Yesterday, August 11, 2011, Wendy and I realized that it was the official 11th anniversary of our move from the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio to Washington, D.C. It's hard to believe, but as fresh faced college grads we packed all of our necessities and made the six hour journey to begin our new life in our new home.

Throughout our time living here, we've undergone tremendous changes in our lives including the onset of living independently from our parents, getting married, buying our first home, and the growth and responsibility that has come with our respective jobs. We've experienced high points, low points, exciting points, and mundane points, but at each point over the last 11 years, we've used our experiences to grow and learn.

So we'd like to do a little retrospective between the two of us and share it here with the world four people that read our blog. We hope you'll enjoy it.

Q: Are you glad you left Cleveland and moved to Alexandria?

Alex: Very! It was a scary time leaving the comfort and security of the city we had grown up in, but it also opened a huge number of possibilities we wouldn't have had if we had stayed in Cleveland. We took a risk and hoped for the best. Looking back on the last 11 years, I consider us very fortunate that everything has worked out the way it has. However, I do miss seeing the Browns and Indians in person on a regular basis.

Wendy: Absolutely. What started as an adventure with a three year imposed time limit has now stretched into a "maybe forever." Moving away from our family and friends was very difficult, and we took a big risk. I didn't have a job when we moved to D.C. (luckily I found one within only three weeks), and this area has opened our eyes and broadened our experiences to include a diverse history and culture that we didn't have access to in Ohio. Ultimately it made us have to be completely self reliant without having a network to fall back on. 

Our First Apartment

Q: Buying our house, good decision or bad decision?

Wendy: Definitely a good decision. Again, we took a big risk buying our house, as we stretched ourselves financially and in skill. I'd say it made us a stronger couple and has been a huge learning experience. We lucked into a neighborhood of some of the most amazing people I know. We were fortunate to buy in an area that has weathered the storm of our nation's falling housing market. And the home we chose was probably the best pick of the homes we looked at. Despite my initial hesitation, I'm glad I let Alex talk me into this one.

Alex: Great decision!!! I fell in love with old houses and Old Town once we moved out here, but I had resigned myself to the fact that we could never afford an historic home in Old Town. Finding our home, and finding it in the state it was in, in need of serious help and upgrades, was truly an amazing stroke of luck. It hasn't been easy or quick, and it's been the source of many a fight in our household, but it may be the second best decision I've made since moving here (the first would obviously be my marriage to Wendy...true love!)

Wendy: Awww. That's so corny. I'm fighting the urge to edit that last part. Like I do with most of your posts.

Q: Is the renovation what you thought it would be when you bought the house?

Alex: Not at all. I really had no idea what to expect, though I thought I did. I think the very first night of paint stripping that took hours to remove a very small amount of paint was an eye opening experience. I had an expectation that our renovation would be paint and minor upgrades in each room and then we'd be done. I had no idea how intricate, tedious, and in-depth this renovation would actually be. What I absolutely didn't expect was how tied I would become to the process as a whole, and how much I would take the restoration aspect of the renovation to heart as a responsibility.

Our Limited Progress Stripping the Stairs, After Hours of Effort

Wendy: Not really. I had no idea how much work it would be nor would I ever have expected it to take this long. (Still with years ahead of us.) But on the other hand, I never expected for it to become such a passion for us, nor a journey we would feel compelled to share with anyone who would listen.

Q: If you had it to do over again, would you buy the same house or a different one?

Alex: I'm 50/50 on this one. I absolutely love our house, and I'm attached to this house beyond belief, so it is hard to imagine us living anywhere else. But... there's this one house that I always feel was the one that got away. We looked at a brick row house in the heart of Georgetown on Olive Street. The house needed a lot of work, had no parking, was outside of our price range, and was in the busiest part of Georgetown's congested tourist area, but the house was very cool. It had a basement apartment to offset some of the cost, and lots of original details just begging to be restored. 

In retrospect, the lack of parking would have been horribly inconvenient, both for us and for guests, and the need to get the apartment into shape before we could have even started on our own work would have been frustrating beyond belief. I think we made the right choice in buying our house over the one in Georgetown. Our neighbors and neighborhood, parking situation, location, and character within the house outweigh what we would have gotten in Georgetown, but I still think about it and how amazing my commute would be whenever we pass by that house. I hope my house didn't hear me type that.

Wendy: Oh man, that's a tough one. In an odd twist of fate, we discovered a few years ago that the house I fell in love with during our search had to undergo major foundation repair, to the tune of $100k+. So, I guess taking that house out of the equation, I would buy the same house if we were considering the same options. There have been a few on the market since then that I would prefer over ours. 

