Live and Learn
Real Estate Spotlight
The 2014 Georgetown House Tour, APRIL 26
Robert Devaney • April 23, 2014
1689 34th St., NW
This house and the surrounding townhouses on 34th Street and Reservoir Road were built around 1951 on the site of the extensive gardens and pool of Friendship House, the last of the large estates owned by Evalyn Walsh McLean, heiress and socialite. McLean is best known as the last private owner of the 44.5-carat Hope Diamond, now on exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.
This brick, colonial-style, semi-detached home has four levels. The current owners purchased it in 1998, when they combined households from England, South Africa and Virginia. They immediately embarked on a series of renovations allowing for a more open floor plan, finished the top floor, upgraded the carriage house and, most recently, renovated the original 1951 kitchen in the English basement. Almost all of the main floor and lower level is the owners’ design. Much of the built-in cabinetry and furniture in the basement was handmade by them. The mature wisteria, planted in 1998, was the owners’ first addition to the garden. The carriage house is an architectural gem and serves as the guest room of first resort.
2906 P St., NW
This charming house, on a large lot set back from the street, was originally built sometime between 1844 and 1865, when the frame structure that forms the heart of the house (a double parlor on the first floor and two second-floor bedrooms) was erected. Sometime later, a rear addition was built, comprising the kitchen on the first floor and an additional bedroom suite on the second floor. During the 1960s, the house underwent a major renovation, which included altering the curved stairs in the main part of the house and an addition to the front at the west side of the property to include a garage, an indoor pool and a second-floor artist studio connected by a spiral staircase.
The current owners purchased the property in 1999 and later began another major renovation within the existing footprint to expand the kitchen, open up several smaller rooms and add the back staircase and French doors leading to the side and rear gardens. The renovation, designed by architect Outerbridge Horsey and executed by contractor John Richardson, transformed the indoor pool room into a family room and added a lower-level playroom to accommodate the family’s three children.
3102 P St., NW
The current homeowners purchased the house four years ago, when they moved to Georgetown from New York. They removed walls on the lower level to create a small theater room for family movie-watching and redid the lower foyer with blue slate flooring and white beadboard cubbies to accommodate the sporting activities of their four children.
Outside, notice that the bay window that matched those of the three neighboring houses was removed in the 1980s so that the garage could be added. In the entryway is a striking green and white Kelly Wearstler wallpaper. The Lucite waterfall console table coupled with the faux-bamboo mirror maximizes the use of the narrow space.
3141 O St., NW
This distinguished townhouse, built between 1957 and 1959, was once the home of F. Joseph Donohue, a District Commissioner from 1951 to 1953. The site dates back to the early 19th century, when it was a livery stable on what was then Beall Street, a few doors down from the legendary Connecticut-Copperthite Pie Baking Company on the corner of today’s Wisconsin Avenue and O Street.
The current owner has renovated the house, aspiring to “take the 1960s out of the house” and “create the ambience of a Paris apartment,” she said. The exterior is a contemporary adaptation of the Federal architectural style. The offset door, a departure from rigid Federal symmetry, allows for a modern necessity: a full-size garage. The spacious garden was completely redesigned for LB Design by local landscape architects Fritz & Gignoux. It has been nearly doubled in size by converting what used to be a back alley into a croquet lawn with an attractive water fountain and a stone seating area.
3254 O St., NW
This detached residence sits on a large lot that includes a detached brick carriage house at the back. The property was first conveyed in 1770 to Caspar Shaff. The original structure was built in the 1830s. Subsequent owners included both George and William Beall, who bought it in 1841 for $10 and sold it in 1853 to the Vestry of St. John’s Church for $100. In 1860, the house was enlarged by the creation of the front living room and a formal Federal façade was added in front. Notice the mounting block outside the front gate and the original ironwork stairs.
The current owner is an architectural and interior designer and real estate agent. She has spent the past 15 years improving and updating her home while preserving its many period details, such as the original heart-of-pine, random-width planked floors. The entryway suggests coziness, but the house is actually of substantial size with multiple bedrooms and a lower-level guest suite that offers a serene garden view.
The owner just completed a major renovation of the combined kitchen and family room. With the addition of three more sets of French doors, the kitchen area has been transformed into a more open floor plan to unify the kitchen, family room, brick patio and garden. The dining space, with its Pembroke drop-leaf table and English Chippendale armchairs, affords a splendid view over the manicured, southern-facing garden with its circular brick pathway and dramatic weeping willow tree.
