Two years ago, when the Ross family met informally with Thoughtful Development, an architecture firm in the City of Falls Church, they had no idea how soon they’d be embarking upon a home purchase and renovation project that would make them owners and residents of the Larner-Jones House, a 150 year old farmhouse on N. Maple Avenue.
Dan Ross and his wife, Kristen, were looking further into the future. They’d owned a townhouse on Park Avenue for six years, and they liked living there. Their daughters, Greta and Avery, liked being students in the City’s schools. But the Ross family was considering a larger space, more room for the girls to play and have a yard. So they described to the team at Thoughtful Development what kind of house they were interested in, and more specifically what kind of project they were looking for – because they were looking for a project. Dan had renovated two townhouses prior to the meeting, and he wasn’t interested in making minor upgrades to a nearly finished home.
“If we were going to do something, we wanted it to be unique,” Dan said.
Preliminary musings turned to serious discussion when Thoughtful Development introduced them to a brick-red house on Maple Avenue. A few weeks later, the Rosses were signing the contract to buy it.
Going into the project, they knew how extensive the renovation would be.
“We expected it to be in rough shape, and it was in rough shape,” Dan said.
As they negotiated a price with the sellers, the June 2012 derecho whipped through the City and plunged a tree through the roof. That didn’t stop them from buying the home, though. They anticipated substantial changes and repairs, anyway.
They did have concerns about the structural integrity of the house, though.
“It’s not obvious when you’re looking at a house,” Dan said. “When you take it apart, to do renovations, you’re not sure what you’re going to find.”
What they found was an outmoded balloon frame, with massive wall studs extending the full height of the home creating air gaps and thus fire hazards. Pine siding was nailed onto the studs, with no insulation. The house had no headers to prevent the weight of the home from bearing down on windows and doors. They found some less troubling curiosities, as well, like a door painted and plastered over and the house’s original cedar-shingled roof hidden behind an extension.
As part of their deal to buy the house, the Rosses were allowed time to conduct a feasibility study, so that professionals could inspect the home for potential dangers and ensure that the home could be renovated as the family wished.
The house became theirs on Nov. 9, 2012, and construction began that winter. The footprint of the house was increased with an expansion, making it an approximately 4,000 square foot home with five bedrooms, four and a half baths. The addition also features a sizeable kitchen – a vast improvement on the original, which had no kitchen at all. One was later added to the basement, and a modern kitchen was added in a small extension on the main floor.
In the Thoughtful Development renovation and construction project, maintaining the historic integrity of the home was a focus. The original windows, for example, were removed, restored, and replaced. When preservation wasn’t feasible, alternative measures were taken to preserve the home’s 19th-century character. The heart pine flooring found beneath a newer oak floor was too badly damaged by dry rot, for example, but pine floors from another period farmhouse were used instead.
The Ross family’s commitment to the house’s history can be seen not just in their renovation, but in their research. Dan has read several documents on the home’s history, archived with information about other longstanding City homes at the Mary Riley Styles Public Library.
They’ve unofficially named their home the Larner-Jones House, paying homage to the Larner family, who lived there for more than 50 years from the 1890s, and the Jones family, who also lived there for more than half a century starting in the 1960s.
Dan posts to a blog at larner-jones.blogspot.com with the findings of his research. He’s written there about the renovation process as well which, according to a post in April, is “certainly 95%+ complete.” Still, the Ross family has called the Larner-Jones House home since August of last year, and Dan feels rewarded by the outcome of the project.
“It’s great. It’s turned out great. I really love the way the house looks,” Dan said. “It’s satisfying to have done all that. It definitely was not without its frustrating times, and expense, and delays – which always happens when you’re doing a house – but it was great.”