His decision was hardly as dramatic as LeBron James’s opting to return to Cleveland. But for Ted Patch, there’s no place like his childhood home in Chevy Chase, Md.
His parents bought the rambling, 1918 Craftsman-style house the day he was born; it was where at age 19 he met the woman who later became his wife; and for years, it remained the designated site for Sunday family dinners.
While many people are satisfied with merely reminiscing in a quick visit about the place where they grew up, Patch took his pining much further. He moved back there.
But just because he was nostalgic about the home doesn’t mean he was blind to its many flaws or averse to overhauling it from top to bottom to bring it up to the standards of his 21st-century family.
“We wanted to maintain the feel of the home but customize it to fit our needs,” says Patch, 50, a senior vice president at Walker & Dunlop, a financial services firm that specializes in commercial real estate. The couple has three children and envisioned an enlargement of the house that would give them enough space to expand the kitchen while adding a family room, master suite, guest quarters, back porch and a man cave in the basement.
For many years, Patch had never considered moving back to his childhood home.
As his parents aged in the home, maintenance was deferred. When his mother died, his father expressed a desire to move to an apartment near his office in Alexandria.
“My husband’s father asked me to help him sell the house because he didn’t want a developer to buy it,” says Patch’s wife, Tracey Patch, 47. Tracey, daughter of developer William C. Smith, grew up in the real estate business.
Ted and Tracey briefly considered selling the house but switched gears when they discovered how much work it would take to get it in shape for the market. So they asked themselves: Why not renovate it to our specifications and make it our dream house?
But as the renovation got underway, other issues emerged. “The house was not in good shape,” says Tracey. “Rooms had been abandoned, the plaster walls were crumbling and had to be replaced, plus the entire front and rear exterior walls were bowing out from the weight of the clay tile roof.” Three steel columns were added to keep the house from collapsing as the costs for preserving the structure started to escalate.
“We were told that if we knocked it down, it would have been faster and cheaper,” Ted says, “but tearing down the family home wasn’t an option.”
The addition pops off the left side and sits slightly behind the original section. To blend the old and new, the Patches used the same window configuration and distinctive wood trim on the gables.
To update the interior, they added Lisa Puchalla of Lily Mae Design to the restoration team. The designer had worked with the family on their previous home and already had a good idea of the traditionally tasteful and sturdy style they favor. “I knew their lifestyle always had kids and dogs running through the house,” Puchalla says. “Everything in here is fabric protected, so we were on the same page from the start.”
Traditional and transitional pieces of furniture, fabrics and colors help retain the family-centric look and feel of the house. “We used a lot of pieces from Hickory Chair, Lee Interiors and Brown Jordan that we selected at Urban Country Design with assistance from designer Cass Key,” Puchalla says. “The goal was to make a beautiful space that was elegant and livable.”
The builder, Howard Kandel of Kandel Construction Group, and the design team frequently huddled on the home’s front porch to hash out the decisions that would define the major renovation. The foyer and the original section of the house remained untouched and include a traditional living room to the right, with a large, family-size dining room to the left and a stairway to the second floor.
Walking back to the addition reveals the spacious new kitchen with an island big enough to seat three hungry youngsters. The floors are hardwood, the cabinets are painted, shaker-style with bin pulls used on the drawers and understated knobs on the boxes. Countertops mix a patterned granite with a matte-finish stone to create a casual, unfitted kitchen look. Backsplashes are also a mix of subway tile and a framed, basket-weave mosaic.
The master bedroom offers a tranquil getaway bordered with custom crown molding to define the ceiling. Comfortable leather chairs are arranged to create a sitting area and accent the neutral color palette used on the fabrics and walls. The slightly decadent master bath is a study in Carrera marble and black-and-white tile. Twin vanities, a soaking tub and an oversize shower complete the room.
Neither of the Patches considered the renovation to be a stressful undertaking, even though they were supervising a major makeover of a place they had both known as youngsters. “It was really exciting because I knew it was going to be great when it was finished,” Ted says.
Returning to a place where one has spent one’s childhood is an area of interest to Jerry M. Burger, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University in California. He has written a book called “Returning Home,” which examines people’s emotions after visiting their childhood homes — not buying, renovating and moving in, but just visiting.
“According to my research, about one third of people over 30 have made a trip specifically to visit their childhood home, one third want to and one third doesn’t understand why anybody would do such a thing,” Burger says. “But for many of us, the childhood home is really an extension of our sense of self.”
The studies by Burger document and include people who have returned home to find the buildings missing or renovated. “Some of them make the trip and wish they hadn’t done it, because the neighborhood or the house had changed from how they remembered it from childhood,” he says.
Since the Patches were in control of how their house was going to be improved, they didn’t experience any disconnection from bringing the house into the present while respecting the past, but there were other challenges along the way. Besides the need to reinforce the structure to carry the weight of the roof, another disturbing discovery was made, in the basement.
“There were things we weren’t aware of before we bought it,” says Ted, “like the house wasn’t actually built on any footings.” Footings are generally made from a deep layer of solid, poured concrete that supports the foundation walls and keeps the house from sinking.
Complex underpinning solved the problem but the unexpected structural surprises swelled the cost of the project from $700,000 to $900,000. The addition boosted the 3,000 square feet of living space to 5,000. The house started off with seven bedrooms and three baths and ended with seven bedrooms with five and a half baths.
The renovation lasted a year and a half, but everybody is happy with the results — especially the guy who grew up there.
“People are always asking me if it’s weird to live in the home where you grew up,” says Ted, “and I always answer the same way: ‘No it doesn’t feel weird. It feels like home.’ ”
Scott Sowers is a freelance writer.