- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

It is a rare moment when a seller offers flexibility in price to a potential buyer who will appreciate his home as much as he does, but the property at 319 Constitution Ave. NE in the District deserves some admiration.

This residence, now on the market for $950,000, features an elegant 1889 facade of painted brick. Yet it is the craftsmanship in the interior rooms that makes this home extraordinary.

Built in 1889, this Capitol Hill treasure was gutted and entirely rebuilt — except for the facade — in 1968. The surrounding five homes in this row also were rebuilt 35 years ago, and many of these homes, like this one, are still occupied by their original buyers. None of them, however, offers the unique features of this home.

Working with the master-craftsman Kenneth Haltenhoff, owner Dr. Douglas Lewis designed and built a 10,000-volume library of handcrafted solid Virginia walnut paneling with a built-in desk, a built-in day bed and a large walnut-paneled light table for viewing slides and transparencies.

The detail found in this library surpasses imagination, yet the room also functions as an upper-level second bedroom and includes a full bath that recently was fully retiled. A full bed tucks partially underneath the hidden light table. It functions as a daybed with pillows leaning against the walnut-paneled light table. At night, the bed easily rolls out to its full extension when needed.

The main closet for this room has been converted into an office storage closet with file cabinets tucked into the lower section and specially designed storage for picture frames on the top, hidden behind walnut paneled doors.

The closet could be reconverted for clothing storage, but meanwhile, the adjacent hall closet has been fitted with an extending clothes rod, a built-in drawer and even a built-in hamper for laundry.

A special feature of this library is the four-window box bay at the front of the room, fitted with upgraded Pella window panes that block noise completely. Walnut paneling covers all the walls in the room, and bookshelf space has been created everywhere, including underneath the windows.

The recessed box-bay window inspired the owner to design a pattern of staggered bookcases, which also allow some of the shelves to be extra deep to accommodate volumes of art history books.

Dr. Lewis says, “People who care about books want to make them feel good.”

These shelves have been constructed of hand-polished walnut for a matte finish, but on the shelves where the books rest, a coat of polyurethane has been painted on to allow the books to slide easily on and off the shelves without scratching the wood surface.

The Renaissance-style paneling on the back of the light table, which serves as the back of the day bed when the light table is hidden, features gently movable panels within solid pegged rails so that the wood can breathe and adjust to humid temperatures. When the light table is exposed, additional storage shelving is also revealed, perfectly sized for slide boxes. The light table can accommodate transparencies, slides, X-rays or any study materials requiring backlighting.

The library also includes a built-in Sheraton-style desk with hidden drawers on the front and the back of the desk of walnut facades and cherry rails. Mr. Haltenhoff built these drawers and all handcrafted wood drawers and doors without any nails, simply using the traditional peg-and-groove method of linking the pieces. The walnut used to build the library was grown on Mr. Haltenhoff’s Bluemont, Va., property, where it was cured, sawn into planks and hand-planed.

The desk also includes smaller pieces of banana wood, rosewood, birch, ebony and maple. A series of pigeonholes was designed to hold the set of hand-printed stationery from London’s Bond Street that goes with the house.

While the exquisite detailing of this library serves as a focal point for this Capitol Hill home, it is not the only area of the home that has been customized. Guests enter through a red, white and blue painted vestibule with a wall of closets currently used for storing items such as extra crystal and china used for entertaining.

The dining room at the front of the home can seat 12 with ease and includes a four-window box bay, echoing the one in the library above. Pella windows have been installed in this room, as well, silencing street noises. Crown and chair-rail moldings have been added to this room as a reference to the home’s original construction in 1889.

The central hall, dining room and living room on this level all feature polished hardwood floors.

A powder room and several closets line the hall. In the powder room is a convenient linen closet. Future owners may choose to update the 1960s kitchen, which has new ceramic tile flooring.

The rear living room includes a wood-burning fireplace, a built-in bookcase with a cabinet below and a wall of south-facing windows that bring light into the home, along with a charming view of the brick patio and surrounding garden. A wood deck, accessible through sliding glass doors, has stairs that lead to the garden.

The garden includes ivy, a 100-year-old lilac tree, and a brick patio with a gently curving low brick wall, with a fence at the back of the home along with a storage shed. A brick wall that forms one of the garden walls belongs to the alley house, built between 1810 and 1820, that once accommodated horses on the main level, with a hayloft and housing for stable boys above.

A back gate leads to a courtyard that has three parking spaces owned by this house. The current owner rents out two of these spaces for extra income.

An oak staircase with extra storage underneath leads to the second level of the home, which has a bookcase covering one wall of the hall. In addition to the library and full bath at the front of this level, the second floor includes a stacked washer-and-dryer and hall closets.

At the rear of the home, the master suite includes a full bath with new tiling. The rear wall has been designed with deep bookcases surrounding two picture windows that overlook the garden, each with a deep, cushioned window seat. The bookcases are deep enough to hide the ductwork in the room and to accommodate entertainment systems, if desired.

Along the rear wall, the master closet features custom-designed extra-strong closet rods on one side, with a built-in cedar wardrobe in the other half with eight large drawers and six smaller drawers, along with cedar-lined blanket storage on the top.

The lower-level tenant’s unit, which has been occupied by the current tenant for the past five years and a previous tenant for 14, brings in about $1,000 per month in rent. This home includes private front and rear entrances, a bedroom with a box-bay window identical to those in the rooms above, a fully equipped kitchen with an eating area, and a large living room with a fireplace and a glass door leading to a private patio.

All utilities are separate and paid by the tenant.

Clearly this Capitol Hill home offers unique features, and it also offers a prime location within walking distance of the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, congressional offices, the U.S. Capitol building and two Metro stations.

More Info:

Address: 319 Constitution Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002

Community: Capitol Hill

Age: Facade, 1889; interior rebuilt 1968

Price: $950,000

Size: About 2,400 finished square feet on a lot size of 4,408 square feet

Taxes: $3,796 in 2003

Exterior features: Brick Colonial-style town house, iron-fenced front garden, brick patio in rear with garden beds, deck off living room with steps to garden, storage shed, fully fenced back yard.

Interior features: English basement rental unit including one bedroom, one bath, a full kitchen with eating area, large living room with fireplace and private front and rear entrances, plus private back patio. Upper two levels include a formal dining room with a deep box-bay window; a powder room; a full kitchen; a living room with a fireplace and sliding glass doors to the deck and rear garden; multiple closets and custom-designed storage; upper-level master suite with built-in bookcases surrounding windows with window seats, private full bath; front library/guest suite with full bath; stacked washer-dryer in hall.

Amenities: Three parking spaces behind house accessible from garden gate; exquisitely handcrafted custom-designed bookshelves, desk and built-in light table in paneled library; polished oak flooring on two upper levels; new ceramic tile flooring in kitchen, bathrooms and upper hall.

Close by: One block to Supreme Court and Folger Shakespeare Library, walking distance to Union Station and Capitol South Metro stations; walk to shops and restaurants on Capitol Hill.

Open house: By appointment

Contact: Owner Dr. Douglas Lewis at 202/842-6644 weekdays or 202/842-6097 evenings and weekends.

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