The Wright Way
About 15 years ago, a Chevy Chase contractor named Bailey Adams was looking for some antique Brazilian rosewood for a home he was restoring, and a friend suggested he see Luis Marden.
Marden, then in his late seventies, was a globe-trotting National Geographic magazine photographer and writer known to be a connoisseur of exotic woods, as well as an expert pilot, scuba diver, explorer and friend of kings and sultans.
Adams already knew Marden lived quietly with his wife in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright overlooking the Potomac River in McLean. One of three Wright-designed homes in the Washington area, the Marden house, as it is called, seldom has been photographed or examined by scholars. For many Wright aficionados, the home remains a mystery even today, nearly half a century after it was built.
So Adams was not prepared for the experience he had when he first entered the house.
He remembers going to see Marden in autumn, negotiating his way down a steep driveway to a small concrete structure, surrounded by weeds and cut unassumingly into the side of a rocky hillside above the river.
Marden, a slight, mustachioed man wearing an ascot, answered Adams's knock on the door and greeted him pleasantly, beckoning him in.
Adams stepped into a dark vestibule, then turned to his left.
"There were 80 feet of floor-to-ceiling windows, 300 feet above the most beautiful set of rapids in the river," Adams says. "It took my breath away. I just stopped. I couldn't say anything."
Marden turned to him, totally deadpan.
"He said, 'Well, I see it has the desired effect,'" Adams recalls, with chuckle.
And so it seemed like kismet last summer when Adams was summoned to meet with multimillionaire James V. Kimsey, the America Online founder who lives next door to the Marden house. Kimsey had quietly bought the property -- in part to control the view from his own house -- from the Mardens for $2.5 million in 2000.
Kimsey wanted know what Adams thought of the house, a flat-roofed, mahogany-trimmed cinder-block home that curves into the side of the hill and comes to an abrupt point upriver, like the bow of a boat. It sits just steps away from the $12 million mansion Kimsey had recently built as a showplace for fundraisers and other charitable events for his many causes.