After the Fire: Redemption and Renewal on S St.
By February 9, 2022 0 1511•
Just days after Christmas in 2020, along a beautiful block of Georgetown’s historic district, something unthinkable happened to one family’s home.
Behind a residential picket fence on the 3200 block of S St. NW, a 6-bedroom Dutch colonial residence with white clapboard and brick exterior — home to Georgetown architect Dale Overmyer, his wife Melissa and their four daughters — was set afire in broad daylight by an arsonist who had entered through a back door. After firefighters extinguished the conflagration, the Overmyers — not inside the house during the fire — witnessed the destruction: everything inside was destroyed. New windows were completely blown out, leaving only the external shell of the house from which to rebuild.
Since that terrible day, however, the Overmyers’ quest to redeem their home and recover their sense of family security and serenity through the home rebuilding process has served as an inspiration to neighbors, friends, family, work associates and everyone following their story.
Fortunately, for the Overmyers, a combination of architectural expertise — Dale Overmyer heads Overmyer Architects at 3213 P St. NW — and deep religious faith have helped them view the traumatic events of that day as an opportunity to re-fashion their home to provide a greater sense of connection to the beauties of the outdoors and to their community.
“We took the opportunity to build back better,” Dale Overmyer said. “We had already been thinking ahead about some other [home projects] so we just decided to do everything at the same time, you know, to repair and restore everything that was lost and make a few new improvements along the way to try to make the most of the opportunities that came out of the problem.”
Architecturally, the Overmyers decided to remain “true to the spirit of the Dutch colonial at least on the envelope [of the home].” For the interior, they chose a “refreshed feeling… introducing more light and connected spaces than before.” They’ll be “trying to open up spaces and create even more light flow,” Dale Overmyer said. The home has “a lovely garden, so bringing that light in from the south” will help the family connect in a healing way to the outdoors.
“We started by really just opening the house up more to the street. It had charming elements that were a little more hidden away… so we wanted to reveal the part of it that was already beautiful and just add to it architecturally and with the garden in a way that makes it a delightful presence on the street… It’s really about creating beauty and beauty is one of the most powerful things we’ve got,” Dale Overmyer said.
Searching for the best technical terms, Dale Overmyer said the home’s new interior would be best described as a “refreshed cottage with simple but quality finishes.” Melissa Overmyer added, “It’s contemporary cozy.”
When asked if their new interior space design embraces the Danish concept of hygge, Dale Overmyer responded, “I think it does, but I think just using natural and even some reclaimed materials in the woodwork and bringing lots of light in to compliment those organic natural finishes,” will provide the intended effects.
In the fire, the Overmyers lost precious family heirlooms — reclaimed stone and wood features of the family’s old tavern from the late 18th century. Now, they hope to include centuries-old architectural salvage in their new designs “to maintain a sense of heritage.”
For Melissa Overmyer, deep religious faith and diligent scriptural practice has helped her on her journey to transcend bitterness and gain forgiveness — and to understand how “God will always cause something good to come out of something bad.”
With Ascension Press before the fire, she had published a book, “From Worry to Wonder: A Catholic’s Guide to Finding Peace Through Scripture.” The scriptural exercises she prescribes in the book have helped her see the world anew.
Using the home rebuilding process to connect with community has probably been the most redeeming aspect of the project so far for the Overmyers.
Dale Overmeyer’s work associates have stepped up to help when they’ve had the chance. The Overmeyers’ neighbors along S Street have been the best. “We have the world’s greatest next-door neighbors. They’re truly the most encouraging, loving, kind, helpful, lovely people. You couldn’t ask for better neighbors and we are just so thankful,” Melissa Overmeyer said.