Alice and her husband live in a 101-year old home in the 16th Street Heights neighborhood of DC, along with their two-year old son, Emmett. I always love peeking in on families with one young kid, as they seem to be at the very beginning stages of learning about this whole living with kids thing! It’s all so fresh and inspiring, even to those of us living with much older kids and transitioning out of the toys-in-every-room stage.
Welcome, Alice. We can’t wait to walk around your home!
Hi everyone! I’m Alice. Our 101-year-old bungalow is home to myself, my loving husband, Tim, and our two-year old son, Emmett. Although we’ve only been married five years, Tim and I have been together for 13 years – dating for eight before we tied the knot. We both grew up just outside of DC and being city people, have always known DC to be home. We have an amazing group of friends and family in the area, so we are never leaving!
My husband works at a small, disability rights non-profit that focuses on independent living. He’s been there for over ten years, so his coworkers are practically family. And I am a freelance graphic designer.
Our son Emmett is perfectly Tim and perfectly me. He has his dad’s goofy, outgoing personality and my picky eating habits. He surprises us every day with hilarious new comments and is just a ball of energy right now. So far, two has been a fun age!
We live in the 16th Street Heights neighborhood of DC. It is a refreshingly diverse neighborhood that, because there is no Metro, is changing more slowly and naturally than other DC neighborhoods. It is a quieter, less-trendy part of town, but we love it, and there are enough walkable amenities to keep us from relying on the car.
Within a few block radius we can walk to Emmett’s daycare, his pediatrician, convenience stores, a yoga studio, and family-friendly restaurants. We also have great bus lines up here with easy access to downtown. And we are barely four blocks from Rock Creek Park.
On weekends they close the road through the park for biking and running, there’s great hiking, historic landmarks, a playground, tennis facilities, a track, amphitheater and soccer fields…the list goes on! We do our best to get to the park as much as possible, whether it is a run, a quick trip to the playground or an evening walk.
Our house is very old. There were no photos of it online, and the sale was as-is, so we were definitely nervous about the purchase. However, we met our amazing next door neighbor during our house inspection and I still credit her with ensuring us we had made the right decision! I just remember her pointing to all the nearby houses and saying, “so-and-so lives there, and so-and-so lives there, and everyone is awesome.” And she was right!
We have the most wonderful block – there are a lot of kids and dogs. We have impromptu get-togethers and everyone is super supportive and respectful of each other. As first-time homeowners, that’s been really important.
There’s not much we don’t love, except maybe that our house is on an alley and people tend to wander through and use our yard as their trash bin. It also is the city, so every once in while we hear about a crime that happened a few blocks away. That can hit close to home.
DC can be a tough place to buy a house. We got really lucky. If we had waited just a few more months we would have been priced out of the neighborhood. We won our bid on an escalation clause by $1k, at almost $25k over asking price. We think because we put our bid in over Memorial Day weekend there wasn’t as much competition as there could have been.
Most of the other houses we looked at were poorly done flips, so this house was intriguing because it was a blank slate (at least for me – my husband might tell you otherwise!). I think the hardest part for us was making the decision to put in an offer.
In DC, you have to make the decision very quickly. We had about eight hours to decide if we wanted the house. I’m super indecisive – it takes me days to place an Amazon order! – so being faced with this life-changing purchase was very daunting. Fortunately, we made the right decision.
The purchase price ended up being very near to the top of our budget, so we started making this house ours with mostly cosmetic, and some boring but necessary improvements, i.e. new roof and water heater. We learned quickly that paint goes a long way, and that we have truly wonderful friends and family members who were willing to spend their Saturdays with us, stripping layers and layers of wallpaper. We have bigger renovation plans that will hopefully happen some day.
We moved from a small 550 sq. ft. apartment, so furnishing the house has taken some time. Our furniture is a mix of family heirlooms I’ve reupholstered, hand-me-downs, flea market finds, and to be honest, IKEA. My father has a woodworking shop and has made us a lot of custom pieces, including the gorgeous dining room table and chest with the little heart in Emmett’s room.
