Art world blogger Philippa Hughes and her husband, David, consider their penthouse near Logan Circle more a public forum than a private retreat. Since moving into the city three years ago, the Hugheses have turned their passion for art into a mission to promote up-and-coming artists. And they have styled their condo duplex to serve their cause -- with plenty of room and art as a backdrop for gatherings of the local art community.
"We always invite people who don't know each other," says Philippa, who seems to know everyone.
Guests have lots of space to become acquainted in the Hugheses' loft. Living and dining areas are joined to the kitchen at one end, creating an open room filled with places to sit, chat and take in the party scene. Down the hall, a metal staircase leads up to a TV lounge and an outdoor terrace with rooftop views. Paintings, photographs and quirky objects are mounted on nearly every wall and corner to spark reflection and debate.
Before moving into their condo, the Hugheses lived in a townhouse in Falls Church. David commuted to a dental practice in Manassas, and Philippa, an attorney, worked in the District as a lobbyist for the Investment Counsel Association of America. When David, an orthodontist, decided to open his own office in Springfield, Philippa left her job to help her husband. The pair began searching for a new home in the District. "When he was able to work in a place where commuting to and from D.C. made sense, we decided to relocate to the city," Philippa says.
The couple bought a condo in a new loft building under construction off 14th Street NW. "I wanted to be in an urban place, around stimulating offerings like art galleries and theaters," Philippa says. "Because I was so excited about moving here from the suburbs, I organized happy hours for people on the block and then started the art parties."
The Hugheses seized the chance to furnish their apartment from scratch. "We came with only the bare necessities," says Philippa, pointing to the metal bedstead in the guest room as one of only two items from their previous home. Nearby furniture stores, such as Vastu and Muleh, and design catalogues provided sources for modern classics (chairs by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Charles Eames) and complementary contemporary pieces.
Finishes and fabrics are intentionally subdued throughout the main space. "I didn't want it to be about the decorating, but about the art," Philippa says. Next to the black granite kitchen island, brown leather chairs are matched to a dark wood-and-chrome dining table. Black leather Barcelona chairs in the living room sit near a chrome-armed charcoal gray sofa and a smoky glass side table. They blend with the industrial gray carpeting and raw concrete ceiling to create a monochromatic canvas for colorful artwork.
The Hugheses say their love of art stems from traveling. While vacationing, they've collected ethnic artifacts, hand-colored prints and ink drawings. Close to home, they ventured out to 14th Street galleries and took the leap to larger contemporary paintings for the loft. "We started thinking about our collection as a whole, how one painting complements another painting," David says. "We both have an equal vote on the purchase. I'm the one who sometimes puts on the brakes."
At G Fine Art gallery on 14th Street, the couple first got serious with a photograph by the German artist Roland Fischer, whose gridded image of a modern facade harmonizes with the windowpanes in the Hugheses' living room. On another visit, the two took a fancy to a spattered abstraction by Maggie Michael, which they hung in their coffee-brown-wallpapered bedroom. A trip to New York's 31 Grand gallery yielded "Thirteen Fish and Two Mice," an oil painting by Adam Stennett now mounted in the couple's living room. According to Philippa, one of the creators of a new "Sex and the City"-type TV show about single men spotted that painting in a magazine and phoned the Hugheses to say that he wanted to replicate it for one of the sets if the show is picked up.
The couple's parties have prompted additional purchases.
After they hosted a gathering for local painter Kevin Kepple, the Hugheses bought his triptych of abstractions that now hangs in their foyer. An event for local sculptor Chris Tousimis resulted in the purchase of the metal spine-like piece in a hallway.
Last year, Philippa took her art fervor a step further by starting a Web site, www.hoogrrl.com. There, she offers musings on the latest exhibits in Washington and other cities. Postings are made on her laptop in a Tiffany-blue office next to the living space. The small room is furnished with built-in shelves and a bright green leather Eames chair pulled up to a glass-topped desk. David's sanctuary is the upstairs lounge, where a white leather Ligne Roset sofa is aimed at a flat-screen TV.
The couple's social network has grown so much that they recently held a party for more than 500 people in a nearby vacant storefront. Home is still a place for regular -- but not so huge -- get-togethers of artists, dealers and collectors. "It sounds old-fashioned, but I consider myself an art patron," Philippa says.
"I want to support the Washington art scene, even if it's small."
Deborah K. Dietsch, who lives in Washington, writes about art, architecture and design. She can be reached at email@example.com.