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There’s nothing like a freshly organized living and work space, especially when it’s done by someone else.

For as long as she can remember, Amy Smucker has been the organizer in the family and among her friends. The Del Ray resident is a professional photographer and has a clear vision for how she wants things to look.

Smucker lives in Del Ray with her two daughters, so she says she knows what it’s like for a space to get messy quickly. It was last year, though, that she started putting her Tetris-like arranging skills to professional use.

Amy Smucker Home Reorganization launched last spring, and she has since helped more than 100 clients to bring order to their lives. After a $50 in-person or Zoom consultation costs $75 an hour to have Smucker in your home or office.

Amy Smucker. (Courtesy photo)

ALXnow: How did this business start?

Smucker:  I’m a very organized person. Last year during Covid, when everything was still shut down, I had a friend who I was still seeing. Like many of my clients, she needed organizational stuff done in her house, which she said was a mess. ‘I’ll just come help you,’ I said, and she insisted that I pay her. That was really the beginning, and afterward I thought, I love this. I love it.

ALXnow: Is it about having less stuff?

Smucker: I live in a Del Ray row house with my two daughters, and things pile up quickly. Everything has its place, and things can get messy quickly. For my clients, it’s about how you live your life, your personal style. That’s why the consultation is so important — to see what clients need. Do they need someone to come in to clean once a month, or once a year, or do they just want things to look pretty?

ALXnow: Do you deal with hoarders?

Smucker: There’s a negative connotation that comes with that term, but yes. People hold on to their stuff for different reasons. Sometimes it makes them feel safe. My client is the one who has to make the decisions. If someone feels an emotional attachment to something, I have to figure out what works for them. I sometimes need some say something like, ‘Okay, you have 25 things here. Can you get rid of two?’

ALXnow: Like keeping a Nerf football from the seventh grade that’s half-eaten by a dog.

Smucker: That’s an excellent example, yes. I’ll sometimes ask clients to send me pictures of the space that they want reimagined to get a pretty good idea. I ask folks to take a hard look at the things that they have and figure out what is making them unhappy, because all our stuff will suck away our energy.

I try to get things organized up front. If it’s decluttering a kitchen, for instance, I pull everything out of the room and start reorganizing things piece by piece, organizing like with like.

ALXnow: Are you a fan of shelves and boxes?

Smucker: I do like bins and baskets and systems. I have one client who bought a whole bunch of baskets to organize her closet, but they were too deep. The baskets were overflowing and it was a mess. So, I cleared them all out and gotten clear, shorter bins so that she could get in them. I reorganized them and she is much, much happier.

ALXnow: Have you considered expanding your business? 

Smucker: I don’t think it’s my style to hire someone like myself to go talk to the client, and figure out what they needed. I think that will always be my thing, because it’s very personal. Sometimes people have said it feels like therapy, you know, and I’m very non-judgmental. I’m happy to provide them with emotional support.

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Alexandria’s City Hall just got an F rating in a new facility report, and long-awaited renovations are still years away.

Redevelopment of the aging site got shelved when the pandemic struck in 2020. The design phase for the $70 million project will get underway next year, as will a public engagement process to renovate the landscaping, plaza and garage structure at Market Square.

“We’re currently reevaluating our program space and needs,” said Ebony Fleming, the City’s director of communications. “Next year we’ll begin the design phase.”

The aging home to Alexandria’s government was deemed “functionally obsolete” in a  new Joint Facilities Master Plan Roadmap, which City Manager Jim Parajon presented to City Council and the School Board last week. The roadmap acts as a guide for the bodies to plan for city projects that need redevelopment.

“City Hall had been in a bad shape for a while,” Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow. “We have deferred the project a bit to work to better define the scope after the pandemic and address more emergent capital needs, but we will have to address the building soon.”

In 2019, the City was on track to finish its public engagement process for the project, which includes roof repairs, reconfigured offices and window replacements.

The City’s 2023-2032 Capital Improvement Program budget has a timeline for renovation and HVAC repairs for fiscal years 2024, 2025 and 2026. Approximately $9.3 million is funded for FY 2024, $51.5 million is funded for FY 2025 and $9.3 million is funded in FY 2026.

City staff say that office spaces will be renovated in FY 2025 at the earliest, according to an October, 2021, CIP presentation to Council.

