Beasley Real Estate

January 17, 2014

Beasley Real Estate, the boutique property brokerage firm that started up Feb. 1 this year, has a clear vision of how it can give its clients the best service.

“Our clients come first, and our brand comes second,’’ said founder and managing partner Jim Bell. After only three months in business, Beasley has already sold more than 40 properties in the Washington area. The properties sold range from $300,000 condos to $6-million houses. Already, with the launch of its new mobile application and a strategic partnership with auction house Bonhams, Beasley Real Estate has expanded its client services in old and new ways.

Jim Bell’s background is in banking and finance in addition to a number of years in real estate brokerage with Washington Fine Properties. Bell said he believes that it was time for a company model to be focused on the client and the client’s properties.

“We want to be the foundation for our client’s success and absolutely everything we do is based on that,’’ Bell said. Beasley’s advertising is a perfect example of how they do things differently compared to other companies, he added. Instead of having the brand name on top, with many small photos under with the same size for each property, Beasley Real Estate have chosen to highlight two or three properties in its ads, using larger photos and only having the brand logo down in the right corner. ‘’So many of my clients in the past has come to me and said, ‘Hey, Jim, where am I? Where’s my house? I can’t find it.’ I had a really tough time with that,” he said.

“Now that it’s not about the company but about the client, you visually see our client’s properties in our advertising,” said Bell enthusiastically. “I feel very strongly about that, and that’s one of the core reasons why Beasley was created.’’ Beasley was his grandfather’s name. “I didn’t want the name to be about me,’’ he said, emphasizing the importance of putting the clients interest first. Although it cost more to advertise fewer houses in each ad, Bell pointed out that in doing so they make their client’s houses shine.

“The best agents, the best properties, the best results’’ is the company motto. To ensure that all clients get top-quality services, all agents at Beasley must have a minimum of ten years experience before they start and a minimum of $10-million annual production.

The company has a worldwide presence as well. At the moment, 60 percent of its clients are actually from Europe. Beasley currently has four agents based in Washington. ‘’We will also have a London representative soon, hopefully by the fall. We want a person there to help our clients in the United Kingdom with their needs,’’ Bell said.

To tune with its international connections, Beasley and the auction house Bonhams celebrated their partnership at the George Town Club April 5 with a Bonhams exhibit, “The Mapping and Discovery of America.” Antique maps, manuscripts and books were on display at the club before heading to New York. Martin Gammon, D.C. regional head of Bonhams, said he was more than pleased to partner with the real estate group and its clients.

“I love Bonhams,” Bell said. “When I really started strategically mapping out the company, a lot of my clients over the years have always come from London. So, it was logical for the number of people in Washington that had properties in and around London and the U.K. to have that connection. Bonhams is worldwide partner of us, they branded very well with the opening of our Washington office.”

“I’ve been a Bonhams client for a number of years,” he continued. “We have the same client base. So, it’s a real treat for our clients to have direct access to an auction house. We introduce our clients to Bonhams and our clients are very much using their services. At the end of the day, that’s what the collaboration is there for: to be another service for our clients.”

Also, an online presence has always been a big part of what Bell does. “Making it visually appealing to people is really important,” Bell said. The website has had 240,000 hits since Feb. 1. “We’re only three months old,” he added. “So, that’s incredible. We’ve got 3,400 unique visitors, which is an incredibly high number. Those are people who are on our site every 48 hours looking for information.’’

A couple of weeks ago, the company launched the Beasley Real Estate application for smartphones and tablets. The app combines information about properties with Google Earth technology. If you are walking around with the map function on, the map will populate the neighborhood around you as you walk. First of all, the map will show you which houses are for sale around your location. Then, you can click on it and view information and photos. Second, you can also see what other properties in the same area sold for. The map will also show you rentals and commercial properties. “It’s not just information about Beasley properties,” said Bell, who appeared on Fox 5 Morning News a week ago to explain the app as he stood in front of a P Street house. “With this app you can become a market expert. It’s a great tool for consumers to help them know what they’re doing and to make the best decisions.”

84th Georgetown Garden Tour:

Some of them are grand. Some are architecturally intriguing, some full of plants with exotic names, like chocolate mimosa (you don’t drink it) and Cambodian buddhas. The 84th Georgetown Garden Tour takes place Saturday, May 5, and it is all about the eight paces, large and small, tucked behind high walls. One of the recurring themes of the tour is how inventive Georgetowners can take a tiny space and turn it into a dynamic and interesting outdoor “room.”

The garden tour, which is, after all, an urban garden tour, focuses on the problems inherent in small, enclosed gardens: the neighbors, their trees, their children, sun, the lack of it. It is impressive what people can do with small gardens. They create spaces on different levels, they “borrow” views, install marvelous statuary from exotic lands, put in charming water features, plant masses of very dark purple foliage (almost black). All of these are on show in this year’s tour.

One such garden is 3200 P Street, according to long-time garden tour organizer and local tyrant Edie Schafer. “It is extremely interesting, it has everything in it, they’ve got a water feature and they’re really into the plants. It is a small space, but they’ve done a lot with it,” she says. That’s part of what draws a crowd to the tour.
These gardens don’t necessarily start out with beautiful bones and knockout views; their owners have to work to turn them into something special.

There are plenty of big, grand gardens as well. Bowie-Sevier house, which stretches from Q to P Street, has old boxwoods, a pool and a play area for the young family which lives there. You could get lost there, the space is so vast. The garden on the corner of 28th and Q is also attached to a stately old house, and the trees there have probably seen more intrigue than your average member of Congress.

Some houses interact so well with their gardens that you can’t really see one without engaging with the other. A house on 28th Street boasts a low curving wall, a windowpane mirror and a terrific, multi-trunked Kousa dogwood. But what’s really alluring about the space is the way the big light-filled living room opens into the
garden. It makes you want to grab a book and sit in the sun, though the house’s owners might have other ideas.

