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Photography by Todd Franson
Finally, an Iowa you actually would want to live in. A 3 BR, 2 1/2 BA condo with a professional kitchen rounds out the illustrious Iowa building in Logan Circle. Includes more rope lighting than you can shake a stick at and a stove to die for.
After twelve months of renovations, the addition of a dream kitchen, and a could-be-infamous smoking purse Paul Brazitis, a systems analyst, and his partner David Kerstetter thought they had exorcized all their creative spirits. But a mist of red paint got in the way.
Paul: The Iowa Tower Building was built by Thomas Snyder, who designed the Smithsonian Castle. This area was burned during the riots after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The condos are twenty-five years old. Instead of putting another high-rise in, the neighborhood forced [the Iowa developers] to do something [more like town homes, in a semi circle in back of the main Iowa Tower], and that’s how we got the courtyard. It was our little compound during the dangerous days, when we had drug dealers and prostitutes out front, but all that is gone.
David: [In the living room] The wall was done using a technique I used on a job about four or five years ago. It’s three different colors using glazing techniques and ragging. Basically what you do is go down with the first coat, which is the lightest, and build on top of it. It creates almost like a watermarked affect. Then I made a hand stencil for the Greek key, which was only three repetitions at a time so I had to take it and go around with the stencil each time. That was all done by hand. It took about what five days.
Paul: We have a smoking purse [hanging in the corner] from a priest friend of ours. We believe the priest that did the real exorcism out in Maryland could have used it. Our priest friend was at this church after the exorcism and the purse was just lying around the basement, so we ended up with it.
[In the hallway] David ran into a guy who was going to just toss [this cabinet] out. So David took it, took the back off, added glass for the back and glass shelves and put lights on the bottom. He’s very much into rope lights.
[In the master bedroom] We decided we could afford to go ahead and do crown molding. Of course David can’t just do crown molding. He had to do a crackle [finish] and drop it down so he could have rope lighting, on a dimmer, going all the way around.
David: [In the dining room] My great-great-grandmother from Austria brought this china set over from Vienna. It’s actually pre-turn-of-the-century. It’s probably 1880s, 1890s, somewhere around there. We are lucky enough to still have place settings. We entertain with it.
Paul: [Laughs] He won’t let me put it in the dishwasher though.
[In the kitchen] This is a refrigerator from hell. As it turns out my contractor had to take the door, the frame, and the trim above it off to finally get the refrigerator in. In the process they smashed the top, which I had to replace, and smashed the side panel, which I had to replace.
David: Tell them about good things, not bad things.
Paul: I’m getting to them. Of course, there’s the fifteen thousand dollar Viking stove. I’ve got a degree in hotel restaurant management. It’s always been my dream to have my own restaurant, so until I can I’m settling for this. We choose metallic tile [on the wall] because we wanted something different. I always wanted to put a tin ceiling up, so I just added that in later to match the tiling. David is experimenting with blues [on the wall]. I don’t know how he mixed it up or what’s in there. I try to keep [David] from going too crazy.
We didn’t consider having the inside of this [cabinet] stained — it was this ugly blonde wood inside. One day, I was in the other room painting and all the sudden there was this red mist through the entire house. David was [staining] this cabinet. All the new hardwood floors had red on them, the animals had red on them, we had red on us. That was one thing I should have put my foot down and said, “No!”
To the manor born – historic guest cottage in Chevy Chase now permanent 3 BR, 1 1/2 BA home for 2 GWM who happily brave fixer-upper challenges to enjoy glowing suburban sunsets.
Photos by Todd Franson
With high hopes, artist and window designer Roger Preston and retail manager Jeffrey Kengerski moved out of the District and into greener pastures, where outdated plumbing and leaky ceilings made for unexpected expenditures. Luckily, they’re getting their money’s worth.
Jeffery: There was a lot that needed to be done and hadn’t been done in the house itself. The original house was built in 1911 as a guest cottage to a manor house that sits in the middle of the neighborhood. The manor house was dated around 1600, but it burned and was rebuilt in 1870. In 1940 a couple bought it and then renovated it, so it really hadn’t been updated since the ’40s. The husband died in the 1950s, so she was left here on her own. Her last car was a ’68 Ford Galaxy 500 — the neighbors remember her driving it even in the nineties. She would get that heavy garage door up on her own and back the car our. Very determined woman.
