Another chance to shine

Latitude 38 gives new life to historic materials

Isaac Miller

It was a kind of magic trick. An old house in Fifeville, sandwiched closely between its neighbors, was demolished to make way for a new, modern dwelling—and presto change-o, the new house reuses and features many of the materials from the old.

It’s as though existing DNA was scrambled to create a novel animal. “You might as well use the stuff,” says Joey Conover. Latitude 38, the design-build company she owns with her husband, Jeff Erkelens, is known for inserting modern houses into dense Charlottesville neighborhoods, but this particular lot was tight even by Latitude’s standards. “We couldn’t just come in and demolish the house with equipment,” Conover explains. “Jeff decided to take it down by hand.”

That slower, gentler approach made it possible to save lots of materials: studs, siding, mantelpieces and—most significantly—lath boards from behind the old plaster walls. The Latitude crew carefully removed nails and planed wood so that the salvaged stuff could take a starring design role in the new house.

Recycled lath boards from the previous house show up in every room—from under the center kitchen counter to a wall in the living room. Photo: Isaac Miller

Honoring the neighborhood

Naturally, though, the design process began much closer to the source: a sloping lot, near Conover and Erkelens’ own home, which they envisioned supporting a young family like their own—a place where dedicated urban dwellers could raise children.

Along came Philip and Lisa L., who’d already lived in the neighborhood for seven years and owned a 1920s-era house on a nearby street. With two young children and a third on the way, they were feeling the limits of their home, but couldn’t find anything more spacious.

“If we moved outside the neighborhood, it would affect friendships we’ve spent a lot of time establishing,” says Philip. The couple appreciates the area’s proximity to Downtown and its communal, front-porch culture. They were familiar with Latitude’s work and thought of it as both innovative and functional. “The idea of living in a new home designed with folks like us in mind was attractive,” says Philip.

This lot was particularly well suited to their needs, because its slope offered the chance to build a fully finished basement with plenty of natural light—so that, in another decade or so, their teenagers will have a space to escape to.

Three levels tall, the house cuts a slender Scandinavian profile, clearly a brand-new home, yet one that extends a design hand to its neighbors. Though Latitude has often built houses with modern shed roofs, “We decided to do a gabled roof on this house to fit in more with the neighborhood,” says Conover.

“It didn’t need to scream, ‘Look at us,’” says Lisa.

The house’s concrete exterior harkens to the old-fashioned stucco that’s common around town, and its placement on the lot gives it a measure of modesty. “It’s a fairly large home, but if you’re coming down the street, you can’t see this house,” says Conover. “It catches people off guard.”

Ultimately, says Conover, Fifeville is not an area of architectural uniformity. “I understand that people have really strong feelings about historical neighborhoods,” she says. “But this neighborhood’s not that consistent.” She and Erkelens strived to connect this home to its surroundings even as it clearly stands apart.

Photo: Isaac Miller

Repurposing with vision

Built with precast concrete walls, the new home is EarthCraft certified and solidly energy-efficient. Latitude took inspiration from the demolished house in designing its layout: As they’d always been, the stairs are on the north side of the house. Dining, kitchen and living rooms line up in fairly open fashion.

It’s in the detailing that this home shines. From one’s first steps inside the front door, imaginatively repurposed materials are everywhere. The entry is separated from the dining room by a “wall” of salvaged posts built around the old fireplace surrounds, their mantels forming a handy shelf. (The couple reports that their kids love to slip through the open spaces between posts.)

The new layout is similar to the original home’s. The stairs are on the north side of the house, and dining, kitchen and living rooms remain in fairly open fashion. The entry is separated from the dining room by a “wall” of salvaged posts around old fireplace surrounds. Photo: Isaac Miller

In every room, at least one wall is surfaced with repurposed lath boards, their varying color and texture offset by the crisp white of the remaining walls. Exposed ceiling joists are painted white, while floors are made of ash mixed with wood from a Kentucky coffee tree taken down on a different Fifeville street.

The kitchen runs along the house’s front-to-rear axis. This means that traffic can easily flow, both through the kitchen’s primary, galley-style workspace and a second avenue flanked by barstools and a built-in nook for bill-paying and homework. White quartz countertops and brass cabinet knobs lend subtle style.

The family loves their screened porch, which opens off the living room and, owing to the slope of the lot, sits a story above the ground for a lofty feel. Solid half-walls on the sides offer privacy, but screens welcome in the backyard view.

Private spaces locate above and below this main floor. The homeowners are working to finish the basement with play areas (including a kids’ nook below the staircase) and spare bedrooms. “They were able to get the ceiling height so it doesn’t feel too basementy,” says Philip, “and to get a window into each room. Most of the day you get good sun.”

Upstairs, bedrooms are big enough but not enormous. “What Latitude does best is family homes for people who want to have comfortable space but self-imposed limits,” says Philip.

Having settled into their new home in September, the family is relishing its convenience and style. “I’ve always lived in houses that are a hundred years old,” says Lisa. “New construction feels so cookie-cutter. This is different.”

Downstairs, a small nook provides space for a desk. Private spaces locate above and below the main floor. “What Latitude does best is family homes for people who want to have comfortable space but self-imposed limits,” says Philip. Photo: Isaac Miller

Photo: Isaac Miller

THE BREAKDOWN

Square feet: 1,802 finished and 901 partially complete basement

Structural system: Superior Walls

Exterior material: Concrete painted with Sherwin Williams Loxon in “Cyberspace”

Interior finishes: Drywall; lath and studs from previous home on site; LG Viatera Cirrus countertop; miscellaneous lighting

Roof materials: Union Corrugating galvalume metal standing seam

Window system: Pella 350 Series triple-pane

Mechanical systems: Fujitsu slim duct and Mitsubishi ductless; design by Think Little and install by Airflow

General contractor: Latitude 38 LLC