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1810 Virginia Home Gets a New Life

Reader & Swartz Architects, Houseworks


  • Will Martindale
  • Micki Martindale

Project Status




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Project Description


• Convert an often-abused, relatively primitive early 19th century home into two attractive apartments that take advantage of the building’s few good qualities
• Reuse existing construction and materials when possible


Old homes aren’t always historic or pretty. In the Samuel Noakes House, principals Elizabeth Reader and Charles Swartz of the architectural firm Reader & Swartz were handed a two-part buidling with varying floor levels and rooflines, different-size windows, and all the service lines situated on the exterior. “We had to reimagine a building that’s not very tall—it’s solid masonry—not in structurally wonderful shape, and that really had no mechanical systems or anything in it,” Swartz says. “So we had a really old, hard tent here that we had to make beautiful or give new life.”

Reader says that the design team first investigated whether to do a historic preservation that would earn the owners tax credits, but they eventually dropped that idea. “It wasn’t like the inside was beautiful and had amazing woodwork, amazing floors, and fixtures,” she says. “It wasn't in good shape. So we didn’t want to preserve it in the state it was.”

Just prior to its remodel, the Samuel Noakes House had two apartments, each occupying a single story and stretching across the original home and its addition. Reader and Swartz reconfigured the apartments so that one fills the original home and the other takes up all of the addition. This not only made more sense organizationally, it also reduced problems with sound and potential fires. “So there were some pragmatic things that went with the honesty and poetry” of the design, Swartz says.

In the original building, which faces Winchester’s Braddock Street, the living room was put on the first floor with the bedroom above. The addition, which lies directly behind the original house and faces Cork Street, had lower ceilings and smaller windows. So in that space the living areas were put on the top floor, stealing space from the old attic, while the bedrooms were located below. The exteriors of the Braddock and Cork street apartments were painted in different colors, and the Cork street apartment’s windows got shutters. Existing construction was revealed where possible, such as when floor joists were left exposed as ceiling joists. Salvageable plank and batten doors were repainted and rehung. Reclaimed timber became treads for a new staircase and as material for shelving. Among the modern elements added were a steel staircase, a cracked glass floor, and skylights.

“If you look at the construction drawings, the drawings show the ideas about opening the ceiling and those sorts of things,” Swartz says. “But the actual specifics we had to do in an ongoing process because we didn’t know what we’d find when we pulled the ceilings down and when things came off the wall. It’s a different sort of preservation—making this building valuable because people want to keep it a lot longer.”

Judges’ Comments

The judges appreciated the restraint used by Reader and Swartz in the way that the building was developed. They also enjoyed the use of color and playful accents throughout the space. "It’s a fun and lively surprise when you walk in the door," one judge said. 

Explore this project further in this video walk-through.

Products Used

Bathroom plumbing fittings: Kohler 
Bathroom plumbing fixtures: Grohe 
Bathroom cabinets: Canyon Creek
Dishwasher: Frigidaire
Entry doors: Kolbe
Flooring: Marazzi, tile; Arizona Tile, Fibra series;  American Olean, ceramic tile
Hardware: Heil
Kitchen cabinets: Canyon Creek
Kitchen plumbing fittings: Grohe
Lighting fixtures: WAC
Oven: Frigidaire
Paints/stains: Sherwin-Williams
Refrigerator: Frigidaire
Skylights/roof windows: Velux
Windows: Kolbe

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