Home profile: Blending history with contemporary

Home profile: Blending history with contemporary
Joan Porche's Lee Street Home was built in 1810. (Photo/Olivia Anderson)

By Olivia Anderson | oanderson@alextimes.com

Joan Porche’s Lee Street home is a tapestry of stories. Some of the tales are more recent, having come from either Porche’s family itself or from the travelers who rent out the bottom floor while passing through town. But others are decades older, a product of a home that has been lived in and loved for many years before Porche even moved in.

Porche bought the house eight years ago from its original owner, Katie Noe, who lived in it for 50 years and raised all her children there. Noe was known in the community for the many neighborhood dinner parties and celebrations she held at her home, making it something of a fixture for the Lee Street neighbors – some of whom lived in the area while Noe did, and still live there today.

Since purchasing the home, Porche has renovated many aspects of it, specifically the garden level annex in which she tore out the sub-floor and took out all of the old ground plumbing. When redoing the pipework, Porche put backflows on all the newly installed pipes so that if the city floods during a heavy rainstorm, the annex will remain completely dry.

Joan Porche lives in the top floor of her home and rents out the bottom annex. (Photo/Olivia Anderson)

The space was initially a finished basement, but Porche installed a new HVAC system with ductless mini splits – which allows occupants to control the temperature themselves. She also converted what used to be a staircase into a full bath in order to separate the annex from the rest of the home, so that it was completely private.

Porche began renting out the downstairs space as an Airbnb in April, which she said has been going smoothly so far. Upon entering the annex through a small brick cove, guests enter a pristine white kitchen. The space includes brand new appliances, such as a coffee maker that brews espressos and cappuccinos.

The kitchen leads to a living room area with chairs and a pull-out EJ Victor couch. There is also a contemporary painting by local artist Jeff Erickson.

Finally, a new white dutch door opens up to the back yard. There is a row of bright coleus plants immediately upon walking outside, followed by a brick patio featuring a baby blue couch and table with chairs.

“They have access to this, and I think it’s pretty different to have your own private outdoor space, if you’re a bride [for example], or if you just need some quiet time outside but don’t necessarily want to leave your room” Porche said.

Katie Noe, who lived in the Lee Street home for 50 years, threw many neighborhood holiday parties.

For now, the back yard space is just for Airbnb guests, but Porche said that the master plan includes a deck that will come to fruition in the future. Once it does, Porche and the guests will both be able to separately enjoy the yard.

Because Porche’s annex is both private and fully furnished, she could theoretically flip the Airbnb space upstairs and live downstairs. It’s something she’s thought about doing in the future, potentially as a way to age in place – she’s even installed chair-height toilets in the bathroom – but for now, she plans to keep her living situation as is.

The overall aim with the annex, Porche said, is to create a peaceful home-away-from-home feel for guests. Many of the travelers Porche meets are people who are visiting for work, athletic events or business meetings.

“[I wanted it to be] contemporary, very comfortable but very modern so that people felt like they were at home, because it is my home,” Porche said, laughing. “Even though it’s a completely separate, private space, you can control the temperature yourself, the water’s never going to run out, you’ve got WiFi, it’s completely livable with a full kitchen.”

The annex was inspired in part by The Charles Hotel, a four-star hotel in Cambridge, Mass. (Photo/Olivia Anderson)

The annex was modeled after The Charles Hotel, a four-star hotel at which Porche would stay while visiting her daughter at school in Cambridge, Mass. As she was renovating, Porche kept The Charles in mind because it “had a lot of character, was very homey” and she “felt very comfortable there.”

The Charles provided a framework for Porche when it came to decor and preserving the home’s historic character while simultaneously imbuing the space with modern touches.

“That was the starting off point [to] taking an old building and keeping the character but modernizing it,” Porche said.

For example, although Porche replaced the light fixtures, she used Hudson Valley Lighting to keep them in character with the house. She also kept the original downstairs fireplace and upstairs library intact.

Through all the renovations, Porche said that owning the home comes with a certain responsibility to honor its origins.

“We tried to keep the architectural integrity of the house while modernizing,” Porche said. “ … [I] just want to be a good steward of the house for its historic character and that kind of thing.

Porche kept the home’s original fireplace intact. (Photo/Olivia Anderson)

Past life

Before Porche moved into her Lee Street house, it belonged for half a century to Noe, who was known throughout the community for many contributions, from extravagant neighborhood get-togethers to the explosion of Lee Street trick-or-treating.

Deborah Bigelow, a 50-plus-year Lee Street resident who neighbors call “the matriarch,” said Noe would throw everything from Thanksgiving to Christmas to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

“She knew everybody in the world,” Bigelow said. “ … She was a great entertainer. She would have a ‘this’ party and a ‘that’ party.”

Noe also worked as a nursery school teacher for many years and when she often sat on her porch, students would run up to her to say hello.

Bigelow said that Noe was one of the pioneers behind a regional tradition: trick-or-treating on Lee Street. Originally a small block-party celebration, the annual ritual blossomed into a large-scale event that attracts thousands of trick-or-treaters each year.

According to Bigelow, Noe was interviewed by The Washington Post about the small tradition. Once the story went out, the tradition was no longer small.

A contemporary painting by local artist Jeff Erickson hangs above the couch. (Photo/Olivia Anderson)

“She said all these innocent things that bubbled up. She said, ‘Kids come and everyone sits out here and hands out candy, and some people pour somebody a glass of wine as they went by,’ and that’s what did it,” Bigelow said.

“Now it’s like a G-rated Mardi Gras,” Porche added.

Around the time Noe eventually moved from the Lee Street home to a senior living community in the city, Porche was looking for a three-bedroom house. Immediately after seeing the Lee Street home, Porche said she fell in love. Noe accepted Porche’s offer, and the two still keep in touch today.

The Lee Street home is rich with stories, history and character, which is why Porche places such a high value on honoring its past, even when renting out a portion of it.

“The inspiration was the stewardship of the house, how it was used 50 years before, and how do we keep the integrity while modernizing it?” Porche said. “We spend all of our time and money and resources to preserve the house, and that is quite different from most people when they buy a house. They don’t want that. But here we’re painting, we’re keeping the character up, and it’s because we love old houses, we love the character, we love the architecture, and we’re into it.”