First, the fun stuff, I love the radiators! I never dreamed I’d live in a house with radiators, but I love them. Emmett loves them, too. His favorite spot is balancing on the edge of the radiator of our dining room so he can look out the big windows and shout to us about all the cars going by and if our neighbors are home.
I love the claw foot tub, the old, warped glass windows, the pocket doors, the curvy floors and the glass doorknobs. Most of the imperfections are charming if you have the right attitude about it.
I also love having a big front porch and the overall size of the house. It gets a bit cozy when we have family for the holidays, but generally it is perfect for our little trio. Emmett has his own space in his room and a play area in the office, but no dedicated playroom. That means we have toys organized throughout the house and he has full access to play wherever he likes. Sometimes our house gets taken over, but it’s fun!
The greatest delight by far is the location. The access to the city, the walkability of the park and all our wonderful neighbors. I love walking home from school with Emmett and running into people we know. I love that every weekend the kids down the street are out on their tree swing. And that it once took us almost 30 mins to get to the farmer’s market two blocks away because we kept running into people.
The challenges. No matter how much you clean, there are still years and years of dust and cracks and paint chips that are just impossible to get rid of. We also have a support post under the main beam of the house in the basement because previous owners drilled holes through the beam to run electrical lines, compromising its strength.
The not-so-open floor plan has also been challenging with Emmett. With an old floor plan, the kitchen is very closed off from the rest of the house, so it is hard to be in there and still keep an eye on him. We have dreams of opening up the wall between the kitchen and dining room, which would change the inside of the house dramatically.
I wish I knew that things always seem to break all at the same time. Last fall our refrigerator, dish washer and boiler all needed to be replaced within a month of each other. That was tough.
I’m happy I didn’t know how difficult stripping wallpaper and skimming plaster walls can be. And how when you start a project in an old home you are most likely going to uncover a surprising (and expensive) hurdle!
I am one of those people who has been fortunate enough to always know what I wanted to do. I love design and I love designing anything and everything.
I started freelancing about 11 years ago, on the side, while I was working full time at this small but great design firm. A neighbor in Mt. Pleasant asked me for help with some event promotions and through word of mouth, freelance jobs just kept coming in from there.
After the design firm, I slowed down my freelance work for a bit while I started working at Architect magazine, which was an amazing experience. I had always wanted to work for a magazine, so this felt like my big break. It is a beautiful publication with a great staff, and we also designed Residential Architect, Architectural Lighting, and some other design/build publications.
I had always wanted to try freelancing full time, so I finally made the leap a year and a half ago. Emmett was six months and Tim and I figured if it was ever going to happen, now was a good time to do it. In 2014, I officially launched AVA Design (which is simply my initials, Alice Victoria Ashe). It has been quite a journey, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love all my clients and get to work with amazing people all over the country. Some of them I’ve worked with for over a decade now.
I design everything from websites and magazines to packaging and annual reports. The diversity of my projects really keeps me motivated and inspired. I just finished up branding and packaging for a skincare line created by a local pharmacy, an issue of Washingtonian Bride & Groom magazine, and am in the middle of a website for a non-profit in Massachusetts, among other things. I truly believe I have the best job in the world.
Tim and I both have very flexible schedules, which I feel is a necessity with a small child. We hardly ever work in the evenings anymore, which has been a big change, especially for me. I also do my best to keep my schedule organized so I don’t have to work weekends, but if I do, I try to do it during nap time or Tim and Emmett will go on a little adventure while I get stuff done.
Tim plans a lot of events for work and travels a bit, so we just started taking advantage of that for some family time. If we can swing it, Emmett and I will join him on those trips and tack on a weekend for our own little vacation. It’s a great little trick if you can make it work!