Roger: [In the foyer] This antler collection is a new addition. I collect all kinds of bizarre things; I just find them interesting. I think we wanted them after we saw them in English magazines where they had thousands of them all over these castles. I thought, “Those are pretty cool.” Jeffrey’s father lives in Montana, so when he visited there last time his father just happened to have a lot of antlers in his garage. I don’t really believe in killing deer — I’d hate to say that these were killed for the antlers. But they weren’t naturally shed — I can tell because some are still attached to the skull.
[In the dining room] We bought the dining table in a small town out in Virginia. It didn’t even have a top on it when we got it. Now the surface is wallpaper that I just faux-finished. It’s supposed to look like leather, but it doesn’t wear that way. Even though I put tons of varnish on it I have to continuously go back and retouch it.
Jeffrey: We like to entertain with parties, and usually every year we throw a Halloween party. We try to do it yearly, although we missed last year because we went to Paris unexpectedly. It’s pretty over the top. We’re trying to scale it back this year so it’s not so exhausting, but putting up all the decorations is fun.
Roger: It’s the taking them down afterwards that’s so exhausting.
[In the bedroom] This is a small room that has this L-shaped window in the corner. That made it awkward to place the bed. We solved that by coming up with this curtain and placing it behind the bed, making the room more balanced.
I made the wood panels for this screen. The wood was a prop when I was doing a table setting for a show house. I faux-finished it as a rare, art deco wood with silver leaf on top of it. And those are pictures of my grandparents. I don’t know what year it was but they were at the beach. It’s kind of campy.
This is our second home. We renovated our first one, but that was much easier. That was mostly cosmetic. This one was harder because it needed a lot more work than we anticipated. This one has real issues. [Laughs] Some of the things you don’t see swallow up your money. We initially came in thinking, “We have all this money from selling the old house, we can do it all.” All the sudden it disappears into the walls, like the plumbing or the electricity or fixing the roof leak.
Jeffrey: It’s really beautiful when the sun is setting about six o’clock at night you get this beautiful orange glow shining in the house. And we have deer around here.
Roger: And they’re eating the shrubs you just planted. That’s when I could think about killing a deer.
Does your house, condo or apartment have a story to tell? Let Environs know about it. E-mail us at email@example.com.
Photos by Todd Franson
From crack house to Townhouse — This once run-down 2BR, 2 1/2 BA home in Shaw has found new life in the hands of a GWM couple and two spoiled dogs. Visitors expect to be spoiled too — and don’t miss your chance to play Evita.
On January 1, 1999, a run-down boarding house made news as the site of a drug-related double-homicide. A couple of years later developer Gerry Coates and his partner Matthew Thompson decided they would look past the house’s history and make the space their own. After years of renovations, lots of red tape, and the collapse — and rebuilding — of the rear addition, they finally have their home.
Gerry: When I first saw [the house], it was nothing. There were no windows, the grass was overgrown, there was a cinder block wall out front, the door was broken in. Then it had a twenty-foot deck off the back. It was sitting on these little two-by-twos, and there wasn’t a door so you had to walk out the window to get to it. [I thought] this is crazy, who did all this? That was prior to the homicides. No one was living here.
[In the kitchen] Matt likes to cook for me, and I like to eat. I like pork chops — that’s the other white meat [laughs]. I love chicken, green beans, collard greens, stuff like that. I just like to mix it up. I don’t eat a lot of carbohydrates. I just love meat and vegetables and water. That was one of the reasons I had to have a refrigerator with a dispenser so I didn’t have to keep opening it. I drink water non-stop.
[In the guest bedroom] I’m a southern boy so the guests get treated well. I’ve had this art deco armoire for probably twenty years or more. I got it from the Eastern Market and it’s stayed with me. It has been stripped — it was white — and varnished. It’s cedar lined, so no mothballs. I just love it. My cousin wants it, and every year she says, “Aren’t you tired of that? Are you ready to trade it?”
This is my Evita balcony. It’s just wonderful. I didn’t need all the space of a deck. What am I going to do out here, look at cars? It’s good to just to be able to open the door.
[In the master bath] I’m a stone freak. I like the permanency of it, the way it looks. When you go in a hotel what do you have? Stone. I like a little rougher looking — I don’t like the shiny look.
