Five's Company

Park Road housemates Jorge Silva-Bañuelos, Susie Armitage, Teresa Svart, Joe Cardosi and Elizabeth Ody, whose personalities find expression in both living room and laundry room.
Park Road housemates Jorge Silva-Bañuelos, Susie Armitage, Teresa Svart, Joe Cardosi and Elizabeth Ody, whose personalities find expression in both living room and laundry room. (Ph0tos By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 20, 2007

The laundry closet in the group house on Park Road has five detergents, in a row: Arm & Hammer, Ivory, 365, Trader Joe's Next to Godliness, Seventh Generation, and an economy-size bottle of Giant's generic brand.

The cruelty-free 365 belongs to Jorge, who is a vegetarian. The Giant brand is Teresa's, who wants the thermostat at optimum cost-saving temperatures. Joe buys the Arm & Hammer.

At one point, after a rash of detergent thefts-by-the-cupful, the residents safeguarded their individual laundry detergents in their rooms. But now the detergents are back on the rack above the washing machine, alongside the dryer sheets and the balled-up towels. Peace, reinstated. Resolution didn't even require a family meeting, says Jorge.

Not that the roommates are family. As a group they've known each other less than a year. The first to move in was Teresa Svart, 25, then Jorge Silva-Bañuelos, 26, and then in quick succession Susie Armitage, 25, Joe Cardosi, 23, and 23-year-old Elizabeth Ody, who arrived in D.C. from California last August.

But in a work-obsessed city, group houses are the pit stops on the way to more stable relationships, places to find companionship, moral support and mismatched furniture.

The decor in this one, in the 1700 block of Park Road NW, is typical: A semi-dilapidated sofa sits in a living room carpeted with gray remnants. Dining room walls are decorated with posters of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and "The Godfather." A well-stocked kitchen contains a shelf for each housemate, plus date-unspecified items including petrified brown sugar that has been in the house since before Teresa.

There aren't enough beer stains for this to be a frat house. The kitchen counters look recently wiped. Joe weed-whacked the lawn this morning. But there are enough awkwardly youthful touches -- the absence of hand towels -- to make the space feel less than grown-up.

Still, Teresa says that she's had several living situations since moving away from her family in Oregon, but "this is the only place that feels like home."

Yearning to Belong

How do you make a home in D.C.?

Where half of the people you meet are recovering valedictorians whose plans to save the world don't allow time for coffee? Where the other half have lived in D.C. for so long that they are suspicious of you, the newbie, who does not get the jokes about Marion Barry, about the Soviet Safeway, about the delays on the Green Line? How do you join that community?

First, you find a house.

It's not hard to find a house here. Unlike skyscrapered Manhattan, there are a lot of them. Rambling five-bedroom Federals, Victorians and Richardsonian Romanesques line the streets of Woodley and Cleveland Parks, Eastern Market and Capitol Hill. They have yards. They have decks. They have back patios with rusty grills. The very houseness of the District is comforting, because it shows that community is possible, that there are families who live here.


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