John and Kristin Cecchi’s life could be a reality TV show. But it wouldn’t involve cameras following them to Peacock Cafe or Fiola Mare. HGTV would hit closer to home, since John is a real estate developer. The 39-year-old, soon to turn 40, has renovated eight houses in Georgetown, the neighborhood where he and Kristin reside. “Georgetown seems to be what’s in,” John said. “It’s the ‘it’ place.” After John’s father, Giuseppe Cecchi, built the Watergate, considered D.C.’s first mixed-use development, he started IDI Group Companies. John began working for IDI after college in 1996, first in customer service. Making his way up through the ranks, by 2008, John was named vice president and project manager of an IDI project in Alexandria. (The project was shelved due to the declining market and economy.) At the same time, he was building his own home on P Street in Georgetown. It was then that he realized there was a market for restoring and renovating historic homes. John launched IDI Residential, a division of IDI Group Companies, in 2008. “I figured it out late,” John said. “I should have been doing this since ’96.” His most recently finished project, 2305 Bancroft Place in Kalorama, was John’s first house outside Georgetown and the first celebrated with an opening party. “The first time we decided to tell people what we were doing, it went big,” John said of Bancroft – a Washington Post house of the week that also appeared in Home & Design magazine. “We like to stay hush-hush about our houses. Just build them, renovate them and sell them,” he said. Historically, Kalorama has been D.C.’s wealthy neighborhood: bigger yards, bigger homes. The elegance of embassies and black cars makes you feel like you’re in an important place, John said. “It’s one class of people, where in Georgetown you have your $8 million house next to two college kids.” Doing a house in Kalorama takes patience, according to John, who is currently renovating another house in the neighborhood. “It’s not so volatile of a market, but things do sell there and second only to Georgetown in the area. It’s not the village feel that Georgetown has.” Back in Georgetown, John has renovated two houses on P Street (with work on a third about to begin), two on Dumbarton, one on 31st and two on N, plus the N Street Condominiums. Three homes a year is a good pace, according to John, who describes his business as taking a great house with unrealized potential and working through the Advisory Neighborhood Commission and the Old Georgetown Board to make renovations and sometimes additions. “I try to work within the walls and create a better space.” John and Kristin are currently renting their house on N Street, where John took a deteriorating home and made it livable in a mere 26 days. “It looked like a haunted house that should have been condemned,” Kristin said. “The ceiling was crumbling. It was in disrepair.” John asked for 26 days to whip the house into shape. “Not my kind of finished product, but I did a very heavy lipstick,” John said. Like an episode of “House Hunters Renovation,” the couple sanded, scraped, painted and fixed up all the rough, superficial parts of the house. “We even had the appropriate arguments,” said Kristin. They added carpet and painted the wood floors white. John changed the upstairs layout, turning a bedroom into Kristin’s closet. Kristin picked out all new light fixtures. They hung artwork from around the world on the large white walls. The couple moved to N Street in December of 2013 with their five-month-old daughter Valentina and two-and-a-half-year-old son Antonio in tow. “It’s not as perfect as our old one, on P Street,” Kristin said. “That house was such a jewel, but after kids it was like a tight pair of designer pants.” “Now we’re in a pair of sweatpants,” John said. “It’s comfortable.” Around the time they moved into their home, John purchased another house on N Street to renovate. “John is so artistic,” Kristin said. “These are like art projects to him. I joke that he has laser beams in his head. He walks in a house, scans the room and sees everything in his head. He gets these end results that are absolutely beautiful, but there has to be a profit at the end of the day.” The whole process is envisioning the end product, Kristin says. “It’s a big guessing game, but the more we do it the better business we produce.” The guiding principle is to adapt a house’s layout to the way people live today. That generally means a formal space in the front of the house and an open floor plan in the back – for the kitchen and an informal dining and breakfast area. Sometimes a complete overhaul of the second level and master suite is needed to update the home. The all-important master suite encompasses a his-and-hers walk-in closet, a large bathroom with a toilet closet, a double vanity, a soaking tub and a rain shower. John’s goal is to preserve a home’s historic charm while updating the design and layout and adding state-of-the-art systems. Working with contractors and interior designers, John’s homes are staged and finished to perfection before selling – that is, if they can stay on the market that long. All of the N Street condos were sold before they were finished. John says that the houses he renovates in Georgetown typically sell in 45 days or less. “Each house has its own little story,” John said. “From when you purchase it, what you find when you start gutting it and what it turns out to be, there are parts that you didn’t expect to surprise you.” Transforming Georgetown’s storied homes, one day the Cecchis just might find a camera crew on their doorstep. [gallery ids="101796,140741,140717,140722,140743,140728,140733,140737" nav="thumbs"]
