Metro Weekly


50's Hip Gets a Postmodern Nose Job

GIMMEE THAT COUNTRYSIDE! 50’s hip gets a postmodern nose job in this bucolic 3BR hideaway. Ever-evolving hive of activity in social neighborhood. Expansive yard, exquisite craftsmanship, style up to here. Indoor/outdoor hot tubs. Occupants are lesbian couple, firefighter, bear.

Max Steiner, a retired paramedic, and Schelli Dittmann, Director of Marketing for the D.C. Eagle, are tucked away in the gayest corner of Adelphi, Maryland. Their home is a live-in art project, forever in flux, with an open-door policy.

SCHELLI: [In living room] Max just retired, so she’s building herself a little studio out back for woodworking and staining glass. What size is it?

MAX: 15 by 24.

SCHELLI: Just a little tiny thing. The house was built in 1952 along with the cul-de-sac. It was ultra hip and modern then. The whole back wall was glass, floor to ceiling. Max did all the renovations herself.

MAX: Replaced all the windows and siding.

SCHELLI: We design together and then she builds. We have a gay firefighter and a gay bear. We’re a home for wayward gay men. They both needed a place to live temporarily, and now John’s been here seven years and Don’s been here two. [In office] This used to be the kitchen. Max built all the shelves out of pipe and wood. They were government surplus.

MAX: We both work from home now.

SCHELLI: Yeah, we kind of do whatever, whenever. Wake up and decide whether to be the cowboy or the astronaut. We bought these photographs [of toy action figures in compromising positions] from a San Francisco artist. They’re actually greeting cards. We hung them up high because our neighbors come over with their kids.

MAX: [In hallway] I turned these three bedrooms into  two bedrooms with a really big bathroom. That was the original master bedroom, which is now Donald the Bear’s room. And these were two smaller rooms with a closet in between. [In bathroom] Now this was a lot of fun. Put in the Jacuzzi, put in the window and built the frame. I bought this maple vanity, but I built the skirt and mirror to match, and those are maple shelves behind you.

SCHELLI: And the floor is heated.

MAX: I moved here in ’92.

SCHELLI: We dated for two years before that. It was no U-Haul thing. We’re not like that.

MAX: These lights, I hardwired. It’s art. This house is my art. I like to change my environment to suit my needs, rather that adapt my needs into an environment that’s fixed. This house will evolve until the day I leave.

SCHELLI: [In back yard] We used to have a big river birch over there, but it was sick so we had to cut it down. Our tree surgeon said it was the biggest he’d ever seen. Those are the pieces of it, there.

MAX: This is all parkland behind us. Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission owns it, and then Pepco or someone owns the power lines, so no one can ever build behind us.

SCHELLI: It’s a fantastic neighborhood. Mort, over there, he’s dating Pauline up the street, and her son is gay. He owns Pride Water.

MAX: And there’s a gay man named Don who lives where that greenhouse is.

SCHELLI: And Tom and George live over there. They’re a couple. Our next-door neighbor has four kids, one’s transgender and one’s gay. They come over at Christmas.

MAX: They’re like our honorary parents. We exchange presents and sing carols and shovel snow for the older people.

Epic romance? Torrid affair? Summer fling? Whatever your relationship with your dwelling, we want to hear it. For a chance to be featured in Environs, e-mail


Historic co-op contrasts antiques with `80s renovation.

YOU’D BE INSANE to pass this up! Historic 1BR has gorgeous views, high ceilings, balcony, roof deck, ample parking, unique bathroom, one-of-a-kind neighbors. Close to Adams Morgan, but quiet. Co-op w/ reasonable bylaws. Occupant has keen eye for antiques, color schemes. Top floor of a palatial building. Won’t last!

The Ontario was designed by James G. Hill, chief architect for the federal government until 1883. He resigned amid accusations that he was a member of the Granite Ring, a cartel of illegal stonework suppliers. Brad Urban appreciates the building’s tawdry past. His one-bedroom apartment is located on the building’s uppermost floor.

BRAD: This is my 1980s disaster kitchen. It used to have wooden cabinets under the window, but those were ripped out during a bad ’80s renovation, along with a few other things.

High Pane Threshold:
Urban gets in touch with
his inner acrophobic.

