May 24, 2012 at 11:32 pm EDT | by Donna Evers
New spin on an old look

In April, we talked about the potential benefits and savings in buying an “ugly duckling’ house like a 1950s rambler or ranch style home, which at first blush can be unattractive and outdated, but can be transformed into a beautiful swan with your own personal touches and style.

Now let’s take a look at the 1930s and 1940s colonial home, which is found in nearly all the neighborhoods of Northwest Washington and throughout the close-in Metro area. Some of the typical problems with this style of house from that period include low ceilings, small, non-insulated windows, utilitarian-looking brick exteriors and closet-sized kitchens and baths.

The good news is there are solutions for all of the problems generally faced with this style of house. You can paint the wall and ceiling colors the same white or off-white shades to trick the eye and create the illusion of higher ceilings. You will probably want to replace the old, non-thermo pane windows, which is an investment, but you can save a considerable amount of money by having the replacement windows made to fit into the existing sash openings. Keep the window treatments to a minimum to enhance the light and size of the window openings. A harsh brick exterior can be softened and made more personalized by adding wooden shutters and making sure the trim and shutter paint colors complement the grout color.

Landscaping is to a house what makeup is to a face, so use it to enhance what the house already has going for it. You can also accentuate the stately appearance of the colonial-style house by adding decorative fencing on both sides of the house up to the garage or side lot lines. If you have the space, add a decorative garden trellis over the fence gate. Adding a small porch roof with brackets or columns over the front door will make the house look better “dressed” and more welcoming, as well as provide shelter from the rain when your guests come to call.

You can make up for the lack of a family room and an adequate master bath with a single, well-placed two-story addition on the back of the house. The original kitchen should be located at the back of the house for this plan to work. Instead of paying too much for a lot of square footage, opt for less space that is well designed and has good flow, storage space and ample natural light. An addition can also provide the space to add convenience and functionality to the house at the same time.

For example, if the house is missing a first floor powder room and a coat closet, include them in the new addition. Make the best use of space by opening the kitchen to the family room and separating the two with a well-designed island that can double as cooking space and a counter for seating. This will probably become the central gathering area in your home, whether it’s being used for everyday use, or when it becomes the bar and entertainment area for a party.

On the second floor of the addition, incorporate one of the existing small bedrooms to become the new walk-in closet and part of the master bath for the new master suite. Remember, when you are considering spending money on improving your home, the kitchen and the master suite are the two places that will bring you the best return on your renovating dollars. While you may want to splurge on a fixture or appliance, they have to be appropriate in terms of size. You don’t want to choose an oversized tub or refrigerator that will ruin the design and feel of the new spaces.

This sounds like a lot of work, but it’s worth doing. Remember that location is the key word in real estate investments, and if the price is right, it will be worth taking the money you saved by buying the ugly duckling on the block, and turning it into your very own dream house.

Donna Evers can be reached at She’s the broker and owner of Evers & Co. Real Estate. 

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