Just A Bit Bigger Than a Doll's House

Tiny Homes, Once Built For 'the Poorest People,' Have an Outsized Appeal
By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

The average size of a new house built in the United States last year was 2,324 square feet. Linda Crowley Horger's circa 1890 place on Capitol Hill would practically fit in the family room.
Two stories high and two rooms deep, the house is a scant 552 square feet. Her tiny kitchen has a microwave but no oven and no dishwasher. The counter has a sink, a two-burner electric cooktop and enough counter space to butter toast. There's no central air conditioning -- she hasn't figured out where to put the paraphernalia -- and there's no washer and dryer.

It was exactly the kind of house she had in mind when she moved here from Philadelphia 20 years ago.

Trading the Tool Shed for Party Space

Dressed-Up Structures Can Revitalize Your Back Yard
By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

Garden designer Jane MacLeish once installed a 400-square-foot tent at the home of a Syrian oil magnate and his wife in the District's Kalorama neighborhood.

It was set beside the pool on a pink granite terrace, surrounded by pale pink tulips, peonies and roses to match the wife's jewelry.

Read on:

Cultivating your Home's First Impression

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

When Alex Dencker, manager of Behnke Garden Center in Beltsville, put his red brick colonial in Silver Spring on the market late last summer, his window boxes exploded with crotons, creeping Jenny and New Guinea impatiens in blazing shades of red, orange and yellow.

Talk about curb appeal.

Read on:

Centuries of Drama at Halcyon House

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

In Greek mythology, a halcyon was a bird said to calm rough seas. "It also means peaceful and prosperous," real estate agent Hugh Oates said.

That about sums up Georgetown's Halcyon House.

Read on:

Desperately Seeking St. Augustine

To Get to the Heart of This Quirky Old City, You Just Have to Know Where to Look
By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

Each year, when we visit my sisters in Palm Beach County, my husband, Gregory, and I take a side trip in search of our perfect version of Florida, on the off chance that we might someday retire. Someplace close to family, but not too close, if you know what I mean.

Much of what we've seen is as weird as a Carl Hiaasen novel, which has its appeal. But a touch of the gothic (in atmosphere and maybe some Gothic revival architecture) is required, and that's the harder touch to find. Savannah in Florida, I'm thinking, or Key West (so far the closest thing to Our Vision) without the hundred-mile hurricane evacuations.

Read On:

Don't Lose a Sale by a Nose

Flower, Sour, Sweat, Wet and Weird Smells Bring the House Down
By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

The group of real estate agents finished the tour of a house that was about to come on the market and fled, holding their noses.

"It smelled like urine," sniffed one of the agents, who spoke anonymously because she wants to remain in the business. "I don't know what . . . they were doing in there. Some of these houses I don't think they ever opened a door or window. It's a big petri dish."

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Main Street Turns a Corner

Urbanites Drawn to Cumberland, Md., by Small-Town Potential
By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to the Washington Post

Jorge Zamorano whipped out a copy of the Cumberland Times-News from behind the bar at the Starfish Cafe, one of two restaurants he owns on Capitol Hill.

The newspaper trumpeted a 17 percent increase in housing prices in the Western Maryland town over the past year. Zamorano, a Cuban-born artist and restaurateur, was pleased at his prescience.

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High on Their Lofty Spaces on the Hill

In the Old School, Tales of Love at First Sight

By Stephanie Cavanaugh (photo by Monica Cavanaugh)
Special to The Washington Post

Jamie Brown and Kyle Hamblin say they won't be buying another 17-foot Christmas tree this year.

"It touched the ceiling," said Brown, a trial lawyer. "They don't look as big on the farm."

Read on:

Hardwood, Not Hard Work

Take a Shine to Your Floor without Getting on Hands and Knees
By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

Maudline Cajou is at the helm of an alarmingly loud, ancient, dusty-pink Hoover buffer, pushing, pulling, carefully skirting the edges of the Oriental rug on the living room floor in Margot Kelly's Capitol Hill house.

For 14 years, the routine has never varied: One week Kelly's house cleaner waxes the 200-year-old floors and then buffs; the next week she only buffs.

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An Eye to the Iconic

For Some Home Buyers, It's Love At First Sight -- Out the Window
By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

Crossing the South Capitol Street Bridge and climbing the hills of Southeast Washington is like reaching the mountains in a 10-minute drive.

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Going for Brokers

As Houses Linger on the Market, Agents Revive a Time-Honored Sales Tactic

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

The chandelier glitters over the gleaming dining room table, where cheese trays are garnished with jolly bunches of red and green grapes. Laughter tinkles from the kitchen, where there's a jam-up at the granite service counter lined with bottles of wine and Perrier.

It could be an elegant holiday party at the Capitol Hill home of this recently defeated senator, but it's not. Observe the constant flow of well-dressed guests wandering through the house, snooping in medicine cabinets, peeking under rugs and checking out the shelves of videos in the master bedroom.

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Hocus- Smokeless

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

When it comes to romance there's little that compares to the allure of fireplaces. Whether they actually provide heat is pretty much irrelevant; it's the fantasy that counts.

Where else can you make like Katharine Hepburn, bony elbow poised on the mantel as you toss back a cognac and exchange witty repartee with your Cary Grant-equivalent.

Where better to read Poe on a frosty evening when the gnarled branches of the old oak tree scrape against the windowpanes like devilish claws?

How else would Santa arrive?
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Touching Base on Burke Street

Close-Knit Block in SE Has Grown Even Closer

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

In 1951, Willie Bowman paid one Mr. Albright $15,950 for a modest brick rowhouse on Burke Street SE. It was about two grand more than the going price, "but this one suited me," Bowman recalled. "I didn't want to argue. I just wanted to get my wife away from my sister."

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Paradise Gained

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

You have to be more than 6 feet tall to peep over the wall off 13th Street NW and catch a glimpse of Edward and Juliet Gill Cunningham's patch of paradise in Petworth.

The wall, which forms the backdrop to their porch and deck, belongs to neighbor "Miss Lily," said Edward Cunningham, who first asked her permission to paint the wall white. When Cunningham's wife was smitten with a photo of Hawaii and started discussions with Silver Spring muralist Ronald Shaw, Cunningham again approached Miss Lily, who was unperturbed. "I don't care. I can't see it," she told him.

Read on:

Watermelon House

by Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to the Washington Post

"We love color," said Tom Healy, flashing metallic blue toenails.

Healy lives in the house on Q Street NW with the gigantic slice of watermelon painted on the side, along with Wade Wilson and Robert Banaszak.

Read on:

A Touch of Tuscany

by Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to the Washington Post

For decades, the lot beside the old house on East Capitol Street was the neighborhood basketball court, straggly with weeds and resounding with whoops and thumps from kids tossing balls into the hoop affixed to the neighbor's side wall.

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The Squeegee Dividend

Dingy Windows Don't Sell Houses, So We Share Squeaky-Clean Tips From the Pros

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

As you're preparing to sell your house, don't overlook the windows.

"When you're marketing a house, clean windows are like clean teeth," said Phyllis Jane Young, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in the District. "They're the first thing people see on the outside and the first thing they see through on the inside."

Read On:

Of Tiny Homes and Hidden Alleys

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

It is late on an overcast Sunday afternoon and the neighbors on F Street Terrace SE are popping in and out of their houses with the makings of a party.

John Klaja sets down a bistro table covered with a blue plaid cloth, topped with a pot of pansies. Will Fleishell brings pistachios. Rusty Horger backs up his pickup and drops the tailgate, a makeshift buffet. His wife, Linda, will be out in a minute; she's washing her hair.