3417 P St., NW
Think of 3417 P Street as two independent structures combined into a single home. The heart of the residence, to the east, was build in 1852 as a carriage house and stables by William Herron, a local contractor, to serve his large 35th Street home (seen on previous house tours). In 1951, Wesley Steele, acclaimed organist for St. John’s Church in Lafayette Square, purchased the carriage house and later added to the property, building the two-story guest house and garden area. The house was featured in the 1967 Georgetown House Tour, when visitors were invited to inspect Steele’s personal pipe organ. A sensitive recent renovation, overseen by the current owner and architect Dale Overmeyer, restored beams in the living room, moved the kitchen to the garden level by the pool, re-landscaped the garden and created a harmonious flow, the better to integrate the two structures into one home.
Approaching from the east along P Street, note the original carriage doors and well-preserved brick carriage tracks. By the entrance stands a massive antique Italian door, where a flight of flagstone stairs ascends to the living level of the house. From the garden, look up and to the right to see the outlines of the original carriage house and two subsequent additions. The garden is unusually large for Georgetown. Walk past the pool to the upper terrace to take a look at the dining area secluded under a magnolia tree near the soothing fountain. Because the garden is effectively above and protected from the street level, little traffic noise reaches here.
3413 P St., NW
This house’s bright yellow brick and deep green shutters cannot be missed as one walks along P Street. Behind this facade lies an appealing private garden spanning the entire side of the house and offering seclusion from the public street. This garden was among those featured in Adrian Higgins’s 1994 book, “Secret Gardens of Georgetown.” Glass-paneled doors along the side of the house give one the feeling of living in the garden. The layout of the house is linear, the front room being the living room, behind which the hall provides the entryway from the garden. Next comes the dining room and kitchen, with a doorway to the rear of the garden.
For all that comfort has been the owners’ top priority, on display in the house are many antiques, interesting and unusual objects and family heirlooms. These include paintings by Mr. Knight’s great-grandfather, Daniel Ridgway Knight (1839-1924), and grandfather, Louis Aston Knight (1873-1948). The frames that hold these artists’ paintings have been expertly restored by Bill Adair. Mrs. Knight is herself a talented and accomplished artist.
3026 Q St., NW
This grand four-story mansion, built around 1850, has passed through many hands since it was first sold in 1871 for $4,500. The property was added to during the early 1970s, when land was excavated to create a garage and driveway (something much coveted in Georgetown), and the rear gardens were replaced by a 15-foot-wide swimming pool. The present owner has narrowed the pool to make way for a terrace for entertaining and outdoor reading, a particular passion of the owner, who has made sunny reading nooks on all four levels, both inside and out.
The house is full of fine original millwork, particularly near the entrance. A sumptuous archway frames the staircase and hall, which leads to the kitchen overlooking the pool. Note the dark oak hardwood floors throughout and the owner’s choice of an impressive if unusual palette of blue and purple, intended to convey an air of serenity. While the 1970s addition is restrained in appearance, the double-high dining room with skylights is spectacular. Visible through the glass atrium, a star magnolia and a weeping cherry soften the more modern rear exterior.
1530 Wisconsin Ave., NW(The George Town Club)
The George Town Club is an elegant city dining club providing a warm retreat for its members, with fine cuisine, privacy and friendly, gracious service. Formed in 1966, the club brings together leaders from the business, professional, social, philanthropic, political, social, cultural, academic and diplomatic sectors.
The club occupies 18th-century frame buildings. Club founders extensively renovated the run-down historic building, adding the brick entryway, excavating the lower level and importing European wood paneling. The wrought-iron work by Samuel Yellin was rescued from the demolition of the original Morgan Guaranty Trust Company building in New York. Over time, two adjacent brick townhouses were incorporated into the club premises.
On the second floor, the extraordinary oak paneling in the main dining room was created in the style of Robert Adam, England’s premier architect in the late 1700s. At either end of the sideboard are large fishing-vessel figureheads, framing a leaded-glass demilune that was originally a feature of J. P. Morgan’s private office.