For a Georgetowner, one of the best parts of the tour is the authorized snooping. The neighborhood is full of pleasant little houses and vine-covered walls. But when you get behind the front walls, it really gets interesting. Spectacular secrets lie in wait, swimming pools, Balinese dancers, rare cacti. To the outsider, Georgetown is closed up, has its street face on. To tour goers, all is revealed.

Gardens are always changing, Schafer says. “When you put a vine on a house it often has its own plans, like taking off all over the place or refusing to climb where you want it to climb, and ends up somewhere you don’t want it to be. This is also true of low-growing perennials and groundcovers: you put them in a bed and the next thing you know they are all over the lawn, not what you had in mind at all. So, then you dig them up and put them back where they should be. Do they stay there? Not necessarily.” That’s the reason why the garden tour is so interesting, she says.

Some of these homeowners are “fearless gardeners,” Schafer adds, happy to try new ideas, new plants, new ways of looking at the world in their backyard. After all, the word, “paradise,” comes from a Persian word for walled gardens.

The tour runs Saturday, May 5, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can get tickets for $35 at ([], or call 202-965-1950.

Christ Church, 31st and O Streets, N.W., will serve as headquarters for the tour. In addition to purchasing tickets at the Church, you may also peruse the unique Garden Boutique which will offer beautiful topiaries, fine porcelain vases, and unusual gardening tools for sale. Included in your ticket price is an afternoon tea served at Keith Hall, Christ Church, 2 to 4 p.m. The not-to-be missed tea features cookies, tea sandwiches and sweets, all handmade by members of the Georgetown Garden Club. [gallery ids="100770,123483,123469,123478" nav="thumbs"]

Long & Foster’s Detwiler: Strategist in a Reviving Economy

From his Chantilly, Va., office near Route 28 and Dulles Airport, Jeffrey S. Detwiler, president and chief operating officer of the Long & Foster Companies, sees the dynamism and traffic of Northern Virginia. Here, he keeps tabs on the company’s wide-ranging real estate activities and checks updates on his iPad as he speaks confidently about the national and local real estate market and a company that has become a real estate icon.

“The epicenter of housing recovery is Washington, D.C.,” Detwiler says. Centered here, Long & Foster operates offices from Pennsylvania and New Jersey down through North Carolina and tracks the trends, such as seeing Richmond nine months behind the Washington area.

“The Mid-Atlantic region is the best performing region in the nation,” he says. “The real estate market is so local, and Long & and Foster is the best place to be during tough times.” One thing is for sure: Other corporate real estate giants have come and gone and have tried to buy the company, co-founded by chairman and CEO P. Wesley Foster, Jr., in 1968. Indeed, the legendary Foster is the one who has bought other firms adding to his army of 12,000 sales associates with 170 sales offices.

In a competitive field during an economic downtown, Detwiler says he knows that agents need any extra edge they can get. We are in “a never-before-seen real estate market,” says the 50-year-old president. “It is harder today than ever before. From the agent to seller, we have to be 24/7 business-ready. We have an e-real estate team to help.” And he is well aware that the “next generation is using social media to find agents, too.”

“The years 2003 through 2007 were an anomaly,” he says. “There was a mortgage bubble.” The additional agents who jumped into the market are gone now. As for the housing economy, he says, “The banks are scared to death and don’t want to make mistakes. Appraisers are scared, too, and people are scared to buy. Consumer confidence affects sales.”

Detwiler lists four fundamental issues affecting housing: overly tight credit; negative equity; consumer debt, especially sub prime loans; distressed assets. “They complicate the system,” he calmly says. “The government can do more. So many loans are dinged up. In January 2010, we began to adjust to the new world. . . . It will return to normal in 2015 or 2016.”

Nevertheless, “spring has been a great selling season,” relative to business last year, Detwiler says. In Georgetown, specifically, number of units sold is up 24 percent over last spring. Median sale price is down roughly 15 percent year-over-year, but inventory continues to tighten, which leads to a more balanced real estate market, and sellers in Georgetown are receiving about 95 percent of their list price when they sell, on average.
Long & Foster made the biggest neighborhood and D.C. sale of 2011 with Evermay, the estate on 28th Street, going for $22 million. Right now, it is listing a 31st Street historic home, across from Tudor Place, for $6.75 million. Over near Massachusetts Avenue, it has two listings within four blocks of each other: one on Benton Place for $12 million and another on Whitehaven Street for $6.95 million. A different company holds the highest-price listing in D.C.: a Chain Bridge Road property across from Battery Kimble Park for $16 million.

Luxury home listings and million-dollar-plus homes have become a greater part of Long & Foster’s strategy; it already has almost 30 percent of all the million-plus sales in the Mid-Atlantic region. Aware that local sales can go global, its Extraordinary Properties group includes exclusive affiliations with Christie’s International Real Estate, Luxury Real Estate and Luxury Portfolio International. More worldwide connections mean more sales.

For these efforts as well as for Long & Foster’s mortgage and insurance entities, Detwiler has at least 25 years of finance and real estate-related experience to draw upon. “My previous businesses share the same model,” he says.

In fact, when Detwiler arrived at Long & Foster in 2009, the charming, down-to-earth, yet tenacious co-founder Wes Foster appeared incredulous. “At first, Wes could not fathom a non-real estate guy running the show,” he says. “What I brought to the table was a different view. The company is at a different point in its life: it has more structure and financial discipline.”

A Princeton graduate, who majored in psychology, Detwiler brought 20 years of experience in the mortgage industry along with his other work in traditional banking, insurance and portfolio management. “Detwiler has benefited from having direct responsibility as the senior executive for all facets of the mortgage business that included sales and production, capital markets and trading, finance and risk management, operations and technology, and servicing,” Foster announced at the time.