Washington, D.C., has gone through a gigantic sea change over the past several years, from a city of modest middle-class incomes and homes to a metropolitan area having many huge homes with elaborate interiors, reflecting the opulent lifestyles of the people within. One way to see how our concept of informal living has changed is to trace the evolution of a Washington favorite, the so-called Florida room. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the first Florida rooms were considered a big improvement over the open side porches on the small redbrick colonials that dominated Northwest Washington and the suburbs of Silver Spring and Chevy Chase. Instead of sitting outside on your open side porch swatting mosquitoes, you could fill the open spaces between the porch columns with jalousie windows and screens, creating a seasonal addition to your house. These jalousie windows, made up of frames holding rectangular pieces of glass, had hand cranks to open and close the glass window slats, letting the air in through the screens but keeping the bugs out. When it got cooler in September, you could crank these louvered windows shut and still have the illusion of being outside. This was the spot where mom could bring dad his martini or scotch and they could talk over dad’s workday and enjoy the feeling of being, well, almost on vacation. Meanwhile, the kids could play in the semi-finished downstairs area called the rumpus room. We can guess where the term “rumpus room” came from, but where exactly “Florida room” came from is unclear. The name probably added to mom and dad’s feeling of being able to unwind in the balmy atmosphere of a summer’s evening. These Florida rooms were usually small, typically 150 to 300 square feet, and they were attached to two-story colonials that were also small, a total of 2,200 to 3,500 square feet. There was a living room, a dining room, a small kitchen and a porch or Florida room on the first floor, and three bedrooms and one or two bathrooms on the second. Of course, there were also much bigger homes in D.C. and its suburban neighborhoods, but colonials of this size and shape far outnumbered the larger homes. Now, let’s fast-forward to 2015, and take a look at the typical new home being built today in Washington’s close-in neighborhoods. Builders are continually looking for a home on a lot large enough to carve off another lot, or to tear down an existing house, to build the type of big, new home that is in demand. This new house will be 5,000 to 8,000 square feet, with a living room, a dining room, an expansive family kitchen with islands and table space, an adjoining family room and a den. The second floor will have a multi-room master suite — sometimes bigger than the entire square footage of the colonials described above — plus several bedrooms and bathrooms. The lower-level areas include such amenities as climate-controlled wine cellars, exercise rooms and home movie theaters. The humble Florida room has been replaced with scads of informal space, but this time it’s where the whole family congregates. Since both mom and dad work now, at the end of the day they want to share time and space with the kids. The kitchen is still “the heart of the home,” but it is open and spacious. With gourmet accoutrements, it adjoins a richly equipped family room with a large flat-screen television, a fireplace and a wall of glass windows and doors, opening to porches, decks and usually a small, but well-landscaped backyard. Currently, backyards are not used that much, since the children are pretty well booked after school with lessons of various kinds and the parents and kids go to interesting places on weekends. Granted, this is not everybody’s lifestyle, but it generally accounts for a growing number of people who are buying new luxury homes. This is a far cry from the lifestyle reflected in the 2,500-square-foot colonials. So, bid adieu, with an accompanying wave of nostalgia, to the Florida room. It served its purpose at a much different time in our cultural history. Come to think of it, couldn’t everyone use a climate-controlled wine cellar?
Sleeping 15 feet above a continually cracking garage floor for over 20 years finally produced one too many radon nightmares for me to ignore...
