’t conducive to family time.”

The good news was the addition stuck on the back of the house provided extra room for maneuvering the floor plan into a more fluid arrangement, says Emerson. “They asked us, ‘What do you think we should do?’ We asked them if they loved their kitchen, and then told them, ‘We think you should move it.’ ”

A plan was devised and approved with a 14-week projected production schedule. Demolition started in April 2019 and the family moved to a nearby apartment for a couple of months. At that time, Nguyen was working for a firm based in Seattle. For the second part of the renovation, they rented temporary digs in Washington state as the walls came down.

The plan was to return from Seattle and move into the new space, but construction delays threw a wrench into the process. Scheduling plans for welders needed for steel work went awry and deadlines for ordering cabinet doors slipped. “There was like six weeks where nothing happened,” says Ross. “The waiting was challenging, school was starting. That was bad.” The family moved again, this time to Ross’s parents’ house while the project was finished.

In October, the family returned to their renovated space. Starting from the top, the washer and dryer were moved back downstairs into a newly constructed mud room off the kitchen. The reclaimed space in the kid’s bath offered enough room to install a double vanity as fixtures and finishes were refreshed. Gray porcelain tile was laid on the floor with white ceramic tile covering the backsplash and wall.

The home’s exterior was re-clad with cement board and a portico over the front door was removed. Downstairs, most of the non-load-bearing interior walls were eliminated, including the ones surrounding the staircase. The powder room fell to the sledgehammers along with the office nook.

The kitchen moved into the great room while the space that used to be the outdoor shed was brought inside. Roof trusses were removed in the new kitchen and replaced with steel supports allowing the ceiling to be opened. Existing skylights remained. The HVAC was moved off to the side and hidden in a closet near the front door.

The stairs can now be seen when entering the front door. The living room stayed in place running along the left side of the original house. The design team did change the fireplace from a faux Victorian design to a simple modern rendition with a white plaster mantel.

What used to be an awkward office nook past the hall closets is now a flex space for visiting guests, a kid’s room or workout area. A compact but luxe full bath was also added with a doorless, wet room-style shower also sporting gray porcelain tile.

The bumped-out great room has been transformed into a combination mud room, kitchen and dining room. The home’s existing kitchen had an island with seating for casual dining, a concept that was carried over into the new space. There are seats on both sides of the large rectangular island topped with soapstone, which was also used for the countertops. The refrigerator is by Sub-Zero, the dishwasher, oven and induction cooktop are all by Bosch. The cabinets are by Ikea with custom fronts, and the backsplash is glazed, terra cotta tile.

The floors throughout the first floor are oak. The original wood was kept in place where possible and then stained a darker shade to hide any deviations. The home’s staircase was a point of added emphasis as the parents expressed concerns about the boys running up and down the stairs. The existing, traditional-style handrail was doing nothing to calm their concerns.

The architects own a 3-D printer they use for making project models out of PVC. They took the opportunity to reimagine a handrail that could function as a guard rail around the stairs. After some tinkering, they designed a smooth, curved model that they handed over to the carpenters to replicate in wood.

“It’s a great handrail,” says Nguyen. “I love the handrail. It’s a conversation piece. I’ve been thinking about taking one of the professional shots and framing it and putting it next to the stairs, making it kind of meta.”

Although the family doesn’t want to disclose how much they spent on the renovation, they believe they are about even when comparing their total investment to current market prices in the neighborhood.

While the handrail gets a lot of attention, the original spark for the project has not been forgotten by Ross. “The laundry room is one of my favorites,” he says. “And I like the bathrooms. It makes life so much easier.”