Also, my amazing mother, a first grade teacher, spent her past two summers watching Emmett during the day so we could save some money on daycare. That was a huge deal and definitely helped while I got on my feet as a full time freelancer and we eased into parenthood. We are forever indebted to her. She keeps us going!
Tim and I have always been a good balance for each other. We worry about different things, which helps us keep each other in check. We are also very trusting and we talk about everything.
Having a child is hard, and it is hard as parents to stay on the same page. We learned early on that if we start to get frustrated – like during sleepless late nights – we have to be good about removing ourselves from the situation and letting the other take over. We are also good about encouraging each other to take time for ourselves, which are important reminders.
Mornings in our house are controlled chaos. I wake up and MUST have my coffee, first thing. Even Em wakes up now and says, “Ready to go downstairs and make the coffee,” because he knows that’s the beginning of the routine. Somehow we all manage to get up and I run Emmett down the street to school while Tim leaves to catch the bus to work. Unless I am working onsite with a client, in which case we drop him off and take the bus downtown together.
It’s a good thing we are close to school, because most of the time we are rushing to get in the door by 9.
I don’t know where the mornings go!? And I’m a morning person!
Then if I’m at home, I get more coffee and most likely my breakfast, and sit down to work. If I have time, I try to fit in a run or yoga later in the morning. Tim and I love to run together, but with Emmett that typically only happens on weekends when he can join us in the jogger.
Depending on our days and meetings, either Tim or I will grab Em from school sometime between 5 and 5:45 and, if it is warm, we will head to the park to let him get some energy out before dinner. Tim is the cook in our house so he’ll make dinner while we chat and help Emmett unwind.
Then it is lots of books before sleep sheep gets turned on and it’s bedtime.
I hope he remembers all the walking we do and, his favorite, the bus rides. I hope he remembers how close we are to family and how running into the neighbors can lead to impromptu get togethers.
I hope he also remembers our open door policy and all the friends and family who have stayed with us. We love hosting and part of what made this house appealing was the extra space and guest bedroom. We are very social and I hope that rubs off on him!
I hope he forgets about how often we have to yell at him about being careful playing near the alley and crossing the street. And how overprotective I can be when he just wants to run the opposite direction.
My favorite thing right now is his little voice and all the amazing things he says on a daily basis. He’ll call to you from the other room and say “Hey mommy… ” and then tell you something important like “I hear a helicopter!” or “This is a cement mixer truck!”
Watching him learn about new things and explore is also my favorite. He is very intrigued about the way things work. He loves putting our keys into the old skeleton key holes that some of our doors have and telling us he is locking the door. Or making roads out of all the window sills and pushing his trucks around. Just the little things he comes up with on a daily basis are so much fun!
I miss being able to go to bed on my terms, catch up on a magazine (of which I have stacks and stacks and use as decor!) or book, and sleep through the night without worrying about him. Tim and I have also not been good about date nights with just the two of us.
I wish someone had told me – and I had listened! – to teach him to sleep and set boundaries very early on. Emmett is not a great sleeper and is back and forth in his crib and our bed. It’s been a tough few months, playing musical beds.
Other parents and friends inspire me about living with kids. It’s exciting to see more of our friends become parents and how every approach and lifestyle is different, but none are wrong. We learn from each other and we learn from our kids and we have fun doing it.
I also have friends who don’t have kids, and sometimes the best advice comes from them.
I’m just happy to live in a place where I am surrounded by supportive, open-minded friends.
“We worry about different things, which helps us keep each other in check.” And also, “Having a child is hard, and it is hard as parents to stay on the same page.” Both wonderful reminders from Alice. Thank you.
Do you enjoy such a divide and conquer relationship? Bonus points for remembering to stay focused as parents, even during a particularly trying dinner experience where no one’s able to eat and one of you might even be trying to remove your pants at the table. It happens.
Thanks again, Alice, for this lovely tour.
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.