Keying into our house for the first time.

Q: What was the renovation high point over the last 8.5 years?

Wendy: I don't think I can chose one singular high point. It probably comes in the satisfaction we receive from sitting with friends in a room with a glass of wine, enjoying the finished result. Or the look of horror on people's faces when we show them the "before" pictures for the first time. Love it. It reminds me just how far we've come.

Alex: There are so many things that I love about our projects throughout the house, but the one that I would say is my high point is potentially inconsequential to most people who would ever look at our home. My high point was the day we discovered the intricate scroll pattern in the decorative woodwork above our front door and windows. This discovery and restoration of the delicate feature was exactly the type of experience I was hoping for in restoring a home. Uncovering details obscured through layers of paint, taking time and putting forth significant effort to bring our home back to what it was intended to be, and discovering something that other people would never notice is what I value most about our entire experience.

Q: And the low point?

Alex: I actually have two points where I felt simply defeated. The first was the night I broke a pane of original transom window glass after protecting and caring for it for over two years in the basement. I had carefully removed it form the transom, delicately moved it from place to place in the basement, reinstalled it in the restored transom window, and was placing the final glazing point in the frame when my putty knife slipped and put a bit too much pressure on the glass and broke it. I can't express how upset I was. I couldn't talk. If you know me, you know I don't get flustered very easily, but this did me in.

The second was the moment I broke my collar bone while playing softball in 2007. We were in the midst of our office/bathroom renovation and I was just getting into the swing of things and everything was moving along. When I hit the ground I heard my bone break, but I couldn't believe it so I got up and put my right hand up to my left shoulder and felt the bone sticking up under my skin. I knew I had done something bad, but my first thoughts were about how upset Wendy was going to be and how this was going to really hold back our house work, rather than the searing pain radiating through my shoulder and arm. I ended up with surgery, a sling, and physical therapy for two months before I could start working on the house again. That was the longest and hardest two months I've had since buying the house.

Bahamas 2007

Wendy: Discovering the entire back of our house was being held up by two 2x4s! What our home inspector dismissed with a condescending wave of his hand, in actuality was a cluster f@%$ of water and termite damage that threatened the structural integrity of our home. We spent nearly everything we had in savings to correct the damage. And I'm still a little bitter about it.

Wendy looking a little scared by the termite damage.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Wendy: Happily living in our home, with all of the major projects completed. Stil having fun improving upon past work, redecorating spaces, taking on "fun" weekend projects, and helping friends with their own design dilemmas. And maybe having enough money saved to start thinking about a second home somewhere in one of my happy places (Napa Valley!) that's in need of some TLC. Did I really just type that? I need a DIY intervention.

Yountville, CA - @Bottega, mmmmm, 2009

Alex: Still working on the front door project? Is that a valid answer? Five years from now I hope to have the entire first and second floor of the house projects complete, with our focus turning to what we are going to do with the basement or rest of the basement if we're already done with some of it. But if everything works out the way I hope, we'll have won a $100 million dollar lottery jackpot and will be travelling the world and buying up houses that we find particularly unique in every location we love. We'll then let our friends and family use those places whenever they are on vacation. Sound good? Don't worry, we'll let our loyal blog readers stay in our various homes too. After all, what are Internet friends for? We'll let you know when we win the lottery. Any day now, I'm sure.

Final Question: 11 years, thumbs up or thumbs down?

Alex & Wendy: Two Thumbs Up! We have a good life. It's a lot of hard work and effort, but we've been fortunate enough over the years that our hard work has been fruitful. Alexandria was a great place to move to right out of college, and a wonderful place to buy our first home, but our luck has continued as the area has improved in almost every way before our very eyes. It makes us excited for what is yet to come.

So there you have it. A very brief 11 year retrospective on our time in D.C. and in living in our historic Old Town Home. Do you have any questions for us about our journey you'd like us to address? If so, feel free to ask. We'll do our best to answer. 

Comments 2


Pat Lehman
12/12/2012 at 12:16 AM
Love reading about your renovating experiences! I am restoring my second Victorian..and it will most definitely be my last! I have been working on my present home for 12 years and it is 98% done, but does one ever get that last 2%? Speaking of working on transoms, that is what I am doing now. I have turned the web inside out looking for affordable transom hardware. Can you recommend where you found yours? All I have found is $100-285 prices for repros.
10/22/2015 at 12:35 AM


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