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Here's How to Live in a Historic Space in Capitol Hill


As we get closer to the United States Semiquincentennial in 2026, the rich history of our nation is once again becoming a focus of remembrance and celebration. There is no better way to enter into the American experience than living in a Capitol Hill home. This landmark neighborhood, with many views of the Capitol dome, provides the unique experience of owning a piece of history. Here are some things to consider about living in a historic space in Capitol Hill.

Historic homes in a Historic District

A historic home is about much more than age—it’s about character, story, and intentionality. In the era following World War II, a spirit of “out with the old and in with the new” pervaded the nation and impacted the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The loss of historic structures spurred a movement to preserve, renovate, and restore the classic feel of the area. This led to the formation of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society in 1955, with a focus on maintaining a healthy and vital residential neighborhood and preserving historical sites. Over the next two decades, historic designation efforts continued, resulting in the listing of the Capitol Hill Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

As America entered the 21st century, the ever-increasing pace of technological innovation and electronic communication led many to feel disconnected from the communities in which they lived. In a day when you are constantly enveloped in the new, living in Capitol Hill offers a refreshing step back in time. Here, you are surrounded by the past, grounded in the rich traditions of architecture, and connected with a group of people whose focus is maintaining one of the most special residential neighborhoods in the United States.

Your piece of history

Edgar Guest began and ended his poem “Home” with this famous line: “It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.” Capitol Hill homes have a palpable sense of the life that has filled the space. While the residents of these properties may not all have been famous politicians, industrialists, or philosophers, each in their own way contributed to this center of American life. Think of the generations that have climbed the stairs, cooked in the kitchens, and slept in the bedrooms. Their imprint on the edifice is sometimes visible in the wear pattern on the stone steps leading to your front door or in the tile, light fixtures, trim, color, and flooring choices throughout the house. With the evolution of utilities and appliances, each owner made renovations to the house to accommodate “modern” conveniences, while picking and choosing which historic elements to leave untouched. Each resident has left a mark and made a house into a home, as you will also.  

Decorating

When you imagine a home in Capitol Hill, think long and thin — and don’t forget the stairs. These houses feature the floor plans of the classic row house and are built wall-to-wall, with a “party wall” between the house next door. Multi-level living allows for creativity and innovation on how to suit the property to your lifestyle, and you can decorate and design the space as you see fit.

Capitol Hill is replete with designers who can assist you with your decorating efforts. Pick an era or classical style for decor and furnishings, and your home will take you back in time, whether you’re relaxing inside your living room or den, or seeing your house through a front window from the sidewalk. Many homeowners choose to contemporize their living space while maintaining the vintage exterior. Still others blend design styles from room to room. For example, the large front Victorian bay window of your home may display a bright, elegant sitting room with an 1890’s chandelier, while the kitchen might be modern-industrial with an eight-burner range, or a sleek open modern Italian style with high end chef’s appliances. 

Central to many homes is the fireplace (or multiple fireplaces). These were features of warmth and light where people gathered to reflect on the news and events of their day. And while the glow from the hearth may now be from natural gas instead of wood, these fireplaces remain as focal points of life in these historic homes.

The key is to find that balancing point of immersing yourself in the rich history of the area while creating a functional and aesthetically pleasing space. 

Maintenance

Like any residence, an older house needs a regular maintenance plan. However, unlike in more recently built homes, historic homes sometimes require an extra layer of thought towards preservation, and special attention to guidelines or rules in historic districts. Imagine the changes that have taken place in building codes, materials, and public utilities since some of these historic homes were constructed. Partnering with professionals like local real estate agents, architects and contractors who know their way around a historic home is crucial. They know the issues to look for in terms of a structure’s age and its accompanying maintenance concerns, so you will be prepared for what may be involved, and the potential cost, in maintaining or renovating your potential property down the road. Their knowledge and expertise can help you make an offer based on the home’s current condition, and also to consider any maintenance issues that could develop in the coming years. 

When performing maintenance or renovations, be sure to check the guidelines and requirements for your project. The Capitol Hill Restoration Society has a list of considerations to preserve the character of the neighborhood. Building permits are required from the Department of Buildings, with special review and permitting by the Historic Preservation Office for historic properties.

An Investment

The purchase of a historic home is an investment. The Capitol Hill area is unique not only in its architecture but in its residents as well. Home to many elected officials and government workers, as well as local politicians, lawyers, and plenty of folks who are NOT government employees, Capitol Hill real estate offers a consistent level of demand. “The Hill”, as it is affectionately called by locals, has seen a steady increase in home values in the past 20+ years. Tethered to the nation’s capital, analysts predict that home values in the area will continue to increase over the coming decades.

Your search for historic spaces does not have to be focused solely on Capitol Hill homes, either. The Historic District offers a range of condos, many of which echo the historicity of the area. Though you may be living in a more modern building, a short walk around the neighborhood surrounding your Capitol Hill condo reminds you that you are walking in the footsteps of your American forerunners.

When the time is right for you to jump into the possibilities and rewards of living in a historic space, be sure to consult the right professional real estate agent. The local experts of the Jeanne Phil Meg Team can guide you through the process of making a historic space your very own.

*Header photo courtesy of Jeanne Phil Meg


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