In the past year, the interiors of the club’s main-floor rooms have been substantially updated, preserving historical architectural features. Light sisal floor coverings have replaced the worn dark rugs, and some parts of the walls have been upholstered in a light neutral linen fabric to offset the extensive dark wood paneling. The most dramatic change has been the complete renovation of the Grill Room. The updating of the club’s decor was a collaboration of interior designers Andrew Law and Debbie Winsor, both Georgetown residents and club members.[gallery ids="101712,143074,143078,143070,143082,143086,143091,143096,143094" nav="thumbs"]
Uncertainty Jolts Rate Increases
Bill Starrels • April 11, 2014
Mortgage interest rates rose in March after the new Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen gave her first press conference. In her statement, Yellen implied that the federal funds rate may increase several months earlier than originally anticipated by market watchers.
Mortgage interest rates moved upwards of a quarter point higher in rate. The “best execution” went from around 4.25 percent to around 4.5 percent for 30-year fixed conforming money. Rates went up dramatically in the course of around 24 hours.
There will be a lot of examination and interpretation of the Fed’s comments in coming weeks. Some Fed watchers seem to think that the markets reactions may be a little extreme.
Everyone knows that eventually the Fed will be raising rates. The larger question is: when? At the same time, the overall economy is growing but not by robust numbers. Another factor is the continued instability, generated by foreign events, which fosters some insecurity in the markets.
Traditionally, uncertainty is good for the bond markets, which in turn are good for mortgage interest rates.
On another front, policy makers are studying possible changes to the mortgage tax deduction. The current study shows that wealthier homeowners benefit more than average homeowners. Some of the proposals would have income limits for those who want to qualify for the mortgage deduction. Considering that many members of Congress own a couple of homes and understand the clout of the real estate industry, we will have the makings of some interesting discussion of this issue in the future.
As this column is being read, most readers will be getting ready to file their 2013 taxes. Make sure that you have your account review of your last mortgage settlement sheet. This is especially true if you have refinanced or purchased a home in the last tax year. Nobody wants to leave money on the table when it comes to taxes.
It will be a volatile time in the mortgage rates for the near term. Take advantage of any dips in rates and lock in. Listen to your mortgage professional during these times of volatility.
Bill Starrels lives in Georgetown. He is a mortgage loan officer who specializes in refinance and purchase mortgages. He can be reached at 703-625-7355, or email email@example.com (NMLS#485021).
Heather Parness: Right Woman, Right Job, Right Time
Robert Devaney • March 13, 2014
Everyone is talking about the dynamism
of Washington, D.C.; its new growth in
neglected neighborhoods, the influx of
the younger generation and of investors’ money.
There is opportunity all around, whether for
jobs, in politics — or in real estate.
Such an opportunity is why the largest
independent residential real estate company in
the United States hired Heather Parness in July.
Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc., went across the
country to get its regional senior vice president
for the Washington, D.C., market. It created that
new position for Parness.
The 40-year-old native of Greeley, Colorado,
now lives in a very Washingtonian place —
Washington Harbour in Georgetown — next to
very Washingtonian neighbors, such as House
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Washington
Nationals’ owner Mark Lerner.
Parness, who began working in real estate
in 1992 at the age of 18, says the reason she
got into real estate was that she was raised by a
single mother and had to pay for college. “I got
a job in a real estate office and fell in love with
More specifically, she says, “I fell in love
with the entrepreneurial spirit of real estate
agents. … You can do what you want … how
you want to do it … and make as much as you
want. The sky’s the limit.”
“I am more personally drawn to the management
side of the company,” says Parness, who
adds she is methodical and loves the legal side
of the business. She has done everything in real
estate — “I have grown up in it,” she says — from
being an assistant to an agent, to doing office
technology and moving into management.
In Denver, she headed up Perry & Co. Real
Estate and then Fuller Sotheby’s International
Realty. As a number one, she got the attention
of Long & Foster.
“I have a huge amount for respect for Wes
Foster and the company he built,” Parness
said. Long & Foster Real Estate president Gary
Scott first contacted her. Then, she came to
Washington to meet him, Jeff Detwiler, president
of Long & Foster Companies, and Wes,
Parness is well aware of the “amazing
opportunity” to learn from them. “You don’t
get that opportunity very often,” she says. “You
do not often get access to a position like this.”
In the Washington, D.C., region, there are 13
offices, including W.C. & A.N. Miller Co. But
it is the Logan Circle office, which is about to
open, that has her excited. “There are amazing
parts of Washington, D.C.,” says Parness, who
sees smaller-scale offices opening down the line.
“After all, it is all about servicing the agent.”
There will be more luxury events via
Christie’s International Real Estate. It is also
about art, she says. Someone buying such an
expensive home will likely have quite an art collection.