[In pantry] There’s a waffle iron in here that’s supposedly been in the apartment for fifty years, like a good luck charm that everyone leaves when they move out. The pantry was built to double as a hallway for the servants to use. That’s why it’s so long and narrow. It allowed them to bypass the living room and dining room when going to the foyer. This building is a co-op, so I don’t actually own the apartment. I own shares in the corporation that owns the building, Ontario Owners, Inc. If you want to live here, there’s an interview process and you have to submit a financial statement. But the building is run really well. A live-in porter picks up my trash at my door every morning. The rules are strict, though. There’s a $150 fine if you loan out the front door key.

[In living room] I think this has always been a fairly wealthy neighborhood. The original landowner tore down his own house so this place could be built. During the Martin Luther King riots, the residents armed themselves and took shifts protecting the grounds. I really like being in a building with history. From the outside, it looks like some huge Victorian insane asylum. The woman who lives next door plays the piano a lot, but all she plays is the song from Rosemary’s Baby. Apparently she used to be a comedian. [Councilmember] Jim Graham lives here too.

[In hall] This closet used to be an elevator shaft. It was sealed in the ’50s with the co-op conversion. I’m probably going to convert it into an office since it’s so big. That dress hanging there is the dress I wore to the Miss Adams Morgan pageant. When I came home that night, I was stopped at the front desk and asked if I was visiting someone.

Baby Shower:
The tub gets thumped.

[In bathroom] I like the slate floor. The only drawback is that it takes forever to dry. I’m still getting used to this shower. The previous owner made me get in it and stand there before I decided to buy. She said to me, “You can have a party in this shower! I would have myself, but my husband never wanted to. ” They’re retired and sailing around the world now. This copper pipe is a steam riser. It heats the whole room.

[In dining room] Some people use this room as a bedroom. It’s got a pocket door that can be used to separate it from the living room. The west wing was built in 1903. The east was 1906. This is a quiet neighborhood. You can hear the trains blowing their whistles as they pull into Union Station, and in the other wing you can hear the animals at the zoo. The building was originally advertised as being in a lofty location free from malaria. There’s still no central air, and the previous residents took out all of the radiators. They were too hot. You’d cook if you turned them on. The gas fireplace works, but the mantle was taken down during the bad ’80s renovation. I’m guessing the track lighting was probably put in at the same time, too.

Epic romance? Torrid affair? Summer fling? Whatever your relationship with your dwelling, we want to hear it. For a chance to be featured in Environs, e-mail


Wardman Court: Space to spin your wheels!

SPACE TO SPIN YOUR WHEELS! Roomy 1BR w/ balcony, dishwasher in recently renovated bldg. Sensibly furnished, top-notch security, steps from Columbia Hgts Metro. Perfect for the differently-abled. $685/mo. Occupant is young GM w/ eye for art, fine and otherwise.

Wardman Court (formerly Clifton Terrace) is currently under redevelopment. Its 285 assisted housing units are being converted to 152 apartments for low-to-moderate income families, and 76 condos. Resident Kevin Corbett works in the Circles Office at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Kevin: I’m trying to avoid going the IKEA route. The dining room table is from there, though. These stools are Target, the lawn chairs are Target and the pillows on the lawn chairs are IKEA. I feel like the only element that’s really missing is a couch to crash on and drink beer. My parents are coming and I want them to stay here, so I’m hoping they’ll want to sleep on this air mattress. I think everyone wants to grow up and have a place and be able to accommodate their parents.

[In bathroom] I’ve got cinnamon sticks in an open wooden box, but they don’t really smell anymore. The whole apartment is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, so there’s a seat in the shower and a chrome grab bar on the shower wall and another one by the toilet. It kind of makes it feel like an office.

[In kitchen] There’s so much space in here to move around. It’s because of the ADA thing again. That’s why the sink is so low. I hung this fabric below the sink to create a little storage space behind it. Did you know you can hem fabric without even sewing? The lady at IKEA showed me how. They’ve got this tape that you adhere to where you want the hem to be and then you fold the fabric over it and just iron it in till the fabric sticks and voila!

[On balcony] People here are kind of private. I used to keep my blinds closed at all times, but then I realized that everyone across from me was closing their blinds too, so now I don’t bother. I wish there was more community here. I wish there was drama. But everyone goes to bed pretty early, I think because there are so many families.

