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2901 E Broad St
Richmond, VA, 23223
United States

Building a Nest for Seven

THE MG BLOG: Now & Ink

What's the life of a Modern Gentleman all about? Find out here, as Jason Tesauro and his collaborators share their latest discoveries and epiphanies.


Building a Nest for Seven

jason tesauro

We introduced our partnership with R•Home in February and we've started making progress on the home-building process. Through compromise, necessity, and a decent down payment, we've been able to reach the building stage. Here's what we've been up to lately.

Shovel Ready, R•Home Magazine
by Jason Tesauro, March 1, 2016

In the last episode,  you met an intrepid family on the eve of a massive commitment: Build a nest for seven people on a little lot in Church Hill where an expert valet could barely park six food trucks. I might blame the holiday hullabaloo for why we haven’t broken ground yet.

Or, I can tell you the truth(s):

1. We have commitment issues.
2. Construction loans are a pain in the asphalt.
3. An annual super fat trip to Europe sounds damn appealing and way cheaper.

This is why we entrusted Nested to tackle the challenge of our site. Designers Jennifer Radakovic and Laura Pitcher admire the efficient urban dwellings in Asian and European cities. They’ve studied the compact Dutch dwellings of Borneo-Sporenburg, a district in Amsterdam where some row houses are but 9 feet wide. The duo surveyed our 22-foot-wide lot and instead of a problematic site, they saw a puzzle worth solving.

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Red Tape, Green Light, R•Home Magazine
by Jason Tesauro, May 17, 2016

Building a house is like planning a wedding. Your architect and general contractor are the maid of honor and best man. Subcontractors and interior designers are your bridal party (which means at least one of them will end up being an expensive headache). Yet, before the “I do’s,” there’s a proposal of marriage. Your building permit request is an engagement ring, and the city’s approval is your fiancée’s emphatic “yes.”

But wait a minute, Casanova. If your nueva casa is in one of Richmond’s 16 designated old and historic districts, you’ve got to respect tradition and ask for her papa’s permission. In this town, that means a pilgrimage to the Commission of Architectural Review (CAR) and comprehension of their bible: “Old & Historic Districts of Richmond, Virginia Handbook and Design Review Guidelines.” 

From the outset, we knew that our front facade and roofline would be the big issues since our rear facade is shielded from public view and thus out of the commission’s jurisdiction. With our architects, we put to CAR a design that was like a mullet: All business in the front and a party in the back. But, like the mullet, it failed. CAR sent us back to the drawing board to address issues with the roofline, front porch, basement and windows.

When another CAR meeting came around the following month, we were ready to present a refreshed application. That’s when it got ugly.

After the Commission heard our case, they opened the floor and invited neighbors to chime in with support or gripes. This was an early Festivus, complete with airing of public grievances. "We insist that CAR considers the impact of nonstandard designs and how new construction affects the quality of life,” said one neighbor. “It simply does not fit within the block.” I figured we were sunk. Another homeowner, however, restored my faith with his comments: “The design is very cool and creative and if I could afford it, I would probably want to hire the firm that put it together.”

Then we sat in silence while the commission debated aloud. One nugget nearly brought me to tears: “We as a body continue to see the same cookie-cutter production house time and time again. What I respect about this particular application is that it has made an attempt to break away from that very standardized form. … There have been a lot of attempts made with the design to be a good neighbor … and I applaud the applicant for coming up with an interesting solution to a very difficult lot."

It was a nail-biter, but in the end, the vote came out 5-3: Approved. Red tape, green light.

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Idle and Green, R•Home Magazine
by Jason Tesauro, August 2, 2016

"Idle Moments"  is a sumptuous jazz album by guitarist Grant Green that’s been in steady rotation on my turntable for 20-plus years. In the recording studio, musicians figured the opening number would run maybe 7 minutes. After Green’s enchanting guitar, Duke Pearson’s deft piano, Joe Henderson’s honeyed sax solo and Bobby Hutcherson’s scorching turn on the vibes during that legendary session, however, the track ran past the 15-minute mark. It took twice as long, but man it was good. Read that sentence again and repeat; it might just become our mantra.

Between the ceaseless rain — Richmond just saw its rainiest May since 1889 — and a paperwork morass surrounding the construction loan, it’s been an idle time on our vacant lot at 3607 E. Broad St. You can’t dig in the mud, so the construction crew’s backhoe has been in sleep mode. Nevertheless, we broke ceremonial ground in advance of the heavy earth-movers that will excavate the footing and foundation upon which our house will sit. By the time they finish, a caravan of flatbed trucks will be on the scene to deliver the structural insulated panels (SIPs) that will form the structure (in lieu of conventional wood framing).

While we’re awaiting that first ton of spilt concrete to give our home its bones, we’ve been poring over the systems and machines that will compose our crib’s guts. We may not live in California where every gallon of water and kilowatt hour are precious, but we still want to be good citizens of RVA and stewards of the earth. That means thinking about efficiency and environmental impact.

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