Read about Alexandria City Hall’s history below the jump. Read More

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Type “Why are bathroom renovations” into Google and the first result suggested is “…so expensive.” After saving for a new home, home improvement projects are the most common reason Americans save money.

Most people believe having a bathroom that makes them happy is a worthwhile investment, yet are surprised by how much it costs.

Why is renovating a 40-square-foot space so costly? Pricey fixtures and the specialized skills required are partly to blame. However, some costs are embedded within the industry:

  • “Free” quotes are expensive: On average, contractors spend 25 percent of their time building quotes for jobs they will not win. Those costs need to be recouped.
  • Expense overestimation: Whether purposeful, unintentional or a little bit of both, contractors often significantly overestimate the cost of materials and effort on a project.
  • Professional design: Having a professional design your bathroom is considered a luxury service and carries a luxury price tag.
  • Limited visualization opportunity: Consumer Reports identifies a primary cause of price overruns as homeowners who change their mind regarding finishes or colors after they’ve been applied.

In 2016, remodeling industry veteran Chad Hall believed these inefficiencies could be eliminated by taking advantage of emerging technologies — so he founded remodelmate.

Eliminating the time-consuming process of in-home quotes, remodelmate gives homeowners free access to an app that uses advanced smartphone camera technology to generate a near-perfect 3D model of their existing bathroom. The scan is then applied to a quote-building system, generating a final labor price for the customer as well as a precise materials list for the contractor, eliminating overestimation.

To address the professional design and visualization issues, remodelmate employs CGI (computer-generated imagery) to apply homeowner color and finish selections to a model of their new bathroom. The results are photo-quality images showing the customer exactly what their new bathroom will look like before construction begins.

For more information, visit the all-new remodelmate website.

The ongoing exterior renovations at Alexandria’s City Hall should be wrapped up by the end of October, and now staff are thinking about the future of the building’s interior.

For the last several weeks there has been scaffolding at City Hall, which has been all part of a $900,000 exterior renovation, which includes dozens of new double-glazed windows, painting and other small repairs.

“We are targeting Halloween for the conclusion of the exterior work,” Bill Miner, the city’s division chief of capital projects told ALXnow. “You want to finish it before the winter months come, because you can’t really do a lot with brick and stone once the weather gets too cold.”

The renovation of City Hall has been an ongoing project since 2014, and is slated to be completely renovated in 2025. In a staff report that was released to City Council last year, the city manager’s office said that the building needs “major updates and repairs.”

“The building is crowded, and space is inadequate for workplace activities,” according to the report. “Office spaces do not reflect the image of a vibrant, efficient workplace.”

The interior renovation, which will cost $80-$100 million, is currently being planned as the pandemic has left the city with few options but to spread out and use space more efficiently. Approximately 80% of city staff are still teleworking from home, Miner said, and each office has been told to have a minimum of two employees in the building.

“This building needs a total rework, but funding comes in chunks,” Miner said.

City hall was built in 1873 and saw its first major renovations in the 1940s and 1950s. There were additions in the 1960s and then another renovation in the 1980s. The most recent interior work has largely been structural, with repairs made to the building’s tower and smokestack, which were damaged by a small earthquake in 2011. There were also immediate repairs made to the roof of the building and trusses in the attic above Council Chambers.

“There’s been some modifications related to COVID,” Miner said. “The world changed, and with that the interior planning strategies have changed. The whole design industry is rethinking and revising the way office interiors are laid out, short term and long term. So, a lot of what we have planned in terms of interior renovations within the home we are now rethinking in light of COVID protection.”

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Morning Notes

Beyer: We Must Protect the U.S. Postal Service —  “I have been in touch with local postal officials, who express their commitment to ensuring the timely delivery and return of all ballots. This could be an issue in many parts of the country, however, and I will be working with my colleagues to exercise constant vigilance and ensure that elections are fair and safe. My Northern Virginia colleague, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, serves as the chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations, and with his tireless leadership the House will do all it can to fix these problems and restore operations and service at USPS.” [Gazette]

Three City Parks Scheduled for Improvements — “Projects at or near Powhatan, Hooffs Run, and Brenman Parks to occur over next two months.” [Zebra]

City Holding Virtual 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony Online — “Alexandria’s ceremony is prerecorded and virtual to avoid a large gathering during the pandemic. It will include remarks from Mayor Justin Wilson, City Manager Mark Jinks, and representatives from the Alexandria Fire Department, Police Department, and Sheriff’s Office. There will also be a “Return to Quarters” bell-ringing ceremony.” [Patch]