Read on:

Going With the Flow on Tiber Island in D.C.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

It's peaceful here, across the road from the Potomac River in Southwest Washington. The sun glitters on the water and there is little to be heard but the flutter and caw of the gulls and the hypnotic clank from the sailboats at their docks.

Peace is one of the chief attractions of the 64 townhouse condominiums that make up one segment of Tiber Island, a neighborhood of sand-colored condos and co-ops, houses and apartment towers, that anchors the end of the riverfront promenade farthest from the hubbub of the fish markets.

Read on:

Dream House Awakenings

Dazzled Buyers Can Be Stunned by Problems They Missed

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

Ken Jarboe thought the big old black walnut tree hovering over the sweet, if barren, back yard of his newly purchased Capitol Hill home was just splendid. It would beautifully complement the Japanese garden he envisioned, complete with a few cherry trees, a dogwood and a meandering white stone path, "for a river effect," he said.

"I didn't have a clue."

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Don't Despair, Just Repair

It's True. They Don't Make Appliances Like They Used to.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

Judith Capen's rattletrap dishwasher recently went into death throes. Two repairmen fiddled with it, then stomped off, saying she could buy a new one for less than it would cost to fix the 18-year-old machine.

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Technicolor Dream Coats

Little Pink Houses (Purple and Blue, Too) Spring
From a Palette of Vivid Colors

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post

A violet house blooms in Chevy Chase, and it looks as if someone spilled the Crayolas in Del Ray. Throughout the region, homeowners are flourishing peacock hues over a once-staid world of black and white and brick.

So who cares about resale values?


Jane Martinache would pass on an extra $50,000 rather than drab down her purple and pink Victorian in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood. "I'd rather have someone who loved the way it looked than someone who wanted a white house," the graphic designer said. "I went through a lot of work to research the house and get it back to how it looked 100 years ago, and I wouldn't want to undo all that."

Not that she is thinking of selling any time soon.

The former church was white with green trim when Martinache began her restoration project two years ago. "I grew up in a military family with white exteriors and interiors. Always white."

So she painted the siding a rebellious purple and highlighted the gingerbread trim in lavender, pink and white. She chose the colors, slapping 20 shades on the shed wall outside her kitchen window, waiting for enchantment.

Getting started was a little intimidating. "The contractor said what a big commitment it was to paint the house purple and how it would affect the resale. My friends said the same." But she decided, "If I was going to drive up and see
it everyday, I wanted to make sure it was something I really loved."

When it came time to paint their petite Victorian, Martinache's neighbors, Maria Getoff and Peter Hayes, brought out the giant box of crayons. The walls are bright blue, the fish-scaled gable is purple and the window boxes are raspberry. The green that trims the windows is one they invented, mixing this shade and that and naming the result Molly Green, after their daughter.

"We spent a lot of time throwing up shades to see what worked," Getoff said. "And the whole neighborhood got involved. People I didn't know would walk by and say, 'I like the one on the left.' "

A little more than six months later, they lucked into a larger house around the corner. "We didn't expect to be selling the house, or I would have done something more traditional," she said. "I was afraid we'd get fewer contracts."

Real estate agent Jennifer Walker of McEnearney Associates cocked her eyebrow when she first saw the place, then huddled with the interior designer who does the company's home staging. "We thought it might turn people off," she said. "But we put it on the market Thursday and had two phenomenal offers at the open house -- it basically took four days."

If anything, the colorful palette may have given the sale a boost. The three-bedroom, one-bath house sold for far above the asking price.

"We had a lot of fun picking the colors out," said Paul Winkel of WinkWorks & Co., who painted the house. "It's very pleasing to look at. You take a little longer at the stop sign." Winkel says people are becoming more daring in their color
selections, even though a radical color change and extensive detail work can add from 25 to 50 percent to the cost of the transformation.

It's about time, he thinks, historically speaking. "In the late 1700s, there were bright colors," he said. "We see them as muted because they were faded. People want to make a statement: 'I have a nice house and I want to show it off.' They're
saying, 'This is my house I can do what I want,' and eventually the neighborhood says, 'You know, I like that color.' And there you have it."

And people are also noticing the artfulness of painted trim. "That's why the detail was there in the first place," Winkel said. "White house with white trim? You can't see anything."

For both the body of the house and the trim, colors such as burgundy, aubergine and espresso are strong sellers at Alexandria Paint, said owner Bill Thornton. "People are getting a little experimental, more whimsical," he said.

Period colors are also popular -- earth tones for Arts & Crafts houses, pastels on Victorians, and warm yellows with French blue shutters to give a French country look to various home styles.

Besides the emotional lift they bring, colors have a very practical function. "You can use color to accentuate the good part of the architecture and draw attention from the bad," said Marjorie Berringer-Schuran, a color consultant and owner of Berringer Design and Consulting.

Case in point: A big, white house in Alexandria "that rambled on in styles from many
additions -- none that matched each other." She unified the house and its hodgepodge of odd-sized windows by painting the body dark blue and the window frames grey to minimize their differences. "At first, the owner said it's going to be so dark. Afterwards, the neighbors said, 'Oh my God, it looks so good."

She said, "I think things go in cycles, and people are looking for a little more individuality in the house. We are in a relatively conservative area, but people are trying to bring personality to the home. And they're not afraid of color because they've spent so much time being afraid of it that they just say, 'Forget it. Okay, done that, been there.' "

They are certainly not afraid of color in California. "On the West Coast, offbeat colors are almost normal, and feng shui [the ancient Asian art of arranging spaces] is taking off like lightning," said Holly Ziegler, a real estate agent and author of "Sell Your Home Faster with Feng Shui." So mainstream is the practice in her state that Ziegler teaches a course for agents through the California Department of Real Estate.

"It's ancient common sense," she said. "The art of harmony and balance in your space -- or the color of your house." When people select unusual or vivid colors for their homes, "it's a way of claiming their individuality -- 'I'm me, here I am, and I'm proud of it.' "

"When you use offbeat colors," she said, "you're calling attention to yourself. 'Oh my goodness, she's painting her shutters periwinkle! Isn't it lovely.' It's nice to have individuality."

If resale value is a worry, the safest way to get away from bland is to work with earth tones. "Earth is the most fundamental, the grounding element. It includes yellows, ochres, browns, terracotta," Ziegler said.

Tuscan colors are particularly good. "Sage, russet, burnt umber . . . They make people feel secure and confident. Color is very powerful psychologically. You're dealing with emotion."

Yellows and other shades of green are also excellent choices. "Metaphorically speaking, green is birth, new beginnings, spring," she said. "Greens are very soothing and restful, they don't jar the senses. Various shades of green on one house can be very beautiful."

Are there problem colors? While a red door generally speaks of welcome, a red house is something else again. "It's the bull-in-the-china-shop color -- like having a fist coming at you. With the exception of a natural tone, like brick . . . red is too powerful," she said.

Anthony Wilder would paint the brick, too. The owner of Anthony Wilder Design/Build said: "Most brick is unattractive. Builders don't pay any attention to the color, it's red or orange."

He singles out Arlington: "All that red brick, like rows of military houses. It's so repetitious and predictable. I think people are getting tired of that dah-dot dah-dot look. With paint, you can change a house from a cold, hard, red surface to a warm, happy house -- it's night and day."

