The home was described in the listing as a "Grand Rosemont Gem." (Photo/Sarah Geffroy)

By Kaitlin Murphy | kmurphy@alextimes.com

A growing family needs space and in Alexandria, the Geffroy family found the perfect home. It came with a lush green backyard, character and a lot of outdated wallpaper. Sarah and Michael lived in a rowhouse on Capitol Hill but as their family expanded, they looked exclusively in Rosemont. The couple purchased the home in November 2012 and then wrestled with what to do to update their new abode. It was Mike who first went to see the house when it was on the market.

He called Sarah immediately. “Look at this!” Michael implored.
Sarah was wary but not deterred.

“It was only a picture of the front of the house,” she said. “A little concerning was that the listing that matched with the exterior of the house was a low price point for the area.”

This “Grand Rosemont Gem” as it was described in the online listing boasted six bedrooms, two full and two half bathrooms, a sunroom and a two-car detached garage with driveway. The Geffory family had outgrown their Capitol Hill rowhouse so the specs of the house matched their needs on paper.

“Take your checkbook!” Sarah reminded Mike.

Mike reported that the house needed a lot of work.

“The house backs up to a field and you can’t see another house,” Sarah said. “There is a charming fence and a hillside field beyond. The selling point was definitely the backyard. While the interior of the house was immaculate and lovingly maintained, it hadn’t been updated in 40 years from the looks of it.”

The couple wrestled with what to do to update the house.

“Aesthetically, it hasn’t had any modern renovation done. Once we closed, at that point in life, we didn’t have a huge renovation in mind and didn’t want to destroy the old character,” Sarah said.

Gauging what adjustments they could make that would serve their family the best, Sarah and Mike set to work with a design plan to initiate improvements to make the space more suitable for their family.

“We did it the hard way. We closed in January and then hired the Hopkins & Porter design-build firm based in Maryland. Work started in March and went through the summer months,” Sarah remembered.

They moved in and then the contractor began to open up the center hall doorways off of the vestibule and added a window at the end of the entrance hall. Moving these walls sent in natural light to the dining room and the previously closed-off living room. The living room used to dead-end into a porch, so the Gefforys took out another wall and opened up the living room for better flow and circulation.

“My husband scraped about six layers of wallpaper off of that living room wall. It ended up that we had to remove the wall anyway,” Sarah laughed.

On the rear living room wall, there is a sliding door which connects to an atrium with three walls of glass windows, overlooking the back- yard. Their footprint was small during the construction and they had a makeshift kitchen and TV set up in the atrium.

Since they were in a new neighborhood with two young children during a hot summer, they took advantage of the proximity to D.C. and spent a lot of time at air conditioned museums to get out of both the heat and the construction zone.

The biggest project on the main living level was the kitchen and dining room remodel. Since they wanted to keep the double doors to the dining room, they struggled with the layout and went through many iterations.

Shifting the kitchen around and joining the breakfast area together opened up the kitchen to the dining room. Instead of doors, a tall counter and decorative moulding extends up to the ceiling creating a delineation of space without closing off the two rooms.

The original kitchen was a small galley with large rooster wallpaper. Part of the charm of the original home was a built-in ironing board. The Geffroys kept the ironing board and saved two roosters from the wall paper. Insetting the wallpaper into the two squares of the ironing board, Sarah and Mike playfully bridged the old with the new.

Sarah mentioned that the remodeled kitchen layout “was designed with the idea of removing the upper cabinets against the rear wall to allow for a future addition. I am still glad we were thinking ahead in that way.”

This design vision would be to remove the atrium and put in a family room with full windows to capture the back yard view. The future possibilities could allow for a two-story renovation or a taller ceiling. Their house can keep growing along with their family.

There is a spirit to the house that aligns for the Geffroy family. The previous owners had four children and over the years, Sarah and Mike’s family also grew to four children and a golden retriever puppy. Today, the Geffroy family includes one son who is 13 and three daughters ages 12, 9 and 6.

“We designed with an eye toward the future and here we all are,” Sarah said.

Lots of cosmetic updates such as wallpaper removal gave the home a refresh and the second and third floors adapted with the family. Three bedrooms on the second floor include a primary suite with a bathroom and two smaller bedrooms. The attic had been finished by the previous owner adding an extra three bedrooms with a full bathroom.

Sarah explained that the rooms evolved with their needs.

“When we had child number four, we had the baby in a bassinet in our room. When she was ready for the crib room, the small room on [the] second floor, we moved our son up to the third floor. Our oldest daughter got her own room and now the younger girls share a room,” Sarah said.

There is a guest room and an office on the top floor. The house continuously adapts as the kids grow and the needs of the family develop.

“The pandemic prompted me to convert the storage area into an actual office with desks for work and school. I love it up there now!” Sarah admitted.

Sarah and Mike enjoy spending quiet time together in the atrium while the kids play or watch TV in the living room. They find it peaceful to look out to their oasis and see the uninterrupted expanse of sky and yard.

“We can’t think of anywhere else where you can get this view and feel like you are in the country. Previously, the adjacent Yates family property had horses in the field. For a while, there were horses in the back yard and only five miles from D.C.,” Sarah said.

The backyard currently serves as outdoor living and includes a small patio with a table and chairs and the rest of the yard is grass with a small slope for the kids and dog to run around. Even beyond the yard, the kids can pedal their bikes safely around the neighborhood. Beyond their street, they can ride the trolley and visit friends which blends the city and country feeling.

“Mike and I had a different vision then versus now but we look forward to the design potential of how we can spread out more. When we bought it, we saw it as our forever home. Every now and then we think, let’s add more space,” Sarah said.

“This is such a cool neighborhood and it is a really cool old house. We are happy to call the classic-modern 1930’s colonial house our forever home.”