According to Long & Foster, “Detwiler was the chief production officer for the Correspondent Channel at Countrywide/Bank of America. The Correspondent Channel included correspondent lending, warehouse lending and Landsafe origination services. In this role he was accountable for all revenue-producing activities. Prior to Countrywide, Detwiler worked on Wall Street for Credit Suisse First Boston in the mortgage trading and finance group. While at CSFB, he built and managed the warehouse lending business, and reengineered and oversaw the servicing operation. In addition, he designed, built and managed the mortgage conduit. Before Detwiler moved to Wall Street, he spent ten years at GMAC/RFC and was the chairman of the Conduit Operating Committee.”

For a firm which began in a single, 600-square-foot office in Fairfax, Va., and became the largest privately-owned real estate company in America, Detwiler looks like part of its continual plan for more firepower. Long & Foster has that developing foresight and zeal — and well-regarded, connected executives. Detwiler’s predecessor was David Stevens who left Long & Foster to become head of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and is now president of the Mortgage Bankers of America.

Long & Foster’s headquarters in Chantilly opened five years ago just as the housing bubble burst. It is a massive Williamsburg-style office building, built with handmade, rough-hewn bricks and filled with art, sculptures along with murals depicting a developing Washington in the mid-1800s. There are other tenants in the five-story structure with adjacent land available for new construction in a healthier economy.

In 2011, Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc., sold more than $22 billion worth of homes and helped more than 69,000 people buy and sell homes.  The combined sales and equivalents for the Long & Foster Companies in 2011 were in excess of $42 billion.

After Detwiler came from California to head the parent company — it includes Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc., Prosperity Mortgage Company, Walker Jackson Mortgage Corporation, Long & Foster Settlement Services, and Long & Foster Insurance Agency, Inc. — one corporate trait stuck him. “It was eye-opening to me,” he says. “People have been here 20 to 25 years. It makes a big company seem small.”

Such staying power is owed in no small part to Wes Foster himself, now in his late 70s, and known for his honest, personal touch as well as hard-driving spirit. And you can bet that Detwiler with his ready smile and business acumen has a similar competitive glint in his eyes. Just what Foster ordered. [gallery ids="100719,120646" nav="thumbs"]

20 Years of CORE Building the Cornerstones of Georgetown

For the team at CORE Architecture and Design, their story of success began with Dean & Deluca.

Twenty years ago, the fledgling practice was building its business in the middle of a recession, finding most of their projects redesigning corporate interiors.

When Dean & Deluca hired the company to redesign the historic market house on M Street, a landmark piece was added not only to Georgetown’s growing pedigree, but also to CORE’s.

“That’s what really launched our retail and restaurant practices because, once it was built, we had immediate credibility,” said Dale Stewart, managing principal of CORE. “People said, ‘Well, if you can do Dean & Deluca, you can certainly do my retail.’”

That project lead to increasingly creative ventures in retail, restaurants and historic renovation and adaptation. Fast-forward to the practice’s 20th anniversary, and CORE has grown to hold one of the largest and most diverse resumes in the District.

Some of the company’s most recognizable projects include Mei n You, Ping Pong, Georgetown Cupcake and the Bank of Georgetown’s multiple locations, among others.

Located at 1010 Wisconsin, just a couple blocks away from Dean & Deluca, CORE’s office is a sleek, modern space conducive to the firm’s collaborative nature, one of the keys to its many achievements.

In the back room where all of CORE’s members can see them, idea boards are filled with pictures, fabrics and trinkets that will eventually grow to inspire the architecture and design of spaces across D.C.

“The great thing about us right now is that we have this diversity of projects and also this diversity of talent,” said Guy Martin, CORE principal. “We have people who will work on some place the like Sweetgreen for two weeks, then switch to an office building, then switch back.”

The practice consists of over 30 architects and designers. Many of those people will work on multiple projects simultaneously, and communication about projects is encouraged throughout the office.
“I think the culture of our office is very casual. We’re a very collaborative office so there’s not a lot of hierarchy,” said Allison Cooke, a senior designer at CORE. “We’re lucky to have a lot of people who are very talented but also very self motivated.”

Over the 17 years CORE has been located in Georgetown, it watched the community grow around it.

“Georgetown is still a very design-centered community. The sheer number of architects, interior designers, show rooms, furniture retail – it’s kind of marvelous,” Martin said.

“It’s definitely our home,” Stewart added.

For Martin, who joined CORE in 2007, moving to the firm was a true homecoming. He was raised here, and his father, now at the healthy age of 101, still resides in Georgetown. He remembers the replacement of biker bars with French bistros, the migration of antique dealers up and down Wisconsin, and the old storefronts of hardware and tack stores on M Street.

On many occasions, CORE aided that transformation. Sweetgreen, for instance, used to be a Hamburger Hamlet.
The projects Stewart, Martin and Cooke enjoyed most are those that tested them in their abilities and acted as catalysts for the expansion and growth of surrounding communities. Dean & Deluca was one example, along with the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street.

Their restaurants, retail stores and other venues draw people in, helping businesses grow their brand and communities profit.

The ultimate goal of the practice, according to Stewart and Martin, is to take on a project that will converge all of the firm’s talents in one building: a boutique hotel that they would build from the ground up.

Such a space would challenge their knowledge of the restaurant, hospitality and retail industry, it would draw on their experience building luxury apartments and hotels, and would stretch them further by combining them in ways they haven’t faced before.

The business itself, however, does not want to build up too far.

“We don’t ever want to get awfully, awfully big because I think the success of the firm rests on this collaborative effort,” Martin said. “You can’t do that with 100 people.” Stewart agreed, saying that he never wanted to grow so large that the principals couldn’t be involved in every project.

“I think that high level of quality,” Cooke added, “is something that we’ll stress overall.” [gallery ids="100518,119188,119180,119160,119173,119168" nav="thumbs"]

Long & Foster Celebrates 45 Years — and Wes Foster’s 80th Birthday

December 2, 2013

Over the last couple of weeks, Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc., the largest independent residential real estate company in the United States, has been celebrating 45 years in the real estate industry. Today, Nov. 25, it also celebrates co-founder Wes Foster’s 80th birthday.

