At Home in 16th Street Heights
After falling into disrepair, 1406 Delafield Place NW gets a new lease on life thanks to expert home renovator and Compass client Dee Dee Willard-Ruffin.
Words: Shaun Conway Courtney
Images: Emma McAlary
Following a 26-year career in federal service, Dee Dee Willard-Ruffin found her second act in home renovations. The former Postmaster in Bethesda, Maryland, now uses her business acumen and big heart to run her own business, Envisage Management Solutions, Inc. Together with her team, made up of family members and trusted advisors like Compass real estate agent Dana Cloud, Dee Dee renovates homes in the DC region, giving them a second chance as well. Dee Dee welcomed us into her most recent project, 1406 Delafield Place NW, and into the fold of her enthusiastic family and team.
What was your first impression of this house? How did it compare to other homes you’ve helped transform?
I was in awe. There was just so much house. In fact, this is the largest home we have renovated —more than 4,100 square feet of finished space and six bedrooms. We have done several townhouses, including one on Capitol Hill, but this was our first single-family renovation in DC. We were really excited about the potential we saw in so much space.
How do you approach each renovation?
We really want to make sure that every part of each home is utilized. We knocked out center columns that lined the first floor and removed a fireplace oddly situated between the living room and dining room to create an open living space.
We take time with our architectural drawings. It would be easy to take shortcuts that don’t maximize the space, but space is very important to us.
Also, we are not cookie-cutter. I wonder sometimes, ‘should we be?’ My answer is definitively ‘no.’ It matters to me that every house we transform is a little different. And frankly I would get bored if every house looked the same. That’s why we keep interesting original features of each home — here we maintained the original staircase and the wood panelling that lined it.
How did those values play out in this home?
The kitchen is a standout. You can’t shortcut the kitchen. We removed a bathroom and added that space onto the kitchen as sunny workspace nook. It has two islands, one a focal island that divides the kitchen from the dining area and a second that is more utilitarian with a sink and food prep space.
Then we put in an extra twist, sourcing exotic granite with a leather finish for the countertops. We customize each home with touches like these so that no two homes we renovate are the same.
Our agent, Dana, makes sure our buyers understand that level of detail. She’s a different type of agent, staying with us through the whole process from finding the home to renovating to closing on the sale. She knows everything about this house that I do.
How do you make sure a home reflects the neighborhood around it?
We often knock on neighbors doors and ask to go through their homes — we want to see how they are laid out.
When we pick out the paint color, we want to select one that when you turn a corner, it stands out, but still fits with the rest of the street.
When were testing paint colors on the siding of this home, we asked the neighbor to come by to try her hand at painting a stroke so we could get her opinion.
Neighbors really embrace us coming in to fix up the house. A renovated home — especially one like this that was covered in a jungle of vines and graffiti — is a better reflection of the neighborhood.
How do you mix family and business?
My team is made up of family members, including my son Tyric and my daughter Tierra.
We are bringing my grandsons up to be a part of this, too. They visit homes before, during, and after a renovation to witness and understand the process. I am leaving a legacy behind for them. That’s why I do what I do.
Is it hard to say “we’re finished,” to walk away from a house you’ve put so much energy into bringing back to life?
Yes, of course! After we sign the contract and remove all the staging furniture, my grandson Gabriel and I say goodbye to the house. We bless it and wish the new buyers blessings.
The thing about it is, we love what we do. We have great heart for it.