Home profile: What makes a house a home

Home profile: What makes a house a home
Brigid Schulte and Tom Bowman live in a two-story house three blocks east of Mt. Vernon Avenue. (Photo/Margo Wagner)

By Margo Wagner | mwagner@alextimes.com

Brigid Schulte and Tom Bowman’s two-story Terrett Avenue house is a place where children grow and learn, neighbors gather and work gets done.

The couple moved to Del Ray in the ‘90s after living in D.C. during their early journalism careers. At first, Schulte was hesitant to plant long-term roots somewhere other than her home state of Oregon, but the couple was charmed by Del Ray and saw potential along Mt. Vernon Avenue.

“This is the first house that we saw that really made us say, ‘This is home,’” Bowman said.

The back living room is home to family movie nights and full-contact charades. The wall of bamboo just outside of the room gives the family privacy. (Photo/Margo Wagner)

The house was built in 1927 and purchased by Schulte and Bowman in 1997. After living in it for almost 10 years and having two kids, Liam and Tessa, the couple renovated in 2006, nearly doubling the footprint of the house.

At the front is a little library and living room with a large fireplace. Just past the living room sits a dining room large enough to host the couple’s multi-family Thanksgiving dinners. Off to the right is a home office where Schulte wrote her New York Times bestselling book, and Bowman can broadcast to NPR as a National Desk reporter.

A few steps further from the dining room is the spot where the original house ended. It is now replaced by an organized mudroom, with a locker for each family member and a sun-filled kitchen. The back wall of the home is covered in windows, which offer a view of the small artist’s studio in the backyard.

The kitchen is the family’s favorite gathering place, where they bake pies together and host various community events. (Photo/Margo Wagner)

When Schulte and Bowman renovated the house in the early 2000s, space was a priority. Their small Del Ray home was shrinking with the addition of two young children and all of the new possessions that come along with parenthood. Instead of moving into a larger home in a different neighborhood, they decided to dig in and bloom where they were planted.

During the renovation, they built a kitchen with an island the size of two dining room tables, a sunny breakfast nook, a living space for friends and family to congregate in and a master suite. The family of four lived together in the basement during the renovation in an area that they are currently converting into a dark room for their daughter’s photography.

The new space quickly became home to some of the family’s favorite traditions, like an annual neighborhood kids’ pie baking contest the day before Thanksgiving and full-contact charades the following night.

Schulte uses a color-coded post-it note system in her home
office to organize her thoughts. (Photo/Margo Wagner)

“We call it full-contact charades because it gets really competitive. We try to come up with the most obscure things you can,” Bowman said.

Schulte and Bowman’s home shows their deep connection to the neighborhood and has almost become an extension of their Del Ray community. Bowman hosts brown liquor night with the Del Ray Dads each year, and Schulte has hosted a variety of events, including a glogg party when she returned from doing research in Iceland, Finland and Sweden.

The couple also opened their home up to events for Mount Vernon Community School, hosting open houses in the front living room and working to build community between parents and teachers.

“I think it was through the schools and through our kids that we started to really feel connected to other people and really invested in wanting the best for the neighborhood and for everybody,” Schulte said. 

Their family has seen Del Ray grow and change throughout the past 23 years and helped it develop into the community it is today. They remember participating in the Halloween parade back when it was just a handful of people in funny hats. Schulte started the cookie exchange and Flat Stanley tradition at MVCS, and Bowman helped start the annual Del Ray Dads’ Pig Roast that now funds a scholarship for the Alexandria Scholarship Fund.

Bowman has an ISDN line that allows him to report for NPR live from home when news breaks overnight. (Photo/Margo Wagner)

The home also reflects the couple’s worldwide travels and impressive careers. As journalists, both Schulte and Bowman travel often and like to bring back mementos to display in their home. The house is decorated with rugs and art from Afghanistan and glassware from Iraq.

We’re journalists. We’re interested in the world. We’re interested in stories. We’re interested in people,” Schulte said. “Bringing some of each trip back into our home is a nice way to not only remember the trip but also remember your connection to the bigger community.”

Throughout their careers, Schulte and Bowman have done a lot of reporting from their home. Bowman remembers broadcasting live from the home office the night that Osama Bin Laden was killed. Schulte wrote down what the president said on live TV while her son ran the transcriptions to Bowman in the office.

Schulte also wrote her book “Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time” from that same home office. She worked with a woman who did feng shui to create a space that would promote creativity and concentration. 

Schulte fills the home office with tokens and objects that help her stay motivated and on-task. (Photo/Margo Wagner)

“I’d never written a book before, and I was nervous,” Schulte said.

According to Schulte, the feng shui worked, and the office became a spot where she could put together her thoughts. Schulte also records a live podcast from the office each Friday. The topics she’s covered include paid family leave, gender equality and structural racism.

“It makes you feel like you are not only less alone, but part of a big conversation,” Schulte said about her podcast.

If the main level of the house is a place for work and community, then the upper level is all about family.

“We wanted to create more of a sense of a private family space upstairs and a communal opening space downstairs,” Schulte said. 

The master bath was inspired by Schulte’s time living in Japan. (Photo/Margo Wagner)

The master suite includes a Japanese spa-inspired bathroom with a deep soaking tub and double sinks. Outside the master bedroom is a laundry station, to streamline the process and make laundry seem like less of a chore. In the master closet, there are little notes with fashion advice, left many years ago for Schulte by her daughter. The space is comfortable and functional, a tell-tale sign that real people live there.

The children’s rooms embrace each of their personal styles with ski inspired décor in one room and a hand-painted mural in-progress in the other. Schulte and Bowman allowed their daughter to make her room her own by painting on the walls and doors.

Bowman and his daughter painted the walls of the studio
together and included a large mermaid scene. (Photo/Margo Wagner)

In the backyard there is a small artist’s studio filled with overstuffed couches and a drum set. Originally, Schulte wanted to use the space as a writing studio, but the family turned it into a space for the children to hang out and practice their instruments. Now that the children are grown up, Bowman and Schulte have plans to eventually turn it into a mother-in-law suite or a place for Schulte to write her next book.

Over time, the house has become a living structure, growing and changing with the family and becoming a waterhole for many neighbors. It is a place where the family can work, love and play without getting too overwhelmed.