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Home Sweet Home

Fairfax City Homes Tour offers something new and something old this year.

Mike and Cindie Pappas bought their 19th-century home in 2003. It was in terrible condition, but they took it on as a project and brought the home back to good condition.

Not every homeowner along Fairfax City’s Homes Tour is as ambitious as Mike and Cindie Pappas, but they don’t have to be, said Karen Stevenson, president of Historic Fairfax Inc., the city’s historical society. The tour includes homebuilders that design and build brand new homes to look like historic ones, which allows for a less costly investment, she said.

"If you don’t want an old house, which I understand because it’s a lot of work, buy a new one that looks like an old one," said Stevenson.

The tour will give people a look into "an enchanting mix of older and newer homes inspired by historic architectural motifs," said Susan Gray, curator of the Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center.

"That’s what we’re trying to encourage the people who don’t want to take on an old house to do," said Stevenson.

Repairing an old home like the Pappas’ can turn into a huge investment, not to mention the time, energy and patience that goes into it, said Stevenson. But buying a mass-produced "McMansion" does not have to be the only answer for people who don’t want to buy fixer-uppers. The homes on Kirktree Court are a perfect example, she said. Steve Bukont, an architect in Vienna, designed and built the homes. Instead of a street lined with cookie-cutter houses, each home has its own design and character.

"The nice thing about this development is that each home is totally unique," said Stevenson.

THREE HOMES out of nine on Kirktree Court are featured in the tour. Stevenson said the homes are reminiscent of seaside communities along the eastern seaboard. The three Kirktree homes on the tour feature arts-and-crafts, country and Victorian-farmhouse architecture. A white picket fence connects the distinct homes together to provide some continuity.

The Pappas’ home, however, lacked continuity when the couple bought it. Mike Pappas remembers buckets scattered throughout the house that collected water from the various leaks.

"It was about 30 years in disrepair," said Mike Pappas. "It was raining in the kitchen; it was in horrid shape."

The land, which is at the southeast intersection of Chain Bridge Road and Stratford Avenue, once belonged to George Mason’s grandfather, according to land deed research by William Page Johnson, Fairfax’s commissioner of the revenue. Johnson’s research suggests the oldest part of the home was built in 1866, but Mike Pappas said there might be some evidence that it’s actually older. Pappas said it's thought that the original house, built in 1852, was destroyed during the Civil War in 1865, and rebuilt the following year.

"Our theory is the house hadn’t been destroyed and that it actually dates to 1852, not 1866," said Mike Pappas. "A lot of people might have said their house was destroyed [after the Civil War] to escape tax problems."

Regardless of the home’s true age, everyone is certain that it’s at least 141 years old. The Pappases have tried to keep the furnishings true to the time periods through which the house evolved. They brought in items that represent some of the home’s past owners, including an old doctor’s bag for a doctor that once lived there, and stage coach pictures for the stage coach driver who is thought to have rebuilt the home in 1866, according to Johnson.

The Pappases have a love for restoring old homes. They have purchased several homes and fixed them up to keep true to the time periods in which they were built. They were happy to open up their home for the tour this year, especially since the tour motivated them to finish working on some of the things that might have otherwise gone unfinished.

Mike Pappas said people tend to put home projects off until just before they want to sell. The Homes Tour prompted them to treat their home as if they were about to sell it, and it will also allow them to share their passion for restoration with others, he said.

"To us, these things tend to be like a large art project," said Mike Pappas. "You like to share your art with people; that’s what we get out of it."

Details about the furnishings and the home’s history will be provided in each room during the tour, said Mike Pappas.

The William Gunnell House, which serves as an administrative office building at Truro Church, 10520 Main St., is something Historic Fairfax Inc. members are excited about this year, said Gray.

The home is not open to the public very often, even though it is where one of the most famous Confederate raids of the Civil War took place. Last November, Ed Bearss, historian emeritus with the National Park Service, told the tale of Confederate Col. John Mosby’s capture of Union General Edwin H. Stoughton while he slept in bed at the Gunnell House. Bearss called the house one of the city’s "proud historic buildings."

"This year’s Homes Tour offers a rare chance to see the Gunnell House; one of the city’s most historic buildings," said Gray. "Visitors will also be treated to commentary by the bus tour docents about the city’s history, and how and why different neighborhoods were developed."