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Photos by Michael Wichita
Doug Johnson, a chief information officer, and Brett Copeland, an architect, live in what could easily pass for an annex of the Smithsonian Institution. Their century-old home contains, among other things, a silver vault, original toilets and bathtubs, and a gallery’s worth of original classical paintings.
BRETT [In master bedroom]: There are nine fireplaces, eight bedrooms and seven bathrooms. We haven’t used all of the bedrooms yet. In fact, there are two rooms of the house that I had never even been in until about three weeks ago. We can have the top floor to ourselves and just use the second floor for guests. We get lots of guests.
DOUG: At one point about fifteen years ago it was going to be turned into a bed and breakfast, but that failed.
Windows to the past and present: Paintings hang from walls
throughout the mansion (left), while elaborte window treatments
frame the neighborhood view (right).
BRETT: So we’ll make the top floor into sort of a master suite, make one of these bedrooms a master bathroom and turn the smaller bedroom into a walk-in closet.
DOUG: A dressing room, almost. There are sixty windows total.
|A house preserved: Johnson and Copeland wanted — and found — a house untouched by renovations and modernizations.|
BRETT: And most are southern exposure. The other unusual thing about the house is that every floor has ten-foot ceilings. Usually, the ground floor is ten feet and the others are nine.
DOUG: Schneider designed it. Not the Schneider who designed the Cairo. His cousin or his brother. There was a whole family of Schneiders in Washington.
BRETT [In kitchen]: Previous owners since then have maintained the house very well. They didn’t do anything we’d want to undo.
DOUG: And that’s what we wanted. We didn’t want anything where someone else had already renovated everything. It’s still got all of the original speaking tubes that were used by the servants. You’d just holler through them. All the bathrooms still have their call buttons. And all the floors have laundry chutes, which I love.
BRETT [In hallway]: And all of the doors still have their transoms, and for the most part they all work. They provided ventilation to the rooms so you could have your door closed and still get air. Everything works because nothing’s been changed.
DOUG [On roof]: Though we’re thinking of putting balconies with a staircase off the back of the house. We don’t want to have to cut through this roof for roof access. You can see our turret up here. Turrets were a way of making your house look taller. That was the only reason for having them. It was a prestige thing. But we’re not high enough to see the monument. It’s blocked by the Wardman next door.
BRETT: Our house in Virginia was on two acres and it was kind of a ranch style, so we’ve gone from horizontal to vertical. My legs were so tired the first few months we were here from climbing the stairs.
DOUG [In living room]: Brett and I collect paintings. He likes landscapes and I like portraits and religious scenes.
BRETT: These are portraits of the parents of Mrs. Willard, the wife of the Willard who bought the land where the Willard Hotel is and who started it.
DOUG: He was fifty and she was nineteen when they married.
BRETT: Apparently, their daughter was a spy for the Confederacy. Willard was in the Union and imprisoned her until the war was over, and then married her. It’s kind of funny, because we live on the corner of Willard Street.
All Jeff Zimmer needs in life is a little glass, a kiln and some fatal-if-swallowed chemical compounds. His 17th Street efficiency is not only his home, but his space for creative articulation. He shares it with two feline roommates, Tom Boy and Scout.
JEFF [In living room/bedroom]: The Murphy bed was inspired by my friend Chad. When I lived with my first lover, we had a double bed. But then my second lover needed a queen. He was five-foot-three. I have no idea why someone that short would need a queen. So I had to get rid of my double when I moved in with him and get a queen instead. I got pretty good at my Elvis swivel trying to get around the thing. So now I have the Murphy, which is great. I have this idea for a photograph of myself holding the [half-reclined] bed on my back, like Atlas.
This is one of the few pet-friendly buildings around here. The only requirement is that you leave your door open and allow your pets to socialize with the pets of other residents. There’s my cat, Tom Boy. The other one, Scout, is probably hiding. When I got them, Tom Boy came with the name Wags, which was horrible, and Scout was Chloe. I prefer gender-ambiguous names. They were adopted from Pets-DC [an organization that cares for the pets of people living with AIDS]. They can’t get enough of the fish. There used to be more fish, but recently they seem to have conducted a die-in. Sometimes they just sort of disappear from the tank.
[In kitchen] Most of this kitchen is still probably pretty original. Whoever lived here never replaced anything. The cabinets are probably from the Teens, and the toilet in the bathroom is original. It’s one of those fun kinds without the tank, so you don’t have to wait for it to refill. I guess they built them to last back then.
It’s a good space to work in. I guess you could technically call what I do “stained glass,” but I usually try not to call it that because that makes people think of pretty things like churches and transom windows. People will say to me, “Oh, I’ve got this bathroom with this great window, but I don’t want people to be able to look in. Could you make some sort of stained glass design for my window?” No. Unless what you’re looking for is depictions of isolation, pain and screaming heads. I’m big on screaming heads. If you want screaming heads in your bathroom, I’d be happy to help you out. But most people don’t want screaming heads.
