This Townhouse in Old Town Alexandria Is a Masterclass in DIY Renovation

When designer Carrie Miller Armstrong of Lapis Ray Interior Design was looking for a home to own, she was looking for a fixer.

“I knew I wanted something that hadn’t been recently remodeled or recently repaired,” she says. “I wanted something that had good bones and that would give me the opportunity to put my own mark on the place.”

It turns out that his mark also became his father’s mark. Ralph Miller grew up in the bustling home of a WWII vet who taught his son all the crafts of house and home DIY. “He’s one of those guys who can literally do anything,” says Carrie proudly. Ralph passed on the same skills to his daughter, skills the duo honed nights and weekends while juggling full-time jobs, after eventually finding and buying a 900-square-foot two-bedroom townhouse in the old town of Alexandria in 2018.

Photo by Robert Radifera for Stylish Productions

“I used to live in DC, so when I saw this place, where everything, including the subway, is just a few blocks away on foot, I was sold,” she says. “And it wasn’t a condo. I would have a garden and a front porch!

Once dad and daughter got started, the redesign quickly became an instinctive job that took a full six months and a lot of courage and determination, but provided the invaluable gift of working with dad.

“We had so much fun,” she says. “I got to spend quality time with him and learn all kinds of new skills, like backing up a car trailer at the junkyard where we’ve become regulars!”

The original architectural moldings remained, as did the weathered red oak floors, but everything else – including non load-bearing walls, plastic wall panels upstairs, popcorn ceilings throughout and floors tiled dated – has been stripped including lots of plaster from where dump shuttles.

Jackhammers and jackhammers became the order of the day, as the pair knocked down the layers of the house to the posts, then stopped to re-imagine a freshly completed layout.

Upstairs, an old brick fireplace was exposed in the master bedroom, and an additional closet in the second bedroom – Carrie’s home office – became part of the newly expanded bathroom.

clawfoot tub in the bathroom
Photo by Robert Radifera for Stylish Productions

The new bathroom has a walk-in shower behind a glass partition, as well as the original clawfoot tub that Carrie didn’t want to part with. “It’s a wet room concept,” she says.

The vanity is an antique floor radio that fits perfectly in the tight space. She even DIYed the detail of the penny tile pattern in white while the floor was professionally laid.

“On the main floor, Dad and I cropped the kitchen opening to align it with the living room opening, which we had created by removing an unnecessary door. It created a view through all the way back and forth,” she says of the significant changes made to the lower level.

small dining table
The wooden tiling in the dining niche is from Mirth Studio. It is simply furnished with a storage bench from HomeGoods paired with a pedestal table from World Market. A pair of storage stools from Wayfair add extra seating if needed. (Photo by Robert Radifera for Stylish Productions)

Perhaps one of the most charming places in the house is the little gem of a dining room located between the living room and the kitchen at the foot of the stairs. Carrie has made it her own space with furniture including a gold ceiling light and a lift-up storage bench paired with velvet storage stools for additional seating around a small pedestal table. But the star of the space is the flooring.

“At first, I had a sample of this tile. I loved its pattern and how it combined a warm tone with an edgy black in such a fun way. It was like what I wanted for the house. My dad and I laid the tile and gave it a black painted wood border. It really defines this space,” she says.

Although professional electricians and plumbers did their job, Carrie saved money by taking on parts of the project herself when she could. She painted all the walls, ceilings and moldings in a warm neutral palette with splashes of rich colors.

In the kitchen, she laid the tile and her dad installed the store-bought cabinetry.

beige kitchen
Kitchen cabinets are from ProSource of Dulles with hardware from Anthropologie. Carrie painted the wood trim on an old copper table from Chartreuse & Co to give it a new look. (Photo by Robert Radifera for Stylish Productions)

“The open shelving I installed with brackets from Amazon; the wood was salvaged from the ceiling rafters,” she says of the corner shelves in the kitchen.

The washer and dryer, along with the boiler, are tucked away on the kitchen wall opposite the fridge/stove wall, behind the barn doors from a friend’s farm.

All the storage in the tiny house is useful and planned, including the open niche with shelves and baskets created at the top of the staircase, which was once solid drywall. Even the repurposed Tall Narrow Trunk, maximizing bedroom storage, was made by Carrie and Ralph years ago to fit in his college dorm.

“I loved designing and furnishing this house. I was mostly driven by my feelings. It really tells my story and is full of things I’ve collected and loved over the years,” she says.

Simply furnished to keep the tiny house neat and tidy, Carrie uses rugs from travels in Turkey and Morocco and art she has acquired from everywhere, including Laurence the rabbit from the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen in Paris hanging above her bed.

“It’s all very personal to me,” she says. “It gave Dad and I a great bonding moment. I have two brothers, but it was always me who followed him with a hammer.

Obviously, not much has changed.

This story originally appeared in our September issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.


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Raymond I. Langston