Home profile: Once upon a time in Rosemont

Home profile: Once upon a time in Rosemont
Courtesy photo Mary Jane Candaux's Rosemont home is a 1930s Sears kit house model known as the Mitchell. It was meant to evoke the English cottage style that was popular at the time.

By Cody Mello-Klein | cmelloklein@alextimes.com

Sometimes fairy tales are real.

When Mary Jane Candaux first saw the Rosemont house she would move into in 2009, she was charmed by the style of the 1930s Sears kit house. Known as the Mitchell, this kit house was designed to capitalize on the popular English cottage style that was prevalent during the 1920s and 30s. With the steep, pitched roof, double-hung windows, prominent gables, stone chimney and blooming cherry tree in the front yard, the house looked like a cozy abode straight out of a Disney cartoon.

“When little kids come here for Halloween, I’ve had kids tell me, ‘It’s like a fairy tale house,’” Candaux said.

Candaux, a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice, has lived on West Oak Street in Rosemont for 12 years and, unlike many homeowners, has changed very little about her home. An ad for Sears’ Mitchell model kit house from the 30s showcases a floor plan for the plan and proudly advertises the home as “five rooms and bath.”

“Obviously, we don’t sell homes like that now, but that’s exactly what it is: living room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms, plus a bath,” Candaux said.

Very little has changed.

Courtesy photo
Candaux said she was drawn to the house because of its fairy tale charm.

“What you see in that ad is exactly the layout of the house,” Candaux said.

Candaux is proud of her home’s history and what it represents about Alexandria. Much like for Candaux, the kit homes of the early 20th century represented a fairy tale dream for homeowners who wanted to build a home in growing communities and suburbs.

“You find Sears kit houses in communities where there’s a rail station or a rail link. There used to be a rail line that came up into Rosemont,” Candaux said. “It actually ended right at Rosemont Street, so you kind of came up from where the Amtrak station is now.”

Once a customer selected and purchased a kit house, Sears would ship it to the new property in pieces and the new homeowner would piece it together, like a Lincoln Log set.

Candaux said she has retained the layout and structure of her two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,200-square foot home. For Candaux, who lives alone with her two dogs, Rosy, an elderly golden retriever, and Hugo, a recently rescued cocker spaniel, what may seem small to some is suitably cozy.

Everything is conveniently located on the main floor. The front door opens to a small vestibule that leads, in turn, to the living room, dining room and kitchen with two bedrooms and a bathroom located off of the living room via a small hallway.

Outside is a screened-in back porch that overlooks a well-maintained yard and garden with a patio and stone walkways.

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“I enjoy spending the time out here gardening and just little by little adding things. … I ended up spending a lot of time gardening [during the pandemic],” Candaux said.

Candaux has also retained several of her home’s more retro features, including a shelf in the side hallway that was originally designed to hold an old-fashioned landline telephone. Complete with a rotary dial, a bulky black phone sits on the shelf, although it is inoperable.

Courtesy photo
A remnant of an earlier age, Candaux’s home still has a shelf for an old-fashioned landline phone.

At the front of the house, there is another notable feature, one that Candaux said she still enjoys using.

“There’s a mail slot in the front that’s a little slot on the front of the house. You put the mail in and then there’s a little door on the inside next to the front door that you open to get your mail,” Candaux said.

Although most mail is too large for the slot – Candaux installed a mailbox in front of the house to accommodate larger packages and catalogs – the mail slot is an interactive feature that recalls a vision of Main Street living.

For all its period appropriate details, Candaux has made some changes to her home. She renovated the kitchen to remove the dated laminate counters, replaced the floors with fresh hardwood and redid the bathroom, taking out a cast iron tub and replacing it with a glass shower.

“I tried to keep it so the look was still consistent with a 1930 house. I used subway tile and I used one of those sinks that has the metal legs,” Candaux said.

Her home also includes an unfinished full-height attic and finished basement that can serve as a guest bedroom. At one point, Candaux had considered a more significant change to the attic, one that would make it into another bedroom and add a permanent set of stairs that would replace the pull-down staircase.

“In the end, I realized I just don’t need that space, and also it’s not cheap, so I just kind of rearranged the house to suit me a little bit better,” Candaux said. “Instead of having a guest room upstairs, I made that a craft room because that’s what I like to do.”

Candaux still works from home due to the pandemic, and since her living space is located almost entirely on one floor, her home feels like a lived-in space, one that is used and loved. Two bikes sit in the dining room next to a Peloton, reminders of Candaux’s love of biking, a passion that has taken her to Montana, Utah and New Mexico on week-long bike trips.

Courtesy photo
The primary living spaces are all on the first floor and flow seamlessly from one to the next through a series of arches.

Arched entryways lead between rooms, and two arched bookcases built into the living room wall provide dimension and depth. Paintings from local artists as well as from Candaux’s travels to St. Petersburg and Mexico cover the living room walls. The most notable painting is one that Candaux bought in Mexico, and it currently hangs over a desk in the living room. She bought the painting from a Mexican artist who she thought was quoting her the price in pesos.

“Turns out they were talking dollars, and it was $1,200 or something, but I didn’t realize until I had already gone to the artist’s studio to visit, and he was showing me what he was working on,” Candaux said. “… He was so kind. I said, ‘I can’t [pay] what it’s worth.’ He said, ‘Pay what you can afford.’ I ended up paying more than I have for any painting.”

Elsewhere in the living room, Candaux’s TV sits on top of two antique chests that belonged to her father, who served in World War II. Inside the lid of one chest is a set of instructions from the U.S. military spelling out how to pack most effectively.

Over the last decade, Candaux has transformed a kit house into a cozy slice of Americana. But for Candaux, her home is not just a single house but the close-knit community in which it sits. According to Candaux, her neighbors were quick to welcome her to West Oak Street with baked bread and kind words.

The neighborhood is full of dog owners, including John Porter, the former principal of T.C. Williams High School, now renamed Alexandria City High School. Halloween is a communal celebration, as is the annual neighborhood block party that takes place every fall. Neighbors file a permit with the city to close the street to traffic, set up grills and enjoy the day.

“You feel like people look out for each other, and we’re happy to see each other. I like that,” Candaux said.

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