Architects Todd Pritchett and Craig Dixon have a knack for seeing the potential in places more worn than well-tended. Give them a home that’s all but falling down and they quickly envision its possibilities.
Case in point is their own Virginia-Highland residence. When the design duo bought it in 2000, the building—long past its prime—had been divided into six apartments. “I’ve known this house forever; I loved the outside of it because it was so unusual,” says Pritchett. “When it became available, Craig and I talked to my cousin and her partner. I said, ‘Why don’t we buy the whole building—gut it, add onto it and create a two-unit condominium?’ We have the top level, they have the main level, and behind the courtyard, we co-own a small rental unit. We put a pool in, too, so it’s a hybrid between a house and a condo.”
In fact, each unit has the feeling of a European-style flat. “I love the way [Europeans] live,” says Pritchett. “They don’t get caught up in when something was built; in a 1618 building, for instance, everything doesn’t have to be a faux 1618 element. They update everything; the lighting’s new and they have modern furniture. We wanted to incorporate that approach into our house. Although there are new spaces, you still have the feeling that it’s a really old house.”
“We like to take historic shapes and proportions and materials, then strip them down and update them,” adds Dixon. “Anything that’s mechanical, like a faucet, we just let it be modern, we let it be new. Likewise, there’s not an extra piece of trim anywhere. We prefer one-piece trims to three-piece crown moldings. One simple, heavy-duty, chunky trim works fine.”
The balance of their inspiration, however, can be found closer to home. “We do a lot of work at Lake Rabun and Lake Burton, so you’ll see—especially in the master bedroom and the sunroom—wood walls and beams come into play,” explains Pritchett. “I think that, too, relates to the European look, but it’s also a bit of a nod to our work up there.”
Once the last apartment dweller had moved out, the renovation officially began. “We started gutting the place, and after we got into it, we saw what the structure was really like,” recalls Pritchett. “We discovered that when [the building] had been turned into apartments, entire support walls had been taken out! There was a lot more work involved than what we had anticipated; it turned into the proverbial ‘money pit.’”
And, of course, the new addition had to be taken into consideration. Plans for the second floor called not only for a new entrance but also a new sunroom, two new guest rooms and two new guest baths. So, says Dixon, “we pretty much had to rebuild the house to support it all.”
That rebuilding process included replacing windows in the original structure. “The master suite, with all the French casements, is probably the most original room in the house,” notes Pritchett. “The windows had rotted out, so we went back and had windows made to match the originals. We even used some of the old wood, then reglazed the windows, so from the front and partial side, the look is completely historic. Then we made sure the addition tied in with the existing architecture.”
When it came time to address the interior, though, the owners loosened their hold on the historic and took a more modern approach instead. One central space encompasses all of the public living areas, while small vestibules mark the entrances to the more private master suite and guest quarters.
“One of the things I like best is the way everything is so open,” says Pritchett. “The way we live, we’re not compartmentalized people. And it’s perfect for entertaining; you can have people hanging out in the kitchen while we’re cooking something at the island and serving people. You can have a group at the dining room table, another sitting around the fireplace in the living room and more people sitting out in the sunroom. Yet everyone can still see—and relate to—each other.”
How difficult was it for two design pros to draft their own perfect plan? “We had a million versions of this house,” admits Dixon, “and we were drawing it until well after construction started.”
“That’s the bad thing about doing your own house. You can have a million ideas and you can really just keep building on them every month. In the final version [of the plan], the living room was where the kitchen is now. But in the end we flipped them. Now I find myself thinking, ‘I wish we’d left that the way it was. I think I’d have liked the kitchen better right here next to the sunroom.’ If we stay here, that’s what we’re going to do,” adds Pritchett facetiously.
Then again, why mess with perfection?
Todd Pritchett and Craig Dixon, Todd Pritchett Design Studio, (404) 876-1390, toddpritchettdesignstudio.com