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Take a tour of the American Century in this 2 BR, 1 3/4 Dupont/Adams Morgan townhouse. From the New York World’s Fair to Fifties mod to Frank Lloyd Wright, this home has it covered with both style and comfort.
When Daniel Emberley bought a townhouse on the outskirts of Dupont Circle ten years ago, he and his partner Michael Seto were just starting to date. “I thought it was a horrible, dilapidated house that he paid way too much for,” Michael says, laughing that if they’d been together longer, “I would have vetoed the purchase.” Lucky for them that didn’t happen, because now the house is a stunning showcase where every room reflects a different era, as well as the their own personalities.
DANIEL: [In the front foyer] This was originally a five bedroom, one-and-a-half bath house — we’ve been ripping down walls all over the place. It was bad. The floors were dilapidated and sagging, the plumbing had to be replaced. For a couple of years we had a hole in the bathroom where the toilet from above leaked into the toilet below. We’ve spent the last 10 years gutting a quarter of the house at a time and then putting it back. The idea has been to take each room and make it a theme. So we’re in the 1930’s here — the idea being that the furniture is uncomfortable enough that nobody will want to be here too long [Laughs.]
[In the dining room] We were looking to copy the 1950’s and 1960’s. A lot of the dishes are my parents’ from the ’50’s — the red ones are Michael’s. His mom bought three sets of dishes, one for each of her sons when they got married. We knew that mom figured out that we were married when she told Michael, “Come down here and get your dishes!” This shelf is all glass that Michael and I made. We made a set of 8 dishes to go with the room. There’s a studio up in Silver Spring that we use — you’ll see glass that we’ve done all over the house.
[In the living room] This room is supposed to be Frank Lloyd Wright. That’s what we were looking for — we’ve done a 30’s thing, a 60’s thing and then this is our turn-of-the-century Frank Lloyd Wright room.
MICHAEL: We’re not going to squeeze a Frank Lloyd Wright exterior out of a D.C. row house, but we can get an interior in. Of course, Frank Lloyd Wright would hate this because it’s totally inappropriate for where he was going, but it’s a really comfortable room. We dropped the ceiling here because one of the big Wright things is having different ceiling heights. So you have this central high procession way and then you have this lower-ceiling sitting area.
DANIEL: This is the Monopoly game collection. I have more Monopoly games than any human being should have. If nothing else, this is a shot of an anal compulsive, crazy Dupont gay guy. In the 1930’s they were selling the Monopoly franchise to different game companies around the world so if you go to France you get a Paris version, in England you get the London version, in Israel and get the Tel Aviv version. I was a geography major in college and I started collecting to see how many I could find. So these cabinets were a matter of how to keep the collection and not have it overwhelm the house.
[In the bedroom] The whole bed is our Italian souvenir. We did a trip to Italy several years ago. We realized that fabric there was incredibly cheap and so we ended up buying bedding – this part is Rome, the canopy is Florence, the trims are Venice. The silk paintings on the wall are from Michael’s mom — it was another wedding gift.
There is nothing in the house that was here when I came in, except for a little closet under the stairs that hasn’t moved. That’s it. Everything was gutted. The day that I had the roof replaced I had also taken down the ceiling in the bedroom. We slept under the stars that night. It was just bizarre.
Did we say “fabulous”? Of course we did! This 2 BR, 2 1/2 BA townhouse with vibrant color choices, plenty of original artwork and a cozy backyard for entertaining is nestled quietly between Shaw, Ekington and Bloomingdale. It’s an abode well worth the wait.
Brett Abrams and Ira Tattleman, both 43, had been together for 13 years when they bought their Shaw-area townhouse, where they found remodeling their home was the most stressful they had known. “We just didn’t anticipate what it would be like,” Brett laughs. But after an adventure in self-contracting, their house became a home, where Ira’s artwork fills the walls and both of them have taken the plunge of buying a bed.
Ira: We came to D.C. about ten years ago and we rented a one bedroom apartment for about nine years in Logan Circle, where we watched all the changes happen.
Brett: I like to tell people we were gentrified out of Logan Circle.
Ira: We decided to look for a place of our own. We had a list of everything we wanted. A back yard was very important. It took us about five weeks to find a place. The house had been renovated about ten years ago, so when we moved in there were changes that we wanted to make — not huge changes but cosmetic changes.
Brett: [In the living room] The major concern we had was the fact that there is not a lot of light, so getting light wood and light colors was all part of the concept. You can see by looking at this wall here that Ira conceived of the place. He tried to create a unity with colors by choosing this chartreuse that is on each side wall from the basement to the upstairs.
Ira: The furniture mostly came from me. The couch and this chair are my mother’s — we had it reupholstered. That chair is my grandmother’s. It was called the telephone chair because it was the chair next to a little telephone table. When we lived in Logan Circle we didn’t have a couch — I’d never owned a couch in my life. Friends would always hate to come over because we never had a couch for them to sit on. So it was a good experience for us to consent to having a couch. We were going to buy one but we decided we liked this one better.
Brett: It is true that almost everything you are going to see is Ira’s furniture. I am not a collector. I don’t have too many things except for books. The other thing is that’s a little bit different about the place is the little wooden table over there with the newspapers. I’m a religious reader of the paper and so is Ira. Ira cuts and clips and creates social calendars and travelogues — he’s got oodles and oodles of folders from various places around the world and events and activities and descriptions of those places. It just happens that you can’t get through all your magazines and newspapers, so they collect. But it’s all right. It’s part of the environment, it’s nothing to me at all.
