Round House: New Owner Modernizes Brookland Icon


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The Round House: New Owner Modernizes Brookland Icon

Interior to be “very clean, very contemporary”

Round HouseThe Round House at the outset of renovations Photo by Hayden Wetzel

The Round House, an iconic structure named after its shape, is in the process of a major renovation by the current owner, developer Martin Ditto of Ditto Residential, Inc.

According to local historian Hayden Wetzel, the Round House was built in 1901 and is the only house of its kind in the District of Columbia. The house is located at 1001 Irving Street NE in Brookland.

The renovations have attracted a lot of local interest. “Everybody’s curious,” said Mr. Ditto.

Mr. Ditto said the renovations, which began last year, have proceeded slower than expected. “Curved drywall, curved trim, curved electrical conduits” are just a few of the challenges posed by a round building, he explained. “We knew it would be hard, but we didn’t anticipate it would be this hard,” he said.

Mr. Ditto said he purchased the property after it exchanged hands several times following the death of longtime owner Mrs. Ethelda McKinney in 2010. He said the house was in bad shape by then: the center of the house was sinking and the narrow spiral staircase leading to the second floor was hard to use and violated current safety standards. “You couldn’t live in this place in the modern day,” he said.

Mr. Ditto said the interior of the house was much less impressive than the attention-grabbing exterior. He said there were none of the “nice architectural details” that often decorate old homes.

Despite the unexpected difficulties of the project, Mr. Ditto enthusiastically described his love for the house and how it will look in several months’ time when renovations are complete.

The interior has been gutted. The spiral staircase will soon be replaced with a 4-foot wide conventional stairway.

Mr. Ditto credited his designer, Chuong Cao, for modernizing the living areas while remaining true to the building’s shape and proportions. Where the spiral staircase once stood, a central skylight will filter light down to the ground floor. “The interior of this house will be very clean, very contemporary,” said Mr. Ditto.

A 12 foot addition on the back of the house will let in natural light and add living space to the surprisingly small interior, which lacks an attic or basement. The first floor is currently about 700 square feet. The addition will be curved and will have “a lot of glass,” said Mr. Ditto

Mr. Ditto said Mr. Cao convinced him to build a modest addition because anything larger would overpower the proportions of the house.

After construction is complete, the exterior of the house will still have its distinctive fish scale siding. “The front of the house is going to look the same,” said Mr. Ditto.

Mr. Ditto said he modified the renovation plans at the request of the D.C. Preservation League. In return for his cooperation, Mr. Ditto said the League agreed not submit an application to designate the building a historic landmark until renovations are complete.

According to Andy Rollman, member of the League’s Board of Trustees, the League’s concerns were focused on the exterior of the house and the size of the addition. He said the League hopes “that this unique house can be preserved with minimal exterior alteration, and that any addition will be subservient to the original house.”

Once complete, the house will have four bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. The first floor will have a kitchen, half bath, coat closet, and laundry room. The second story will have four bedrooms, including a master bedroom that extends into the new addition.

Mr. Ditto said that when all is said and done, he will have spent more than $700,000 to buy and renovate the house—far more than planned. “It has become a labor of love insofar as you do it because you enjoy it and not because you’re making any money off of it,” he said.

Mr. Ditto said that when the house goes on the market later this year, he hopes it attracts a buyer who appreciates the house as much as he does. “We’re building the house for someone who loves the house,” he said.

According to Hayden Wetzel, the Round House was constructed in 1901 by builder John C. Louthan and architect Edward Woltz. “Why Woltz chose such an eccentric design for his building is not known,” wrote Mr. Wetzel in a history of the property. “It is one of a handful of houses reviving the Octagon House style that was modestly popular in the 1850s.” The Octagon style included round houses.

Mr. Wetzel’s research showed that the first owner of the Round House was Millard Holmes, a lodge-brother of Mr. Louthan. The house has had only four long-term owners since its construction. The last long-term owner, Mrs. Ethelda McKinney, lived in the house from 1950 until 2010.

Send questions, comments, letters to the editor and local news to:Abigail Padou, Editor