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This old home got a new chance at life

Marilyn Stern stalked an 11-foot house in Georgetown for a whole decade for one reason: she just wanted it so much. Stern did eventually get the 1877 house. It was quite a mess when she bought it, but she was up for the challenge to renovate and restore the house while maintaining its historical integrity. I found out more about the woman, the 11-foot house and the amazing restoration project.

Dream come true

This old home: Dream come true

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Architect and designer Marilyn Stern had her eye on something little and fabulous. That little something was a house — an 11-foot house in Georgetown, to be exact. Stern stalked the house and finally bought it in 2007 after having always imagined herself living there.

Changes, big and small

This old home: View from Georgetown

Image source: Marilyn Stern

Once it was hers, Stern tasked herself to make the most of the historical details of the rooms in a budget-conscious renovation. Her budget ended up being approximately $100,000 to $150,000. She made some big changes to the house to make it more functional. Stern explains, “I moved walls, relocated the kitchen and a bath, painted, removed a stone floor and reinforced the underlying structure. I removed two unfortunately placed fireplaces and the chimney, rewired and replumbed, dug out the basement and repaired the roof and the stone stairs.”

This old home: Master bedroom

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But she also fell in love with the treetop view of the Potomac River and the cozy master bedroom on the top floor, and her new home quickly became a 55-foot long “laboratory” for her design ideas. So she maintained the look and the feel of the old home while adding creative touches throughout its nooks and crannies.

This old home: Home office

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Respectful renovations

The charm of Stern’s home lies in the details — old and new. Stern shares how she managed to maintain a treasured historical aspect of the home. She says, “The wooden door on the short ‘front’ street side is from the old British Embassy that burned down, and the doors were retrieved from the fire. They were never operable, and as the now-dining room is at grade — at a different elevation than the rest of the house — I think the original door was to let carriages in and is long gone. It is memorable and, of course, stayed.” Details like these make the house what it is: treasured.

This old home: kitchen

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Stern also has a passion for kitchen redesign. She says, “I want to make over kitchens that bridge the gap between Home Depot and Poggenpohl. I want to create a custom look at not a custom price.” And this is exactly what she did in this home. She created a unique look with Ikea cabinets faced with antique Chinese fruitwood court doors and installed stainless-steel-fronted Ikea kitchen drawers with carved yak bones as drawer pulls. Her descriptions alone show the stunning blend created when something old is renovated and restored, but respectfully maintained.

Love at first sight

This old home: 11 ft house

Image source: Marilyn Stern

Although there is still much to be done with the house, for now, Stern has stopped renovating and has started enjoying her home. She says, “I don’t care that the house is only 11-feet wide or that there’s much that could still be done. The house is really all about the light and the view, and that’s still there. This is a house that I stalked shamelessly for [the] years I so coveted it. I was lucky to capture it and still love it.” And that’s what we call a happy (renovation) ending.

More on beautiful homes

House tour: Dive bar turned into a private luxury home
Before & after: 15 Fireplace surrounds made over
Renovation 101: Conveying your vision to your contractor

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