Even if you just paint the trim. "I saw a red brick on Rockwood Parkway -- up on a hill. Gorgeous house. Red brick and turquoise trim. Now that was nervy -- or someone with a lot of experience. Think about a rusty orange shirt and a turquoise necklace. Stunning."

Many people get overwhelmed by color, Wilder said. "There's so much to consider. Open the color palette, and there's thousands of shades and you have a panic attack and don't want to pick anything . . . so we pick black and white. Very predictable. It's just a can of paint! Put a swatch up on the surface and look at it."

When in doubt, "pick what you always wear," he said. "Change is wonderful. Sometimes it's scary -- it's like jumping off a cliff into the water. Scary, but you come up buoyant and laughing. You feel you've conquered the world."

But beware of too much exuberance, said Kristen Gerlach of Gerlach Real Estate, who
cautioned that if you're thinking about resale, pale is best.

"When you're doing a house for resale, you need to have as many people get excited as
possible, and there are people who don't like any color," she said. "They like neutral and yellow and creamy colors. . . . Boring sells. Trust me."

Pale colors also make a house look bigger. "If the house looks small for the money, they're not going to analyze it and say, 'It's brown so it looks smaller.' That's something a lot of homeowners don't grasp. They get mortally wounded when I say, 'Get out the brush and the white paint.' It's not their taste that's bad; it just doesn't sell to the masses."

Still, she concedes that a green house she recently listed for $1,945,000 sold quickly. "But that might be a function of lack of inventory," she said.

Spaces Magazine

6 selection of articles published in Washington Spaces magazine, a Washington Post publication:

Pick the Monument and There’s a Story

The Jefferson Memorial sits quietly above the Tidal Basin, famously surrounded by the Japanese cherry trees, beloved by all. But what a ruckus it caused in the 1930s when it was built. Modern architects were in a snit over the classical design; the designer’s widow was having the vapors over tinkerings with her husband’s blueprint; and a group of ladies in Persian lamb coats were threatening to chain themselves to the cherry trees that were being uprooted to break ground.

Read More:

A Maestro of Flame. A Symphony of Color
Specialty Woods are a Luxury to Burn

OK, so you’ve taken Firewood 101. You understand when a cord’s a cord, and your ear is tuned to the hollow thwack that knows the difference between wood that’s merely dead and a log so sincerely dead that it is guaranteed to roar.

For the true firewood connoisseur, this is just the beginning. Paul Wilczek is a maestro of flame, a man who can turn your basic hardwood blaze into a symphony of scent and color.

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From Casablanca to the Jetsons
Ceiling Fans are Flying High

What’s with the proliferation of ceiling fans when most of us are basking in central air conditioning from the Ides of March to the first frosty breezes of Fall?

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Dynamic & Sophisticated
Moods and Lifestyles Kick in When it Comes to Color Selections

It’s no accident that suddenly each season certain collections of colors run riot through the stores and that your KitchenAid mixer matches your Nikes.

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Great Escapes
Retreat to Luxury at Country, Mountain, and Historic Inns
Play landed gentry for a week or weekend at The Goodstone Inn & Estate, an idyllic 265-acre estate in the middle of Virginia horse country.

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About Face
Try Oxygen Facials and Other Great Treatments

Spring is here but you wouldn’t know it by the looks of our complexions. Months of brash winter wind, dry heat and a few too many Irish coffees have taken their toll. So, naturally, when we heard tales of oxygen facials and their amazing powers of renewal, we were primed to be blown away.

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Wine and Dine Under the Stars
Pamper Yourself and Your Sweetheart on Valentine’s Day

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and that may have been enough then. But this is now. So bring on the duvets, hot rock massages and whirlpools this Valentine’s Day. These weekend specials will leave you gasping, spaaaaa.

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Someplace Dark & Cozy

Interview with Adam Mahr for
The Washington Post's At Home magazine
By Stephanie Cavanaugh

One could get at once green with envy and enervated just listening to Adam Mahr’s annual globe trotting schedule. He spends summer and fall weekends in the Hamptons or the New York apartment he shares with his partner; winter weekends on his 100 foot yacht moored at a club in Naples, Florida; takes four buying trips each year to Paris, the south of France, and Italy; plus here a jaunt to the England, there a fling with the Far East.

A lot of pleasure, a lot of business. Mahr, owner of A Mano, the design shop with the fluttery black and white awnings in upper Georgetown (and a second branch in Naples), is constantly searching out new vendors, poking about the flea markets and antique shops of the world, checking out gift shows, and visiting factories in Italy and France that produce his gloriously colored china, “the largest selection of French and Italian pottery on the East Coast,” he says.

His home couldn’t be less like his jewel box of a shop where fragile is a byword and the colors fairly vibrate: shocking pink, chartreuse, lemon yellow, bitter orange. “All of the stuff we do is bright, fun,” says Mahr. “It conveys the passion we have for the business.” The shop’s style is posh preppy, but with a keen sense of humor, and an exotic tang; just over the top enough to leave you grinning. Like Oscar Wilde equipping himself for winter in Palm Beach.

When Mahr kicks back in Washington it’s to a surprisingly cozy, flop-anywhere-and-put- your-feet-up1920’s brick house in Wesley Heights, about a ten minute drive from Georgetown. An artful mix of the haute and not that he shares with a jealous little mutt named Millie who resembles a cocker spaniel crossed with a dust mop.

Ask him what attracted him to the place when he bought it five years ago and he says, without hesitation, “curb appeal.” Now, even if you were standing on your head with your eyes crossed you’d be hard pressed to describe the house as more than pleasant and unassuming, not unlike so many other modest brick houses in the neighborhood. Its most mouthwatering aspect is its proximity to Balducci’s market a few blocks away, which might be the appealing curb he’s referring to.

“This is the antithesis of where I grew up,” he says, by way of explanation. His parents’ home in the suburbs of Baltimore was glacially modern; “all glass and wood, and furnished that way too. Fortunately we lived in the woods so there wasn’t anyone peering in on us,” he recalls with a laugh. “I couldn’t wait to get out of that house and go into something old and something dark and something cozy. This is more the way my grandparents lived.”

Echoes of his grandparents are liberally sprinkled about the rooms along with finds from his travels and trash day treasures. Mahr doesn’t hesitate to combine fine antiques and furnishings with the frankly cheap or found object—a pair of whimsical chairs in the living room were rescued from an alley off Massachusetts Avenue and re-covered, “They’re the thing in my house everybody loves,” laughs Mahr.

“It’s kind of a hodge podge…like Out of Africa meets China,” he says of his living room. The squooshy sofa and chair were picked up at August George and custom upholstered, the handsome secretary in the corner was his grandfather’s, twin coffee tables balanced on faux elephant tusks are from New York, a pair of silvery Balinese dancers, found on a recent trip to Bankok, sit on a chest from a flea market in the South of France, the chrome yellow vases on the mantel are from Crate and Barrel, a magnificent Chinese ancestral portrait was bought in Macao, and the zebra rug sprawled across the sea grass carpet…did he shoot it himself? “Yes,” he says, perfectly deadpan. “On Wisconsin Avenue.”

When he bought the place five years ago it was “White, white, white. It didn’t have any warmth. As you can see I lake dark colors,” he says, hand tripping around the living room at the chocolate brown walls and ripe persimmon drapes.

All of the paint throughout the house has a satin finish for a very low luster. “It cleans up easily if you spill something,” says Mahr. “Flat just shows every mark. And I move furniture around a lot. If I see something in the store I like I bring it home and live with it for a while.”