It’s called flash glass because this clear layer of glass on top is flash-fused to a layer of color. I have a sand blaster in the basement and you can do all sorts of things with that. This building is so cool. The basement has artist studios, free bike rooms, and a meeting-slash-party room. It’s all for the residents, all under lock and key. It’s a selling point that the building uses. “Artists, come use our studios!” There’s also a nude sunbathing deck on the roof.
But in the apartment, I work in the kitchen. All my stuff just kind of fit right in here. The kiln is on top of the fridge. The only reason this may be a bad idea is because the materials I use are highly toxic. I’m dealing with Chromeon and lead and all of these things that are really, really bad for you. And of course it all comes in powdered form. I have a feeling I’m going to regret it when I’m sixty and all my blood suddenly coagulates.
Adam Kinsinger is just pulling dinner out of the oven — a pizza steaming with homemade dough, feta cheese, Roma tomatoes, chopped artichoke heart and extra virgin olive oil — when his roommate, Caitlin Connolly, breezes in the door, exactly on time.
ADAM [In living room]: We were fantasizing at the time. Sitting around on a Sunday morning, isolated in the ghetto, contemplating what it would be like to live with the rest of civilization. Caitlin found this place. There were other people who wanted it. We said, “We’ll write you a check right now.” It wasn’t going to clear, but we had 48 hours to get enough money into the account.
CAITLIN: In the meantime, we looked at lots of places that were horrible and scary and overpriced.
ADAM: This one place on 19th and Florida that was more expensive than ours had a sink like you’d find in a ceramics class, with the long, bent faucet and crust all over the sides. It was an industrial sink. They were like, “Can you move in right away?” It was right across from the Hinckley Hilton.
CAITLIN: We moved here from a huge house, so we had tons of furniture. We’re big fans of refurbished furniture. My favorite thing about the apartment is the bookshelf.
ADAM: We built it.
CAITLIN: He’s a little more butch than he lets on.
ADAM: It’s actually very easy. We thought we’d be saving money by building it, but lumber is so expensive. And we installed the light fixture.
[In kitchen] When we moved in, the apartment had this circa 1950 ugly light fixture, so we put in this circa 2002 IKEA light fixture. I think IKEA is fine. If you need furniture and you want nice things, it’s fine. Some people define their identity in different ways.
CAITLIN: And we’re not here much, but that’s kind of nice because then you appreciate it more when you’re home.
ADAM: Yeah. Finding a good roommate is hard. You don’t want to be sleeping with your roommate. Sex becomes a weapon. It’s hard to find someone who you enjoy living with and who you’re not sleeping with. We get along really well.
CAITLIN: Adam is a great chef.
ADAM: I love the kitchen. You can be social and productive at the same time.
CAITLIN: I think one of our neighbors is a chef too, at Equinox.
ADAM: Yeah, he wants to have one of those Around The World parties. Tequila in the Mexican room, vodka in the Russian roomÂ…
CAITLIN: I think D.C. attracts people who are interested in locations. The type of person who wants to live in L.A. and then live in Chicago and so on. I’ve been here for six years and there are a thousand different places I want to live, but D.C. is just so great.
ADAM: It’s really comfortable. D.C. is like that moment after the alarm’s gone off and you hit the snooze, and you’re awake but you don’t want to get out of bed. You know you have to move but you’re just so comfortable where you are.
CAITLIN: And you have to put this in the article: I know that if you drive up Fifteenth Street at exactly thirty miles per hour, you don’t have to brake at any of the lights. You think to yourself, I can do this and that Joe with Connecticut plates has no idea. It’s this insider thing that I know, and I think to myself, do I want to share this with anyone?
Sue Olsen, a computer consultant for the Department of Health and Human Services, lives with a dog named Charlie and an apparition that wanders the basement while singing quietly. Sue’s friend, Brandi Hunnicutt, has stopped by for a visit.
SUE [In master bedroom]: Every housemate that I’ve had, including me, thinks that this house is haunted. My first housemate used to see a woman coming down the stairs out of the corner of her eye, but when she’d turn to look, the woman would be gone. And Brandi and I came home one night and the kitchen smelled like baking bread. We both smelled it, really strong. Brandi thought I was baking bread. Like I could. So she takes two glasses out of the cupboard and turns around to get some ice, and when she turns back to the glasses they’re both gone.
BRANDI: They were right back in the cupboard where I got them from.
SUE: And she was like, why do you think they’re back in the cupboard? And I was like, isn’t it obvious? She’s baking bread and you’re in her way. Brandi has dreams about her all the time.
BRANDI: I think she’s an older black woman. I have this dream about her coming into the bedroom, this older black woman with freckles on her face and something over her head. I follow her downstairs. She’s humming this old, slow, soulful tune. She goes into the basement. The door is cracked open and there’s a red light coming from down there, and I hear a woman giving birth, a baby crying.