Longtime Georgetown resident Isabel Ernst got her start in real estatein 1998. She now lives with her husband, Ricardo, a professor of Business at Georgetown University, and her four children in Georgetown. How did you get your start in development? I got into real estate development when I bought our house in 1998, the historic Hillandale Mansion. It was completely abandoned and was falling apart. It had no electricity or water, and the windows and doors were either missing or destroyed. It had great bones, though. I took it upon myself to bring this beautiful house back to life. I spent two-and-a-half years renovating the mansion. I did all the design myself and learned a lot about space and materials, two very important components for a successful project. After I finished my home in 2000, I realized that development was my passion and started my business. What has been your most memorable project to date? The Clyde building on 10th between M and L St.: It was a leap of faith when I bought it, because it was still a very "transitional neighborhood." The building was condemned, but it also had great bones, so we completely gutted it and transformed it into 14 beautiful apartments. When you're not at work, what can you usually be found doing? I am usually taking care of my family, my husband and my four kids, spending time with my friends, taking care of my house, going to board meetings for the different organizations I am involved in, planning trips or going to art fairs with my parents. Not a lot of down time! What is the hottest neighborhood in Washington right now? D.C. has a lot of great emerging neighborhoods that are blending into each other. We are slowly building a wonderful city with a very international flavor, where people can walk or bike to work, to the theater or to a hot yoga class. As Mayor Gray described it, "D.C. is a world within a city," and I cannot imagine living in a better place anywhere in the world. What is your favorite thing about being a developer? My favorite thing about being a developer is the demolition face when you get down to the bones and then start to rebuild; the smell of fresh paint and a beautiful space surrounded by beautiful materials.
Once upon a time in America, a boy left Georgia to become a Virginia Military Institute cadet, then a soldier, and later an aluminum siding salesman. He turned to selling real estate in Washington’s booming suburbs in the 1960s and now commands the largest privately owned residential real estate company in the United States. The story of P. Wesley Foster, Jr., is the story of 20th-century American success. Foster is the chairman and CEO of Long & Foster Companies, headquartered in Chantilly, Va. His easy manner tells a tale of an American life we hope can still happen today. Georgetowner editors got a chance to sit down with the real estate legend. As his executive assistant offered us coffee, Foster greeted us in his modest—at least by Donald Trump’s standards—office. The space immediately telegraphs his main loves -- real estate, VMI, America, football, art, his family and especially his wife, Betty. Feeling casual with Foster’s disarming charm, one of us flippantly began, referring to Long & Foster. “I know all about you guys.” Foster shot back, “I doubt it.” No doubt, Foster has built a real estate and financial services empire step-by-step, agent-by-agent and office-by-office for longer than four decades. Who has not seen a Long & Foster sign somewhere during a daily drive? Such effort to build the top independent real estate company in America is not for the faint of heart, short of time or low of aim. These days, however, Foster can take it a little easier: “I get up around 7 a.m. and read the paper,” he said. He doesn’t arrive at the office until just before 9 a.m. Foster and his wife—a sculptor who taught at the Corcoran and was on its board—moved to a townhouse in Old Town, Alexandria, after spending 32 years in their McLean, Va., home with almost four acres. “I go for a walk with my wife when the weather is good in the afternoons,” he continued. “So, I leave the office around 3:30 or 4 p.m. … I’ll be 80 in November. I don’t work as hard as I used to.” Fair enough. He deserves that, although he still visits the branch offices and sales meetings as often as he can. In Foster’s early years, the opposite surely was the case. His long hours involved a six-day work week. It’s this sort of discipline that Foster needed to build his company, but he has had some vices along the way. The first of which has been a sweet tooth. He manages his love for chocolate, and even turned to candy while he quit smoking when he was 30. “I was dating my wife and carried around a little bag of chewing gum and lifesavers,” he said. As to the impact of the recent economic recession on the housing industry, Foster is clear. “We went through about five years of challenges in the market. Our production went down from 2005 to – I don’t know where the low point was, 2008 or 2009 . . . and now we are fortunate to see growth once again. As tough as it was to do, we continued investing in our company and our people. That’s what makes us so optimistic going forward.” Not that Long & Foster itself was immune from such miscalculations. Its huge Chantilly headquarters building is an unexpectedly imposing Williamsburg-style building that has a similarly styled garage with more than 1,000 parking spaces, which Foster has dubbed “the best-looking parking garage in Washington.” He is pleased that the company has just negotiated a lease for 50,000 square feet and looks forward to welcoming new tenants to the building. “It’s a beautiful building and we are quite proud of it,” he said. “I think our headquarters represents the stability and confidence of our company and our agents.” Still, the economy appears in recovery—with the stock market hitting an all-time high and unemployment numbers lowering March 8—but Foster remains cautious: “I’m not sure that it’s going to be that great [a recovery] because