Well known in Washington, D.C., and Georgetown. Long & Foster prides itself as a company that was “founded on the principles of integrity, innovation, honesty and good old-fashioned customer service—values it continues to support today.”
Here are some detailed from a company news release:

Long & Foster was founded in 1968 by P. Wesley (Wes) Foster, Jr., and Henry Long in a 600-square-foot office in Fairfax, Va. The company then comprised Foster, Long and one employee. It provided residential and commercial real estate services, selling about $3 million in volume in the first year. Since then, Long & Foster has grown to more than 11,500 agents and employees in seven states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, and it is now part of the Long & Foster Companies, which also includes Prosperity Mortgage Company, Long & Foster Insurance, Long & Foster Settlement Services, a corporate relocation services division and one of the largest property management firms in the United States. The companies’ combined sales for 2012 were in excess of $48 billion, about half of which resulted from the real estate business.

“From the time I started this company, our goals were to provide the best service possible to our real estate clients, create wonderful career opportunities for real estate professionals, and do better today than we did yesterday,” said Foster, chairman and CEO of the Long & Foster Companies. “It is with great pride that I can now say Long & Foster has been doing so for more than 45 years. It couldn’t have been done without the support of my family and the many real estate agents and employees who have worked so hard to make Long & Foster such a successful company.”

“We are thrilled to be celebrating 45 years of success at Long & Foster as well as Wes’s 80th birthday,” said Jeffrey S. Detwiler, president and chief operating officer of the Long & Foster Companies. “As a company, we’re greatly looking forward to continuing to provide top-notch real estate services and the total homeownership experience for clients across the Mid-Atlantic region for the next 45 years and beyond.”

See the March 13th Georgetowner for a profile of Wes Foster and his company Here

Life & Times In Real Estate: Wes Foster

November 25, 2013

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.
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New Condos in Georgetown

November 7, 2013

While future condominiums’ designs are debated, here are some in and around town that are selling now or are about to be.

1045 Wisconsin Ave.
Developer: EastBanc has broken ground
Expected Completion: mid-2014.
Units: 8
Unit Sizes: 3,000 to 4,000 sq. ft. at the site on the Misc.: ground level retail, a green roof and below-grade parking

2251 Wisconsin Ave.
Developer: Altus Realty, Chesapeake Realty Partners and Ellisdale Construction
Expected Completion: Late 2014
Units: 81
Unit Sizes: Unknown
Misc: The $39-million project will revamp the building occupied by the Washington Sports Club and Glover Park Hardware and put up a second building on what is now a parking lot.

Adams Mason House
Expected Completion: Late 2013
Units: 10
Misc: One, two and three-bedroom condos, as well as approximately 3,500 square feet of office or retail space.
1072 Thomas Jefferson St., NW.

Foxhall Ridge
Developer: Duball LLC, Buvermo Properties and Stanley Martin Companies LLC
Expected Completion: Complete
Units: 34
Unit Sizes: 2,100 – 3,500 sq. ft.
Misc: Townhomes, $1.5M – $1.9M

MacArthur Boulvard between Foxhall Road and Q Street, NW.
Key Bridge Exxon Site
Developer: EastBanc
Expected Completion: TBD
Units: 35
Unit Sizes: 1,800 – 2,200 sq. ft.
Misc: The five-story building will be 50 feet tall with 72,000 sq. ft. of building area.

3601 M St., NW.
The Montrose
Developer: Argos Group
Expected Completion: Late 2013
Unit Sizes: 1,300 to 2,500 sq. ft.
Misc. $969,000 to $2.6 million
3050 R St., NW.


November 6, 2013

As I wound my car up the long driveway at Langley Ordinary, my tires crunched against the loose gravel, kicking up a small cloud of dust into the sunlight. I pulled up beside a porch of whitewashed pine that wrapped around a sprawling colonial home with an adjacent outdoor living area, stone fireplaces, a guesthouse, a vegetable garden and a wide lawn that rolled down a hillside, scattered with neat stacks of salvaged antique lumber waiting to be used on future construction projects.

Built in 1842 as a drovers rest, Langley Ordinary sits just north of Key Bridge in McLean, Virginia, and over the past 150 years it has been used as everything from a public meeting house to a command post for a Civil War Union general. This historic property is not a typical company headquarters—but owner Doug DeLuca and his business partner Matt Bronczek are not typical company men. When they bought Langley Ordinary just over two years ago, it was in a state of near desolation. They set about repurposing the property as a palette for their ambitious vision for historic home renovation and construction. They wanted to do more than build beautiful houses—they wanted to create warm, livable and sustainably built modern homes with an eye toward our collective American heritage.

A third-generation builder who grew up in Northern Virginia, DeLuca founded his flagship venture Federal Stone and Brick in 2001, crafting functional outdoor living spaces for Washington homeowners. Before starting his business, he spent five years in New York City, working at the Rhinelander Mansion, Ralph Lauren’s flagship store on Madison Avenue.

DeLuca is quick to give credit to his time at Ralph Lauren, where he worked under Mary Randolph Carter, now Lauren’s senior vice president of advertising. A fellow Virginian, Carter had a tremendous influence on the young DeLuca, instilling in him the value of lifestyle over any other tenet in the home design industry.

“Above branding, above all else, she taught me that it all comes back to lifestyle—understanding how people live,” he says. “When she was rolling out Ralph Lauren Country, she came into the store and gave everyone a copy of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ to read over the weekend. She said that this was the way of life we are promoting.”

“It’s the idea of how you could ever be able to trust someone to design your kitchen if they don’t have an understanding of how to cook,” says Bronczek, who came onboard with Federal Company after working as a legislative correspondent on Capitol Hill and an account executive for FedEx.

DeLuca imagines himself in any space he is designing, and he has even been known to live in his unfinished houses during the construction phase to get a better understanding of how his clients will make use of it.