Mahr’s art collection dictated the colors throughout the house. Against the living room walls is a moody abstract painting of a forest and purple mountains by Wolf Kahn. “The walls have enough purple in them that they almost get a little eggplant,” he says. “It is chocolate but sometimes…it’s not.”

Like most of his art, the painting is spotted with a museum light, “Especially since all my walls are dark, when lights are on it makes all the difference,” he says. “It sets the mood.”

And like all of his art, it is beautifully framed. “Even when I don’t pay a lot for artwork, I spend on framing,” he says. “The Chinese ancestor in the living room? I paid nothing for it, but a fortune for the framing. It’s kind of like shoes. You can tell the difference between cheap shoes and cheap frames. And also if you have good art you want to make sure it’s treated properly.”

Library patterned paper revs the walls of the dining room, which is centered on an old ship’s hatch that belonged to a great aunt and serves as his dining table. He can entertain twelve with the addition of a second top stored behind the massive bibliotech he hauled back from the Paris Flea Market, along with the gigantic mirror that seemingly doubles the size of the room.

The library patterned paper continues along one wall of the butler’s pantry that leads to the kitchen and serves as his bar. The opposite wall, with its glass fronted cabinets and small sink , was original to the house, though the shabby cabinets were spruced up with a kicky shot of red paint and new catches and latches from Restoration Hardware. Glittering crystal is displayed on glass shelves.

Hidden between the book spines on the opposite wall is the powder room door. “I love secret spaces,” says Mahr. “This had been a bathroom. All I did was get rid of the molding and wallpaper it.”

For a man who exclaims, “I love, love, love to cook! That’s my hobby!” the kitchen is, shall we say, tight. Two chefs would butt butts in the neatly equipped galley, with its honed soapstone counters and four-burner Viking range. “I’m more comfortable with a small kitchen. Everything is easy,” he says.

Though the cabinets look vintage 1920’s, only one original door remains, the rest were custom built. The ceiling-height glass-fronted upper cabinets match those in the bar and display his collection of dishes. “Obviously, I have a few sets,” he says with an immodest grin. Menus from favorite restaurants from around the world deck the walls.

Mediterranean-style cooking is, he says, his specialty, “Things that don’t require a precise recipe—I cook by taste: cioppino, pasta, sauces from scratch. I do an incredible lobster bake with clams, corn, shrimp….” When it’s suggested that a lobster bake sounds awfully Maine, he shrugs, “Add a little Pernod and it becomes Mediterranean.”

His entertaining style is casual, usually a buffet, with a gleeful mix of plate patterns, linens and glassware. “It’s nice to give everyone a different glass,” he says. “You can tell which drink is which.” In fair weather he might set three or four round tables on the terrace that runs along the back of the house. The portico and the view out over neighboring gardens provide “a little touch of the south of France.”

Upstairs, dark tropical furnishings meet vividly tropical colors. Three bedrooms painted pistachio, plum, and tomato red. What could be a titanic color clash (unless you’re a parrot) achieves harmony by incorporating each of the shades in each of the rooms “so it flows,” he says.

The brilliantly red master bedroom, (“There’s something very romantic and passionate about red,” he says) combines green and purple in the paisley bedspread. Purple and red dominate the oriental rug on the floor of the green guest room. Paintings in the purple office jolt with red and green.

As with downstairs, the furniture is a mix of the new and the old, the costly and the downright cheap. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money,” he insists. The bedroom lamps are from Crate and Barrel, nothing you’d shudder over if the dog got a little rambunctious. And the fabrics used to re-cover so many of his finds come from G Street Remnants. “I used to buy fabric for $70, $80, $100 a yard,” he says. “You can go to G Street and get the same thing. Maybe it’s a season old but…” he shrugs, implying, who cares?

Mahr will be off again shortly, visiting with craftsmen in Italy and France, scavenging the Paris flea, taking in the gift shows, preparing for the holiday season. In January he’ll head for Florida to live aboard his yacht while spending some quality time at his second A Mano in Naples’ elegant Olde Towne.

He’s put together a nice life for himself, yes?

“Not bad,” he says with a grin. “Not bad at all.”

A Home for the Holidays

Getting the White House ready for Christmas begins mid-summer, with wrangling over the decorating theme for the year. By December the White House social secretary is whirling through 18 hour days that won’t don’t let up until the staff party a few days before the holiday.

For Ann Stock, who filled that role for nearly five years during the Clinton administration, those times were the wildest. One year she and Hillary Clinton sent out a cross-country call to 1500 needle pointers and cross-stitchers, asking them to donate an ornament for the house trees, of which there are many.


“We were stunned by the response,” says Stock. Expecting maybe five hundred, 3500 arrived. It took the entire month of November to unpack, photograph, catalog—and chart them. The staff wanted the needlers to be able to find their creations if they came for a visit.

Stock knows about needlepoint ornaments. Over the years the current Vice President for Institutional Affairs at the Kennedy Center has stitched “50 or 60 of them, I’ve never counted,” she says.

Over the years the current Vice President for Institutional Affairs at the Kennedy Center has stitched “50 or 60 of them, I’ve never counted,” she says.

Tucked away in a living room closet of her home in Old Town Alexandria are boxes and shopping bags filled with layers of ornaments nestled in yam colored tissue. There are nutcrackers, Santa’s, characters from Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz, little mice, and a red Converse sneaker, made for son Chase.

Chase, who is now 27 and studying for a master’s degree at the Wharton School, was a tot when she started stitching. “I must have been close to crazy when he was very little,” she laughs. In addition to stockings for the family, “I needle pointed Christmas stockings for his bunny and Paddington Bear and his teddy—that’s Ted E. Bear,” she added, making sure we got the bear’s name right.

In the weeks before Christmas she juggles her own holiday decorating with preparations for the annual Kennedy Center Honors Gala. “We have Christmas all over the place in this house,” she says.

It rolls out with military precision, “Organization is my hallmark,” she grins, sapphire eyes twinkling. The ornaments are unpacked along with the holiday china and tea set, the stair railings are wrapped, the stockings are hung, and her husband Stuart, an attorney with Covington and Burling, puts up the big Frasier fir in the library.

The library is where the family gathers on Christmas morning. This room, and most of the ground floor, was once the law offices of Bushrod Washington, the first president’s nephew. Built in 1787, the family quarters occupied the second and third floors. .

Restored before the Stocks bought it, over twenty years ago (“We remodeled the first two houses we lived in and swore we’d never remodel again,” she says), the house is largely unchanged from Bushrod’s day. Sadly, the fireplaces that once warmed nearly every room were blocked to bring in central air and heat. Sad, she agrees, “But I’ll take the central heating and air.”

Victorian era modifications included the addition of plumbing, a neat galley kitchen, and an adjacent china closet that was large enough to be turned into a cozy den. Originally, the kitchen was not connected to the house, Stock says. “In these old houses they would often burn down.”

The kitchen is handsome with cherry cabinets and Corian counters, but tight. “If you’re entertaining a lot of people, it’s teeny,” she says. Like at the holidays when the house is filled guests.

Too busy to give, or even go to many parties, all of Stock’s energies go into making Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—exactly the same as every other Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

“We’ve always had Christmas dinner here, always,” she says. And for 24 years (with one exception) it hasn’t varied. That’s the way Chase wants it, and you just don’t mess with the memories of kids—particularly when they seem old enough not to care. That’s when they care the most.

So, she says, “We always have Christmas Eve dinner with Scott, Chase’s best friend from the time he was three, and his parents and my mom when she’s here and Stuart’s parents when they were alive, and always open one present for the kids…even though they’re 27.”