Art shows, wine tastings and appraisal
events are planned for March or April and the
Meanwhile, Parness has adapted to East
Coast traffic, D.C.’s easily called snow days
and the pleasant surprise of “a diverse, educated
“D.C. is an exciting, growing town” — with
a younger crowd, too. “People are pleasant and
fun to talk to,” she says. “As you might expect,
there seem to be more political discussions here
Parness is studying the changing and
improving demographics of D.C. — checking
out downtown, City Center, Capitol Riverfront
Business Improvement District and all the way
to Anacostia. She is part of the plan of growth
that Long & Foster perceives as being ahead of
“There’s a lot of strategic pieces that we’re
putting into place right now,” she says. And
Parness seems like the perfect member of that
strategic team for Long & Foster, fitting in well
with its energy and ambition.
EastBanc to Reintroduce Key Bridge Exxon Condo Designs
It is back to the future for developer EastBanc and its proposed condos at the Key Bridge Exxon property on Canal Road. Expect a repeat performance of design questions and neighbors’ opposition.
With its 1055 Water condo project well on its way to completion, the developer will turn back to its condo plans for the gas station property, next to the “Exorcist” steps and the Car Barn. In April 2011, EastBanc’s plans called for a 35-unit building to rise to the height of Prospect Street properties above. With some neighborhood opposition and designs overly revised, EastBanc head Anthony Lanier sidelined the project.
Designs for the M Street-Canal Road condos at the site will be re-introduced at the March 3 meeting of the Georgetown-Burleith Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E as well as the Old Georgetown Board meeting on March 6. According to EastBanc, plans call for 26 to 28 units, “averaging 2,500 square feet in size,” each with two parking spaces.
Mary Mottershead of EastBanc offered more details to the Georgetowner: “The latest plans for this project at 3601-3607 M St are fairly similar in massing to the previous studies we undertook several years ago as they also follow the C-2 A zoning guidelines for the site. However, the new design is very different with the idea of being a quieter, more neutral design which does not compete with all the different very busy townhouse elevations above nor with the wedding cake design of the Arthur Cotton Moore building to the west nor with the massive and heavy design of the Car Barn to the east. …”
“As for the neighbors above,” she continued, “the roof height of our building is below the lowest levels of those townhouses. However, our building needs space above for elevator overruns and stairwells and mechanical units and exhaust pipes and the like. By zoning, buildings are allowed 18-foot penthouses to accommodate mechanical equipment, but in consideration of the sightlines of these neighbors, we have undertaken many studies to look at other options which limit the impact to the views of the neighbors. Hence, we have spent a lot of time with our mechanical engineers and our landscape architects, OVS, to design a rooftop with equipment and penetrations that are lower in profile and also well screened with green roof areas where possible.”
And, as for those neighbors above on the 3600 block of Prospect Street, whose houses would overlook the condos, EastBanc met with some of them individually about two weeks ago to discuss the new designs.
According to one neighbor, who requested anonymity, they were “surprised by the three-week notice” before the public meetings. As for the new design, the person said: “We will be vocal in our opposition. … The proposed building is more of what was presented last time: a massive contemporary structure.”
The homeowner cited the five-story condo design’s lack of historic context, saying it is a highly visible gateway to Georgetown, vibrant with a historic wall and steps and the spires of Georgetown University in the distance. Add to the new view the obscuring of greenery along the hill. “Is this the kind of design we want all to see? It will be a huge statement.”
Acknowledging that some views from their homes and backyards would be obstructed, the homeowner also cited environmental issues. The hillside part of their back property is fill dirt from earlier construction at Georgetown University and requires some neighbors to re-enforce their house, back yards and walls: “Construction would jeopardize the stability of the hill, which holds up our property.” With the soft dirt on the hill, the homeowner said that one house on Prospect Street sustained hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage because of the August 2011 earthquake.
Neighbors seek a four-story condo complex at 40 feet above street level. Prepare for some serious discussion at next week’s public meetings. [gallery ids="101649,145222" nav="thumbs"]
Martha Stewart’s American Made Gets Local
Georgetowner • February 27, 2014
As a community publication and local media outlet, Georgetown Media Group believes that small companies can make a big difference. We understand the importance of local and regional companies to the fabric of our country, from our culture and identity to the national job market. A small, local company is often more flexible, more personal, and frequently better tailored to the individual customer than larger, national enterprises.
