My partner and I were at a point in our lives where we wanted our final house, our grown-up home,” recalls Eric Michael, whose quest culminated in an old farmhouse situated on a perfect lot in the coveted Palisades neighborhood of Washington, D.C., overlooking the Potomac River. But as much as the two love older homes, they knew this one would have to go.
“The original structure was poorly built and under maintained,” says D.C. architect Anthony “Ankie” Barnes. “It made more sense to plan a new house in the spirit and language of the old one.”
To realize that vision, the homeowners assembled a dream team: Barnes, who specializes in unique residences, and Kaz Malachowski, an artisanal home builder based in Rockville, Maryland. “We wanted a house that would make sense in that location, so we researched 19th-century homes built in our neighborhood’s heyday, when prominent Washingtonians kept riverside retreats,” Michael says.
The couple honed in on a New England-style coastal cottage vernacular, and Barnes used the footprint of the old house to situate the new structure, with its entry on the street side, a wraparound veranda and three-tiered side porches facing the river. “It was exciting to work within the American tradition of a handcrafted maritime shingle house,” says Barnes. “Shingles are very sculptural; wrapping them around the porches allowed us to do these great curvilinear forms. The details give the house interest and grace.”
Malachowski painstakingly custom-cut and pre-laid all the shingles used for those arches and curves. “There was very little room for mistakes,” he says of his old-world approach, “but any material can become flexible with patience and design.” He adds, “The results are very rewarding. This is simply the oldest new home I’ve ever seen or built.”
Once the exterior was complete, Barnes and Malachowski turned their attention inside. In addition to an English basement, the traditional floor plan has, as Barnes says, “classic, well-proportioned, practical rooms that meet the description of a much older house.” The attic, with its low eaves and painted pine floors, commands the home’s best river views, and it is where the homeowners display their treasured contemporary works, as well as host social events. The first floor veranda, parlor and dining room are also used for frequent parties.
“The dining room got special treatment,” Barnes says. “With its diamond-pane windows and extrusion onto the veranda, it was made to look like a porch that was enclosed at some point in time. We wanted the house to feel as if it had evolved over generations.” The interior encourages that generational demeanor, with period details like encaustic tiles laid in a Victorian pattern in the double-entry foyer and raised pyramidal kitchen cabinetry crafted in Malachowski’s woodshop. To illustrate the extra steps taken, the builder shares, “the hardwood floors are hand-rubbed with multiple layers of oil to give them not only sheen, but a genuine old-world feel.”
The homeowners brought personal artifacts into the mix as well, adding age and form to the design. A salvaged pine mantel in the parlor, for example, resulted in moldings with a frieze incorporating the former’s original reed detail. And an antique slate sink purchased in Maine found a home in the pantry, bringing even more distinction to the kitchen.
Traditional furnishings include antique Persian rugs and case goods, as well as upholstered pieces by George Smith. Light fixtures are mostly period, and the homeowners’ collections of natural history paraphernalia and black-and-white photography are another nod to days gone by.
“People who’ve never been here always ask us about the renovation,” confides a delighted Michael. “It’s exactly what we wanted: a 19th-century house, albeit a new one. It’s clean and fresh, but looks very authentic.”
— Charlotte Safavi