Then there’s “roast beef, double stuffed potatoes, stewed tomatoes, and gooshy parker house rolls,” she reels off. Scott’s mother Martha always contributes a taco dip that that boys love and picks up peppermint ice cream and chocolate sauce at What’s the Scoop? on King Street.

On Christmas Day the hoards descend, as many as twenty when family is in town, but always a core group of fourteen, including five kids that can’t recall a Christmas day apart. So jealous are they of their holiday tradition that they vote to decide if boy friends and girlfriends can be included. So far, none have.

Adults get the big dining room table; the young people are set up in the library. “I’m thinking this year I’ll break up the tables,” she says. “Have the kid’s table and the adult table and put little cards in a bowl and when people come in have them choose…” she scowls slightly and adds, “This will cause major controversy.”

Like the year her good friend White House correspondent Rita Braver and her husband Bob Barnett insisted on making dinner at their house. When a sudden story deadline interfered, they all ate a catered meal at 7 p.m. While Chase conceded that the meal was tasty, the bottom line was, Stock recalls: “It was not what we always have.”

So now, it is as always. “You may not deviate from this meal,” she laughs. “There’s turkey, mashed potatoes, candied yams, cornbread stuffing with apples and raisins marinated in bourbon with pecans, my grandma Grace’s cranberry sauce, parker house rolls, gravy, and… what else?” she pauses. “Oh! I’m forgetting, green beans with ham!
Appetizers come with Rita and Bob, and Jane Weber brings three desserts. Kristen, one of the kids, has lately become a little intimidating, what with her job at Martha Stewart Living. “I told her she can’t criticize, she can help,” says Stock. Last year she got to mash the potatoes.

The kids have gotten older, gone to college, had romances, returned to school, started careers, and they all keep coming back for Christmas. “None of them has ever missed it,” she says. “At some point in time one of them is going to get married and go somewhere else …” she trails off.

But not yet. No, not yet.

Nice to Know a House is Haunted

by Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to the Washington Post
[My most popular piece, the following has been reprinted in newspapers from Maine to Alaska]

“As I was walking up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there;
He wasn't there again today.
I wish, I wish he'd stay away."

The Little Man. By Hughes Mearns (1875-1965)

‘“He” sat there in midair, smiling at me from in front of the cold fireplace. Hands clasped around his crossed knees, he was nodding and rocking. He faded slowly, still smiling and was gone…He was the most cheerful and solid-looking little person I’d ever seen…’”

“He,” was one of five friendly ghosts that inhabited Helen Herdman Ackley’s 18-room Victorian in the New York suburb of Nyack, or so she claimed in “Our Haunted House on the Hudson,” an article she wrote for Reader’s Digest in May 1977.

Sadly for Ms. Ackley, that tale came back to haunt her.


When the Stambovsky’s, a young couple from Manhattan, contracted to purchase the house in the early 1990’s they soon began hearing tales of things going bump in the night and wanted no part of them--even if the resident spooks did, as Ms. Ackley boasted, occasionally leave gifts like “tiny silver tongs” to toast a daughter’s wedding and a “golden baby ring” to rattle in the birth of her first grandchild.

The couple made their case to the New York Supreme Court and got their deposit back. Since Ms. Ackley publicized that her house had ghosts, the court ruled, “…as a matter of law, the house is haunted.”

Ms. Ackley should have made it clear that Casper and company conveyed.

The courts’ judgment was short-lived. By the mid-90’s New York and numerous other states including the District, Virginia and Maryland passed stigmatized property laws. While real estate agents must pass along information to prospective buyers about leaky roofs and other physical defects, immaterial taints like a murder or suicide in the house--or a ghost--may now remain shrouded in silence.

But should you tell anyway?

It was difficult to unearth a real estate agent who’d promote disclosure: “Honey! Are you out of your mind?” shuddered one. “Never, never, never tell anyone you have a ghost.”

Don Denton, a Branch Vice President of Coldwell Banker/Pardoe Real Estate, disagreed: “I’m of the school that you disclose everything—but you disclose with the permission of the seller. If you don’t, two or three weeks later the client will be walking down the street and hear about it and it becomes an issue. They feel taken advantage of.”

Washington real estate attorney Morris Battino attended the same school. “It goes with termites and leaky roofs,” he said. “People today are litigation happy. As far as I’m concerned, the more you disclose the better. In fact a ghost might turn out to be a good selling point. Something to brag about!”

Richard Ellis of Ellis Realty should know. He handled the sale of the Ackley home and listed it again several years later. “People love the history of the house, he said. “It appreciated with the marketplace when it changed hands.” The current owner has lived there six or seven years, he said, adding, “I assume they’re happy. They’re still there.”

Ellis, whose firm was sued along with Ms. Ackley for concealing the invisible, said his attorney observed that one of the ghosts bore a marked resemblance to George Washington, “He argued that if it was Washington’s ghost, the house might be worth more money.”

Are ghosts a serious issue in our area?

“Hauntings have picked up in the last year,” said Bobbie Lescar, founder and director of the 200 member Virginia Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society.

In early fall the organization was getting 300 to 400 e-mails and phone calls a month, now they’re up to between 70 and 80 a day. “Not all say, ‘I have a ghost,” she reassured. “Some just have questions.”

Lescar is not surprised at the volume. “Virginia is one of the most haunted states in the union--as an original colony, it has all that energy,” she said. “Fredericksburg is the second most haunted city in the United States, next to New Orleans.”

“There are hundreds of ghost sites in the U.S.,” said Beverly Litsinger, head of the Maryland Ghost and Spirit Association, which claims 600 members. “Maryland probably has 30 or 40. Virginia has 20 or more. There are a lot of people who believe.”

Lawana Holland, founder and web mistress of the Washington D.C. Ghost Hunting Page, said she gets “e-mail from people from all parts of the country, even from overseas, who say, ‘This has been happening…We don’t know what to do.’”

The graphic designer considers herself “more of a researcher than a hunter—I have a history background. It’s more the nature of ghosts, where the hauntings are located and why.”

Before jumping to the conclusion that your house has a haunt she suggests looking for “a natural cause first—an electrical problem or power lines.” But sometimes, she conceded, events appear truly unnatural.

She recalled the time the owner of a local restaurant called. “The staff was terrified,” he told her. “They’d seen an apparition of a woman and mirrors were breaking and things were being overturned. It subsided after a while, but the cook was still saying his rosary in front of the oven.”

It’s possible that the ephemeral nature of this haunting had to do with remodeling.

“Sometimes renovations stir things up,” Holland mused. “If you’ve gone and changed the home, the land, the place…it creates a little more activity. Disturbances. So much of D.C. is haunted…” she trailed off.

Lescar’s organization will investigate, but they won’t intervene either. “Our mission,” she said, “is to document and record empirical evidence. We want scientists to take the paranormal seriously so that some big research university will devote some money to it. We take a very scientific approach to something that hasn’t been proven by science yet.”

Her volunteer staff conducts about one full-scale investigation a month. After a phone interview to weed out the “crazies” a team is sent in to check out the home. “We look for obvious stuff,” she said. “Drugs, tapes like “Night of the Living Dead”--to see if they’ve been watching too many scary movies.”

If supernatural activity is suspected, “We set up surveillance,” said Lescar. “We try to catch phenomena on a tape or camcorder, which is pretty boring unless something happens.” They also monitor room temperature and electromagnetic activity using an electromagnetic field detector (EMF), the weapon of choice for ghoul watchers.

