Historic Somerset House in NW is updated, but retains ‘old-world charm’

August 1

Steven Churchill, who recently relocated from Chicago, said he was looking for a historic property in Washington with some upscale contemporary touches.

He found it at Somerset House Condominium on 16th Street NW. Designed by the well-known architect Harry Wardman in 1917, Somerset House is undergoing a transformation.

The landmark U-shaped apartment building has been converted to condominiums that offer homeowners luxurious updates while retaining its original elegance. “It has the old-world charm with modern amenities, ” Churchill said.

One recent Saturday afternoon, the condo’s broker, John Fitzgerald of Long and Foster, was standing outside waiting for an appointment and fielding questions from callers and passersby about the historic residence.

“The project has been very successful. On the weekend that we released the first 21 units, we had 49 offers by Tuesday,” he said, adding that in many cases tenants have become owners.

Fitzgerald said that 32 market units and 14 tenant units have sold. So far, Somerset is releasing units in phases with various open houses, offering “wine and nibbles” to prospective buyers. He added that while they have exceeded expectations so far, the other half of the building will still need to be sold once those units hit the market.


The living room in the two-bedroom unit at Somerset House has red-oak hardwood floors with a dark walnut stain. (Benjamin C Tankersley/For The Washington Post)

Nest Thermostats: The white-and-black marble lobby has a dramatic entrance and was one of the first things that caught Churchill’s eye when he first toured the building. It has been meticulously restored to its original grandeur.

Somerset House also has new windows, elevators, plumbing and wiring, as well as a new roof. All of the units are being renovated. The units come with granite counters and stainless-steel appliances in the kitchen, as well as Nest Thermostats that help save on energy bills and adjust to owners’ temperature pattern when they’re home or away.

The entire process of transforming the 84-unit building from apartments to condos will continue through the end of the year.

Micro-units and penthouses: The building is comprised of micro-units and junior one- and two-bedroom apartments. There are four model units available to tour. At 350 square feet, the micro-unit model maximizes space surprisingly well with appliances disguised as cabinetry and upscale features that distract from the size of the unit. Each of the micro-units and junior one-bedroom units come with a flat-panel TV mounted in a niche.


The kitchen in the 350-square-foot micro unit has a pull out refridgerator, freezer and mini-dishwasher. (Benjamin C Tankersley/For The Washington Post)

Most of the units have entry foyers and are bright and airy with a nice flow from one room to the next. The master bedroom has a built-in closet organizer. The red-oak hardwood floors with dark walnut stain are original. The bathrooms have floors of either marble, tile or porcelain.

Churchill opted to buy what Fitzgerald calls “one of the most interesting units in the building.” His unit is made up of three separate units that create an entire wing of the building.

After living in Washington one summer as an intern decades ago, Churchill said that he remembers that many of the older buildings in the city were very narrow.

“Somerset is a pretty unique building,” said Churchill. “I looked at 30 properties, and it’s not that many in D.C. where you can have this type of width.” Churchill is 6-foot-4 and said that space is a priority.

Wine cave: Wine connoisseurs will be able to enjoy a custom air-conditioned wine room with a tasting table and seating. Once completed, the room will have a sink, icemaker and wine cooler, and some units can rent a secured dark walnut locker.

Other amenities include a fitness center with high-end equipment, 4-by-5- and 4-by-6-foot storage rooms and a bike room. Fitzgerald said that the development is seeking approval for a rooftop deck.


The original molding in the lobby was restored. (Benjamin C Tankersley/For The Washington Post)

More original molding in the lobby. (Benjamin C Tankersley/For The Washington Post)

Prime location: One of the great things about living within walking distance of downtown and several trendy neighborhoods, as well as within 12 blocks from the White House, is that the need for a car greatly diminishes. There are just six parking spaces available for some of the combined units.

“Residents are non-reliant on cars,” Fitzgerald said.

Transportation: The Dupont Metro Station, 16th Street bus.

Carisa Crawford-Chappell is a freelance writer.

Somerset House Condominium

1801 16th St. NW, Washington

The condos range from $259,000 to $1.3 million for the penthouse.

Builder: Tenacity Group

Features: The windows, elevator, wiring, plumbing and roof have been replaced in the 1917 building. The units have granite countertops, built-in closet organizers in the bedroom and Nest Thermostats.

Bedrooms/bathrooms: Studios and 1 to 3/1 to 3.5

Square footage: 324 to 1,900

Homeowners association fees: $195 to $600

View models: By appointment

Sales office: John Fitzgerald at Long & Foster, 202-487-4347 or sales@somersethousedc.com.

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