Anacostia Victorian comes with D.C’s first mostly bamboo building

Across the street from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood, a turquoise Victorian with bright blue and green accents is an architectural head turner with a turret on top. But the recently renovated, 131-year-old house isn’t the only intriguing structure on the property at 2126 15th St. SE. Behind the house is the first code-compliant bamboo building on the East Coast.

The outbuilding is called the Grass House, a nod to the Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., which was designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson to show the connection between architecture, art and nature. The Grass House was built in 2018 by owner Jack Becker as an office for his architecture and development business. He said it helped his clients understand his philosophy of “farm-to-shelter” construction using natural and locally sourced materials.

The property is on the market for $979,000.

The Grass House’s exterior walls are made from BamCore, which resembles plywood but is nearly 100 percent bamboo. The building has sheep wool insulation, stairs of walnut wood from a tree in Anacostia and light fixtures made of mycelium, or baked mushroom root.

According to Becker, the first thing visitors notice is the smell.

People assume, he said, “that a new house smells like a new car, which is largely the aroma of synthetic materials and fresh paint. But when they come into our houses, it smells more like walking into a forest.” While plaster, drywall and vinyl are considered traditional building materials, Becker said, truly traditional materials were those “available before the advent of Home Depot.”

“We’re trying to revive or recuperate a traditional material palette that involves renewable resources like wood and bamboo,” he said.

Becker bought the property in 2014 with BLDUS business partner Andrew Linn. “It needed a lot of work,” he said, “and I think that discouraged a lot of potential buyers. But being architects and construction professionals, we saw that as an opportunity.”

The house was “standing proud,” when they bought it, but needed significant renovation, Becker said. They replaced the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, also drywall and roof, and they added cosmetic upgrades.

Becker moved into the house in 2015, working from home and meeting with clients in the living room until the Grass House was built a year later.

The entrance from a wraparound porch opens to a foyer on the main level, which also has a living room, an open-concept family and dining room, the kitchen, a powder room and a back porch. Throughout this level, the house has exposed beams and framing, and the wicker blinds and light fixtures are made of natural materials like those used in the bamboo structure.

On the second level, the primary bedroom suite has an en suite bathroom. Two other bedrooms share a hall bathroom, and one has access to a balcony. The lower level is unfinished.

The Grass House has three levels, with a powder room on the second floor. Each level has one room of living space with windows and wood floors. The entry level has built-in shelves, and the uppermost level has a built-in desk. The exterior has cedar and cypress siding with a dark hue acquired through a Japanese charring method, shou sugi ban, which Becker said helps with preservation and waterproofing.

He moved out of the house in August. “It’s hard to go back once you’ve experienced a new organic space. The idea of returning to a more conventional office with drywall and ceiling tiles and vinyl flooring doesn’t sound very nice,” he said. “And it was a really pleasant commute.”

2126 15 St. SE, Washington, D.C.

  • Bedrooms/bathrooms: 3/3 in the main house, 1 powder room in the outbuilding
  • Approximate square-footage: 2,470 in the house, 700 in the outbuilding
  • Lot size: 3,168 square feet
  • Features: The 1892 Victorian was renovated in 2014 and 2015, and all the house’s major systems were updated. The property includes an outbuilding made mostly of bamboo.
  • Listing agent: Genie Hutinet, Coldwell Banker Realty

Read More: Anacostia Victorian comes with D.C’s first mostly bamboo building

2023-11-10 13:00:00

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