From distressed to designer

May 10, 2012

BY PAULA MINAERT — When Dan and Meredith Muth bought their brick Colonial in 2010, they had no idea it would be on the city’s Historic House Tour two years later. Built in 1943, it had been rented out for the previous 15 years to many different people and, according to the couple, hadn’t been maintained.

They got the house when the owner couldn’t pay the taxes. Their neighbors were thrilled that they had bought it, says Dan.

Next-door neighbor Richard Marth says a whole mix of people, families and college students, lived there during the rental years.

“One renter owned a restaurant and moved all his workers into the house,” he recalls. “But it was more than the legal limit of tenants. The owner ended up evicting them.”

Dan says only the wood floors (which he refinished) and the hearth are left of the original house. Everything else is new, including the roof, walls, wiring, plumbing and windows.

He did much of the work himself ─ and this was while he and his wife were both working on their dissertations and expecting their son, Jeffrey.

“I stayed with friends,” says Meredith. “There was no power and heat here. Dan slept in the attic on an inflatable bed and worked on the house, and I’d come and visit. I had to put on a headlamp to get to the bathroom.”

One of their favorite photos from that time shows her sitting on the bed in the dark, heavily pregnant and scowling.

The good news was that the house, underneath the surface, was structurally sound. Only in one place did Dan uncover a real problem.

“I took out a wall in the kitchen to open it up, and found that the joists were cracked and actually sagging.” It turned out that the tiled bathroom floors above the kitchen had thick layers of concrete under them and that weight was too much for the wall below. It was waiting to collapse.

The couple wanted their work to be as green as possible. They reused all the lumber they took out, and used soy-based insulation. They also installed geothermal heating and cooling. It required drilling three 200-foot wells in the yard and running pipes to the house, where a heat pump circulates the water from the wells.

“It uses a lot less energy than the standard way,” says Dan. “It’s a way to heat and cool your home using renewable energy.”

Upstairs, they built two alcoves and added closets. Dan also transformed a closet into a hallway, to let in more light from the octagonal window that, inexplicably, had been placed inside the closet. He also enlarged all the doorways to open things up.

“We wanted to put a little ’Country Craftsman’ inside this Colonial, because it speaks more to our style.”

After all the work, they look forward to sharing their home with the Hyattsville community during the 33rd Annual Historic House Tour on May 20.