Lescar, a technology teacher at Cumberland County Elementary School, maintains that most spirits are benign, “I’ve only run across a couple that had negative energy,” she said.

Do people learn to live in harmony with their ghosts?

“Oh yes!” she exclaimed. “I had one lady who liked the fact that the house is haunted, that when she goes on vacation the place is protected.” This family’s retainer is “a mean looking old man that looks out the front window. They’re actually comforted.”

But who you gonna call when an uninvited guest has worn out its welcome?

Beverly Litsinger doesn’t claim to bust ghosts, she’s more of a mediator—and isn’t that appropriate for this area. Litsinger, who by day is a consultant for several non-profits, will work with you and your haunt to try to find a happy medium.

The huntress has always been comfortable with the spirit world: “As a child I’d see them and commune with them. I thought everybody did.” Her daughter, now thirty, also has the ability. Her husband “won’t talk, but the man has seen full-bodied ghosts.”

“People want to know if they really have a spirit,” said Litsinger, who often has several hanging around her home in Randallstown, Maryland. “They want to make peace with them so they’re not frightened.” The people not the ghost.

Take the case of the mother and son in Ellicott City who were being terrorized by…something.

“The kid was a teenager,” said Litsinger, “and kept playing loud music.” One night he was going full blast in the basement when he started hearing noises and noticing that “things” were moving around the room. Scared witless, he fled upstairs and slammed the door.

Then, realizing he’d left the light on—No! Don’t open that door!--He opened the door, reached in to flip the switch…and the door slammed shut on his head.

Mama called in Litsinger who communed with the speechless wraith via an EMF; hers is equipped with a gauge that allows “yes” and “no” answers.

“The ghost was an old, old, old lady,” Litsinger said, “and she didn’t like his music.” As long as the boy kept the volume down, the specter indicated, the scare tactics would cease. “She was very happy to chat. I liked her a lot.”

Sadly, this intervention didn’t succeed. The lad wasn’t about to give up his music and the family decided to move.

Litsinger was more successful at solving the problem of a woman in Glen Burnie whose tenant was “a very pleasant man—a full-bodied ghost who just smiled at people.”

While the family had grown used to him, his appearance at dinner parties was unsettling.

Litsinger discovered that the man, who had died in the house, had been a jeweler. He told her that he had dug out the floor by hand to make a workshop, was quite proud of it and didn’t want to leave. (It was, in fact, the only house in the neighborhood with a cellar, she later found.)

With Litsinger’s assistance, the lady of the house struck a deal with her smiling spook: He could stay, as long as he kept to the basement.

“People often make peace with ghosts,” said Litsinger. “They’re just people in another incarnation. And just like you, they don’t like to be ignored. They like to have their presence acknowledged. Sometimes they’ll leave when you ask. If they don’t feel like it, they won’t.”

Traditionalists might prefer to call in a priest to roust their demons. Father Michael O’Sullivan, Pastor of St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill, has some experience with them.

“Oh my yes,” he said in his thick Irish brogue. “The rectory is haunted.”

The first step, he chuckled, should be to “try a little Guinness.” If that doesn’t help, he said, “I’d go in and bless the house.” If that still doesn’t help, “and if there truly seems to be some supernatural being,” the good Father suggested calling the archdiocese.

He said that he learned from reading “The Exorcist” that every archdiocese has one.

A French Fantasy in Cumberland

For the Washington Post's At Home magazine
By Stephanie Cavanaugh

“I would rather have a smaller house with really beautiful beams than a 10,000 square foot McMansion in Potomac.” Kelly Moran announces, blond curls bobbling. “They’re big empty boxes and they’re boring.”

Utterly unlike the weekend home that Kelly built, wit-filled and charming. As if Marie Antoinette had uplifted one of her quirky little farmhouses outside of Trianon and dropped it on the edge of a golf course in Cumberland, Maryland.


On a foggy weekday it has that mirage air. Birds chirp. Gravel crunches underfoot. The terrace alongside the limestone cottage overlooks a bank of lavender to a pond and waterfall. Not a golfer in sight. Just green rising up to the mountains of West Virginia in the distance.

National parkland, she says. It will never be built on. “It will always have this amazing, phenomenal view.”

Her husband, Steve Wade, chose the golf course location. A transplanted Brit, “When he was in England he thought that was like, ‘You’ve arrived,’” she said.

She chose the style. Enchanted by homes she’d seen in England, France and Holland, Moran wanted it to seem as if she’d been skipping through the fields and discovered an ancient stone barn, restored it, and added on a handful of rooms: a sleeping loft above the great room for son Liam, a library that steps up to a master bedroom, one full bath and a powder room.

She also decided to build it. “I’m not a Barbie doll.” she laughed. “I’m a tom boy.” (A tom boy with a fair resemblance to Kyra Sedgewick, a degree in fine art, training in landscape architecture, and a book on China tea cups under her tool belt).

Besides the challenge, serving as her own general contractor “would save twenty to thirty percent of the total cost,” she said. Not a negligible sum, since it cost twice as much and took more than twice as long as she expected, just as everyone had warned.

“I thought,” she said with an amused shrug, “$200-$250,000 for a little cottage and I could do it in a year.” It took three years to build the 1800 square foot house, and she’s not saying how much over her original cost guesstimate.

She started with a sketch, then built a scale model in balsa wood. “It was like wow! Now I can really get into it,” she laughed. “Maybe the loft should be larger…or the kitchen smaller. I could see how every change affects everything else.”

Her husband suggested the great room’s post and beam construction, which at first gave her pause. “I don’t want a moose on the wall. I’m not doing Aspen,” she said, “It had to look European.”

But they discovered a company in Canada that did elegant work with reclaimed timber. Massive beams from a school house and a bridge were cut to size then aged with dings and gauges. “I paid extra for that,” she laughed. They were numbered and shipped south for assembly.

The ceiling soars twenty three feet to the ridge beam.

The windows are also from Canada, designed to keep frigid cold at bay. Under the stone floors, run tubes for hydronic radiant heat that the couple laid themselves. “Its great,” she giggles, “And right by the toilet? Ahhh!”

Highly energy efficient, the heating bills are astounding. Keeping the house at around 74 degrees costs, she said, “Like thirty bucks a month.”

Much of the construction work was done by Moran and her husband. He built the library bookcases with the secret door in the center that swings open to reveal the laundry. Together they laid the slate floor, though later she spent many lonely hours grouting with a pastry bag to keep the muck off the tiles.

Supplementary labor was mainly local. The latte colored Venetian plaster on the walls was applied by a woman who’d created the artful finishes at the ice cream parlor. The wrought iron railings were installed by a craftsman she found assembling an antique staircase in the coffee shop.

Another local company, Breighner, designed the wall cabinets in the drop dead kitchen. Painted a near matte ebony, with a pie crust sink and faucet set imported from England, the copper hardware matches the fabulously intimidating copper counter. It’s quite practical, Moran insists. Made by a company that normally manufactures air conditioning ductwork, it is treated with an automotive clear coat sealant to retard tarnish.

For an unfitted, Euro look, the wine colored island with the green soapstone surface is a deliberate mismatch. Standing behind it and gazing out over the room is like having your own cooking show. Don’t drop the turkey.

Stashed in the island is the pair of under-counter commercial refrigerators that yield the same storage as a standard unit, cost a fraction of residential models, and have the added benefit of being unobtrusive.

Throughout the house, architectural salvage that she’s collected for years is put to delightful reuse. An antique firebox grill hides the air conditioning return, “it doesn’t have to be ugly, and it still functions,” she said. In the bathroom, an antique mantel frames another firebox for a bit of English cheer.

