For Ralph and Shamita Etienne-Cummings, the suburbs have long held a certain allure — especially since 2010, when their son, Blaze, was born and Mr. Etienne-Cummings’s mother moved into their 1876 rowhouse in Washington, D.C.

“Space became more of a premium,” Ms. Etienne-Cummings said. Her husband, she explained, is “from Seychelles; I’m from India. Culturally, we always have family that lives with us.”

But the benefits of living outside the city — having a big backyard and a bigger house — couldn’t compete with convenience of their life in Washington’s Logan Circle neighborhood, on a blocklong street coveted for its historic homes and central location.

Credit…Jennifer Chase for The New York Times

“Our son grew up walking everywhere with his grandmother,” said Ms. Etienne-Cummings, 52, a lawyer. “We really wanted to stay in our neighborhood, but definitely needed more space, and that was difficult to do in an area that’s already filled up.”

In a stroke of luck, the rowhouse next door came on the market in 2016, and they were able to buy it for $1.4 million, creating an uncommon opportunity to expand laterally and increase their total living space to around 7,000 square feet.

Their idea was to merge the two houses into a cohesive whole, with light, open spaces for entertaining. But they knew it wouldn’t be easy.

The house next door was slightly older, and

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