SUE: One of the landscapers who lives around here, he’s like eighty-five-years-old. He used to do this house and he said that a dentist originally built it and had his practice here. I’m guessing that it was around 1920. Apparently they were somehow connected to the affluent black world. He says their kids were friends with the Mandelas and the Nassers.
[In kitchen] You’ll notice that the whole house is lime green except for the rooms I’ve painted. We painted the dining room and a couple of rooms upstairs, but then we stopped because it was so much work. I think I’m only going to be here through August or September. I’ve decided that I want to own my own place, but I want this place to somehow remain in the family. I started out living in a group house after college, but now I live alone here. This is not the safest neighborhood. My garage was broken into this morning for the second time. I don’t like living alone. Especially with this big house, I wish I had a housemate. So I have people over a lot, have parties. Sometimes people just crash here for the night.
[In living room]: I’ve lived here for six years. About two years ago, I decided I wanted to get babes, but I had never dated women before. My friend Stephanie and I, we were in the same boat. We’d go out on the town, check out the scene, but it’s hard if you don’t know anyone. So we decided to have a party and we called it The 5th Annual Estrogenfest. We put up flyers all over town. We put them at the Phase, at Chaos. We had this one friend doing promo. She was running around saying to people, “Don’t you remember last year’s party? You gotta go! If you missed it, you gotta go!” We ended up getting like sixty women in this house and we didn’t know any of them. We set up the basement as a dance floor, and we had a hot buns contest out of a second-story window. Girls hanging their asses out! I told my neighbors it was a sorority party.
I got asked out as a result of the party. I was petrified to go on a date. That was two years ago. Since then we’ve had The 6th Annual Estrogenfest. One of our neighbors called the police on that one. The cops showed up and wanted to help in the biggest way.
Chad Sandhas is a Talent Relations Coordinator for National Geographic. He would like to thank his parents for instilling in him the sense of fiscal solvency that allowed him to purchase this co-op, which has a rental rate-comparable mortgage.
CHAD: The Murphy bed was the big draw, especially since my place isn’t huge. It was renovated in ’95 and actually appeared on the Dupont House Tour at one point in the mid-nineties. A couple of lesbians did the renovations, which, personally, I think is fabulous. It’s got such a hunting lodge feel, with all of the dark wood and muted colors. It feels masculine.
I read the column you did a few weeks ago, with the guy who didn’t want to have too much IKEA furniture. Personally, I love the IKEA thing. I think it’s brilliant. It’s one-stop shopping. As a first-time homeowner, to be able to go to one place and spend a thousand bucks and get just about everything I need is fabulous. These chairs cost fourteen bucks. It’s like, get eight of them! I got a two-top table that, if need be, can become a four-top table. All of my kitchenware is from there. About the only thing that isn’t is the couch. That’s from Value City.
I got the place for $105K. I’m not afraid to put that out there. It was the December after September 11th and the market had softened a lot. It was just good timing. There was no bidding war. In one year’s difference, I couldn’t have afforded 17th Street. I know the units that are smaller than mine are going for 125 or 130 now. Some people who live here assume that I don’t just because of the expense. Once I was smoking a cigarette on the bench outside and one of the residents complained to the building manager that some guy was loitering out front.
I sold my stocks to buy this. My father worked for Proctor & Gamble for the majority of his adult life. We were raised on Ivory soap and Jif peanut butter and taught very early to put money into savings. So I used to cut grass in the summers and use the money to buy stocks, which was fairly geeky, and I ended up selling most of it to buy this place. Now I only have stock in one company — P&G. I’m on a horrific budget. I recently sat down and figured out how much money I can spend per day. It came out to four dollars and ninety cents. Not even enough for a latte. Not the size I want, anyway.
So I’ve become a bargain shopper. There are two kinds of bargain shoppers. There’s the kind that gets the shirt at the thrift store and then acts like they paid full price for it, and then there’s the kind who gets complimented on the shirt and immediately tells you that they got it for thirty-five cents.
I wish I had more money. I would love to walk into a store like Reincarnations and do a whole house from the stuff that they sell there, but that will never happen. I schedule talent for National Geographic’s Ultimate Explorer television series. Explorer is a series that’s on MSNBC now, and Ultimate Explorer will be the new version of that show. Lisa Ling is the host. I’m basically her assistant. I’ve learned quite a bit about Ms. Ling. She grew up in L.A. and started out on a teen variety show called Scratch. Then she went to Channel One, a news program broadcast to high schools, where she became senior war correspondent. And then she had a good run on The View. That show did great things for her. She’s a very strong woman, very focused on being a force on television. She won’t let that get away from her. She’s got an edge, which is why she survived on The View. I think that’s the kind of attitude you’ve got to have.