This article was published in August 2010 as part of UrbanTurf’s Unique Spaces series, where we take a look at properties that could be considered “one-of-a-kind” in the DC area. If you have a home that you think fits the bill, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. See all of our past Unique Spaces articles here.
But when April Burke and Dick Flynt bought an abandoned corner store in Old Town, Alexandria, they were somewhat surprised that their architect, Mark McInturff, told them to keep the huge plate-glass windows that look onto Royal and Queen Streets.
When their custom-made screens are completely open, passersby are treated to a showpiece: McInturff centered a sleek, shiny Snaidero kitchen in the middle of the Queen Street windows, and painted the rear wall a dramatic shade of aubergine. The modern dining table and chairs makes the scene look like a high-end restaurant. Those passing by on Royal Street, meanwhile, will see the expanse of the adjacent mid-century modern living room.
“My husband loves the whole interplay with the street,” Burke said.
Needless to say, it did not always look this way. The building dates back to 1880, when the couple believes it served as a carriage house to a much larger row house next door. And for most of the 20th century, it served as a general store, selling everything from candy to dry goods. From the 1970s through 2000, it served as a furniture store, and then an antiques shop.
But starting at the turn of the 21st century, it lay vacant for several years, until Burke and Flynt spotted it.
“I had always been interested in it,” Burke said. “So when I saw the building was vacant and for sale again, I thought, ‘Let’s do something different.’”
They hired McInturff to redesign the long, narrow building into a 5,000 square-foot three-level residence. He used the nine eight-foot-tall windows on the street level as a design cue for a modern-yet-whimsical interior, filled with bursts of color. In all, there are two bedrooms and four and a half baths. In some areas, McInturff also preserved the 20-foot ceiling heights of the old commercial space.
Upstairs, the master bedroom suite takes up half the entire level, with its own private sitting area and fireplace. There is also a small balcony looking out over Royal Street. Burke fondly calls it their Politburo balcony because “it’s the kind of balcony a Russian autocrat would use to stand out and wave to his people.”
On the lower level, the couple compensated for the lack of windows with bright colors, fanciful black-and-white tile, and their collection of 20th-century circus posters. And while they will take their posters with them to their next home, Burke says, there is a pool table down there that they would love for the next owner to keep.
Because the house was once a store, its location places it at the heart of Old Town – three blocks from the Potomac River, two blocks from Market Square on King Street, and right on the route of many parades.
Flynt and Burke have five grown children between them, and while she says the house has been wonderful for them as a couple, they are looking to move to a bigger space with more guest accommodations in anticipation of grandchildren.
314 Queen Street, Old Town, Alexandria (map)
UrbanTurf contributor Jennifer Sergent is the brains behind the DC By Design blog. She was most recently the senior editor at Washington Spaces magazine, and will soon start a new job as the marketing director of the Washington Design Center.