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A House On “The Country’s Most Despicable Alley”

It is said that Elenor Roosevelt once dubbed Blagden Alley one of the the country’s most despicable alleys. The house is located in the Historic District in Washington, D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood of DC, which has recently become home to restaurants with Michelin starred chefs. It was built by a coal oil salesman over 100 years ago and continued to be used as commercial space until it was bought and renovated by its current owners – Anna and Dan.

But as many things change in time, this area has recently become a hip location with its coffee houses and restaurants. Anna and Dan saw the potential in this rundown commercial building and made it quite special. According to Anna, “Being off the street but so close to downtown is kind of magical.”

The row house fell into disrepair and was demolished, leaving only a vacant lot with the alley structure at the rear of it. Anna and Dan bought it that way and converted the alley structure into their home. Years later they rebuilt the row house into a three-unit condo, maintaining the original vintage feel of the neighborhood.

For the last 25 years Anna and Dan moved five times in Washington DC.  They say the houses they could afford were always along the edges of neighborhoods, which had suffered from neglect and blight. Anna says that all of their renovations were done because they fell madly in love with the properties that needed some tending to. She and Dan fell in love with the carriage house and  “couldn’t bare the idea that someone else might do something awful to it.”

The design for the home is based on an open concept with fewer larger spaces than several smaller ones;  making the house feel bigger than it would with closed off rooms. The entire ground floor was perceived as the entertaining level (kitchen/dining and lounge) and the entire second floor as the living level (sleeping and living spaces). There is no enclosed bedroom on that floor. Architect Shawn Buehler says the house was designed specifically with open spans from front to back to allow light to come in from both directions. 


Existing bar joists were left exposed, as well as roof beams and support columns. The original building had no interior stair so the second floor could only be accessed from the outside, so a new interior stair had to be added.

The owners of this carriage house envisioned a social kitchen and dining area suitable for large meals and gatherings in a setting that celebrates the urban character of their Blagden Alley neighborhood. It’s a conversion of an industrial alley structure into a single-family home.

The owners use the space as a super club hiring chefs to cook for the parties they throw periodically. They also own an antiques/vintage store, GoodWood, and move different furniture and other items in and out of their own space.

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