the Federal government has to get its house in order. The good news is that our company is well positioned to succeed in any scenario. I learned early on that if we lead our team to focus on the basics – really taking great care of every single client, one transaction at a time – then together as a team, we can weather any kind of market and emerge even stronger.” Regarding the economy, Foster added: “We still have some work to do.” And as far as a true recovery in real estate? “We are working our way through and are beginning to see a real shift in the market.” For Foster, such an approach illuminates his life. At VMI, he was on the football team. “My playing wasn’t that great,” he said. “But I played, played all four years. I was a slow, small guard.” Working his way through, even then. Foster has never truly left his beloved VMI. “I’m on the board there,” he said. “I go down there three or four times a year …” In 2006, VMI’s football stadium complex was dedicated as the P. Wesley Foster, Jr., Stadium. So, what brought Foster to Washington, D.C., and specifically, its suburbs? “When I graduated from VMI, I took a job,” Foster said. “I didn’t go directly into the military. You could take a year off and work in those days. So, I delayed my military duty for one year, and worked for Kaiser Aluminum. They put me in the Chicago office. When I got there I hated it. I mean, it was a place a little southern boy didn’t want to go to. But, by the time I left the next spring, I nearly left with tears in my eyes. I had a great time.” Foster served his military duty as many young American men do and served for two years in West Germany. He was in the 8th Infantry Division—“Pathfinder”—and served as a special weapons liaison officer to the German III Corps. (Begun in World War I, this army division was inactivated in 1992.) When his time was up, Foster said he toured Europe, thus igniting his love of travel. “They’d let you get out of the army over there and for up to a year, they would send your car and you home for free,” Foster recalled with a smile. “You could get out and travel if you wanted to. . . . Well, I got out, and a buddy and I … drove my Volkswagen to Moscow. The United States had an American exhibition that year and [Vice President Richard] Nixon was over there speaking. Got tears in my eyes watching him speak.” (This was the famous “kitchen debate” between Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in July 1959.) Soon enough, our American GI returned home, with no money to his name. Foster got his old job back at Kaiser Aluminum and sold aluminum building products to homebuilders in 15 cities across the United States. Foster ran the program for a year. “Boy, did I get tired of that. I’d get up in the morning and have to think for a while about which city I was in that day.” Nevertheless, one thing does lead to another. “All the guys I had been working with at Kaiser Aluminum got interested in the real estate business because we were working with builders, and I thought I’d become a builder,” he said. This English major seemed still to be undecided on his career path. “I thought about law school,” Foster said. “My two brothers were lawyers, and had I never made it in real estate. . . . I would have probably gone onto law school and become a mediocre lawyer.” So, why think that way and why the success in real estate? We asked. “The guys that really tear it up are very bright. … I think I have a knack for this [real estate] business and see things that other people don’t see. In college, I graduated in the middle of my class. I may not have graduated at the top of my class, but I think I was the most persistent and worked the hardest – that’s what, after all of these years, has driven the growth and success of Long & Foster.” Foster admitted that he sees “opportunities that other people don’t pick up,” and said a large part of his success was due to the “companies we acquire, and the people we hire and team up with. We choose to associate with people that share our values – teamwork, integrity and a drive for results. A team like this can be magical.” Before that powerful recognition was a beginning: “I happened to meet a young fellow by the name of Minchew, who was also from Georgia and was a good builder here in Northern Virginia,” Foster recalled. “I went to work for him selling his homes. Worked for him for three years.” Foster lived in Annandale, “sold a lot of new houses . . . and met my wife here,” he said. “I had a roommate at VMI who was a Navy SEAL doctor and had come to Washington to do his deep sea diving training, if you can believe it, at Andrews Air Force Base,” Foster said. “He went skiing one weekend and rode up the ski lift with a pretty girl who became my wife. He introduced me to her and said, ‘Man, I’m leaving town, call her.’ ” From Connecticut, Foster’s future wife moved to Virginia to be near her brother, an Episcopal priest. “We raised our family right here in Virginia,” Foster said. He is a father to three, and now a grandfather to six, ranging in age from teenagers to a four-year-old, all boys, and all of whom he takes delight, especially the youngest. Today, of course, some of the family is involved in the business: son Paul Foster looks after offices in Montgomery County and D.C.; son-in-law Terry Spahr runs the New Jersey and Delaware offices; and nephew Boomer (Larry) Foster oversees offices in Northern Virginia and West Virginia. “Even as a large company, it’s important that we remain a family company. That way, our commitment to our agents and their success is unwavering,” Foster said. Before all these company positions were possible, Foster had to meet Long. While working in Annandale on a new development, called “Camelot,” a name which Foster still dislikes to this day, he met Henry Long, an Air Force bomber pilot. The two worked together in a firm and then decided to start their own. And what of those good-looking homes in “Camelot”? They sold very well despite that name. “We both went