We frequently get this question from homeowners: How can we repurpose existing space in our home to create an office without having to build an addition?
It seemed on the surface like the simplest project in the world. That’s what homeowners Kristine and Ben Gielow thought when they looked at enclosing a porch so it could be used as a desperately needed home office. Yet, when you have a 100+ year-old home in Chevy Chase Village historical district, what seems simple can get complicated very quickly.
“When we bought the home it was 99 years old,” says Ben, “and as far as we could tell, had not been significantly updated in all that time.”
Then COVID hit, and converting that porch space went from an item on a long list of renovation projects to an urgent necessity. “We were working from home and the kids were in school from home,” Ben recalls. “We needed office space yesterday!”
What does it take to manage a project like this? There were the normal challenges of choosing a design-build partner, getting the standard permitting, and managing everyone’s schedules during a renovation. Added to that were the demands and constraints of living in a historic district, and living in the midst of a global pandemic.
Our realtor suggested enclosing the back porch,” Ben says. “I thought we’d just throw up some windows and set a desk out there and we’d be all set.”
That is not how things go In Chevy Chase Village. There were a number of entities involved. The Gielows had to secure pre-approval from the village, then present renovation plans to the County Permitting Services office. Then it was back to the Village board for final approval.
With all the added red tape of a renovation in a historic district, was now the time to tackle this project? Would there ever be a “right time”?
The Gielow’s experience with home renovation had been somewhat limited at this point. “We did some updates on our vacation condo in Pennsylvania,” Kristine says. “But renovations on a home in a historic district were something else altogether.”
They needed a renovation partner who knew the ins and outs of renovation in a historic district, and had a solid reputation in the community. Gilday was able to come in and help the Gielows create a new space that went well beyond what Ben and Kristine had imagined possible.
“In Chevy Chase Village, expanding the footprint of the home was pretty much out of the question,” Kristine remembers. “We were not going to get a permit for an addition.” Beyond codes about setbacks and overall lot coverage, there were rules about maintaining the architectural style of the original building. Fortunately, enclosing a porch fit within the bounds of Chevy Chase historic district rules.
Another challenge was smaller rooms adjacent to the porch that were not well-utilized. “There was a full bath downstairs, but the bathtub was not at all functional,” Ben recalls. Then there was a tiny butler’s pantry in which a previous owner had jammed a stackable washer and dryer. The renovation plan called for a finished half-bath, which left the balance of that space along with what had been the butler’s pantry to add on to the office. “Now, instead of just room for a desk, we have a well-proportioned office,” Kristine says.
The Gielows have plans to renovate not just the porch, but eventually the kitchen and bathrooms as well. Starting with this porch project – the one they thought would be so simple – brought up design and structural issues they didn’t anticipate.
First, when tearing out the back exterior wall, they found termite damage that needed to be remediated and repaired. When renovating an older home, it’s important to factor in a contingency budget for problems that are not visible before demolition starts.
The good news is that what gets used in a contingency budget might get saved elsewhere. “One thing I love about Gilday’s master carpenter, Sean, was how he helped us solve problems,” Ben says. “He helped us save money on the bathroom by covering the old tile with decorative wood paneling. It saved us money and looks fantastic!”
Another question the Gielows hadn’t considered: How would this project fit in with their plans for future renovation?
Kristine says, “Gilday put thought into the kitchen and the future layout of the new kitchen before we even started work on the office. This was so important to us because we didn't want to do one thing now, just to have to redo it later to fit in with the next renovation project.”
The end result was a space that provided some much-needed separation for working from home. But there were added benefits they did not anticipate.
“Kristine works every day from the office,” says Ben. “It also has the best views of the house. It’s a feel-good space that has turned into a big addition in the life of our family.”
Working with a company who helped manage the historic district rules and permitting, solve problems that saved money along the way, and think through how the porch would fit in with future renovations, the Geilow’s feel the end results went well above their expectations.
“They were so conscientious from start to finish,” Kristine says. “Their quotes came in at a similar range to other companies, but Gilday’s reputation in the neighborhood really clinched it for us.”
A renovation might start out seeming like a simple project. With the right renovation partner, you can manage the inevitable unknowns that become known along the way, plan for future renovations, and enjoy added space to enhance your daily life now and into the future.
Learn more about home remodeling by downloading our eBook titled "The Essential Elements of Renovating an Older Home," or reach out to Gilday Renovations today to discuss your renovation goals. To learn about the Gilday Renovations approach to home renovation, please get our eBook about how our integrated team delivers the home of your dreams today.