“This leaves open the opportunity to stay inspired during the construction process and face challenges and adjust details as they occur,” DeLuca says. The result, as exemplified by the Langley Ordinary estate, is a home built with the same love and attention that it will receive once it is inhabited.

As part of his design process, DeLuca makes a point to host dinners for clients in his home kitchen and theirs. “I went to Shabbat dinner with a Jewish family I was doing a kitchen for,” he says, “and it was eye-opening to see how a kosher kitchen is organized. Not only was I able to make a kitchen better suited to their needs, but it made me a better designer in the long run.”

His attention to beauty and function in kitchen design has not gone unnoticed. In 2007, he won a highly coveted award from Viking, the acclaimed American-made range and stovetop producers. He is now a featured designer for the company and is frequently retained to design Viking kitchens.

“Kitchens are particularly close to my heart because that’s where everything happens,” says DeLuca. “It’s the heart of a home—where you spend the most time with your family, cooking, telling stories and just building on your traditions. I was raised in the kitchen with my mom and grandmother—the recipes they taught me are still what I go back to when cooking with my clients. So, it’s important for me as a designer to make a distinction between a beautiful kitchen, and a beautiful functioning kitchen.”

DeLuca’s personal home has a unique feeling—a farmhouse atmosphere of historic Americana interwoven with highly textural and contemporary aesthetics, with zero molding and clean architectural lines. He has a tremendous reverence for light and functional space, reminiscent of the architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, if he were designing such traditional spaces. His interiors and exteriors are not designed separately, but as harmonious counterparts, and the results are among the most nuanced and fully realized living spaces imaginable. They are strikingly modern homes that pay homage to the history of American craftsmanship, becoming a part, if not the forefront, of its evolution.

While working in New York, DeLuca spent countless weekends rummaging through flea markets and swap meets, a source of frequent inspiration to which his superior Carter frequently turned to keep the rugged American branding of Ralph Lauren looking fresh and interesting. Taking that practice to the next level, DeLuca has made salvaging reclaimed building materials a major component of Federal Company.

“My free time is all about traveling now, because there is so much to see and find,” he says. “I blog about design, food, independent businesses that I find, and basically anything that interests me across the country. I will try to go relax and just hang out on the beach, but I honestly have more fun waking up, jumping in my car and finding three small, family-owned businesses. And if I can get them a couple orders, then I’ve developed an opportunity to get unique products for myself, I’ve gotten them some work and I have promoted American small business.”

Over the last decade of traveling, DeLuca has also amassed a community of some 90 pickers who act as his eyes and ears around the country to seek out rare building components, wood, stone and other salvageable materials that he purchases and employs for his unique style of home building. Recently, they helped him find a 200-year-old oak barn in Michigan, from which they reclaimed wide antique planks for use as walls and flooring in a home library renovation.

“This is who we want to work with, and this is the kind of work we want to do to help carry the torch of traditional American small business and specialty craftsmanship,” says Bronczek. “Salvage businesses and family-run supply companies are dwindling communities because we are so used to going to some big-box corporate hardware store and buying whatever they have available, as opposed to exploring other options—unique or custom options better suited for our homes.”

DeLuca’s multifaceted interests and all-inclusive home design services have given Federal Company something of a multiple-personality disorder (though in keeping with American style and design), which makes it difficult to sum up in one sentence. Reclaimed America, one of their ventures, was born from DeLuca’s journeys through the American countryside, where salvaged wood and materials that he finds are repurposed to create harvest tables and other custom products. Susan Sarandon recently became the first owner of their new line of clutch bags, made from repurposed wood handles and vintage leather.

Meanwhile, Federal Home is the moniker for the company’s interior and exterior home design, while Federal Stone and Brick covers their comprehensive landscape and outdoor living services. “Having these three distinct components to our business gives us the ability to provide a 360-degree approach to our projects,” he says. “We can provide consistent and holistic design, from the front walkway to the back porch, and all the way down to the paint and the rugs.”

When asked if there is anything that he does not do, DeLuca replies unblinkingly: “No.”

He is on the board of the Washington Animal Rescue League and West End Cinema. He frequently donates his time and services to a number of societies and organizations around the Washington area, including Georgetown University’s Lombardi Cancer Center. His most recent project is called Urban Orchard, which aims to plant fruit-producing orchards in inner city neighborhoods.
Speaking with DeLuca, however, his multidisciplinary approach to life and business seems to coalesce rather naturally, and even simply. For him, it really comes down to love: his love of people, service, nature, small businesses, community and American heritage. And that is the secret to his success.

“Creating a home betters your life, and that’s what is really important to us,” he says from across his desk at Langley Ordinary, which is cluttered with personal snapshots of clients whom he simply calls his friends.

“I want to build things with integrity and with solid materials for people that I care about. I want to make something new and sustainable that’s infused with history. That can’t be confined to a singular business plan. It’s a way of life, and one that people deserve.”

Most recently, DeLuca and Bronczek’s Reclaimed America was nominated for the Martha Stewart American Made Award, which celebrates the American designer. Reclaimed America placed second out of 478 companies in a nationwide competition.
“It was an amazing experience for us,” DeLuca says. “We had no marketing or budget, no production warehouse. We just had our small carriage house, our reclaimed wood and our passion. Along the way, I traveled throughout the East Coast, meeting some amazing people who gave me hope in the future of our country, which I think I was able to return. If you ask me, that is winning.” [gallery ids="101536,150041,150044,150023,150027,150032,150037" nav="thumbs"]

Bill Dean: Georgetown’s Budding Philanthropreneur

August 15, 2013

The Dodge Mansion on P Street, although elegantly and imaginatively renovated by architect Dale Overmyer, is very old. It has the look of old Georgetown history and wealth about it. It is the kind of house, manse, mansion that ends up on the Georgetown House Tour, which it has been.