to military schools,” he said of Long. “He went to VPI [Virginia Tech]. I’d gone to VMI. He had flown B-47s. I shot rockets. He was commercial, and I was residential. We’d start a company, and we flipped a coin. He won and got his name first. I got to be president. We took off. We were partners for 11 years until 1979. Merrill Lynch came along and wanted to buy us, and he wanted to sell and basically do what he was doing and that was being a developer. So, I bought him out of the company.” Foster has been asked the question again and again. We asked again, too, if he would sell the company. He folded his arms, leaned back and said: “I don’t want to sell . . . We have brought together some of the best business minds from inside and outside real estate to take our firm to the next level, and that gives us a solid succession plan as a family-owned company. Not many firms like ours can say that.” “Family members play an instrumental role in the company,” Foster said. “I’ll be a large part of this as long as I can, but my three children own practically all of the company now. So, that’s all set. They will keep the family company spirit and leverage our management team to make sure we are on the right path.” Things may be set internally, but elsewhere, competition remains for Long & Foster. In one of the nation’s hottest residential markets, that’s a given. “Good competitors drive us to better ourselves every single day,” Foster said. “It’s a great incentive to stay on top of your game and advance your business.” “For example, luxury real estate, particularly in the D.C. area, is huge. Everyone out there today is vying for luxury business – and while we do sell more million-dollar-plus homes than anyone, our competitors keep us on our toes. That’s why we leverage our affiliation with Christie’s International Real Estate for our agents and their clients. The Christie’s brand really matters – it’s immediately recognizable as ‘high end,’ and it gets us in front of the most exclusive buyers and sellers from around the globe. Only our agents can market with the Christie’s brand.” Indeed, the biggest D.C. sale in 2011—the Evermay estate in Georgetown – was sold by Long & Foster. How do you deal with all the egos? We asked. “The best you can,” Foster wryly replied. “We give them all of the tools and the backing of a great brand – and they do what they do best – work with buyers and sellers.” “I will tell you this,” he said. “What we look for, especially in managers, is good empathy and a drive for results. When we achieve this, it is a winning combination for our company, and most importantly, for our agents and their clients. That is the key.” From start to finish, Foster can easily detect that. “I grew up fairly poor and went to college on a scholarship, and my brothers also went to college on scholarships,” he said. “We’ve had a fair amount of drive. Two were lawyers and one is a developer now in Atlanta. I am truly humbled by the success of the company and my team. It is an honor that so many clients put their trust in Long & Foster and our team of agents.” At a Glance: Long & Foster is the largest independent residential real estate company in the United States. Long & Foster represents more than 10,000 agents at approximately 170 offices across seven Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, plus the District of Columbia. For 2012, Long & Foster’s sales volume exceeded $24.8 billion and with more than 74,000 transactions; this is up from $22 billion and 69,000 transactions in 2011. 2012 marked a year of significant growth for Long & Foster, seeing an increase in volume of 14 percent and a 9-percent increase in unit sales. While Long & Foster was founded as a real estate company, today its family of companies offers everything customers need as it relates to buying selling, or owning real estate – including mortgage, insurance, settlement, property management and corporate relocation services. Long & Foster Companies’ combined sales volume and equivalents for 2012 were $48.7 billion, a $6-billion increase from 2011 figures. [gallery ids="101194,143745,143730,143740,143737" nav="thumbs"]
Dale Overmyer is a star architect in Georgetown. His tailored suit goes with the role, but his modest, soft-spoken demeanor seems out of place when he’s discussing the 100-plus renovations he’s done in Georgetown, the homes he has built in Palm Beach and the Hamptons and the architectural work he has done for Georgetown engineering executive Bill Dean, a.k.a. the “Jay Gatsby of Miami.” (Dean hired Overmyer to design both his Oyster House in Virginia’s Northern Neck and Terra Veritatis, his 11-bedroom Mediterranean-style villa compound in Miami Beach.) In Overmyer’s telling, he was born to build in Georgetown. His grandfather, a general contractor, passed on some carpentry skills to his father, who, says Overmyer, “was talented at drawing and painting but never pursued his artistic interests.” Overmyer was raised “with tremendous focus on art and drawing” — which came in handy growing up in West Africa without TV or radio. “Legos were the only toy I had,” he says. As Overmyer got older, he became more and more interested in building things: forts and tree houses and go-carts. When he was 8 years old, his dad gave him a jigsaw. “Who gives their kids power tools at 8 years old?” he reflects now. Born in Venezuela, Overmyer was always on the move with his family, which exposed him to breathtaking structures on several continents. He recalls being struck by architecture everywhere he traveled: by the majesty of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, by the mix of modern and traditional architecture along the Angolan coast, by the urban landscape of London, by the monumental and symbolic buildings at Dulles Airport, by Georgetown’s history and character. He came to the U.S. every year or so to visit his aunt, uncle and cousins on Reservoir Road in Georgetown, his “home in America.” That was when Overmyer fell in love with Georgetown. Ultimately, his