Before buying their current home, the couple lived nearby in a two-level townhouse for 10 years with their son and daughter. The birth of a second daughter put them on a search for more space. “I worked every day at the kitchen table — that was my desk,” says Zacarias. “We loved that house and never thought of moving until it stopped working. The space issue was affecting family dynamics.”
While walking through the neighborhood, the couple wandered into an open house staged in a large, three-level townhouse desperately in need of renovation. They made an offer but were outbid by a developer. A few weeks later, the story took a turn. “The developer got cold feet,” says Zacarias. “The owner called and said, ‘You have five hours — if you want this place match the bid or I’m putting it back on the market.’ ”
The family took the plunge, as their $975,000 offer was accepted, but not everybody was on board with the decision. “Our parents came to see what we bought, and they all cried,” says Zacarias. “They thought we had ruined our lives.”
Despite the tears, they started looking for design guidance. The family’s oldest daughter, who was 10 at the time, was perusing home renovation projects on Houzz and showed her mother images attributed to Lorena Checa, principal of Checa Architects in D.C.
The two women talked on the phone, and discovered they shared design sensibilities and a Latina heritage. Checa agreed to a meeting, toured the new purchase and told the homeowners that “they had bought a shell.”
Previous to the purchase, the family had been talking to Steve Bradley and Kelly Callahan, the husband-and-wife team at design-build firm Space Crafters, based in Mount Pleasant, about renovating their original home. They agreed to sign up by bidding on the new project.
The family sold the house they were living in, liquidated their 401(k)s and moved into a rented basement as demolition began and the design process moved into uncharted waters. Money was already tight, so the architect and the builder agreed to cut costs by parceling out the design process.
Checa worked with the family in a free-flowing, mostly verbal design process to lay out the basic floor plan. She advised on finishes and created conceptual drawings that the builders converted into construction drawings. “We were simpatico from the beginning,” says Checa. “It was easy.”
Although the home’s bones were intact, the sleeping porches on the rear of the house were beyond repair, which led to permitting delays. “The proposed work required historic approval,” says Bradley. “Even though we planned to rebuild the addition in the same footprint as before, an erroneous ruling from the zoning reviewer took several months to overturn.”
As additional funding was needed, the decision was made to cash in the comics. Snotherly, 51, is a principal at Levi and Snotherly, a law firm based in D.C., and had been collecting comic books since he was 8 years old. He stopped in his 40s after amassing 4,000 titles.
The collection had moved from his mother’s house, to his own, and then it began a final journey. “We rented a U-Haul and drove them to Heritage auction house in Dallas,” he says. “They sold them slowly over a few months so there was money coming in for a while.” Snotherly pegs the return as “a considerable amount” that financed more than a quarter of the renovation costs, which they did not disclose.
The family spent eight months in the basement and moved into their new home in 2016. In 2018, they reconfigured the backyard. In 2019, they added landscaping to the front and back yards. They are tweaking the interior of the garage and plan to be finished this year.
The four-story, 3,193-square-foot brick residence includes a rental apartment in the basement. The front door opens to reveal the kitchen positioned in the middle of the first floor with a view through the house toward the backyard. To the right is a living room complete with fireplace. The first floor embraces an open floor plan divided by using wall colors, overhead beams and furniture to delineate living spaces.
The kitchen is defined by a large, custom-made island fashioned out of red elm and walnut by woodworker Marcus Sims, owner of Treincarnation, based in Clarksville, Md. The flooring on the first floor was replaced with white oak. Colored onyx tile was selected for the home’s backsplash, fireplace surround and powder room.
Before Snotherly started his own firm he worked for Samsung, which gave him employee discounts on a washer, dryer and refrigerator. His mother gifted the family a GE Monogram stove, which also came with a dishwasher. Cabinets were sourced from Ikea, which Checa gussied up with custom-made doors. The countertop is engineered quartz, a low-maintenance choice suggested by the builder.
The first-floor powder room is tucked under the stairs and an informal dining room occupies the rear of the first floor. The space is defined by headers that break up the living area and eliminated the need for load-bearing interior walls. Two sets of customized cubbies from Ikea provide additional storage in the living and dining rooms. A couch in the back corner of the dining room was added for Snotherly as a sunlit work and resting spot. The back door opens to exterior steps leading to the backyard, which rests on top of the garage.
The second floor includes a family room in the front of the house, a bedroom for the family’s son, a full bath, laundry room and a project room, which is the main writing space for Zacarias. The third floor has a bedroom for each daughter, a shared bath and the main-bedroom suite, which includes a large closet space — a promise made and promise kept for a woman who sacrificed the best closets to comic books for years.
There’s also access to an outside terrace from the main-bedroom suite with jaw-dropping views of the city — which is Checa’s favorite part. “The view out the [main] bedroom is amazing,” she says. “Combined with the flow and spaciousness of the main floor — it’s very welcoming.”
The builders, who also live in the neighborhood, say they are satisfied to have worked on a collaborative project where everybody got along and resulted in happy clients. “Their initial appreciation for their home has only deepened over this last year as they have had to live and work full time in the house with their family,” says Callahan.
The family took a leap of faith, cashed in prized possessions and endured challenges to build their dream home.
“If we had started this when covid started, it would have been abandoned again,” says Zacarias. “But we were lucky to be able to live through it in this house. We had no idea how much this house would give back to us in a time when we really needed it.”