That said, big business is nothing to be demonized or belittled—we believe they work hand-in-hand with local enterprises to define our national economy and identity. When our country functions on a local and national level together, that is when America is functioning at its best.
Martha Stewart’s American Made Workshop is a wonderful bridge between the local and national market. Long since working as one of our country’s most beloved homemakers, Martha Stewart has made a lasting impression on our American lifestyle. From her magazine, Martha Stewart Living, to her frequent holiday specials and television appearances, she has touched the lives of millions across the country, championing an eternal American warmth that is at once intimate and all-encompassing.
Her American Made Workshop gives small businesses throughout the country the opportunity to have their voices heard. From gardening to crafts, from custom-built furniture to food, technology and community organizations, these homespun enterprises are selected by Martha Stewart’s team at American Made and the public to forge ahead with the spirit of “made-in-America.”
As part of the American Made Workshop’s annual Audience Choice Awards, craftsmen are free to nominate themselves and be nominated by the public. If you are a small-time creative entrepreneur, this is an opportunity to get yourself onto a national stage for a chance at $10,000 to further your business.
Nominations for this year’s competition began last June, and it continues through to when the voting begins on Aug. 26. On Oct. 16 – 17, the winners will be announced at the annual American Made Workshop event in New York City.
Go check out www.MarthaStewart.com/AmericanMade, and see for yourself all the amazing enterprises around the country. From a sculpture studio in Madison, Wis. that forges custom cast-iron skillets in the shape of every state, to a Chicago-based organization that creates organic urban agricultural environments, you will be blown away by what you find.
And keep an eye out for Doug Deluca with Reclaimed America, a Washington area local who uses reclaimed wood and recycled materials to create everything from heritage tables to custom-made beds, as well as some of the nice kitchens.
American Made spotlights the maker, supports the local and celebrates the handmade. This is your chance to join the editors of Martha Stewart Living at the American Made Workshop, whether you’re discovering new makers, sharing your latest local finds, or voting for the Audience Choice winner.
Be a part of the movement. [gallery ids="119008,119004" nav="thumbs"]
Interior Designer Zoe Feldman Updates the Classics
his summer, interior designer Zoe Feldman moved into a loft space above The Georgetowner’s office at 1054 Potomac Street from her office at 28th and M St. Her old office was only 200 square feet, barely enough space for a designer and two employees working on projects up and down the east coast.
The new office has more than enough room for the three of them to stretch out, but Feldman has only just settled on what color to paint the walls—a beige color with a hint of pink—after three previous choices.
“You know, like, the shoemaker has no shoes,” she said.
Feldman began her design career at Mark Hampton, working under the famed designer’s daughter, Alexa, who now runs the firm. She began her own company in 2003, and soon moved to Washington, a midpoint between New York and Florida, where she grew up.
Feldman has a very approachable style. She often brings in pieces of midcentury modern furniture and contemporary art to accent more traditional spaces—fun, but elegant.
“I think I’m classic enough that I think it’s relatable, but, like, fresh enough that it’s new or maybe a little inventive,” she said.
When she was a child, Feldman’s parent and grandparents ran their own art gallery, sparking her interest in fine art. She finds pieces for her clients all over, but often goes to in Georgetown at Addison Ripley Fine art on Wisconsin Ave. Her other love, mid-century modern furniture, comes from having grown up in a home filled with it.
“I guess the reason I like it is because it has become so classic,” she said. “It definitely makes a space more chic. Pop art, the same. I think really good design has tension.”
Interestingly, though, Feldman does not want to be known for a signature look.
“I tend not to follow formulas,” she said. “It really maintains the client’s personality, a canvas to show off who they are, as opposed to showing off who I am.”
Even as an alumna of Mark Hampton, Feldman did not always embrace more traditional style.
“One of the things I learned at Mark Hampton is how to design in a traditional environment,” she said. “This is a little hyperbolic, but I had never seen, like, a curtain. It was so not my style, but it became my style. Anything done well can be really beautiful. I had no problem getting into that environment and making it really beautiful for them and truly liking it, also.”
Taking inspiration from everywhere, Feldman recalls one recent client who pushed her in a new direction. “I have a client who is more globally influenced. They travel. They collect things. It was really fun, because it was a smaller project, but I hadn’t had a client like that ever.”
