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Massey's New Home Is a Tricky Endeavor

But it's an unusual space, only 30 1/2 feet wide. That suits Massey fine. Once the owner of a grand Windsor Farms mansion, he wants a small place to stay when he travels to Richmond for business. Massey lives with his wife, Joan C. Massey, in Florida most of the year. "I have the luxury of a private airplane," he says, "so I can come and go as needed."

So Massey found the property, which the city measures at just under 5,000 square feet. Previously a parking lot for a doctor's office, the land was most recently assessed at $226,000.

The previous owner had difficulty designing a house that would suit both the space and the historic neighborhood, Massey says. To create a design Massey calls "very Richmond," he consulted Calder Loth, senior architectural historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and architect Henry Tenser.

It'll be a three-story brick-facade townhouse, Tenser says, a blend of Greek revival and classical revival architecture crowned with a pediment and parapet. The materials are modern, however: a steel frame and concrete floors. Both the Monument Avenue Preservation Society and the city's Commission of Architectural Review approved the design.

Clark Robins, the project's general contractor, specializes in unusual and historic homes. He expects construction to be an arduous process, given the confines of the space. Robins had to excavate dirt for the basement very, very carefully, leaving earthen retaining walls and pouring concrete supports so the neighboring walls wouldn't collapse.

Robins is unsure when the house will be complete. "The simplest of things are a challenge down there," he says. He can't place a cement truck on the property, for instance, but must park it some distance away and pump cement to the site. And he plans to build the frame for the rear of the house three stories up before he lays the foundation for the front.

The house will measure 26 feet across. Of course, that seems spacious compared to the house considered by some to be the nation's narrowest, a 7-foot-wide blue townhouse in Alexandria.

Massey is renting a place at 1 Monument Ave., the luxury complex on Stuart Circle, so he can keep an eye on construction. — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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