An Atlanta Couple Expands Their Cozy House While Respecting Its Past
From our interview with Leah Moriarty and Ryan Novak:
Ryan: I purchased this home at the end of 2008, so lived in it for a number of years. I always thought a major renovation was in store but didn’t really have an excuse to do it until Leah came into my life.
We love the neighborhood, so we needed to try and figure out how to expand and grow the space for the two of us and our future family. We made a decision at the time to stay rather than purchase somewhere else.
Cabbagetown is a unique community in Atlanta. I know a lot of neighborhoods have historic homes, but Cabbagetown to me seems like it has more of that historic character. I felt like whatever we did to this house, we had to honor the history and the neighborhood.
This was a mill town, so all the homes are very simple. They’re not very ornate. I think the homes became a bit more ornate with time, as people tried to decorate in their own ways. The mill building was empty for a while but then was purchased and renovated into condos in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The neighborhood’s gone through waves of new populations coming in. There are still a couple folks in the neighborhood who worked in the mill.
I had the benefit of living in the home from 2009 to 2014 before we started this project. (We think it was built in 1892.) I had been thinking a lot about what to do with small spaces, like where I could fit in more storage. And then when we were getting ready for Leah to move in and starting to think about renovating, she and I talked a lot about what we wanted and what we needed to stay here and have a family here.
Our home is a shotgun, so it’s challenging to grow a family there without being creative. I think the original floor plan was like 800 square feet. Our renovation brought it to a little over 1,600 square feet.
I went to the historic preservation committee chair in our neighborhood and asked her to recommend an architect, and she raved about Tarver Siebert of MT Studio Architecture. We met with Tarver, and it was clear from the start that he shared with both Leah and me a vision for what we wanted to do with the home.
With shotgun homes, it’s challenging to think about how you’re going to expand the space unless you’re going to do a camelback, which is not allowed by our historic preservation regulations. We also had these constraints that we could only build to 50 percent of the lot. We wanted to honor those regulations; we thought it was important to maintain the character of the neighborhood.
If you look at our addition from the street, even though it’s bumped up 2 feet—we got a variance from the city for that—it plays with the eye and doesn’t look like a big hump sitting on the back of the home. That’s where I think Tarver was brilliant. [From the front, the building] looks the same as the rest of the block and maintains the historic character of the streetscape. The addition brought the historic home into the 21st century, to support our growing family. The kitchen now has a second floor over it, and the addition has a new family room and screened porch with a new bedroom, bathroom, and laundry room above.
We have original longleaf heart pine floors in the main part of the home, but for the rest of the flooring, we went to a place in Atlanta called the Lifecycle Building Center. It’s a nonprofit that sells historic building parts from dismantled buildings. When the former Sears building in Atlanta was being converted into Ponce City Market, a bunch of original maple flooring was pulled out, and Lifecycle ended up with it. We bought it from them. Each of the boards had a million of these little pins in them.
Leah: Ryan sat and hand-pulled out every nail and staple.
Ryan: Tarver put us in touch with the contractor we ended up using. After spending time with us, he saw we were really concerned with preserving as much as we could of the home. He thought that Stryant Construction would be a good match, and they were. They were good partners on this.
We had a budget and we had a timeline, because we knew that we wanted to get it done before our wedding.
Leah: It did get done in time for the wedding, in October of 2017. We moved in three weeks before.
My favorite part is definitely the screened-in porch. If either of us takes a conference call out here, people remark on the naturescape. You can always hear birds. We’re both epidemiologists and have been working from home since June of 2020. Everyone has a different situation working from home; I feel very lucky.
Ryan: The design challenge of a shotgun is that it’s long and thin. But for teleconferences it’s great—we have offices on opposite ends of the home, so we’re not talking over each other. I also love this back porch. I love that we were able to put French doors on the back of the family room so we can open them up and there’s a lot of light. I’m thankful it’s an east-west facing house that just gets great morning light. It’s a joy to wake up and walk down to the kitchen and have the sunrise peeking in.
I’ve always been a woodworker as a hobby. Over this process, I think I became even more appreciative of the historic nature of the home and just wanted to preserve that. But I think we recognize that it’s a balance. Renovating a historic home is a huge balance of what money you have and how you can accomplish your goals without compromising what’s there in some way.
I had my doubts. I know Tarver and I have talked about the finished product and whether it accomplished those goals. And I think the fact that we’re talking about it right now shows that it did.