family moved back to the U.S., settling in Houston when he was 13. Overmyer stayed in the area through college — he earned his Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Texas — then moved to Georgetown with his wife Melissa “immediately after school.” For his thesis project, Overmyer had used Georgetown as a model for creating a pedestrian-based, sustainable community. While other architects may shy away from working in Georgetown, fearing the seemingly all-powerful Old Georgetown Board, Overmyer cherishes the challenges. “A lot of people consider it to be a real briar patch, but it’s my briar patch and I really enjoy it,” he says of the process of building and renovating homes in Georgetown. Though the rules can be burdensome, “they have made Georgetown, and kept it, a good place.” Lately, Overmyer has been dealing with the Old Georgetown Board on his own behalf, proposing renovations for his family’s new home on S Street. “The Old Georgetown Board described the new home as ‘a dog’s breakfast of a house,’ which only makes me happy, because I love potential,” he says with a smile. The new digs provide more room for his kids — ages 9, 19, 21 and 23 — and there is a first-floor master bedroom to accommodate him and his wife as they age. (Plus, it has a parking space, a hot commodity in Georgetown.) Excerpts from The Georgetowner’s recent interview with Overmyer, edited for clarity, appear below. The Georgetowner: How do you approach the renovation of an older home in a historic district? Is the process limiting? Dale Overmyer: It’s limiting, but it’s also educational. Everyone that lives in a house exerts some influence on it. We try to draw out things that are unique and creative about our clients with the architecture we do — of course, being mindful of the people that came before them and their expressions. It must be an intimate process. It really is. When we work, we want to understand how our clients want to live in their house. We think about who is in there, how many people and what are they doing. We want your environment to perfectly fit your lifestyle. That information must be important when you’re building a house from scratch too, right? When we build something new, we are looking back into our clients’ childhood dreams and fantasies. We imagine what a beautiful place to live in the new home could be. It’s really more of a guide service. We want to take people to places they’ve dreamed about but where they can’t take themselves. We want to take them farther than they imagined. Who is your typical client? Our typical client is somebody who always wanted to be an architect themselves. That is almost universally true. The typical client is someone who has been very successful and is very interested in being creative, but they are usually in a field that doesn’t yield the kind of creativity that they like. So they enjoy the creative process of design and building, and it gets that inner architect out of their system. We really enjoy working collaboratively with clients to draw out as much experience, talent and creativity as possible. It just enriches the project. If they have the capacity, what people find is that investing in good buildings is a good investment. It’s one they can enjoy personally and it adds value to their portfolio. If they can, they build as much as they can. It’s an expensive pastime but it’s a good investment. What is the typical project in Georgetown like? A lot will just have a small addition and need a lot of interior work. A house will really need to have a complete reworking every 50 years, especially if it hasn’t really had infrastructure done in the 20th century. Some previous owners have gotten away with doing very little in terms of air conditioning and plumbing. So we do a lot of gut jobs. In addition, some homes in Georgetown have been carved into the tiniest little rooms. Our effort is often to simplify those small, cramped spaces into fewer, bigger, simpler spaces. Fewer, bigger, simpler is my mantra. And what are the usual results? One of the things we do a lot of work on is rewriting the social equation for modern living. Since the late part of the 20th century, Americans moved into more informal lifestyles. We do our own cooking and we do our own cleaning now. Congregating in the house typically happens around meals, so the family room and the kitchen are really the new heart of the home. Those rooms used to be hidden away and given as little space as possible. Now they are the main area of living in the house. So we are rewriting a formula to respond to how people live now. In fact, I just interviewed for Julia Child’s house. I don’t have that job yet, but I would love to play out the possibilities there, because shows like hers turned the act of preparing a meal into part of the entertainment and the kitchen into a community space. That would be a neat way to tie up a lot of the things that have kept me busy over the years. What is your favorite house in Georgetown that you haven’t worked on? We are basically living in a museum. And the museum has so much variety of time and style. It’s entertaining that many houses are similar, but every one is absolutely unique and has a story to tell and has usually been taken care of by people that love them. I think of the whole neighborhood being the real gem. I describe it as a quaint village within a big city. It has the best of both worlds. It has everything that a child or teenager or student or young adult or someone in their midlife or someone aging in place could want. It’s a vital and relevant community wherever you are in life. It also has probably the most interesting collection of citizens past and present of any neighborhood in the world. I’ve always lived and worked in Georgetown. That’s the model for how people should live. [gallery ids="102345,125535,125546,125541" nav="thumbs"]
The latest version of Adjaye's design for the Levy Group's West Heating Plant project will be unveiled at a March 9 meeting at the Four Seasons.
