When Ralph Gordon checks in, it probably means he’s got another interesting building or remodeling project to talk about. He emailed recently about his latest project, which he described as “off the beaten path.”
When you see signs on a back road that say “No Outlet,” and “End State Maintenance,” you are generally off the beaten path.
The address is 870 Leeland Road, a 13-acre property owned by John Guffey and Rebecca Adamson. They bought it in 2016, and shortly thereafter they called on Gordon to do what needed to be done, which was to build a significant addition on the back, add a country porch to the front and totally remodel the interior.
If Adamson’s name sounds familiar, she is the well-known, part-eastern Cherokee businesswoman who moved to Fredericksburg in 1980 and founded First Nations Development Institute, an organization that works to improve economic conditions for Native Americans. She later founded First Peoples Worldwide, which extended her work for indigenous peoples internationally.
Guffey cofounded Calvert Research and Management Co., a sustainable investment firm in 1976, and the couple are co-founders of Calvert Impact Capital, a community development nonprofit.
Living at a property nearby, Guffey and Adamson were in no big hurry to move into the remodeled house, and Gordon was happy to take time to devote to it. More than three years later, it’s just about move-in ready. The project resulted in a comfortable home with single-level living that has substantially greater value than it did before.
“For three years I’ve been out here transforming this Jim Walter house into a prairie-Craftsman style,” said Gordon, who is a musician in his spare time. “It was a full gut.”
Jim Walter Homes, Inc. was a modular, kit or shell home manufacturer. The story goes that Walter started the company in Florida in 1946 with $1,000 that he borrowed from his father and sold it for $2 billion in 1986, having capitalized on the post-World War II building and baby boom. The company eventually went out of business in 2009.
Jim Walter Homes would deliver the kit and provide workers to build the home’s exterior. The interior work would be left to the homeowner, who could buy the drywall, trim and carpet from the company if he wanted. The business model was designed to keep costs and mortgage payments low for families just starting out.
The Jim Walter house at 870 Leeland Road was built in 1974 for a previous owner, and was in dire need of rehabilitation when Duffey and Adamson bought it, though it was structurally sound.
“We wanted to recycle and repurpose where we could,” Adamson said. “We didn’t want to consume, consume, consume. That’s not what we’re about.”
But certain things had to be all new, like the plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems. That means a new deep well was drilled and 200-amp electrical service added.
“I heard a hissing sound [when the water was turned on],” Gordon said. “Turned out it was a pinhole leak in a copper pipe, so we had to pull all of that out.”
The original house was a modest rectangular ranch with no frills—except for a screened-in porch on one corner. Gordon replaced the original Masonite siding with HardiPlank siding, and the old shingle roof with standing-seam metal, giving the house a fresh new look. The stone foundation is by Shawn Thrall of Stoneworx of Virginia in Spotsylvania.
In its new configuration, the house has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The new, 12-foot-deep front porch runs the full width of the house and is not only a welcome addition for enjoying the rural setting, it is a major enhancement for the look of the house.
In true Gordon fashion, the porch is built—or, more accurately, over-built—to last forever. Heavy timber columns are sunk deep into the ground and anchored in concrete to support the porch structure and roof. A wide and welcoming stairway rises to the porch and overhead is an arched opening with an impressive beadboard-lined barrel ceiling, one of Gordon’s specialties.
Gordon hand cut and stained the railing balusters for an inviting look as visitors enter the handsome, 40-inch-wide solid mahogany front door.
Inside, the floor plan has been largely redone. New ceramic tile flooring was added that looks like planks of scraped hardwood but is impervious to scratches—the kind big dog paws can make.
A large living and dining room area includes the original fireplace, though it was updated with a decorative tile surround. Good examples of the Craftsman-style trim are here, with flat door and window frames and substantial sills cut from 2-by-8 boards.
The new and reconfigured kitchen brings together stainless-steel appliances, a farm-style sink, custom-crafted cabinetry and marble-look quartz counters that Gordon likes because they are maintenance-free, unlike popular natural stone materials. The kitchen includes a butler’s pantry, which has an extra service sink and provides space for small appliances like the coffeemaker, keeping the main counters uncluttered. Subway tile is used for all backsplashes.
Behind the kitchen is the 30-foot-by-20-foot addition that holds the new master suite. The addition is supported by 8-foot-deep concrete footers to resist any effects of shrink-swell soil. Because the addition would encroach into the protected zone of the small creek behind the house, a special permit had to be obtained.
The master bedroom and bathroom have vaulted ceilings with exposed structural beams that enhance the Craftsman look. Here and elsewhere Gordon built windows into the gables to provide extra natural light. All of the home’s original windows were replaced with new, energy-efficient models.
The master bath includes a classic claw-foot tub dated March 24, 1924 that Adamson had held onto for years waiting to use. White subway tile and ceramic wall tile that looks like wood are used here.
The existing bathroom was also updated by Gordon, this one with imported English tile and a glass-enclosed shower.
“We wanted a house that would be different, with things that would make it unique, not cookie-cutter,” Adamson said, with Guffey echoing her sentiment.
Thanks to Gordon’s talents, their wish appears to have been granted.