Jose and Christopher's condo in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC

By Sean Bugg
Photography by Todd Franson
Published on October 7, 2004, 12:00am | Comments

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.

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