“That’s the other reason I don’t want to get pigeonholed in one specific style,” she said. “That would just bore me.” [gallery ids="100960,130767,130761,130743,130755,130750" nav="thumbs"]
The Rixey Scale: Design Mix of Modern and Classic
Alison Schafer • January 17, 2014
It’s a gut renovation, costing upwards of $1.5 million dollars. The windows are covered in plywood and the whine of power drills makes it hard to think, but neither Victoria nor Douglas Rixey seem to notice. Well-dressed and thoughtful amidst the dust and clatter, they are comfortable here. Until the client moves in in March, this is their space.
And this house on Q Street in Georgetown will be quite a space. It is Victoria’s project. She’s putting in geothermal heating and air conditioning via three wells 320 feet deep in the backyard, solar panels and LED lights. Victoria says she expects the house’s owner will be able to sell excess electricity back to Pepco. The floors have radiant heat built under them, and the hot water comes on demand. Gone are the energy-inefficient days of tanks holding gallons of hot water. The row house’s new owners are downsizing from a grander space elsewhere in the neighborhood, and they, like many of the Rixeys’ current clients, want to live in a green, sustainable house.
Rixey-Rixey Architects has been operating in Georgetown since 1985. They’ve been around for so long, Douglas jokes, that he sometimes works on houses he’s already renovated—three or four times. The firm’s staff consists of Victoria, Douglas and their Irish Jack Russell, Dex, whose main contributions include sniffing and walks to construction sites. Not all their work is in Georgetown, though. Victoria just finished a horse stable in Marshall, Va., and Douglas has built two new houses in Sanibel, Fla.
“We trusted Douglas enough to turn to him for sensible advice for our Little Compton [R.I.] and Concord [Mass.] houses,” says Kate Chartener, a former client in Georgetown. “His design for the back half of our [Georgetown] house was pitch-perfect, and we still felt that way 10 years later.”
The Rixeys, who work separately on their projects, says they’ve designed upwards of 100 houses in Georgetown. Their signatures include staircases and soap dishes. The house on Q Street boasts a three-story staircase, capped by a skylight, a way to bring light into tight Georgetown spaces. The soap dishes are a Victoria specialty, one that drains the soap properly and has a distinctive look.
The couple says that Douglas is the big-picture guy and Victoria best on details.
“Douglas gently presses clients to define what they truly like and need, and he has a great knack for delivering a product that shows style and design integrity,” says Robert Chartener, Kate’s husband. “He designed a 2001 extension that looked like an original part of our late 1890s house. Douglas Rixey is one those rare men who can drive a large motorcycle, while explaining the difference between Queen Anne and Georgian mullions.”
The houses are as diverse as the Rixeys’ clients. They’ve done work for a race car driver on N Street, for D.C.’s permanent ruling class of lawyers and for various government chiefs. One or two of the government honchos have requested elaborate security features that range from cameras, panic buttons and bullet-proof glass to doors bad guys can’t break down.
Aside from the elaborate security, the Rixeys have managed some interesting design requests. One client wanted leather walls and floors — for a library, Douglas says, not a bondage chamber. Another asked for sterling silver doorknobs, about 20, costing upwards of $2,000 each.
Business is pretty good, they say. Not quite up to pre-recession levels, but 2012 was one of the firm’s best years ever. Some years, they do four or five projects a year; other years, 20. They have a front-row seat on the latest fads and trends in architecture and design. Right now, master bedroom suites are in high demand, suites complete with fireplaces, big bathrooms and dressing rooms. The Rixeys, however, caution against taking out all the bedrooms. One huge bedroom and no others make for a tough re-sale, and they try to keep re-sale in mind as they work on current projects. Other trends for the master suite include mini-bars, vaulted ceilings and screened porches with sliding doors that can open up the whole room to the outside.
Other changes in luxurious living include a strong push for sustainability. The couple designed their own vacation house in Virginia’s Northern Neck.
“We set a budget for ourselves,” Victoria says. “But one of the really important things we just had to have was geothermal heat and air conditioning.” With solar panels, the whole house will be off the electrical grid, she says. More and more, they find themselves using recycled material in kitchen countertops and bathrooms and glass instead of marble. “We just used some glass on a lovely master bath in the East Village,” Victoria says. “The white glass tiles are a dead ringer for Thasos marble, a gorgeous clear all-white marble that’s becoming harder and harder to find because it has been over quarried.”
