By Lindsey Sullivan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Figuring out a virtual learning set up to suit 11 children sounds like a nightmare for most families. But for mother Julin Williams, a series of home renovations in recent years has helped her family adapt to the unanticipated homeschooling.
When Williams and her family of then 12 decided to move from Fairfax County to Alexandria in 2014, Williams knew which Alexandria house she wanted to make their home as soon as she stepped foot into it.
The Williams bought their 1849 house on Seminary Road in 2014 and immediately underwent a series of renovations for about a year, including expanding the house to add three extra living room spaces, four extra bedrooms and five extra bathrooms for their large family to live comfortably.
“As soon as I stepped into the house, I was like blown away,” Williams said. “I mean, the character of this home — you just can’t build it anymore.”
Williams hired Marks Woods Construction Services, architect Kim Beasley and interior designer Gretchen Simon, to help with the project. Together, their collaborative efforts transformed the space.
Having never undertaken a renovation project like this herself before, Williams described Beasley as the mastermind behind the project.
“Whatever I wanted, he drew it up for me — he was able to fit everything that I wanted into this house,” Williams said.
Beasley had Williams create a wish-list for all the renovations she hoped to make in the beginning of the project. While he couldn’t promise to fulfill them all, Williams said the final product was more than what she could have asked for.
When it came to the actual construction and design elements of the home, the team at Marks Woods took the lead on the project. Once the initial additions were complete, the Williams moved into their home in 2015. A few years later, they decided to undergo a second series of renovations that involved building an indoor basketball court and addition to connect the home, court and detached garage into one seamless indoor space.
After Beasley drew up the plans, the team at Marks Woods handled the construction and design of the connector, which is designed specifically for all of the Williams’ entertainment needs.
The main house, connector and basketball court all come together outside in one large courtyard area where the Williams are able to host holiday parties and family gatherings.
“This project is the quintessential example of an architect, interior designer, contractor and homeowner collaborating to come up with a home renovation strategy that satisfied all of the project’s requirements,” Greg Marks, director of business development at Marks Woods said.
For every part of the renovation process, Williams said Simon was there to guide her through the process to see how each design plan would function as a livable space for the family. She also helped Williams pick out all of the furniture and design elements in the home.
“I can’t explain what Gretchen means to me. She has just been amazing,” Williams said. “I don’t know, I just never had a designer home before, [and] she’s really opened my eyes to all the possibilities that we can do.”
Williams added that Simon has become a close friend as well.
Since moving into their home, the Williams have expanded their family of 12 to 13. The children now range from 3 to 21 years old. Simon has worked with the family since the beginning to make the space feel like home.
Williams described the style of the interior as “comfy and cozy.” Simon intentionally chose furniture that made the space warm and inviting, and she ensured the design suited a family of their size and age range.
Williams said she wanted to have a space she could be proud of while not having to worry that furniture or decor might get moved around or possibly damaged with so many kids in the house.
From a design perspective, Simon said she was inspired by Williams’ Samoan heritage to create a natural look with wooden features in the kitchen and bathrooms. She also incorporated silver and blue colors throughout the space, inspired by Georgetown University, the alma mater of Williams’ husband.
With so many people in the house, Simon focused on keeping the design elements streamlined with clean lines and neutral colors.
“Their family is so unique because [they needed] designing and space-planning for 11 kids,” Simon said. “It’s been a pleasure to work with them because it’s unlike any other home that I have had the pleasure of working on.”
Beasley intentionally designed the remodel with large windows and French glass doors to fill the home with natural light, adding to the simple ambiance.
The Williams began their second renovation project in 2017. The family opted for the indoor basketball court over an outdoor pool because of its year-round functionality.
As a family who loves to host parties and holiday gatherings, the connector brings together a living area, wet bar and indoor basketball court, each with access to the outdoor courtyard. The connector also includes an indoor workout room, laundry room and bathroom.
The team at Marks Woods worked to ensure the addition flows seamlessly with the house’s exterior and interior, which meant replicating everything from the paint colors to the original crown molding and spindles on the staircase.
“I wake up every morning and I just really love my house,” Williams said.
This year brought on a new set of temporary renovations for the family as they transformed much of their home into a functional school-work space.
All 11 children are currently living at home and learning virtually with the two oldest, 21 and 19, attending Georgetown University and the youngest, 3, not yet in pre-school. Williams’ other children are 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, and 17 years old, all attending school online under their one roof.
The Williams’ home has undergone a complete transformation for the time being while the kids are attending school online — bookshelves replace designer seating and colorful alphabets adorn the walls where mirrors and art used to hang.
“It is like every room is a classroom,” Williams said. “We’ve got a bunch of desks just strung about and a bunch of office chairs that, you know, don’t fit the space but it works for us right now.”
While her home certainly does not look like what it did before her children’s classes went virtual, Williams said she and her family have learned how to make the space work.
“I’d like to do a lot more, but now we just don’t know; how do we live? Right now, it’s just comfortable and cozy, and this is how we live,” Williams said.