Two showers, two sinks, two boys. The funny thing is, Matt always uses the guest bathroom. He actually needs his space. He has a whole dresser for his cosmetics [laughs]. He uses it all. I love people who take care of themselves. You take care of yourself, I’m your best friend. You don’t take care of yourself, then go. [laughs]
[In the master bedroom] Matt likes to take care of things. Not only does he cook for me, he takes care of the dogs. I don’t take care of them [laughs]. The dogs sleep on the bed. I would prefer that they sleep on the floor, but compromise rules the day. Mathew likes them in the bed so they sleep in the bed. They’re spoiled that way. When Matt gets up — he gets up first — the dogs go with him. He feeds them and then takes them for a walk. When they come back the little one, Yoshi, comes up and waits for me to wake up. He’s sweet that way. Matt got them both from the shelter, and they’re very attached to him. They think he’s the mommy and I’m the disciplinarian.
[In the dining room] The lion pieces are there because I’m a Leo. My birthday is the same as Madonna, August 16. I call her up every year, and sometimes she calls me first just to say, “Hey.” [laughs] I just pick up lions anywhere I can find them. I like little lions and everything else I bought is] to complement the lions. The Buddha statues are Matt’s. He’s into Feng Shui and alternative sources of relaxing. I work out to relax and I’m just a happy person. He’s more of a cerebral person than I am — I’m definitely more physical. That’s why we last. We come together and live in this home. We have separate lives and we have lives together. It works.
Photography by Todd Franson
Idle hands are the gay man’s plaything, and you’ll find them all over this 3BR, 2BA three-story townhouse on Capitol Hill, home to a small businessman, a painter, and a friendly-but-storm-averse dog. And in this friendly, diverse neighborhood, you’re in good hands.
When Bill Holleman first moved into his Capitol Hill house he thought he had more than enough space. Twenty years later, his household now holds a small business, a prized pooch, and his partner of five years, Brendan Wallace. And while the space may feel a little cozier, that seems to suit everyone just fine.
Bill: I actually rented [this house] for $600 a month for five years before I bought it. I’ve lived in Washington for thirty years now, always lived on the Hill. This neighborhood has evolved. It’s gone from being about 85 percent black when I moved here, to 60 percent white, and back again. Throughout the whole time, it’s been very friendly. I like the gay and straight mix, I like the black and white mix.
[In the garden] The painting I had done by a Capitol Hill artist named Bob Tolar. He has done some professional work for me and I asked him one day if he could do something for the garden. He liked this wall a lot, so we came up with the idea of the hands breaking through and lighting the candles. I’ve always liked hands. They can be very demonstrative of what a person is like, the way you use your hands. I think I have a couple hundred [hand items] total, everything from little molds of babies hands for dolls to 17th-century Italian carved hands from statues. They’re all over the place.
[In the living room] The rooms are smaller because of this central core [staircase], but it does still feel big. It helps my claustrophobia. Over the fireplace is a Japanese Tea Ceremony house door. They are intentionally made small and low so you have to be reverent when you walk in — you have to bow. I love looking at the fireplace and the door over it. That door is a subtle, beautiful, restrained piece of art and it has function too. I like art that has function. That’s one reason I like architect-designed furniture so much. A lot of the things that we have in the house are designed by architects because they look good and they work well. I think things should do both.
[In the kitchen] The kitchen is a disaster thanks to the dog. And as long as I have this dog, I probably won’t redo it. He’s deathly afraid of storms. He tries to get into small spaces when a storm comes, so he’s clawed and destroyed the cabinets in here. There’s a lock on the refrigerator because the dog can open it. He’s very sweet, as most Weimaraners are, but he’s very demanding. [Dog barks.] And he knows when he’s being talked about.
[In the bedroom] Here’s a painting that Brendan did [of me]. The biggest fight we ever had was over that, because I had to pose for it for a long time. I don’t mind being nude, but I said to him “The one thing you can’t do is embellish the package.” So at the first sitting he had sketched everything out and I came around and looked at it and said, “Brendan, what discussion did we just have?” He said, “Lay back down.” And I said let’s do it another day. He said, “No, lay back down.” So I laid back down for two more hours. Sure enough, it was more modest, but the genitals were bright blue. I said, “The size is okay, but I thought we didn’t want that to be the focus of the painting.” So in the next [version], things came somewhere within the realm of believability.
