Chris and Karen Donatelli and their four children — Christopher, 11, Caroline, 10, Claudia, 7, and Catherine, 4 — take pleasure in the quirks and whimsical touches in their historic home, into which they moved in 2008. Built in 1897 by architect Appleton P. Clark for William L. Crounse, the founder of the National Press Club, the Owl’s Nest is designated as a historic landmark, which had an impact on the residence’s renovation.
“The Owl’s Nest was considered a country house when it was built on a hilltop oriented toward Connecticut Avenue,” Chris Donatelli said. “There are still lots of tall trees on the lot, so probably the name comes from owls nesting on the property. Karen and I were drawn to this place because we lived in the city when we were first married and wanted to move back into town from Potomac. Even though there were broken windows and the turret had become a nasty-smelling pigeon coop, we were intrigued by the size of the place, and we could see its potential.”
The couple’s first step was to call George Myers, principal of GTM Architects, a friend who has collaborated with Donatelli on many commercial real estate projects. Myers has restored and remodeled numerous historic homes and immediately saw the possibilities for the Owl’s Nest. The house had been vacant for years after the property was purchased in 2001 by the Jewish Primary Day School. The school wanted to tear down the Owl’s Nest to build a new school, but neighbors united to save the house by securing the historic designation, and eventually the property was purchased by the Donatellis.
Donatelli, principal of Donatelli Development, is known for transforming city neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights, the U Street corridor and Petworth with residential and mixed-use developments such as the Ellington on U Street and Kenyon Square on 14th Street. His latest project is a 376-unit building at Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road in Northeast, adjacent to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station. While his main business is residential development, Donatelli also owns the Acre 121 restaurant and Lou’s City Bar, a sports bar, both in Columbia Heights.
For his own home, Donatelli relied on Myers’s expertise.
“The house had three levels with about 5,000 square feet, so we doubled it in size,” Myers said. “The first floor was actually in decent shape, so we were able to restore the original wood floors, the wood stairwell and the stained glass windows, but otherwise it was a gut job all the way down to the studs, and we replaced almost everything.”