The house had seen better days. A layer of cake-batter-brown paint coated parts of the exterior; Edward Scissorhands-style shrubs swallowed the front facade; and, inside, the dark-wood trim looked like something out of an old sitcom. What’s worse, the house was a ’50s-era ranch—one of the last vestiges in the super-hot Hilltop neighborhood, where new-construction Tuscan villas and Tudor mansions had long-since reigned supreme. It was just a matter of time until an enterprising developer bought it up to knock it down for his next granite-countertopped custom McMansion.

But lucky for the little brown house on Bellaire Street, Karen Brody and Michael Hughes got there first. Brody, an attorney by trade, had recently become a voracious hobbyist of modernist architecture—her collection of Joseph Eichler books rivals that of most architects. So when she and her husband finally made the decision to move out of their Capitol Hill loft and into a single-family home, they agreed it would have to be a ’50s ranch.