The Duncan/Potter Home
Perched on a hill in the Jason Heights neighborhood of Arlington, the home of Sharon Duncan and Thomas Potter has all the charms – and challenges – of a structure built in 1904.
Since the couple moved there in 2000, the house has undergone extensive renovations. Sharon and Thomas have done some work themselves, from plugging up leaky basement windows to knocking down walls to removing plenty of paint. Some work, however, has called for outside expertise.
A few years ago, one of our clients referred us to Sharon and Thomas. After speaking with general manager Scott Blain (and several other contractors), they chose to go with us.
“Custom just seemed very practical,” said Sharon. “They had reasonable solutions, and they weren’t trying to sell us the moon. We were confident they could do the work.”
Kitchen in Need of Help
Before Sharon and Thomas moved in, the home hadn’t had much updating over the previous 50 years. One room that needed major work was the kitchen, which had:
Too little space
A poor layout (including a bathroom and laundry area) that inhibited proper flow
A ceiling that was sagging precariously due to a leaking bathroom on the second floor
Worn linoleum flooring
Stained and peeling Formica countertops
No functioning dishwasher
We were hired to completely renovate and reconfigure the kitchen. The first order of business was to create more space. This involved:
Relocating the existing bathroom and laundry space into a combined area off the kitchen
Adding a bay window and window seat along the back of the kitchen
Building out another side (with a flat roof and railing along with custom field stone foundation) and installing windows with extra-deep sills
Reconfiguring the back entrance and constructing a mudroom and back entry
A Clear Vision for the Renovation
In terms of design, Sharon and Thomas had a clear vision for their renovated kitchen: “We wanted it to look like it was part of the house, not a modern addition stuck on to an old house,” said Sharon. “We didn’t try to recreate a 1904 kitchen, but we did want it to look at least 50 years old.”
The kitchen now features custom, white-painted wood cabinetry with recessed doors. In the pantry, we rebuilt the beautiful glass-door cabinets that stand in front of white-tile walls (the same combination that Sharon recalled from her visit to the famed Gamble House in California).
The blue – gray Marmoleum flooring – a natural form of linoleum – was a sentimental choice, as both Sharon and Thomas grew up in homes with linoleum kitchen floors. “The floor is very easy to walk on,” observed Sharon. “It gives nicely, and it’s a comfortable surface to stand on when you’re cooking a lot.”
The new stone counters are also a nod to the past and a break from the shiny granite counters that are so popular now. On a similar note, rather than installing recessed lighting, Sharon and Thomas chose traditional lighting fixtures. In fact, the main fixture – a schoolhouse fixture – looks quite similar to the one in the original kitchen.
“Between the lighting fixtures, the under-counter lights and the bay window, there’s so much more light now,” said Sharon. “I love finally having enough light.”
Improved venting for the oven and a new dishwasher helped bring the kitchen into the 21st century. But the crown jewel of the room is an old oven once owned by Sharon’s grandmother. Formerly an all-gas appliance, it has been refurbished to run on a combination of gas and electric. It fits right in with the classic look of the renovated kitchen.
Updated, But Not Too Contemporary
In addition to the kitchen, we renovated much of the rest of the home’s interior. This was heavy-duty work that entailed tearing down walls to the studs, removing trim, upgrading electrical, installing insulation and plaster walls, introducing central air conditioning and more. All of the spaces – from the living room to the music room to the master bedroom – mimic the kitchen in that they are clearly updated without clashing with the home’s basic character.
One of Sharon’s favorite aspects of our work involved the living room’s original stained glass windows, which previously had been removed and stored in the attic. Project manager and lead carpenter Dave Surrette was able to gently reinstall these gorgeous windows, which now sit safely behind weather-proof exterior windows.
“Dave was awesome. He totally understood what we were trying to do in terms of making the house look old, and his cabinetry was terrific,” lauded Sharon. “Everyone from Custom was easy to talk to, easy to have around and good at figuring things out.”
This past spring, we returned to renovate the flat-roof garage, which was in rough shape. Among other things, we replaced the roof and floor, installed new windows and doors, and built a new storage area on top. Just one more way we’ve helped to make the home more functional.
As Sharon said, “It functions like a modern house, but still looks kind of old.”