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Steve Benzek found his home in Arlington long before the real estate market became the goose that laid a million golden eggs. But his home is feeling golden these days, as he recently completed an expansion project and discovered sewing skills that opened a whole new world of home dÃ©cor.
Steve: They call this neighborhood Ashton Heights. It’s actually a little gay enclave. My neighbor is gay, there’s a gay couple over here, three doors down there’s a gay guy. I’ve been here 20 years. In 1985, Ballston Common mall wasn’t even open yet. Metro had just opened like a couple of years before so it was quiet, it was totally different but I knew that it was going to be developed and that’s why I came here. So I’ve seen it change, but it’s a very comfortable neighborhood.
It used to be more green along the street. A lot of trees have died over the last 20 years. There used to be an arch of trees across the road so it was even more so. But I still really like it. It’s a 10-minute walk to Metro. You can be at Dupont Circle in 15 minutes and feel like you’re still part of the gay community.
The house was originally a one-and-a-half story Cape Cod. I essentially added this two-story box on the back and then interconnected it with the upstairs and downstairs. So now it’s a full two stories up there.
It is like moving into a new house. I had it totally repainted on the inside. The drapes in the dining room I made, the ones in the living room I made. I did them in February. I remembered watching my mother sew and I thought, this can’t be so difficult. There are mistakes but you won’t even notice. It was actually a lot of fun and I saved so much money.
[In the front living room] The piano has been in every different room in the house over the years. I think it looks pretty good here. I’ve played since high school, mainly for Christmas parties and things like that. When I got out of college in 1981 I decided I’d buy either a car or a grand piano. I thought, a car will last four years, but a grand piano will last… okay I’ll buy the piano! And here it is 20 years later. It’s not just decorative. I really enjoy it.
[In the back living room] This was my parents’ coffee and end-table set. It was just sitting around and I realized I could just put a top on it with some glass and it wouldn’t look bad. So I cut a shade I got from Home Depot and sewed an on it for the top, and then covered it with the glass.
[In the kitchen] I remodeled the kitchen about 15 years ago, so this is like a little island of the old house. Kitchens are really expensive to do, but I wouldn’t mind doing it again. [Laughs] It was an awful kitchen before. There were walls here and two little swinging doors. It was like the wife would be in the kitchen cooking and was not to be seen. Who lives that way anymore? I like it now because you can work in here and feel like you’re part of the rest of the house.
[In the backyard] In about another month the azaleas will be blooming and it will be very nice. It’s pretty private back here so I feel I can have parties here. I’ve had neighborhood parties and barbecues — I like to do stuff like that. I’ve had a couple of potlucks with a group I’m a member of and for a crowd it really works great.
[In the master bath] I always wanted to have a nice big tub. I don’t really use it that much, because it’s one of those things you think you’ll use all the time but I never have the time. My friends joke and say it’s a three-man tub — but it will never happen. [Laughs]
[In the master bedroom] I never thought I’d have a bedroom this big. There’s the cathedral ceiling and all this glass. The windows are insulated so it’s not that cold. I don’t know if I’m totally happy with the color — I wanted a sky feeling, blue and white. It’s different and it seems to work.
I tell people that I’m honoring the deer [head mounted on the wall]. It’s not like it’s like a trophy. I was walking down the street and it was in the trash in front of a house where these people were moving. I asked if they’d mind if I took it. They said “Give him a good home.” I thought it kind of fit there – it didn’t fit anywhere else in the house. I don’t know if I’m going to keep him but you can’t beat the price.