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Renovating an Ugly Duckling

September 1, 2004
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How a facility was transformed from forlorn to fabulous by Richard McClellan

A nursing station was located in the middle of each of the two resident wings, providing a good, strategic location for that most-needed purpose, whether for a nursing home, as this property felt like, or-with a big stretch of the imagination-an assisted living residence.

Now I knew why this property had only one resident occupant at the time and why no one had wanted to put the owner out of his misery. "It's just too challenging," was, I'm sure, the opinion of many who had toured this facility. Actually, I was thinking pretty much the same thing as we finished the initial tour. All I had to do to make all this work was to add ample sums of money and a business plan that worked.

As I was shown other properties, though, I just could not forget the great setting of this property, the wonderful established neighborhood around it, the potential. Yes, but...how?

Taking our design and construction team on a follow-up tour a few days later, we started to flesh out the great possibilities for this facility to match its excellent location. However, since we are not in the museum business, renovation had to be done within the context of market demands. What impact would the upgrade have on value? Just how much would it cost to achieve the vision? And the ultimate question: Could we afford it?

With the aid of our helpful lender, Community Bank of Northern Virginia, I decided to move ahead cautiously. My initially planned renovation program was upgraded by a factor of two during the first several weeks of our study, as we became more comfortable with the property and its unique location and park-like setting. We concluded that the surrounding West End community demanded the highest quality assisted living residence and, importantly, would financially support the needed upgrades.

The Renovation
First, the exterior: The property needed an almost completely new landscape package, including trees, shrubs, new sod, and a sprinkler system. We added partial roof gables on each wing to break the long roof lines, a colonial cupola on top of the center of the building lobby, shutters on the windows, and two additional windows at the end of each wing. These windows improved the exterior fatade and added more window space and natural light to the eight units affected. We took down the existing inexpensive-looking exterior lights and replaced them with fixtures more in keeping with the overall upgrading we did on the interior.

Inside, our interior designer-my wife Barb, as it happens, president of Bibelot Interiors-went through much of the building, including the resident suites, with new carpet; a darker, more attractive shade of green (quite similar to our first Meadow Glen of Leesburg [Leesburg, Virgina]-see Design Center, October 2002). The 2' + 4' acoustic ceiling tile was replaced with attractive 2' + 2' architectural-style tile, new lighting replaced the fluorescent lights, and new wall sconces were added to the corridor walls. The walls were painted throughout, except in common areas like the dining rooms, where wallcoverings were used, as well.

Although almost the entire building was renovated, a few major areas are worth focusing upon.

Dining room. We opened up the front wall to create a more dramatic, yet welcoming, entrance. Two glass doors with sidelights now allow a view of the dining room in the background as one enters the building. Through these double doors, one's eyes are drawn to the two decorative chandeliers that replaced the pedestrian hanging fans and light fixtures, and to the newly expanded and decorated wall in front of the kitchen. That wall was doubled in width, and the fireplace removed and replaced with a large sideboard with framed pictures above, adding to the warmth of the room.

The large size of the room was softened in scale by adding a chair rail with a dark red tone on the bottom half. Large storage closets were installed on either side of the entrance, with end walls that are angled as one enters the dining room (a facility can never have enough storage space.) Lush window treatments on both side walls enhance the feeling of an elegant dining space. Outside, we added courtyards extending beyond the covered porches, with trees, flowers, and a patio for residents to enjoy viewing as they dined.

Living rooms. The two living room areas were redefined by function and totally redecorated accordingly. One became a comfortable and inviting library, with two distinct sitting areas, each separated by enough space for privacy (figure 3). The other room is an informal, fun recreational space decorated with a tropical flair. It has a large-screen TV, two game tables, and nice sitting areas.

Porches. Each living room opens onto a large covered porch that is furnished with inviting wicker furniture. The concrete slabs were faux-painted; for example, the one off the informal media/game room resembles local brownstone. That porch also was screened and has become a popular place for residents to spend long afternoons and early evenings. The other porch was faux-painted in the gray tones of flagstone (figure 4), again with similar wicker furniture, but in this case the porch was left open to the new adjacent courtyard.

Beauty parlor. This space was transformed into a much more exciting room-a "total makeover"-with black-and-white photos of popular Hollywood actresses of the 1940s adorning the walls and the use of complimentary colors to make hair styling a fun experience (figure 5). This has proven to be a very popular locale for residents several times a week.

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