An Alexandria Row House’s Drab Addition Gets a Chic Overhaul

white couch with blue accents

Sometime in the 1980s, the owners of a traditional 1920s brick row house in Old Town Alexandria added 400 square feet of space to the back. Maybe the two-story addition, complete with an atrium, was just the thing at the time. But over the years, its appeal had dimmed.

“The addition had an open kitchen/family room layout,” recalls the homeowner, who has shared the row house with her husband and their 14-year-old son, 10-year-old daughter, and goldendoodle, Lily, for 14 years. “But the kitchen never efficiently utilized all the space that it could have had, and the family room was undersized, accommodating only a few people in the seating area at any given time.”

It just didn’t work anymore, so interior designer Anne Marie Hauer of Choux Designs, who has a studio in The Plains, helped spearhead a complete redo of the space. The addition once featured an L-shaped kitchen to its right, with a tiny island for two, a small seating area beyond, and French doors onto the backyard. It was painted gray and had a rooftop skylight and a glass-paned side door.

“They wanted me to help design an improved kitchen layout and larger family room, a more open, flowing space,” says Hauer. “How to transition from the old part of the row house to the new part in a fluid manner was also important, as was selecting a kitchen design that felt fresh yet incorporated all the storage options so highly sought after in Old Town.”

Quite possibly the oddest feature in the old addition was a floor-to-ceiling tower of open shelves built to disguise a vertical support beam. It rose up like a periscope at sea, breaking the line of vision and separating the kitchen and family room. Dispensing with that and expanding the overall footprint was the first order of business for Hauer, who worked alongside architect Brad Linden of Linden + Kehyari Associates. Between losing the kitchen’s L-shaped design and bumping out the rear footprint by absorbing part of the back deck, they added an additional 130 square feet to the space—and ultimately to the family room.

Photo by Robert Radifera for Stylish Productions

Along with the homeowners, they decided to make the back wall all large-paned glass framed in black aluminum, creating an open area with an industrial feel that the family loved. Windows were also placed on either side of the new fireplace that served to anchor the newly enlarged family room.

“To create separation between the kitchen and family room, we created a wide cased opening,” says Hauer, referencing the architectural form that also secretes the newly reinforced structural beams supporting the addition. The open balcony was sealed off, but the skylight still brings in light above the new, larger kitchen island.

“We wanted to respect the traditional aesthetic of the original front part of the home,” says Hauer. “But we also wanted to embrace a more modern sensibility here, with cleaner lines and furnishings.”

For example, oak herringbone floors were chosen for the rear addition, with a light natural stain. The whole space has minimal moldings and is painted white. Instead of leaving the L-shaped kitchen to one side, Hauer designed a multipurpose cooking and entertaining space with multiple custom storage features on either side of a larger central island, featuring ample seating and a waterfall edge.

“The kitchen’s new layout makes what was the same square footage feel so much bigger now,” says the homeowner of the kitchen’s redesign.

Hauer suggested a mix of Shaker-style cabinets in quarter-sawn oak in a combination of both natural and white-painted finishes; the cabinetry was supplied by Unique Kitchens and Baths.

white and wood kitchen
Photo by Robert Radifera for Stylish Productions

“The brass hardware and plumbing fixtures add warmth to the space, as do the natural wood cabinets,” Hauer says. “But we kept the hardware lines clean and contemporary.” Although the pulls and knobs are modern in feel, the library sconces above the cabinets are more traditional in design, nodding back to the home’s architectural roots. The brass mesh on the bar cabinets, rather than glass fronts, is also in keeping with this theme.

“It was give and take with the traditional-versus-modern vibe,” says Hauer. “For example, we selected a rolling ladder to reach the upper cabinets, but we didn’t love the antique-feeling base that came with it, so we omitted the wheels, and I had a local tool shop wrap the bottom feet of the ladder in brass for a modern look.”

Special kitchen features include a full-size wine fridge, a built-in desk/office area, and a vent hood with a plaster finish for texture and warmth, as well as a beautiful custom bar with classic brass mesh cabinet fronts.

“We love blue,” says the homeowner of the blue-and-gold professional gas range the team selected. “It’s the focal point of the kitchen. We liked how it embellished the casual, coastal California vibe we were going for with all the natural woods and neutral décor.”

For palette continuity, the blue finds its way into the family room by way of a faux linen–wrapped cocktail table and a pair of deep-blue porcelain table lamps. A striking yet neutral beaded chandelier defines the seating area and makes a restrained statement. Family room seating includes a pair of clean-lined cream sofas in a stain-resistant Perennials fabric and a bamboo-and-rattan settee. Linen panels on a black iron curtain rod add a degree of sophistication and coziness to the industrial-style back wall.

“All our selections were designed to bring the overall space together, to make it beautiful, comfortable, usable, and, of course, pet- and family-friendly,” says Hauer.

Practical interest was added on either side of the new fireplace/TV wall in the form of double window seats. Bookshelves are set into each niche, and there is below-bench storage as well as overhead matched pendants for reading or ambient light at night.

“One of the homeowner’s requests was setting aside a dedicated space for the family dog,” says Hauer. “In the redesign, we made room for Lily under the window bench to the left side of the fireplace.”

Lily’s niche has the same brass metal mesh used in the kitchen’s bar, reflecting the studied continuity in design applied to this refreshed addition.

“The additional 7 feet on the family room and the kitchen’s redesign make this space livable for our whole family with extra room for guests,” says the homeowner. “We lived in this space before, but now, it is so much more comfortable and prettier. And we even managed to build a space for Lily!”

This story originally appeared in the April issue of Northern Virginia magazine. Subscribe for more stories like this.