Historical Home Tour: The Liberty House
Story by Liesel Schmidt
Walking the streets of Old Town Alexandria, one cannot help but feel enchanted by the architecture of the buildings and the sense of history that exudes from every cornerstone and cobblestone. This is a place where so much of the past has been preserved while simultaneously making room for progress and change. It is that specialness that caught the attention of Cameron and Noelle Foster when they came to Alexandria for the first time in late 2016. “Our daughter was moving from our home in Seattle, Washington, to Washington, D.C., to attend college at George Washington University, and it wasn’t easy having her move so far away from us,” explains Cameron of the events that precipitated the visit. “After moving her into her freshman dorm, the sadness really hit—especially for Noelle. Many tears were shed in our hotel room, and then a friend told us about Old Town Alexandria for a fun day trip. I knew the distraction of a charming, historic, walkable town would help cheer Noelle up. While strolling up and down King Street, we wound up walking into a real estate office. Truly, it was an emotional decision, but I couldn’t stand seeing my wife so sad about her baby moving 3,000 miles away. I knew that she—we—needed a ‘project,’ and renovating an old home seemed the perfect remedy. Roughly six months later, we were proud owners of a dilapidated home in Old Town from 1860 which had not been shown love in a very long time. Not only would renovating such a delightful historical home be a labor of love, but it also gave us more reasons to spend time just minutes away from where our daughter was attending college.”
After purchasing the house in early 2017, the remodel began later that year—and so did the incredible transformation of the home to its former glory. The entire interior of the house was taken down to studs that held the exterior siding on the home, and the Fosters could see daylight from the inside of the house through cracks and holes in the exterior German lap siding. Inside, the original fireplace and mantel was something that the couple knew needed to be the focal point of the living area, though it took repairs to make it operable and restore its look. Miraculously, they were also able to save most of the original hardwood floors, though everything else inside the exterior walls was removed and rebuilt. Naturally, with the home’s location in the historic district of Old Town, the Fosters faced strict limitations on what they could do to the exterior of the house. The original six over six windows were in desperate need of replacement, but specifications required that the new windows be historically accurate. That meant wooden windows with two panes on the upper sash and two panes on the lower sash, though the Fosters were able to install windows with double-pane thickness to help insulate the home. The shutters were also replaced with operable wooden shutters, and the home was given a new front door, as well as a metal roof and a Bevolo gas lamp near the front door.
While the challenges of maintaining historic accuracy could have meant that the original kitchen at the back of the house had to stay limited to its predefined 90 square feet, the Fosters petitioned the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) to move the northern kitchen wall out roughly five feet to be in line with the north side of the property line. After gaining approval for the plan, the kitchen gained 100 square feet, which helped its functionality and allowed for the installation of an island and the addition of French doors that opened to a private patio built of bricks that, like the home itself, had quite the story. “In cleaning up the back yard, we discovered bricks from nearby brick manufacturers dating back to the early 1800s about two inches under the soil,” says Cameron. “We excavated them, then cleaned them up and reused the original bricks to create a patio which sits under an old cherry tree. It’s the perfect setting for us to relax and drink a nice glass of wine.” The surprises didn’t stop there. “Last year, Noelle was digging in the front of the house to plant a hedge of boxwoods and dug up a rusted skeleton key just to the right of the front door, roughly six inches deep under bricks,” Cameron says. “Amazingly enough, it appears to be the original front door key, but is too rusted to confirm.”
Like so much of Old Town, it is the exterior of the home that first captures attention. Once the façade was restored, the Fosters chose a color befitting the name they gave the home: Liberty House. “We chose a rich navy blue, combining it with bright white trim and a black door and shutters because we felt that it was crisp, happy, and inviting, without being too flamboyant or theatrical,” says Noelle. “The nearby houses were painted muted, pale, or somber colors, and we really wanted our house to appear welcoming and cheery.” In the same vein, the interior was also created to be inviting and fun. “This is our ‘home away from home,’ and we wanted to feel special each time we arrive—the way you feel when you’re walking into a posh boutique hotel,” Noelle explains. After the renovation, Liberty House was dramatically brighter and larger with the open rooms and high ceilings, which allowed for a more dramatic decor scheme. The Fosters filled it with unique art and decor they sourced from local thrift stores and Eastern Market in D.C. “It’s fun searching for quirky, historically significant pieces or president-related decorations,” says Cameron. “One of our first visions was to paint the original bricks of the fireplace white and hang a black and white DC flag made by local artist, Robert Jaxon. It became the focal point on the main floor. Then, the tiny powder room under the stairs gave us the perfect space for hand-painted black and white vertical stripes, making a boring and small powder room into a dramatic showpiece.” And Liberty House, with its history, should indeed be a showpiece. Over the course of its existence, the home passed through the hands of seven owners before being purchased by the Fosters’ company, Alfred Street, LLC. Since then, it has served its purpose well, providing a comfortable place for the Fosters to land when they come to Alexandria to visit the place that has captured their heart. “When our daughter graduated and moved back to Seattle, we could have sold the house, but we just couldn’t fathom giving it up,” Cameron says. “Over the past few years, we have built relationships with our neighbors and we love returning as frequently as possible. We became friends with a couple who lives on our block, and then our social group expanded from there. The first thing we do when we land at the airport is text everyone that we’re here and we spend our evenings drinking wine on our patios or visiting the nearby restaurants. Noelle is looking forward to joining the neighborhood book club, which will bring her to town each month on a regular basis.” When the Fosters are back in Seattle, Liberty House is available for short-term rental. “We want others to experience how magical Old Town is,” says Cameron. For more information on the Liberty House, please follow @LibertyHouseOldTown on Instagram!