You make the client’s dream come true,” says architect Errol Adels, whose professional life has ranged from Washington, D.C., to Muscat, Oman — and places in between, such as Dubai, Athens and London. As far as being an architect, he says, “Occasionally, you’re like the family doctor.” For someone who has worked half a world away part of his life, Adels is known around town for his work at Watergate apartments, and his firm’s designs for the Finnish and other embassies along Massachusetts Avenue and his modernist home on Cathedral Avenue, which he designed and lived in for a time. “I worked on all kinds of projects over my career,” says Adels, who first arrived in D.C. in 1968, after studying at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Florida, and briefly stayed at the Georgetown Inn. He now lives in Upperville, Va., at Lavender Hill, which he designed for himself and his fam- ily. One of his most prominent designs around Middleburg includes Foxlease Farm. Influenced by Le Corbusier along with “the shining white of the Aegean” and the south of France, Adels reflects his own joie de vivre, geniality and depth of design wisdom. “It’s been beneficial to re-invent one’s aesthetics,” he says of his worldly flexibility. After a teaching fellowship at Manchester University in England and a stint as visiting critic in design at several other British schools of architecture, Adels began working with archi- tect Angelos Demetriou in the 1970s. They later co-founded Architects International, a firm with worldwide projects, in the 1980s. During his early career, Adels worked on projects for the Georgetown waterfront and the West End. He recalls attending Georgetown community meetings where there was minor, but vocal, opposition to new development and the future subway, known today as Metrorail. For the young Adels, Georgetown “was a hoot.” One evening, a group of young friends, along with doyenne Kay Halle, wanted to get seated at Rive Gauche, a restaurant at Wisconsin and M, but were being shoed away until the maitre d’ saw that Secretary of State Dean Rusk was part of the gang. “In the old days, everyone knew each other,” says Adels, who worked with Sam Pardoe on the design of his house at 28th and Q Streets. Georgetown “was not such an entertainment center then” — even if he did design Pisces, the private club run by Wyatt Dickerson. The town is “different not lesser,” Adels says. “But, oh, to meet Elizabeth Taylor at Clyde’s . . .” Soon, however, Adels found himself in another world: “a very foreign place at the end of the Arabian Peninsula.” There, in 1983, he met the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said. Adels recounts: “The sultan said some- thing indelible: ‘Will you help me build this country?’” The architectural firm’s workload exploded as parts of Oman went from nothing to the best of everything. Adels considers the sultan an “enlightened ruler,” who “balanced the life of the Middle East with the need to have good will of the West.” His firm designed the capitol build- ing at Muscat, the state palace and the summer palace at Salalah, the sultan’s hometown. Over a period of some 13 years, the firm left behind more than $600 Million in completed works. Adels says he has designed at least 10 mosques — perhaps more than any other archi- tect. He got so good at it that an old villager simply asked him one day to build a mosque in Dhofar, Oman. “He insisted that I should do because I can . . . just make it happen,” Adels recalls. “So, we got land from the state and some extra building materials.” The firm also designed the Dubai Dhow Wharfage, a large anchorage and parks complex along Dubai Creek. “We helped to set a frame- work for a new Dubai,” Adels says. Closer to home, the white buildings of Adels still reflect the eclectic tastes of their designer. At 2130 Cathedral Ave., NW, a striking house stands out across from Rock Creek Park. The architect lived there during part of the ‘80s and ‘90s; it is again on the market for close to $1.8 million. Above Chain Bridge in Arlington sits Potomac Cliffs, four attached townhouses, his firm designed and built in 1983. One personal project by Adels is his beloved Lavender Hill in Upperville, Va. Built in 1998, it calls to mind the architectural notions of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson as well as Italy’s Palladio. Its