Alexandria Wedding Showcase Goes Virtual — “Tune in virtually on Sunday, Sept. 13 to hear from a variety of vendors on trends, wedding industry changes, and what you need to know while planning your wedding during a pandemic.” [Alexandria Living]

Carlyle Concert Series Starts Friday — “Enjoy the Carlyle Farmers Market while you attend the Concert! Alcohol is available for purchase at select vendor stands and bar as well BYOB-Bring Your Own Beverage will be observed in designated area.” [Facebook]

Harvest Moon Yoga Tonight in Del Ray — “Shine on Harvest Moon! Free outdoor yoga in Del Ray returns every Wed. Sept. 9 – Oct. 14, 6:00 – 7:00 pm at the Del Ray Psych & Wellness lot, 1900 Mt. Vernon Avenue (Corner of E. Bellefonte) in the Heart of Del Ray.” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “Cloudy early. Scattered thunderstorms developing later in the day. High 81F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%. Scattered thunderstorms in the evening, then mainly cloudy overnight with thunderstorms likely. Heavy and torrential downpours at times. Low 72F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 80%.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Dog Walker and Pet Sitter — “Are you a veterinary technician who has been pet-sitting under the table to supplement your income? Have you worried about your lack of insurance or back-up plan if you got sick? If so, then joining Cat Nanny Jess might be the answer to all your worries!” [Indeed]

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After more than eight years of planning, Alexandria will soon begin revamping its pocket parks.

In April, renovations at two of the city’s 25 pocket parks — parks less than a half-acre in size — are slated to begin with the Woodbine Tot Lot at 1509 Woodbine Street and the 48 South Early Street Park.

“We’re excited to start making an impact to some of the smaller parks that mean a lot to their communities,” Dana Wedeles, a principal planner with the city’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, told ALXnow.

The Park and Recreation Commission received a draft plan on the renovation of the parks last month, and the final Pocket Parks Improvement Plan will be the subject of a Feb.  20 public hearing before the commission at Mount Vernon Community School (2701 Commonwealth Avenue).

The plan will then go to the city council for their endorsement, and the parks will be be slotted in the city’s Capital Improvement Program for renovation over the next decade.

Renovations at the Woodbine Tot Lot are estimated to cost $80,000. Much of that amount has been cut down due to a contribution from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has contributed $25,000 toward the project through the city’s Community Matching Fund. Through the fund, the city provides a one-to-one matching contribution and the funds will be available at the start of the fiscal year on July 1. The renovation was made possible by the wish of a child living in the neighborhood, according to the city.

Rebuilding Together DC – Alexandria, which renovates homes and properties throughout the region, is partnering with the city on the pocket park at 48 South Early Street. The park is located in the city’s Society Hill neighborhood between Duke Street and Wheeler Avenue, and it has been adopted by the neighborhood homeowners’ association. Planned improvements include adding signage and natural play features like boulders, logs and stepping stones.

Most of the projects are stand-alone, and city staff are currently working on getting cost estimates.

Here is the city’s full list from the Pocket Parks Improvement Plan:

  1. 48 South Early Street Park
  2. 1301 Powhatan Park
  3. 2304 East Randolph Avenue Park
  4. Armory Tot Lot Park 
  5. Braddock & Commonwealth Dog Area
  6. Charles Hill Park
  7. Chetworth Place Park
  8. Elbert Triangle Park
  9. Gentry Park
  10. Hillside Park
  11. Hunter Miller Park
  12. Interior Park
  13. Lake Cook Pocket Park
  14. Le Bosquet at Sunnyside Park
  15. Lynhaven Gateway Park
  16. Lynhaven Park
  17. Mason Avenue Mini Park
  18. Pendleton Park
  19. Portner Park
  20. Potomac Triangle Park
  21. Ruby Tucker Park
  22. St. Asaph Park
  23. Sunset Mini Park
  24. Washington Way
  25. Woodbine Tot Lot
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(Updated at 12:40 p.m.) A proposal to co-locate affordable housing on the grounds of MacArthur Elementary is unpopular with PTA members.

The MacArthur PTA recently conducted a survey asking how current and future MacArthur families felt about co-locating housing or city facilities on the site of the soon-to-be renovated school, an idea encouraged by the city and under consideration by the School Board.