On the other hand, Bill Dean—the businessman who lives here by himself except for his two bounding dogs, Shredder and Splinter—looks brand new, shot out of the 21st-century entrepreneurial cannon, full of energy and enthusiasm, insouciant in a contemporary way.

Add to another side of him, the word “philanthropreneur” for Dean’s work with non-profits. It’s an all-too-new descriptor that seems to fit the bill. (Seriously, look it up.)

Fresh from an early morning business meeting and scheduled to head out late morning to Pittsburgh for a presentation on trolley cars, Dean is armed with charm, an iPad and an iPhone and ready to seat for a mid-morning interview and photo shoot with the Georgetowner.

Why today? Dean has signed on with the Citizens Association of Georgetown to be a patron and head booster of its 2012 Georgetown Gala, Putting on the Glitz, scheduled for Oct. 26 at the Embassy of the Russian Federation. Such a celebration, which is the group’s main fundraiser, needs planners, volunteers and donors with money.

If you google Dean by name, a couple of things come up right away, almost like warring images, which have already attached themselves to his name and reputation. There’s the single guy about town, most eligible bachelor cool guy who throws terrific parties at his mansion. There, he has been captured photographically leading the revel in the company of stunning women or hanging out with best bud Michael Saylor, another single entrepreneur, author and guru of the digital-cum-communications age, whose book, “The Mobile Wave,” is getting big buzz in the digital brainiac culture and is on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Right next to the party and social reports is what you might call the other Bill Dean—the president and CEO of M.C. Dean, Inc., a big contract and big client technology and electronics communication outfit headquartered in Dulles, Va., which describes itself as “the nation’s expert electrical design-build and systems integration firm for complex, mission-critical organizations.” When interviewed by, a government contracting sector news site, it headlined its article on the Georgetown businessmen: “Bill Dean, CEO of M.C. Dean, on his passion for workforce development and more.”

Of course, the contrast and dichotomy are obvious. It’s only natural to bring it up: playboy and party-hearty with work force development, competing interests that don’t seem to jive. “Yeah, I get that all the time,” Dean says, like Bryce Harper watching a curve hanging over the center of the plate. “I mean, sure, I’m single. I like to enjoy life. You’ve sort of got to. So, yeah, I throw parties or go to parties, and they’re fun. But they’re usually about something, the community, Georgetown, a good cause. It’s not incompatible with what I do, who I am or what I care about. It’s part of who I am.”

Looking at the party pictures, one might come to some conclusions about Dean, and those would be wrong. In conversation, he’s easy to talk with, well met, with a regular guy kind of demeanor, dressed casually, short hair, goatee—and with his dogs. You relax almost instantly, forget the house you’re in and the fact that Dean runs a billion dollar company with offices all over the country and the world from Baton Rouge to Ukraine.
He’s not out to impress you. He’s out to engage you. Dean is a man in tune—like a tuning fork—with the times he lives, plays and most expressly works in. He has an almost gleeful curiosity, a passion for the electrical impacts on life and people of electronics and communications, the new and shape-shifting digital world.

M.C. Dean, Inc. has a lot on its plate: there’s the big contract with the new Walter Reed Hospital, there’s the company foray into robotics, there’s the new offices in Louisiana and Texas—and there’s what everything means.

“People still don’t realize how instant, how small, everything has become,” Dean says. “It changes everything in life, the connectivity. People want to be more and more connected with more and more people and the latest information. It’s in a pad, in a phone. I understand the idea of print media, but you can see how technology has changed everything. I did it for a while. We had a regular newspaper in Loudoun County, and I liked it. But it’s just not that pragmatic a thing to do.”

As conversation flows into talk of technology as a game changer and wherever that might lead, we talk about a 60 Minutes episode on Steve Jobs. At that point, Dean jumps up from the couch, grabs his iPad and flips it open. “It’s right here, that show, that segment,” he says, as he taps on a link. There it is, the 60 Minutes segment from the night before, Jobs on a screen. “See, it’s instant, and it’s permanent, all at the same time,” he says. It seemed elementary, that thought. And it’s a big thought, too. Part of it is as ordinary as saving a file, but another part of it is magic.

Talking with a master of multitasking, who can go in a heartbeat from playing with his two dogs to explaining the presence of the keyboards by a big living room window and a friend who co-wrote the musical, “Memphis,” to his feelings about community and neighborhood and a swift aside to the Roman emperor Hadrian. “Memoirs of Hadrian” is one of his eclectic collection in the downstairs library, along with original Wizard of Oz books and “In Cold Blood”—little things tend to stick out (at least, they do to me.) No doubt, Dean has a lot of books on his Kindle, but he appears to like the presence of books.

“That’s amazing,” Dean says of the Truman Capote book. “For him to go out there to Kansas, get what he got and pull it together, it’s an amazing book.”

Dean—William H., formally on the bio—is the third Dean to head M.C. Dean. The first and founding Dean was Marion Caleb Dean, a World War II U.S. Navy veteran who started out working as an electrician in the shipyards and turned the skills and spirit of adventure into a career in electronics and electrical engineering, founding the company, which soon became adept at riding the technology advances of the second half of the 20th century and working with the government, especially the Department of Defense.

Besides running the founder’s company, and adding significantly to its wealth and enterprises, Dean got something else from his grandfather: a sense of place and neighborhood, the importance of community and a desire to be a part of the greater community in a big way.

“He grew up in the old U Street neighborhoods of Washington, went to Central High School [now Cardozo],” he says of his grandfather. “He loved the area, the city, and that’s what I love about Washington. I grew up in the suburbs, and you didn’t really have neighborhoods, the sense of place that we have in the neighborhoods of Washington.”

Georgetown, as a neighborhood, obviously agrees with him. He’s totally involved and says, “I’ve helped with Rose Park. I was on the House Tour, and I’m doing the 2012 gala with the Citizens Association of Georgetown because it’s a great group with involved, smart people who think about the community and its future. I love the sense of the past you get here—and the sense of the future with new people and kids.”