The first night I moved in, I locked myself out and Wanda — she’s the security guard, I made cookies for her on Valentine’s Day — and I went from apartment to apartment to see if anyone had keys because the maintenance man wasn’t here. I had just put pizza in the oven and gone down to take out the trash and I forgot my keys. So the people above me, they were making a bed, and they let me hang off their balcony and swing down onto mine. I figured if I fell, worst-case scenario, I’d break a bone.

Wanda knows Jason by now. She calls him my “friend, ” but she knows. He got assaulted out here in front of the building. This guy said “Fuck you ” and Jason said “Fuck you ” back and the guy just took him and threw him. It was like eight in the morning. We went to the emergency room, but he was okay. Just a black eye.

When I look for an apartment, I put on my Mom Goggles and try to imagine if she’d feel comfortable in the neighborhood. My income can’t exceed $36,000 or I’m not allowed to live here anymore. I just got this second job so I’m a little nervous. In order to get a place here I felt like I had to present myself as poor and destitute, but as I’ve met more people who live here, I’ve realized that everyone here is like me — just moved into the city, entry-level jobs, lots of young people. Everyone was doing the same thing. I really want to get to one of the tenant meetings.

Whatever your relationship with your dwelling, we want to hear it. For a chance to be featured in Environs, email  Include low-res jpegs of your dwellings, if possible.


Renovated Brothel Turned Planetarium

RENOVATED BROTHEL-TURNED-PLANETARIUM. 4BR/2.5BA row house in Dupont/Logan/14th St area. High ceilings, HWFs, patio, lots of natural light. Agatha Christie mystique moves in with Warhol hip and renovates the bathroom. Occupants are laid back GM couple w/ DIY values, huge TV.

Kevin Willison, a NASA biologist, and Tim Kanaley, an independent consultant, have been lovebirds for five starry-eyed years and cohabitating for nearly four. They believe in the value of do-it-yourselfness and historical preservation. Their home is a grand three-story affair on the southeast cusp of Dupont Circle.

KEVIN: That [large, white, ceramic basin with the coaster-sized hole in the center that’s lying on the living room floor] is the base from the shower in the upstairs bathroom. We’re remodeling up there. We’d rather do the renovations ourselves. History’s shown that it’s hard to find someone who’ll do a good job.

TIM: We redid the basement — we have a tenant down there — and now we’re doing the upstairs. Back when we advertised the basement apartment to rent, people would call this block Dupont East. But if I’m talking to someone in the area, I’ll usually say Logan Circle.

KEVIN: We’re Dupont.

TIM: Officially, the other side of the street is part of the Logan Circle ANC. This side is part of the Dupont ANC, but we’re part of the Logan Circle Community Association.

KEVIN: But today the city would probably recognize us as part of the 14th Street corridor even though we’re on 15th. The important thing about this location is that it’s a historic district, so the height limit is fifty feet. (In basement) We had to get a certificate of occupancy to rent this out. Most basement rentals are illegal rentals. Fire escapes and whatnot. You have to get a renter’s license, too.

TIM: When we moved in we found massive termite infestation down here.

KEVIN: And swarms of carpenter ants. It’s tough living on a block of row houses because you can’t get rid of them unless everybody does. (In kitchen) This house used to be a brothel. When we moved in there were 27 phone lines. So because of who the original owners were, we ripped out these walls for exploratory purposes.

TIM: The original house would have had the kitchen in the basement, and this would have been the pantry. The servants had their own stairwell, and there’s a dumbwaiter that links both rooms that still works.

KEVIN (in entertainment room): We got sick of walking down there to get something to eat, so I put this refrigerator and microwave in here.

TIM: And Kevin made these constellations in the ceiling.

KEVIN: I drilled little holes in the ceiling panels in the shapes of constellations, and then I installed fiber optic lights above the panels so the holes would look like twinkling stars.

TIM: They’re actual constellations laid out just like they are in the sky. Not to scale, though. We bought this place in the nick of time. $475,000. Signed the contract in February of ’99, and they made the announcement about Fresh Fields in March. Whole Foods now, I guess. We’ve hosted two Reel Affirmations fundraisers since we moved in.

KEVIN: Yeah, we’ve definitely done some renovating since then. (In master bedroom) Thanks to these storm windows we can actually stand on this side of the room again. Things didn’t go well with the contractor who put them in. We had to do some policing. That’s why we’d rather do things ourselves.

Epic romance? Torrid affair? Summer fling? Whatever your relationship with your dwelling, we want to hear it. For a chance to be featured in Environs, email Include low-res jpegs of your dwellings, if possible.