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The Washington Post
February 13, 1999

Developer is Pushing the Envelope on Space
By Maryann Haggerty - Washington Post Staff Writer

Jim Abdo, a District developer who specializes in converting old Dupont Circle mansions to high-end condominiums, is willing to move the earth to ensure that buyers get the high ceilings they want.

Buyers of his condos, which cost from the high $200,00s to the low $400,000s, routinely expect 9- and 10-foot ceilings. "I think high ceilings make people feel like they've just got a tremendous amount of space, period," he said.

Many of the century-old houses he works with already have such ceilings on most floors. To "grab an inch here, and inch there," he will strip rooms down to the ceiling joists and use the space between those joists to install such modern conveniences as recessed lighting and air-condiitons conduits, thus preserving the height.

But one Q Street house he recently renovated had a seven foot-high ceiling in the cellar which was destined to become an English basement flat.

"I hated it; there was just no way," Abdo said. So his construction crew literally dug our way into the building," using backhoes to move out 20 dump trucks of earth and digt the building down three feet below the existing foundation footers. The result: a finished ceiling height of nine feet, and a salable condo.

In other condoes, he has pushed well above that. In some of his penthouse unites, including the one he lives in himself, ceilings rise on a slant from 9 or 10 feet to 16 or 20 feet. "It becomes very dramatic space," he said.

Eight-foot ceilings "feel standard and commercial," he said. "But take the same floor plan, the same square footage and ad two more feet of air. Even if you're just looking at it, you suddently feel a sense of size and scope and openness."

Jim Abdo says he will "grab an inch here, and inch there" to get a higher ceiling.