One of the articles about Dean talks about him as a CEO who cares. The company’s founder did that, too, creating an electrical apprenticeship program which still exists. Dean himself believes firmly in adding to the community by way of his business. It’s one of those ongoing commitments where you get, give back and it comes around again. We’re talking about work force training and creation, getting involved in education, creating opportunities for young people in other parts of town which might not have them.

“Education is the key to everything,” Dean says. “There are a lot of jobs in electronics, tech, engineering. And, in fact, there’s often not enough people with the training to fill them. You look for young people and students, who might not have seen the opportunities in school—but have the math or science skills and the talent but not the training.”

Dean serves on the D.C. Workforce Investment Council and the Virginia Apprenticeship Council. He has donated money for the Loudoun County Katrina Relief Fund, to the Child Rescue Centre in Sierra Leone by way of helping Children Worldwide. He has worked with the D.C. Center for Therapeutic Recreation, helped with construction needs of School Without Walls and continues to be involved in the apprenticeship program founded by his grandfather.

No doubt, too, there will be more Fourth of July and Halloween parties.

“Do I want children and a family?” he asks. “Sure, sure. You have to know when the time is right and the person is right.”

Right now, Bill Dean seems to like being Bill Dean, forward-looking entrepreneur, CEO, thinker and reader, and tinkerer and thinker. In his way, he is a man of his time and the time that’s coming just around the corner.
The doorbell rings.

It’s a group of Georgetown realtors and business folks arriving for a photo shoot, including developer Herb Miller. Patrons and sponsors involved with the Citizens Association’s Georgetown Gala are heading to the pool area.

The doorbell rings again. Shredder barks. The phone rings. They’re waiting at the airport. And it’s not yet noon.

Sponsors, patrons and volunteers met a few weeks ago at Bill Dean’s P Street home to prepare for the upcoming 2012 Georgetown Gala — Putting on the Glitz — to be held Oct. 26 at the Russian Embassy on Wisconsin Avenue.

The gala is the main fundraising event for the Citizens Association of Georgetown, the nonprofit which protects and promotes the oldest neighborhood in Washington, D.C. And thanks to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and his wife Natalia, it will again be at their nation’s embassy up the avenue. The evening will honor Pamela and Richard Hinds as “Champions of Historic Preservation and Guardians of Georgetown Public Safety.”

Along with cocktails, buffet, a live auction (items include that house in France, apartment in Florence or spa in Mexico) and gaming tables, oh yes, there will be dancing. This time to the sounds of Big Ray and the Kool Kats. Cutting up with the movers and shakers, the evening’s fun always generates buzz, especially when it persuades the Mayor of Washington to dance with a boa and in the conga line.

Such an undertaking requires hefty support from residents, businesses and other planners and players around town. There are people to meet and money to match. Georgetown is blessed to have such a fellowship of givers, young and old, who always show up to help and are as tried and true as the day is long.

This year’s list of supporters and sponsors begins with three U.S. senators (Roy Blunt, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman) and their wives (Abigail, Teresa and Hadassah, respectively), a university president (Jack DeGioia of Georgetown), a chief of protocol (Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt), a techie CEO (Mark Ein) and master architect (Hugh Jacobsen). Impressive. All right, they are honorary chairs, who are nevertheless quite effective in helping with the invitations.

As for the really big sponsors, they include “Community Pillars,” namely, Long & Foster, Exclusive Affiliate of Christie’s International and Angelo, Gordon & Co. and Vornado Realty Trust (on behalf of the Shops at Georgetown Park).

Add to that patrons Nancy Taylor Bubes (Washington Fine Properties), Georgetown University, Jamestown Properties, the Levy Group, M.C. Dean, Inc., MRP Realty and Western Development Corporation.

Now, we’re cooking. But, wait, there’s more: Beasley Real Estate, Gregg Busch (First Savings Mortgage Corporation), EastBanc Technologies, LLC, Georgetown University Hospital, PNC Bank and Securitas Security Services USA, Inc.

There are even more involved, whether it is Clyde’s Restaurant Group, EagleBank or, even, this newspaper and its media group.

This year’s gala co-chairs include Nancy Taylor and Alan Bubes, Michele and Jack Evans and Patrice and Herb Miller, assisted by a slew of neighborhood friends and influencers. Stay tuned for updates in the few weeks ahead.

Party Activist Photo Credits below:
Front row: Herb Miller, board chairman and CEO, Western Development Corp.; Jennifer Altemus, president, the Citizens Association of Georgetown; Bill Dean, CEO, M.C. Dean, Inc.

Middle row: Stacy Berman, manager, Long & Foster Georgetown office; Nancy Taylor Bubes, Washington Fine Properties.

Back row: Jim Bell, founder and managing partner, Beasley Real Estate; Gregg Busch, loan officer, First Savings Mortgage; Paul Foster, senior vice president and regional manager, Long & Foster Real Estate. [gallery ids="102471,120617,120608,120605" nav="thumbs"]

The Beauty is in the Details, The Architecture of Gil Schafer

June 18, 2013

“We live differently today in terms of lifestyle, what people do, family arrangements, than in the past.”

We were talking with the highly in-demand architect Gil Schafer III about “The Great American House,” his Rizzoli published book, subtitled “Tradition for the Way We Live Now.” It is sumptuously beau¬tiful, demonstrating his philosophy and penchant for creating, restoring and building homes and structures right on the spot where history walks through the door, hand in hand with the contem¬porary and with an eye toward the future.

He was driving toward upstate New York at the time, and the tone was conversational and philosophical. From a man who has collected numerous awards and attention for his work after over 20 years as an architect, his journey to suc¬cess seemed almost pre-determined, if only for the fact that he comes from three generations of architects, plus “my parents (who were not archi¬tects) were always building stuff, making things. so I can say I came by my lot naturally.”

