Objets of Her Affection

Jewelry designer Bobbie Medlin's Georgetown home, a turreted Victorian, is a whole-house cabinet of curiosities, done with a flare and sense of the dramatic that that the 18th-century collectors of floral and fauna probably couldn't have imagined.
By Nancy McKeon
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 10, 2008

"There's nothing 'important' in this house," says owner Bobbie Medlin. She means that the imposing Georgetown house she shares with her husband contains no antique French cabinetry made by a fabled ebeniste, no priceless objets with a mile-long provenance.

But there's a freedom in living with things that don't have a pedigree. And it's a freedom that Medlin has exploited to its fullest.

Medlin, a jewelry designer, has taken the turreted Victorian, which for at least a decade had been trimmed and swagged to a fare-thee-well, and swept out the past, making room for a tranquil, almost sacred, present, all the while respecting and even accentuating the building's old bones.

The result is a whole-house cabinet of curiosities, a term used to describe how 18th-century collectors displayed their treasured bits of flora and fauna -- though Medlin's flair and sense of the dramatic would probably be beyond 18th-century imaginings. Some entertaining juxtapositions: a pale stone cherub's head surrounded by smooth river stones inside a matte-black fireplace; violins propped in clear glass vases on the massive dining room table; an enormous Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, seeming to join the conversation by the living room sofas. And everywhere, little vignettes, some of them humorous, such as the eyeglasses perched on the nose of the Chinese wise man statue that Medlin and her husband, Matt , call Mr. Kang.

Private spaces get just as many quirky touches. You're leaving the ground-floor powder room before you notice the classical architectural fragment hanging above the door. On an upstairs landing, small printed cards, lying in a bowl or hanging from the inside of a bird cage, carry messages of love and abandonment. Decoupage pieces by artisan John Derian are everywhere.

A daughter of the Pacific Northwest whose father grew up in logging camps in Washington state, Medlin has always felt the call of the exotic and has collected cultural objects, tribal art and textiles from around the world. "I was lucky," she says. "I got to travel with Matt." Lucky indeed. When Matt Medlin, a forensic accountant, attended a conference in Beijing, Bobbie would go along and spend days in the markets gathering treasures, such as the antique hitching posts that now march in stair-step alongside the center staircase in the house.

The Medlins are from Seattle but made their way to Kansas City, Mo., a few years ago when Matt was transferred. That's where Bobbie got the idea to open a shop with a mix of tribal jewelry and antiques. While in Kansas City, she became a fan and major customer of Christopher Filley, whose shop, Christopher Filley Antiques, is a destination for those seeking wild and wonderful artifacts. Fruits of their association: a glazed terra cotta column that stands in the dining room and two 10-foot-tall nymphs from a Kansas City estate garden that hang on the dining room wall. After only a year, Matt's firm transferred the Medlins to Washington, where he soon joined the Huron Consulting Group.

With one shop already under her belt, Bobbie Medlin didn't hesitate to open a business here, hopscotching from one Georgetown location to another (she will reopen in late January at 1155 30th St. NW). Her eponymous shop focuses on jewelry -- largely chunky, dramatic necklaces -- made from stones and beads from around the world. Medlin thinks of them as sacred objects: "Every one of my pieces has an antique bead or accent piece in it." In addition to her Georgetown location, Medlin's jewelry is sold through Vivre.com.

After she has dealt with customers and the merely curious all day, it's understandable that when Medlin walks up the hill to her house, she is heading for sanctuary. And that's how the house is set up. Medlin divided the large living room with an ancient standing glass screen to create a cozy seating area. The rest of the room functions as a kind of foyer, which makes the main floor good for entertaining.

The house also reflects Medlin's new freedom from raising two daughters, both of whom are grown and also now living in Washington. Instead of leaving the large kitchen below the stairs, she replaced it by slicing space off one side of the living room and turning it into a long, elegant kitchen. It doesn't get much use, she says.

"I cooked as a child, I made the kids' food for years," she says. "My life is different now."

Still, there's a large dining room on the other side of the center hallway that's ripe for guests. And, as always, there's a Bobbie Medlin touch on the massive table: large glass cylinders, each containing a petite violin.

Those violins, she says, they're not Stradivarius, not "important." "But how much more beautiful can a shape be?"

About the objects that surround her, Medlin says: "If it gives you pleasure or comfort, then you know you're heading toward home. Or if it makes you smile. Some things just make you smile."

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