You might think that renovating his home kitchen would be a priority for Geoff Tracy, owner of five restaurants in the Washington area, including four locations of Chef Geoff’s and Lia’s in Chevy Chase, Md.
But Tracy and his wife, Norah O’Donnell, co-host of “CBS This Morning,” have opted to save that project for later. Little did they know when they purchased their Northwest D.C. home in 2010 that two years later O’Donnell would be offered a job that requires her presence in New York for most of the year.
“That’s kind of typical of our lives,” Tracy says. “Every time everything seems to be coming together and completely organized, something new comes up.”
The couple and their three children, twins Grace and Henry, 5, and Riley, 4, now split their time between their seven-bedroom, four-level D.C. home and an apartment on New York’s Upper West Side. Before the New York move, Tracy was set to begin a complete demolition and remodeling of his kitchen, but that project is momentarily on hold while the family settles into its new routines. The whole family enjoys experiencing life in two cities, but Grace Tracy says she loves the D.C. house more because of its huge playroom. The playroom extends across the entire attic level of the house and includes two dormer windows, built-in cabinets and a guest bedroom for slumber parties.
Geoff Tracy says his favorite part of their home extends across three rooms on the main level. At the front of the house is a circular music room with marble fireplace and a grand piano, where all three children practice. Just beyond this room is O’Donnell’s elegant office, with cream-colored walls, a desk nestled into a box bay window and another marble fireplace. Her office opens into a dazzling cream-and-white sunroom with floor-to-ceiling windows with transoms and a glass door to an expansive deck.
From the music room to the sunroom, all three rooms are light-filled and share a view of the poplar trees that provide a natural privacy fence for eight months of the year.
“My favorite part of the house is my office and the adjoining rooms,” O’Donnell says. “It’s great in the morning to sit at my desk with the sun warming my back, a fire in the fireplace and the kids lounging and reading in the sunroom.”
The Tracy-O’Donnell home, built in 2004 and rented to the South African Embassy and the Australian Embassy as temporary residences for their ambassadors during renovations, appealed to O’Donnell not only for the space for their children but also to allow the family to entertain.
“The big appeal of this house is the layout, with large, gracious rooms on the first floor that are great for cocktail parties and intimate dinner parties,” O’Donnell says. “We wanted our house to be the gathering place for our friends and family. A house is meant for being lived in, for getting dirty and for being filled with people.”
One of her favorite evenings was a 75th-birthday party for Bob Schieffer of CBS News, with dinner served in the dining room and other spaces.
“We set up tables for dinner for 40 or 50 people in the music room, Norah’s office and the sunroom,” says Tracy, who also pointed out the scratches on their hardwood floor from a recent disco party. “I’m like a teenager who wrecks the house with a party when his parents go away for the weekend.”
O’Donnell remembers the disco evening fondly, too, a birthday party they hosted for a friend who was turning 40.
“We turned the foyer and great room into a dance floor and everyone came in ’70s outfits,” she says. “Everyone said it was the best party ever.”
The couple hosted the dessert portion of the Horace Mann Elementary School’s Progressive Dinner fundraiser in 2011, entertaining 150 people with champagne and pastries created by Chef Geoff’s restaurant staffers.
Tracy says that while 75 percent of the changes they made to the home were decorative, they made some structural changes to the great room and kitchen to increase the natural light and enhance the view from the front door to the woods behind the house. Kelly Holland, an interior designer and president of KPH Studios in Arlington, assisted Tracy and O’Donnell with the design elements of the home.
“There was a huge TV cabinet that blocked the entrance into the great room, so we took that out and moved the TV to the wall over the fireplace,” Tracy says. “Norah had the idea to take two of the columns from the front door and move them to the great room, which gives us a wider front entrance.”
While Tracy says he would be fine with an exposed flat-screen TV above the fireplace, he says Norah installed a painting that can be rolled up and down to hide the TV. The great room has a coffered ceiling and a wall of windows and glass doors that open onto the deck.
“We knocked out part of the wall that connects the kitchen and great room, because we like the openness,” Tracy says. “When ambassadors were using this house it had a more formal floor plan with a closed-off kitchen.”
Tracy’s plans for the kitchen, which already has high-end appliances, myriad cabinets and extensive counter space, include knocking down the rest of the wall to create an open kitchen and great room, replacing the dark granite counters with mother-of-pearl granite and expanding the center island for more seating and prep space. The catering kitchen and office located behind the main kitchen will be remodeled as well to add a third oven along with more counter space and cabinets. Windows line the walls of this room now, which functions as Tracy’s office and includes a second dishwasher, a wine cooler and cabinets.
Adjacent to the kitchen is a curved breakfast room with floor-to-ceiling windows.
“Norah’s getting window treatments custom-made for the breakfast area, but I think it would be cheaper to just staple a bunch of $20 bills up there,” Tracy says. “I had no idea how expensive those things would be.”
Tracy and O’Donnell opted to remove plantation shutters from the walls of windows in several rooms because they blocked too much of the woodland view. The couple removed the floor-to-ceiling fieldstone that surrounded the family room fireplace, switching to a smooth, more contemporary finish.
“The stone looked like we should be living in the mountains or something,” Tracy says.
The main level also includes an elegant powder room with pale gray and white wallpaper and a carved white cabinet. The dining room, which has pocket doors so that it can be closed off when entertaining formally, seats 25 to 30 people.
An elevator links all four levels of the home, which has a formal staircase and a private rear staircase. The lower level includes a family room with a fireplace and a game area that includes a ping-pong table and a 24-foot putting green so Tracy can practice his short game all winter. French doors open off the game area to a level lawn where Tracy and O’Donnell recently hosted a rehearsal dinner for Tracy’s brother and business partner, Chris Tracy.
A guest bedroom and an au pair suite with a private kitchenette are on the lower level, along with a laundry room and a family entrance off the garage that includes built-in cubbies and storage closets.
“We knew this had to be our house when we saw that there were three cubbies, one for each kid,” Tracy says.
Tracy, who’s well-known for his organizational and time management abilities, says the only room he was allowed to decorate was the garage, which looks as perfect as a magazine ad. The color scheme and decorative elements bring to mind Georgetown University, where he and O’Donnell met. There are racks on the walls for bikes, sleds and the myriad toys, Halloween decorations and sports equipment that come with family life.
The third level of the home includes a bedroom with a full bath for each of the children.
“Norah and I were Montessori-educated kids, and so are our three, so Norah made sure the closets are organized and the kids can reach everything so they can learn to be independent at a young age,” Tracy says.
Tracy and O’Donnell’s bedroom has a star-quality walk-in closet for O’Donnell, a second walk-in closet for Tracy, a luxury bath with a soaking tub facing the poplar trees and, most important, a flat-screen TV where Tracy can watch O’Donnell on weekday mornings.
Michele Lerner is a freelance writer.