grounds evoke Provence, although only a small number of the original 1,400 lav- ender plantings remain. The two-story, stucco home has a central pavilion connected to two end pavilions. With its gardens and swimming pool, the place is in perfect harmony with the earth and was the venue for a Georgetowner cover photo shoot during the summer. Nevertheless, Adels has now put the five-acre property on the market for $2,750,000. The architect is also proud of his designs for Foxlease Farm, also in Upperville and the former estate of John Archbold, a Standard Oil co-founder. The farm includes a residence, stable and polo grounds for the Steiner family. “I can’t think of anything further from a mosque than a hunt country house,” Adels told Virginia Living a few years ago. “But if you’re good, and the cli- ent is good, the building will emerge.” Another place proves that sentiment: the Watergate penthouse of Leslie Westreich, a good friend of Adels. At Watergate South, he rehabbed and designed the onetime apartment of former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., opening it up to a spec- tacular vista of the Potomac, from the Kennedy Center up past Georgetown. Westreich’s art and antique collection is displayed seamlessly along- side unique furniture, including chairs from the S.S. Normandie. “Houses are wonderful, but it’s time to move on,” says the 70-year-old Adels, who remains busy designing both buildings and interiors for a noteworthy clientele. He and his family are also patrons of the National Gallery of Art. “More than any other Washington institution, the gallery has given us great pleasure for more than 40 years,” he says. “It is nice to be able to give back. Alas, Lavender Hill will go to a new generation.” [gallery ids="101062,137086,137080,137096,137074,137101,137068,137106,137062,137110,137092" nav="thumbs"]
As Halloween arrives in Georgetown, thoughts turn to the Exorcist Steps, made famous by the 1973 film in which a priest self-defenestrates. Less well known is that Georgetown alumnus William Peter Blatty, author of “The Exorcist,” once owned a house practically in view of the steps at 3618 Prospect St. NW. Philanthropist and businessman Jack Davies, a founder of AOL and a part owner of the Washington Capitals, Wizards and Mystics, now owns the house, which boasts a grand vista of the Potomac. He has rented it out since 2014. Having bought the Bowie-Sevier House at 3122 Q St. NW for $24.6 million in 2007, when he was 37 years old, Robert Allbritton, owner of the Politico newspaper and website (and former owner of Channel 7 and NewsChannel 8) has the honor of spending the most ever on a home in the District. He and his wife Elena Allbritton bought the house from Patricia and Herb Miller, who developed Washington Harbour, Georgetown Park and Gallery Place at Metro Center. Public-spiritedly, the Allbrittons have decked the place out for Halloween. Art collector Isabel de la Cruz Ernst and her husband, Georgetown University professor Ricardo Ernst, bought the Hillandale Mansion at 3905 Mansion Court NW in 1998. At the time, it had sat empty for 20 years and had no electricity or running water. After restoring the home to its Tuscan villa appearance, the couple moved into it with their art collection. Isabel is the daughter of a family with an art collection so vast that her parents built a Miami museum to house it. Her brother, Alberto de la Cruz, recently donated funds for a new, 2500-square-foot Georgetown University art gallery, set to open in 2017.
This stately Greek Revival home, with six bedrooms and six baths, is situated in Georgetown’s coveted East Village. Previously owned by Admiral Aaron Weaver, the corner home, built c. 1850, boasts a historic façade only slightly modified from the original architectural design. The inside has been thoroughly updated by architect Dale Overmyer to provide a luxurious atmosphere while maintaining its original character. Along with an award-winning gourmet kitchen, the features include high ceilings, elegant trim, hardwood floors, recessed lighting and a home intercom and speaker system throughout. There is also parking for two cars and a large, fenced-in yard with a heated pool. Offered at $6,850,000 TTR Sotheby’s International Realty Michael Rankin 202-271-3344 firstname.lastname@example.org [gallery ids="102394,122737,122743" nav="thumbs"]