Moran is not the least averse to a bit of cheap chic decorating, like the G Street Remnant sheers tacked to the master bedroom dormer with clear plastic thumbtacks (Oh, who would notice but us?) that tents the bed most romantically.

It’s a weekend house, after all. No closets (though she’s looking for an armoire), and no bedroom doors, “We don’t seem to miss them,” she said.

At home in Gaithersburg, the family scatters. “My son will go up into his room and play on the computer,” she said. “My husband will go to the basement—the man cave—with the surround sound and the soccer. And I’m in the kitchen or the bedroom. We’re like all over.”

Then there’s the cleaning, the heating, and the cooling. “I think more and more people want to be in a smaller house and spend the money on good materials,” she said. And here, in this intimate space, the family is connected. “It’s really good,” she said with a satisfied smile.

Under the Virginia Sun

At Home in Charlottesville
for the Washington Post's At Home Magazine

When building an Italian villa, there’s a very fine line between splendid and gaudy. “You go into some of these grand villas in Italy and the level of detail and artistry is just staggering,” says Rex Scatena, tossing a lemon from hand to hand at his kitchen table. “We wanted to make sure it was apparent that we didn’t try to duplicate that. We’ve seen when that’s attempted and it always looks like a bad casino in Las Vegas.

“On the other hand,” he adds, “you can take inspiration from the style.”

He should know. Scatena and his wife, Jane, spent three years planning and building Tra Vigne, their 15,000 or 16,000 or 17,000 square foot manor house (“it depends on how they measure it,” he says) on 138 acres near Charlottesville, Virginia.


Equally debatable are the number of rooms. He ticks them off on his fingers, in no particular order: “Uh. Let me go through our minds here. Bedroom, bathroom, dressing room, bathroom, library, living room, kitchen, laundry, upstairs bedroom, bathroom, another bedroom, bathroom, TV room…” he trails off, neglecting to mention the dining room, the billiard room, the wine cellar, and sundry others.

He looks at his wife questioningly, “Twenty?”

What is, after all, a room? Her Honduran mahogany paneled 16 by 20 foot dressing room—about the scale of a hotel’s Chanel boutique—must surely count. But maybe his, about half the size though equally well-fitted, does not.

Enormous, yes. The size of six suburban mini-mansions or a block of city row houses. About 4,000 square feet larger than their neighboring villa, Jefferson’s Monticello. Yet, the home is perfectly scaled to its setting.

Tra Vigne, which means “among vineyards,” is indeed nestled in the midst of 14 acres of grapevines that the Scatenas planted. The varieties grown include merlot, cabernet franc and chardonnay, which are sold to Blenheim Vineyards, the nearby winery owned by musician Dave Matthews.

Lemons are also grown here, though not the lemon at hand. Just off the main house is the lemonia, an Italian version of the French orangerie, where Meyer lemons, a delicious cross between an orange and a lemon, are cultivated in the cold months. In summer, the trees flourish outdoors in terracotta pots.

“In the wintertime it’s beautiful. You go in and it’s full of fragrance from lemon blossoms and lemons,” says Mrs. Scatena, a statuesque blond who is flounced in a chair across from her husband, wearing a gauzy skirt scattered with tiny sequins and a lacy off the shoulder top, “My walking through the vineyard outfit,” she quips.

The villa is classical in style with a double loggia entry, symmetrical wings, and a cluster of out buildings, all embraced by a high-walled courtyard. Except for the salon, closely modeled the one at Villa La Suvera in Chianti, the rooms borrow details from many villas they have visited—on a more modest scale.

The ceilings aren’t 30 or 40 feet high, as they often are in the originals. “You need that wall space because when you called Mike Angelo to come over and paint something on the wall…he needs space,” Mr. Scatena jokes.

Here they’re kept to a more human maximum of 16-feet. “There are Italian villas where they wouldn’t have a ceiling this short in the laundry room,” he says.

This is intended to be a comfortable home for themselves and their children: Amalia, 23, a budding chef (Italian, of course) who is studying in Tuscany this year; and William, 17, their golfer and artist, now entering his senior year in high school.

The rooms reflect this family’s passions.

Food lovers all, the kitchen is filled with such serious conveniences as a pot-filler behind the Viking cook top, a built-in deep fryer, and a Carrara marble pastry slab. The room’s dining area, with its huge fireplace (one of six in the house), is a favorite spot for winter dinners.

An enormous antelope head glares outraged from over the fireplace in the bar and billiards room, “the room we spend, unfortunately, too much time in,” laughs Mr. Scatena. Equally disgruntled appear the cape buffalo, the scimitar horned oryx and a dozen or so more exotic heads and skulls and skins that he and William have captured on safari in Africa.

Mrs. Scatena makes it clear with a roll of the eyes that hunting is not her bag: “It’s typical all guy. The accommodations meet guy expectations.”

Her domain is down a winding staircase in the master bedroom wing. Here is a 32 by 21 foot, mirror-lined dance studio. A professional actor (she’s appeared in numerous plays and musicals in Charlottesville and San Francisco) the room is used for private classes and rehearsals.

Next door is a gym filled with commercial quality equipment, a sauna and a tanning bed. Her husband, she offers, is welcome to share it all, “But he likes to go into town, to work out at a club with people around. I enjoy my privacy.”

The couple began dreaming of Tra Vigne shortly after they moved from San Francisco to Charlottesville in 1997. Mr. Scatena, a lawyer and a founder of Value America, one of the first dot-com retailers, says the area was chosen for its proximity to Washington, sophisticated intellectual scene, and country feel. In short, “a great place to raise kids,” says Mrs. Scatena.

It’s also an ideal spot to recreate the Napa Valley.

It took a year to research, design, and plan the villa along with Bushman Dreyfus Architects in Charlottesville. “Jeff Bushman actually studied in Italy, says Mrs. Scatena. “It was really important to us that he understood.”

“They didn’t want an interpretation of an Italian villa,” says Bushman. “They wanted the real McCoy.” He spent three weeks in Italy with the Scatenas, touring villas and soaking up fine points.

When they returned, the architects finished the plans and began construction while the owners returned time and again to Italy to scout materials, craftspeople, art and furnishings.

The enormous, frighteningly fragile Murano glass chandeliers in the salon and the dining room were custom designed and shipped over (very carefully) with enough spare arms and decorative bits to fashion a third. The bathroom vanities came from Oretzo. A potter in Tuscany made the terracotta urns for the lemon trees.

Sitting at a bar in Positano they heard of a family in Salerno that had been in the tile business for hundred of years. DeMartino and Fili would spend a year creating tiles for Tra Vigne, shipping them over and sending laborers to install them. “If you’re going to use Italian floor tile, our thinking was, you’ve got to have someone who knows how to work with the stuff,” Mr. Scatena explained.

Then masons were located to carve, crate and ship the massive Vincenza stones—the same stones used by Palladio—that form the home’s pillars and cornices and fireplace mantels.

Jane Scatena wooed a craftsman in Venice, famed for his museum-quality plaster, stucco and particularly marmorino, a wall finish that incorporates powdered marble to mesmerizing effect. Yes, Gianni would come to America with his materials and tints and a team of plasterers.

“You should see these guys,” she murmered, stroking a satiny wall, “They’re just so sinewy and muscular from hand-trowling.” Except for the guest wing, there is no paint used in the house. The finishes are infused with various shades of rose, bordeaux, ochre, green, and butter yellow.