Technology has become a key part of designing a house now. Douglas describes a client who, he says, “can manage his house on his iPhone. The house is wired so that he can see who is at the front door, unlock it, turn on the air conditioning, play music in the kitchen and open the pool cover. From Paris.” A new idea is a swimming pool cover that disappears below that water level. “Every week, there’s something new,” Douglas says.
Some of the changing trends reflect a changing clientele. The Rixeys say more and more young families are moving into Georgetown, and often they ask for more casual, flowing spaces: houses where the kitchen, the living space and the backyard all melt into each other. Outdoor kitchens are hot. Formal dining rooms, Victoria says, are on their way out. The Rixeys have also noticed that more and more people are thinking about the future — and about “aging in place” — with some clients asking for elevators and wheelchair-accessible rooms.
Digging down has also been an important part of the Rixeys’ work in Georgetown. Because of a shortage of space and because of historic preservation rules, clients often can’t built out or up, so they go down. “Underpinning,” or taking basements lower and making them more livable, is part of many Georgetown renovations.
Finally, the Rixeys say the constraints of working in Georgetown make any project challenging. Yet, even with tight spaces, shared walls, nosy neighbors and tight parking, they say they’ve faced no more than one or two complaints over 25 plus years. And, though they moved out of Georgetown a couple of years ago, to renovate a house in Old Town, they’re looking at a new house in the East Village, figuring it might be time to move back home.
The Langhornes’ Contemporary on N Street, NW
Douglas Rixey began working with a son of past clients to begin a modest renovation. An international race car driver, the son had purchased a historically non-contributing house from his parents in the heart of Georgetown. Shortly after design work began, the eligible bachelor became engaged and — during the design process — married. What began as a very modest renovation turned into something much more, a high-tech modern house (shown in photos here) for a young family. It was completed just last year and was a star of the 2013 Georgetown House Tour. Recalls Rixey: “It was a tremendously dynamic design process, but also great fun, as the husband and wife were constantly bringing new ideas to the table.” The house has an in-home theater, smart-house wiring, geothermal heating and air conditioning and open living spaces that wrap a four-level floating stair, next to a glass elevator. [gallery ids="101448,153644,153650,153632,153636,153639,153647" nav="thumbs"]
Thomas Jefferson’s Love of Wine Spurred Virginia’s
The wine business has taken off in Virginia, with over 200 licensed wineries in the state, and a growing enthusiasm for Virginia wines on the part of wine aficionados. We should remember to thank Thomas Jefferson, at least in part, for the growth of this enterprise. When Jefferson was our ambassador in France in the late 1700’s, he spent a lot of time touring Europe and getting to know viticulturists in Germany, France and Italy. He made carefully planned visits to all the growers and winemakers he could locate, and when he returned to America, he imported wine directly from them, always insisting on getting containers of bottled wine sent to him instead of barrels, because he believed he would get better quality wine that way. He had the best wine cellar in the region, and when he became president, an equally impressive collection in the new White House wine cellar.
When he retired to Monticello, Jefferson tried for years to grow grapes with vines he imported from Europe. For many reasons, the vines died and failed. If the vines survived the ocean crossing with any life in them, they died from all kinds of diseases, the most prevalent being fungus, a problem that Virginia grape growers still struggle with each season, even though today’s growers have effective sprays to combat disease. Also, Jefferson didn’t have the disease-resistant grafted vines now used by viticulturists worldwide.
Thomas Jefferson was so intrigued by fine wines that he continually exceeded his financial means in order to import the very best. When he died, some of his debt was connected to his love of fine wines as well as his valuable book collection. Everyone knows that Thomas Jefferson’s book connection became the basis for the Library of Congress, but he should also be given credit that his fascination with wine became a legacy that has been a powerful inspiration for the many growers and winemakers in the Commonwealth.
While Thomas Jefferson was still alive, a Richmond, Virginia scientist, Dr. D.N. Norton, experimented with planting and combining grape seeds from native vines during the 1820’s and eventually produced a very dark grape named “Norton” after him, and is still a great favorite with Virginia wine drinkers. One of its unique characteristics, besides having the darkest pigment of any wine, is that it is disease-resistant and does very well even in the humid Virginia growing season. You have to wonder if it is a tragedy that Thomas Jefferson never knew about Dr. Norton’s experiments with the Norton grape. Would Jefferson would have found this vine the answer to his prayers? He might have ignored it, since it was not one of the fine European vinifera grapes he learned to treasure during his European travels. We will never know the answer, but it is food for thought — or perhaps, wine for thought. [gallery ids="102587,119633" nav="thumbs"]
The Artful Errol Adels, an Architect and a Gentleman
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"]
Passion for Color Is Key to Kelley Interior Design
For Kelley Proxmire, more color is better – especially when designing a room. Her interior design company, Kelley Interior Design, prides itself on brightening up any space with a fun, yet classic, flare.