But there was more to it than that: the book and the vocation comes from living in numer¬ous places in different parts of the country. “My grandmother had a dark old house in Cleveland, where my brother and I spent time that I still cher¬ish,” he says. “I lived on a farm upstate New York in the Hudson River Valley and also spent a time in California by the beach.”

You can find much of this reflected in the kinds of projects his firm takes on from small things like stables or sheds, to large houses in the country or renovated apartments in Greenwich Village, to island homes. You can see all of this too, and especially in the dramatic, revealing photographs in the book, which give you a seri¬ous case of the wants and desires. While devoid of people, it seems full of a kind of dossier about people, information about the emotional and his¬torical environment in which people want to live.

When he talks, or if you read about his lec¬tures or the commentary and essays in the book, or the content of interviews in major like magazines like “Veranda,” “Town and Country” or “Manner of Man,” as well as the Architectural Digest or the New York Times, some common themes can be found. They arch around the ideas that arise from the tensions that exist naturally (in art as well as in architecture) between tradition and the modern, the historical and the contemporary. Not surprisingly, he has a reputation for being a stylish dresser. Details, those lying in the framework of the big ideas, matter.

He handles the language of architecture and expands it by mixing it with the familiar you’ll find lots of common usage architectural terms in the text and commentary of the book. But the writ¬ing maintains a conversational tone, inviting the reader in much the same way that he talks about such things. For the uninitiated or inexpert, this makes his work and ideas accessible not only to his clients but also to the casual visitor.

“You have to think about how people live today,” he says. “We live differently today in terms of lifestyle, what people do, family arrange¬ments, than in the past. When you’re renovating a large house, for instance, you can see certain spaces the small kitchens, the spaces where the butlers and servants worked, that kind of thing, which are either larger today, or don’t even exist anymore. We live differently today, but we can’t dismiss the attraction and endur¬ance of the past.”

Put another way, what we try to, he said and it’s also one of the themes of the book is to “retain the well-loved proportions, details and character of a traditional house while balancing holistically with the needs of our twenty-first century lifestyle.” He also writes about the “interior architecture and the fabrics, furniture and wall treatments, and how “the landscape surrounding the home must relate to its overall design”

“The Great American House” is Schafer’s first book, although in terms of the writing (with Mark Kristal) it doesn’t feel that way. It is about architecture, by a noted architect, to be sure, but it never seems so technical as to escape the boundaries, energy, and rhythms of daily life. This is perhaps the point.

The book is structured around three ideas and themes, with four projects and homes serving as dramatic, astonishingly beautiful profiles and illustrations of the themes. In the book, the cornerstones of a great traditional house are architecture, landscape and decoration.

One of the profiles includes Schafer’s home in the Hudson Valley, a bucolic, artistically historic setting, as well as the process involved in the design of a “new” farming estate for a young family, the renovation of a historic home in Nashville, originally designed by Charles Platt, and the restoration of an 1843 mansion in Charleston, South Carolina.

Home is where the heart is, but also where the heart was it’s about bringing the past forward, letting it breathe in the here and now, renewing itself in new atmospheres.

When he talks about his grandmother’s house, he talks in some detail how it felt at night, the land, the light, the way he could travel easily around the house as a boy and the dramatic fact that the house was pink. “It was pink,” he said. “It stood out. It had that vivid color. It was a wonderful thing to see.”

In the book, the writer remembers more. “At Melrose, there were all sorts of charm at work. The old horseshoe over the front door placed there for luck, an intriguing doorknob with the face of a man on it, a beat-up bronze bucket, overflowing with cut branches, an old leather satchel with the name Melrose on it filled daily with mail.”

These memories are inspirations for Schafer, because, as he says, “They inspired me to enter the family trade, so to speak.”

But they also find their way into the proj¬ects of his firms, his collaborations, his focus on how his clients live, what they want, and their taste in objects. The motto of his firm, G.P. Schafer Architect, PLLC, is “Creating places that enhance the enjoyment of life.” That’s probably an oversimplification, because the beauty is in the details.

In the book, you can find the details in Schafer’s accessible essays and writing style, as well as in the photographs. Schafer loves not just furniture, but furnishings, those extra details that are tactile in nature: the color of burnished wood, brass knobs, light and lamps. It’s all there in a full-page photograph of the doors on his Greewich Village apartment, fea¬turing brass rim locks with cobalt glass knobs and traditional wood graining. This description doesn’t encompass the feeling that this photo¬graph like almost all of the photographs in the book give off. That sun-baked deep brown stain of the door, the key in the look, the gold of the latches. The frame is a portrait not just of something but of someone.

There are some things you might remem¬ber from the photographs, even though you have never seen them. You remember rooms opening to the sun, thin chairs with decorated cushions, ceiling fans, staircases that make you a little dizzy with their elegance, a Greek bust in a bathroom, plush easy chairs, flowers, a ladder for a book case, gates overrun with ivy, well-worn but orderly books. With Schafer’s designs, you never feel as though you are step¬ping into a museum. You can sense that people live here, come up the driveway through the gate, stride through the rooms, open an elon¬gated, white-framed window and look out at an American landscape.

It is thus natural that Schafer should be who he is: his whole life revolves around his design, his collaborations, his office, the apartment, the Hudson home, the current and ongoing proj¬ects. He is one of those people blessed by doing what he loves. “It’s funny,” he says. “This is not just my work. It’s what I do, period. It’s all the travel, the buying, the scouting, the antiquing, of course, but the end results are the homes, and the best thing is working with the clients.”

When you listen to Schafer who studied at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges and has a master’s degree in architecture from Yale, where he received the H.I. Feldman Prize, you realize he is talking about his own memories, homes he’s lived in and been a part of. They are at his fingertips, and the ideas make them tingle. He is a good memory keeper for himself and others. As he writes, “If a house is going to feel like a home, it has to create opportunities for memories, even in the small¬est moments of life.”
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