For a riotous few months the winding drive was filled with packing crates and the house was overrun with workers, both local and Italian, sometimes fifty of them at once. A surprisingly smooth process—despite the northern Italians who couldn’t understand the southern Italians and the workmen from Charlottesville understanding neither. Bridging the divide were Mr. Scatena with his basic Italian and Gianni with his wobbly English and the occasional intervention of a translator from the university.

But oh! Jane Scatena laughs, “We had great meals!”

Perhaps most extraordinary is that Tra Vigne was built on a budget of 4.5 million dollars.

“The key?” says Bushman, “We built it, believe it or not, using commercial methods, with a commercial manager keeping it on budget. It’s all very standard construction except for the final finishes.”

Those fantastic finishes, and materials and even the imported craftsmen didn’t add substantially to the cost of the project: “We priced the tile every which way and actually the small company we used in Italy…was relatively inexpensive.”

Shipping? “Even that was not a big deal,” he says. “One column broke, the single mishap. I kind of like it…We joked about going around with an iron bar to chip them all up a little bit.”

But the owners’ participation was indispensable. “I don’t think we could have done it without the Scatenas flying over and working those local contacts,” he said, adding, “It was a fabulous job…in a sense we’re in awe of the Scatenas for even taking it on.”

With the house finally completed, their daughter grown and their son nearly so, will they stay on?

“I think after Willie graduates this place will seem pretty big,” Jane Scatena says. “And we’ve been talking about wanting to travel, just at a moments notice. Just take off.”

“Maybe we’ll move back to California,” Rex Scatena suggests. “Or maybe Mexico, maybe Italy, maybe designing a new place together.”

“We work well together,” his wife smiles. “There’s definitely teamwork on this. It’s not just me and not just him…”

“We’ve got to have a good architect though,” he reminds her. And another dream begins.

Lush Landing

for the Washington Post's At Home magazine

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

Talk about sleeping your way to the top.

The former home of President Warren Harding in the Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood of Northwest Washington was a shambles when serial developer Blair Rose and his partner, mortgage banker Greg Busch got their hands on it three years ago.

They sold their townhouse in Dupont Circle to buy the 7500 square foot mansion but instead of renting until the place was habitable they house hopped.

“It’s like bar hopping,” quips Rose, “but with houses.” With several properties around the city in some state of repair or other, there was always another place to flop. “Once there was a shower and a toilet and one room without dust, we were there.”

Would he ever do it again? “Only for this house,” he says, shaking his head. “Otherwise, My God, I would not have my sanity—or my partner.”

And this house? What a place for a final flop. The magnificent Georgian revival hob nobs with the former homes of presidents Roosevelt, Hoover, Taft and Wilson. It’s a neighborhood where adjacent house numbers jump several digits to account for their multiple lots, and the quiet is as lush as fois gras.

The Rose-Busches were immediately taken with the classic proportions, spacious rooms, enormous landings on each level, and the graceful staircase that winds through the center of the house. “Sometimes these homes fall apart on the third floor,” says Rose. “Third floors were used as storage rooms or for housekeepers…Not this one. It retains its generous proportions throughout.”

It’s also perfectly symmetrical, even when it’s not. For example, a set of French doors that open from the living room to a Juliet balcony over the anteroom (“a name I only heard once I had one,” laughs Rose. ‘It’s a fancy mud room.”) are matched by a fake pair, inset with mirrors and leading to nowhere, at the other end of the room.

“This was like a museum when we came,” says Rose. “Nothing had been changed since it was built in 1916.” The original triple-wide Frigidaire was in the kitchen, along with call buttons for the servants, and a horizontally mounted radiator that served as a plate warmer. The elaborate plaster moldings were still in place, as were the original brass fixtures, the claw foot tubs, and the chestnut paneled library on the second floor.

There was also a trove of memorabilia from the previous owners, Lt Commander Page Clagett and his wife Dorothy Tirrell Clagett, whose parents bought the house from the Harding’s when they moved on to the White House. A popular hostess and diplomatic aide with the State Department in the 1950’s, Mrs. Clagett’s meticulously kept diaries detail evenings that included entertaining Vice President Nixon, and strolling down the block to the Embassy of Afghanistan, where President Eisenhower and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie were dining. There were personal mementoes as well, like her debutante photo, taken at 16, at the foot of the grand staircase.

But the place was an elegant ruin. The childless couple were in their 90’s and in failing health when they decided to sell. They’d lived here for years with a caretaker and, says Rose, took no notice when serious leaks began to cause the plaster ceilings to buckle and fall. Returning it to its original grandeur would take a year, and more than a million dollars.

Like most of the fifteen houses Rose has completed over the past five years, the Harding home is neither a true restoration nor a complete renovation. “With each property I look at the architecture and try to keep the original character of the house while updating for modern convenience,” he says. “So in five to ten years you can walk in and not be able to pinpoint when the renovation was done…there’s nothing about the cabinetry or light fixtures that make you say….mmmmm, 1974.”

Besides the remains of the ceilings, which were surgically removed to preserve the ornate crown moldings, little has been changed in the entry, living room and dining room. Here and throughout the house, the original floors, woodwork, shadow-box and crown moldings, and brass fixtures were restored wherever possible. When new doors and trim were required, the originals were painstakingly replicated.

The kitchen and baths underwent complete transformations. Typically utilitarian spaces in 1916—guests hardly hung out in kitchens back then—they are now Hollywood versions of the originals.

“Words can’t express what this used to look like,” says Rose, breezing through the butler’s pantry with its walnut cabinets and into the kitchen where the cupboards are white wood, glass fronted, and decked out with nickel hardware that gleams like old silver. (If you’ve debated chrome vs. nickel, stop. There’s no comparison).

Though neither of the owners cook, a six burner Viking gives the kitchen a timeless air. The range sits between two sets of new French doors leading to a sweeping terrace and the garden—an area once nearly filled by a garage that abutted the rear wall of the house.

Also gutted was the powder room and each of the four baths. A small bath and second floor parlor adjacent to the master bedroom became the master bath and a pair of wood-paneled dressing rooms that feel true to the era, even if they “never would have existed in 1916,” says Rose.

In the white marble floored bath, crystal legs support a double vanity overhung by a wall of mirror that reflects the crystal chandelier, the titanic double slipper tub, and a glass enclosed shower with two shower heads, big enough for “you and three of your closest friends,” Rose cracks.

For a guest bath upstairs, Crackled white “subway” tiles –you see them in New York subway stations— surface the walls, and a new nickel rain shower from Samuel Heath, a British firm that provided all of the homes period fixtures, is suspended from the ceiling above the original claw foot tub.

With few exceptions, the home’s restoration was done by Rose’s own crew, “they’re on my creative wavelength,” he says, “they want to be artists.” And Rose himself chose the furnishings, which complement the stateliness of the house but welcome a constant flow of guests as well as Chuck, a part shar pei, part lab mutt, and exact match for the palomino suede library couch. No accident. “A lot of the colors are based around him,” he laughs.

Du Pont Pedigree at a Modest Price in Delaware

By Stephanie Cavanaugh
Special to The Washington Post
Note: This piece from the Washington Post Travel section previously appeared in longer form in the Post's At Home magazine

There's nothing quite like morning coffee by the privy.

That's just one of the quirky charms of the Inn at Montchanin Village, a soothing way station just minutes from Winterthur, Longwood Gardens and myriad other attractions in the Brandywine Valley on the outskirts of Wilmington, Del.

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