Brendan and I have been together about five years. He moved in about a year and a half ago and bit by bit has been putting his thumbprint in various places as well. It’s funny that my neighbors used to say, “How can you live in that big house by yourself?” I lived in it and filled it very easily, so accommodating another person has been challenging sometimes, but I think we’re working out. Fortunately we both have almost identical tastes.
Does your house, condo or apartment have a story to tell? Let Environs know about it. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want history? Here’s a 2BR, 2BA condo on Logan Circle built by the son of a president. After years of rumored ill-repute and general ramshackleness, this duplex is reborn as an ultramodern abode for a domestically partnered GWM couple, with a knack for finishing sentences.
With retirement close at hand Bailey Walker and Jim Spreda knew it was time to trade in their SUV and get out of the ‘burbs and back in the city. They settled on a Logan Circle duplex that had caught their eye nearly 30 years before.
JIM: We had known about this house for many years — it was standing in ruin for years. It was in litigation with two lawyers who owned the place. They had some sort of argument and one was living in one half of the building and one was in the other half. We used to call it the Faded Lady because of all the weeds up in front. But when all that was reconciled it finally came up for renovation.
BAILEY: There was a rumor that at one time the building was a brothel, but that’s just a rumor. It was built by Ulysses S. Grant Jr. — President Grant’s son — in 1877 as a duplex. He lived in [the right half] for a couple of years and his widowed mother-in-law lived on the side for a while.
JIM: It still has the features of an old house, even though it’s ultra modern on the inside. If you drop an ice cube out of the freezer, it rolls all the way down the floor.
BAILEY: There isn’t a level floor in the house. The D.C. Eagle is famous for Wooden Nickel Night. They give you all these wooden nickels that you can redeem them for more drinks. If you look around all our furniture is leveled out…
JIM: …with the wooden nickels. [Laughs.]
BAILEY: If we didn’t have the nickels the whole place would be tilting. [In the kitchen] There are lots of whimsical, weird little things in here. Most of those are presents from my mother, who has a bizarre sense of humor. She’s from the South, one of the original Steel Magnolia types. Her name is Mary Katherine and she’s got this real Southern accent. She gave me this big martini glass for my birthday because she knew I loved martinis. The thing that I didn’t put in there is the collection of floating candles that look like olives.
[In the living room] There are seven windows in the living room alone and they’re not small windows. They’re huge.
JIM: These lamps outside in front of the house are are very, very bright. They glare into the windows and we have to pull down the blinds to watch TV, otherwise we’re looking right into the lamps.
BAILEY: I thought we had it solved one night. About three in the morning there was a terrific crash — a car came off P Street, hit the light pole and dragged the whole thing halfway around the circle. They smashed it to bits. I said, “Well, that’s one way of taking care of it.” It was gone for about a year and a half. Then, sure enough, D.C. came in and put in a nice brand new light…
JIM: …that’s even brighter than the other one.
BAILEY: [In the guest room] A friend of ours, John, who passed away several years ago, custom-built this bed as a bondage bed. It was in the basement apartment of another friend of ours on 16th street who was selling his house and getting rid of the bed. So I said, “I’ll buy it.” I didn’t think it was going to be possible to get it into this room. We had to have someone come in and cut it in two with a saw. You can see the cut right here. And he cut six inches out of the height because it was too high. Then we had it reassembled up here. It’s a great place to store a lot of stuff.
[In the master bedroom] The ukata [a Japanese robe] was given to us by a friend who plays in the Washington Opera Orchestra. The Kennedy Center Opera was on tour in Japan last summer. He brought back two of those, one for each of us. That big wall was so huge we just put it up there. I think a more ceremonial one is more typical for display, but I still like the simple geometric look of it. I think it looks cool up there.
JIM: The Japanese might laugh at us, and wonder why we have a bathrobe on the wall.
BAILEY: Here’s our domestic partnership certificate. I don’t know how many people in D.C. ever took advantage of the law — they held up the law in Congress for a long time.
JIM: We’re number 34.
BAILEY: It’s legal recognition that we are a family unit. We’re not married, but we’re a family unit.
Does your house, condo or apartment have a story to tell? Let Environs know about it. E-mail email@example.com.