[In the TV room/office] When we came into the house, we walked into this room and Ira, who is not a terribly possessive person, said, “Mine.” There was no discussion. I just accepted it. So that’s fine.
Ira: That’s my desk. He has a little corner over there. The windows here looking into the staircase are new. Lots of times people put in skylights above the staircase to lighten it up. But given the fact that people do sometimes walk across the rooftops, we decided for the time being to do the interior windows. Plus, this is a little cheaper and you don’t have to re-do the roof.
[In the bedroom] In Logan Circle, we had a futon on the floor. We were very happy sleeping on the floor. When we moved here, people coming to see the new house often commented how collegiate it was for us to still be sleeping on the floor. So after much chagrin and searching, we eventually bought a bed.
Brett: If you move the shade over here, you can look out the window to see the garden. We love our little garden.
Ira: [In the garden] Other people on the block have taken over the garden spot for a parking space but we prefer the garden space. We still park on the street and ride our bikes mostly. We only have one car. Brett has been growing most of the vegetables here and I’ve been doing the flowers.
Brett: The design of it reflects our shared nature and the way we operate. The plants grow — we really don’t know how — they grow and they fall into each other and they all do well. We have Japanese eggplant, three different types of tomatoes, banana peppers, bell pepper, and thyme and basil.
Ira: We have squash which is happy during the summer but not so happy right now.
Brett: And we have a little patio, a four-seat table, and a grill here, and we have had tons of people over two at a time — I call it the Noah’s Ark way of returning favors from all the gifts and all the invitations we’ve gotten over the years.
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Find out what makes a condo a home in this gloriously colorful 1 BR, 1 BA in the heart of Adams Morgan. Completely redesigned floor plan makes the space open and welcoming — and plenty of room to store personal collections!
Artist Jose Varela and his partner, Christopher Shields, moved into their Adams Morgan condo four and a half years ago. Since that time, Jose has worked to make the space a colorful and welcoming home — a place that when you walk in, you’re walking into an expression of himself. And what a place that is to be.
Varela: [In the entryway] When I met Christopher seven years ago, he lived in Maryland. So we lived there for a year and then moved to Foggy Bottom. We wanted to buy, but Foggy Bottom was too small and expensive. We wanted an area that had character. We just happened to stop by this place and when we walked in we immediately liked it. This area has character. When we moved in here it was all white: white walls, carpeting, everything. I’m from Cuba, where we have sunny days every day — even if it rains, there is bright sun. Winter is too depressing for me here because there is no sun — white walls made me really depressed. That’s the reason for the all the color. I’m also part Chinese — my father’s side were immigrants from China to Cuba. About five years ago I tried to reconnect with my ancestors so the first thing I practiced was feng shui. The way you see the entrance colors, the red and the orange, it’s really warm and bright. The idea is that when you come in from the outside where it’s kind of gray, you enter this doorway and you are really welcome. The bright, strong colors make you feel that you are welcome in this place.
The way I left Cuba was in a boat with 22 people. We were caught in the ocean and sent to Guantanamo Bay. I spent one year and a month as a refugee. I taught art history in Cuba — I used to work in contemporary art centers so I taught art history at the base. My life is all about details. This box right here — every stamp that I received on letters or postcards since I came to this country is here. I collect stuff — one of the things I collect is vinyl LPs. I have a collection from Cuba and Latin America in general from 1920 through 1960. And this is Christopher’s collection from when he was a teenager. And this is my collection of all the photo albums since I was born in Cuba until the latest photograph today.
[In the kitchen] In Cuba we don’t have fast food, so your mother cooks for you every day. My grandmother sewed my clothes as well. There is no store so you have to be very creative. The kitchen is in honor to my ancestors and my grandmother because she was an excellent cook. This kitchen is all about China. [The decoration on the cabinets] is from a collection of the original letters sent from my grandfather’s son in China to Cuba. I photocopied one of the letters, tore it in pieces, and glued it straight to the wood. Since my grandmother cooked every day, every day when I cook I feel that her spirit is here and she is cooking.
[In the living room] The idea of creating an illusion of division is important here because we don’t have more space. This is my office. [The photograph above the desk] is by one of my colleagues in my class. He photographed a boat from inside and turned the photo upside down — nobody gets what it is. It looks like a church.
Here is my collection of kitsch. Wherever I travel I always look for something. I’m very interested in dollar stores — they’re my favorite kind of places for projects. Spain, you name it. I’m really into all this stuff. We collect Snoopys from St. Valentine, Christmas and Halloween. There is more stuff here: religious art from Mexico, a photograph of my lighting class last semester, one my t-shirt pieces.
[In the bedroom] The bedroom is dedicated to India. The reason is because I had a dream for about a week where I was in an open field and it started raining. I was trying to save my life because of the floods, so I found this enormous tree. I climbed the tree and when I was safe I looked down I was in the head of [the Hindu god] Ganesh. Because of that dream, I redecorated the bedroom and dedicated to India and specifically to Ganesh.
This color on these two walls is actually the primer for painting it lavender like the other two walls, but when I put the primer on I decided I should leave it like this. It would be too depressing if I painted the room only one color.
Your place should be like a temple. You come from the outside work where you have no control and you are affected by whatever happens outside. But when you walk into your space you can really reconnect with yourself. You have renewed your energy. That’s the idea. Everything represents and means something here. It’s like walking into this space is like walking inside myself. The best way for me to introduce myself to you is inside this space.
Does your house, condo or apartment have a story to tell? Let Environs know about it. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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