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Olivia Ellis’s mother was the first one to say, “Don’t you dare touch that front porch.” Ellis, who runs a radio station, and her husband, Isham Randolph, a documentary filmmaker, were about to begin renovations on their Takoma Park, Maryland, home, and right away she reminded them of the beauty of having a front yard. “For [my mom’s] generation, porches were so important. They were used to interact with their neighbors,” says Ellis. She took her mother’s advice (sort of). 

When the couple brought on Colleen Healey and Acadia Contractors to transform the house they’d called home for nearly a decade, they did technically get rid of the existing front porch. But just to the left of it, they built a new one and absorbed the old veranda into the interior to create a sunken mudroom. What seemed like a small shift brought the new porch closer to the sidewalk by another 3 feet or so. The proximity to the street hasn’t gone unnoticed. “Sometimes I’ll look out and I’ll see neighborhood kids sitting on the porch just chatting. They feel very welcome,” says Ellis.

The Layout Before

The first floor, before.
The second floor, before.

The Layout After

The first floor, after.
The second floor, after.

Scooting the porch over a few feet was just one of many clever moves. Using the grandfathered footprint as her guideline, Healey expanded the 1,700-square-foot house by another 700 feet, adding a little onto each side of the home until they reached their limits. “We couldn’t even go another 2 inches, that’s how close we were to the back of the property,” she says. Here’s how they made the most of the new layout.

Use Skylights Outside, Too

The exterior, before.

Ellis and Randolph made a serious departure from the neighborhood when they decided to add expansive windows to the front of the house. “People in D.C. don’t do that,” says Ellis. But she didn’t mind standing out on the block—she told Healey to go for it. “Creating all that light has really changed the way we live and our well-being,” she continues. “We don’t technically have that much more space, but it feels like it.”

Situating the new covered porch right in front of the large dining room window would have sacrificed a lot of the natural light they were craving indoors, so Healey suggested adding two skylights to the exterior overhang. “My rule with skylights is always twice as many and twice as big, because they make such an impact,” says the architect. 

Behold the Power of the Moody Exterior

The exterior, before.

Originally, the plan was to keep the exterior white. Changing up the color of the house would be less jarring for everyone involved—neighbors included. But as the interior updates got under way, it felt strange to Healey and Ellis to hang onto the past. They let go of being the boxy white farmhouse on the street and went all black. 

Randolph raised a concern about heat gain in the warmer months, but Healey reassured him that all the energy-efficient upgrades they had made (adding solar panels on the roof, replacing the insulation) would more than make up for it. “We ran some calculations, and in the end we think the heat gain in the winter may actually be more beneficial than having to keep the home cool in the summer,” she explains.

Divide the Mudroom With a Step, Not a Door

Before, when you entered the house, you’d find yourself smack-dab in the middle of the living room. “The kids would put their backpacks right there on the ground,” recalls Ellis. Now, a sunken mudroom smooths the transition between the front door and the living area, allowing the family to hide jackets and sports gear in floor-to-ceiling stained-ash cabinets and shoes inside drawers underneath a window bench. 

Pull Inspiration From Your Past

The living room, before.

With Ellis originally hailing from Texas and Randolph living in Mexico for a period of time, the couple has a sweet spot for desert-inspired design. When it came time to paint their ground level, she recalled a blush pink color they’d come across while staying at the Ignacia Guest House in Mexico City. “It was definitely the first time we’ve painted a whole floor (walls and ceilings) a color that wasn’t white,” says Healey. She advised them to keep Benjamin Moore’s Raleigh Peach to the first floor only; that way, she adds, the color would create more of a moment than if they would have continued it upstairs. 

The kitchen, before.

In the kitchen, they laid down reddish orange porcelain tile that looks like authentic Saltillo you’d find in the Southwest (these cost less and are a lot more durable than the real thing). “This is the first time I’ve ever done a renovation and it feels like my skin,” says Ellis. “These are elements we’ve always been drawn to in our lives.”

Before moving to Mexico and eventually the greater D.C. area, Randolph grew up in Seattle. A storm doesn’t stress him out—it brings him comfort. “Rain is a big part of his life,” says Ellis. What was once a deck is now a screened-in porch where he can sit during a shower and listen to the drops pitter-patter on the roof.

See the Sky at All Times

During the addition phase, Healey stretched the couple’s bedroom until it essentially took up the full length of the back of the house, with the bathroom at one end and the closet at the other. This left them with a long, narrow space that’s only 10 feet at its widest point.

Fortunately, the pitched ceilings make up for the quirky footprint. Healey turned to skylights once more, this time sandwiching one at the intersection of the ceiling and wall—one of her favorite tricks. “You get a merging of wall and sky and it really connects you to the outdoors,” she says. In some projects, she’ll hang a mirror all the way up there to really elevate the shadow play. 

The large windows that face the back neighbors can be fully (or partially) covered by top-down, bottom-up shades, offering Ellis and Randolph some privacy without shrouding views of the treetops. “It feels like we could be living anywhere on earth. We could be living in a jungle,” she says. You know your reno was all worth it when you feel like you’ve moved to a completely different place.