While always remaining true to her classic style and timelessness, Proxmire believes no room is ever fully dressed without a pop of color. Her L’Orangerie show room, featured in this year’s DC Design House in Spring Valley, is a testament to her holy grail of color hues.
The former ballroom turned intimate sunroom features long, tangerine colored drapes by Ellen Goodman that shade mirrored Palladian windows. Another highlight is the Manuel Canovas toile table skirt accented in an orange, gray and white pattern.
“When you look at that room, you’ll see some things are skirted. Some things are legs, some are soft, some are straight,” she said. “It’s a blending.”
The sophisticated sunroom is merely a prelude to the Bethesda designer’s extensive portfolio. A fixture in the DC metropolitan area for more than 20 years, Proxmire has a wealth of knowledge and accolades that showcase what she refers to as her “innate talent.” Most notably, Proxmire was inducted into the Washington Design Center’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
“I was so happy,” she said of her induction. “I think it was that I use the Design Center a lot, so the design makers probably saw my face too much. But I’m very flattered.”
Before the Hall of Fame honor, Proxmire said her experience working for fellow inductee Bob Waldron impelled her to design. “I started in the ’80s,” she said. “I definitely had on-the-job training. Bob did say to me, ‘Some have it, some don’t. You do, so go.’ And I realized I had ‘it,’ and I’ve worked like a dog over the years.”
Today, if one cannot find Proxmire perusing patterns at the Washington Design Center, she is most likely tailoring her traditional style to set it apart from other designers.
“Everybody says that they’re timeless,” she said. “But I really do like to think that there’s some time-element involved that will be in style for a long time. I’d hate to do something and then have it outdated in five years.”
She chooses to avoid the trendy route by accentuating rooms with unique pieces of art or accessories. “I always like to have some funky pieces in the room, and by ‘funky’ I mean one-of-a-kind,” she said. “Either it’s antique or vintage or something different.”
Inspired by designers such as Billy Baldwin, David Easton and Mark Hampton, Proxmire said she is moved by new styles everyday. “I spend my time at the end of the day either online on blogs, looking at magazines or looking at my files of rooms that I love and I get inspired all over again. Almost every night is spent doing some sort of work.”
Merging her love of design with a strong work ethic and business-minded media team, Proxmire defines her projects as having a “tailored traditional” style that emphasizes three fundamental elements.
“When I look at a space, the first thing I think about is that it has to be practical, especially if I’m designing for a family,” she said. “It has to be pretty or handsome. And then, I want my rooms to look inviting.”
Whether armed with a customer’s vision for a future room, a piece of furniture or simply a section of fabric, Proxmire said her designs reflect a cooperative and collaborative effort from both parties. “I think I have a range, and I think [my projects] reflect my clients unless they come to me and say, ‘I want your look.’ Fine, I can do that, too. But, it’s usually a blending.”
For potential clients, she suggests being prepared for the detailed road ahead. “Number one is choosing a designer and having a plan,” she said. “Look up all the websites and see if you know the designer. A lot of my clients are personal recommendations.”
For those choosing to design themselves, she urges the use of floor plans in order to coordinate between rooms. “In other words, if you’re going to have a design, then be systematic about that,” she said.
As Proxmire’s calendar continues to fill up with more projects, her enthusiasm for interior design and long-standing relationships with clients serve as the driving forces behind her success.
“I’ve done 21 show houses in 11 years,” she said. “That’s sick, but that’s just because I love the design aspect and the free rein, and I can put it all together pretty quickly. Then to see it all come together, it’s just such fun.”
Although designing and managing a business are key to Proxmire, she believes trust is essential between designers and clients.
“Over the years, I think customers become more relaxed and more assured that we’ll do a good job for them,” she said. “Some of them just say, ‘I really don’t know about this, Kel.’ And I’m thinking it’s going to make the room. So, I just really have to try to sell it and say, ‘It’s going to be fabulous. Trust me.’”? [gallery ids="100895,128266,128259,128232,128254,128249,128241" nav="thumbs"]