The survey yielded over 450 responses, according to PTA president Kristina Seppala, and revealed mixed feelings about some parts of the proposal and misgivings about housing in particular.

“About half of the respondents are open to non-housing co-location services such as a recreation center or day care services,” Seppala told ALXnow. “However, while open to other co-location options, a full 70% do not support housing on the site under any circumstance.”

Supporters say that Alexandria is experiencing an affordable housing crisis and must consider a variety ways to build more, including on government-owned land. At a joint meeting of city and school officials earlier this week, however, school board members expressed skepticism about adding housing to the MacArthur project at this stage in its planning. The school board is slated to vote on concept plans for MacArthur at its Feb. 6 meeting next week.

The PTA’s board has not yet taken a formal position on the matter and will take feedback from the survey into account when it does.

“I applaud the city and schools collaborating to provide services to the community,” Seppala said. “However, given the timeline for the Douglas MacArthur new build, the absence of a Joint Facilities Master Plan to guide the process of implementation, and a lack of substantial community input, it is not prudent to push housing forward on this project. There are simply too many unanswered, complex questions without the luxury of time to answer them thoroughly.”

The city council is ultimately expected to vote on the final design for MacArthur in September.

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This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by Kristy Crombie of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact Kristy at 571-969-1774 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: What’s important when hiring a contractor for a renovation project?

Answer: As realtors, we are often asked about home renovations, whether for a new home or preparing a home for sale. We certainly know a thing or two about which renovations add value to a home and which are particularly appealing to potential buyers.

And, we often suggest homeowners consult a designer, especially for larger projects, since doing so will be well worth the cost in order to achieve the results you want. But the most important factor in determining whether you achieve a quality outcome is the quality of your contractor.

Here are some key considerations in working with a contractor:

1. You should work with a contractor who is licensed and insured. One of the ways to verify a contractor’s license is by visiting the Department of Professional and Occupational Registration (DPOR) website. This agency issues state credentials — licenses, certificates or registrations — to those qualified to practice in regulated professions.

In short, they protect the public by verifying competency, investigating complaints and upholding professional compliance with state laws and regulations. Their website is user friendly and is state specific. Most important, you should feel comfortable with whomever is working in your home. In addition to the DPOR website, check your local or state consumer protection agency website to protect yourself. It is also worthwhile to check the Federal Trade Commission website for additional information and protection information.

2. For large renovation jobs, you will likely hire a general contractor to oversee your entire project. General contractors (or GCs) will often hire sub-contractors for specific work such as tiling a bathroom or installing hardwood floors. Sub-contractors (subs) should also be licensed and insured. It is the responsibility of the GC to hire and communicate with subs and ensure that their work is being done properly and in a timely manner. It is also the job of the GC to pay the subs directly, but within your agreed-upon budget.

3. Your general contractor should apply for (or “pull”) permits depending on the scope of work being done. Each county and state has specific rules and regulations on the use of permits. In addition to safety, permits also serve as a way to update county tax records, as well as make sure the home’s features are accurately recorded if there is ever an insurance claim (it is not unheard of for insurance claims to be denied related to damage to additions/changes that were never permitted).

Visit your county’s official government website for specific information on building permits, whether they are necessary, and how to apply for them. This same website will also provide up-to-date code information.

Read More

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Morning Notes

Freedom House to Expand — “An expansion of the Freedom House Museum and renovations to the historic building it is in are in the works. Earlier this year, the Northern Virginia Urban League put the historic townhouse at 1315 Duke St. it owns up for sale for $2.1 million, after going through a difficult period keeping up payments on the property.” [Alexandria Living]

Former NFL Cheerleader Opens Salon — “From a loft-like space off a busy street in Alexandria, Stephanie Prinzbach runs the one-woman-show that is District Chic Hair Co., providing hair styling to over 115 customers spanning from Washington, DC to Richmond.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Treatment Court Shows Results — “In August, the City of Alexandria launched the Alexandria Treatment Court (ATC) as an alternative to jail for people accused of nonviolent felonies with significant substance use disorders… re-arrest rates of treatment court graduates are approximately half or less than that of non-treatment court graduates — which not only saves the judicial system money but also changes lives.” [Zebra]

New Rail Bridge, Expanded VRE Service Announced — “Virginia will build a new rail bridge over the Potomac River connecting Arlington and the District to significantly expand commuter and passenger train service over the next decade, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced Thursday.” [Washington Post, ARLnow]

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