By Terri Sapienza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009
It's a recent late afternoon, and actress and comedian Alexandra Wentworth is sitting at the kitchen table of her Georgetown home. Her morning was spent in hair and makeup, followed by television interviews about her cable TV series, "Head Case," which just began its second season on the Starz network. She also appears weekly as a panelist on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and is gearing up to co-star in a movie with Meryl Streep.
Amid the busy schedule and big names (did we mention she's married to George Stephanopoulos?), Wentworth, known as Ali, finds time to indulge her obsession with interior design. She pores over shelter magazines during airplane commutes, rehabs flea market furniture and can often be found hanging out at local paint stores. Her garage is overfilled with furniture she has bought but doesn't have the space for.
"If I won the lottery and had to spend all the money superfluously," she says, "I would spend it all on home decor. Before clothes, before a facelift, before highlights."
The mother of two girls decorated most of their third-floor suite herself and says it's her favorite space in the family's five-bedroom home.
Six-year-old Elliott and 3-year-old Harper share a sumptuous king-size bed in a large and cheerful room with raspberry-colored walls. The floor is carpeted in wall-to-wall zebra stripes, and the windows are dressed in custom-made pink floral Roman shades. A Moroccan-style table sits near the bed, vintage paintings are displayed on the walls and a Capiz-shell chandelier from Pottery Barn hangs from the ceiling. Books, board games and family photos rest on a white bookcase from Ikea. Most of the furniture is secondhand, spray-painted by Wentworth in a high-gloss white.
"I love it because it's so fun and glam and unexpected," she says of the space. "It's the one room in the house that always gets a big reaction."
Washington may seem like a puzzling choice for an actress who works in Los Angeles and Chicago. However, Wentworth, 44, says the decision to raise their family in the District was an easy one. Not only does Stephanopoulos film his weekly news show here, but "I like to live in a [house], not an apartment. I like the neighborhood feel," she says. "We make decisions based on our family, and we thought this was the best place to live with our kids." Recalling a time when she lived in Los Angeles and had to drive just to buy milk, Wentworth says they chose Georgetown over other neighborhoods because they can -- and do -- walk everywhere.
A native of Washington, she grew up in a brick Colonial house off Massachusetts Avenue NW that is now owned by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her mother was first lady Nancy Reagan's social secretary; her father was a reporter for The Washington Post. Wentworth attended National Cathedral School before graduating from Dana Hall School, a boarding school in Massachusetts. Despite having lived elsewhere, Wentworth says Washington "just feels like home."
The exterior of the four-story, Georgian-style brick home (the couple's only property) sits beyond an iron gate. It looks stately, almost intimidating, and so grand it's as if you're entering a small apartment building. But inside, the house is warm and friendly. It instantly feels familiar.
"I wanted it to be stylish, but kids live here," Wentworth says. "It's always been a pet peeve of mine to go into a home where I'm uncomfortable or a house with kids and there's no sign of a child anywhere. . . . I never want my kids to live in a house where they are walking on eggshells."
The home is kept comfortable and kid-friendly with a mix of decorative pieces found online and at flea markets among the antiques and fine furnishings and fabrics.
The main foyer is large and deep with ornate moldings, shiny wood floors and a sweeping staircase. With the help of a decorator friend from Dana Hall, Wentworth paired these formal architectural elements with a black-and-raspberry painted entry vestibule (yep, the same raspberry as the girls' room), green grass-cloth wallpaper, a pink upholstered settee and a faux-python console trimmed in silver nail heads. And though the space is clear of kid clutter on this day, apparently that's not typical. Usually, Wentworth says, there's a beheaded Barbie lying facedown somewhere.
She decorated the dining room around an orange African feather headdress that hangs above the fireplace (she found it online for $125); the walls are painted gray, and a round wood table is surrounded by chairs upholstered in black linen. The kitchen has cream-colored custom cabinetry, honed black granite countertops and a Wolf range; the stools at the island were purchased for $40 apiece at GoodWood on U Street NW. In front of a rectangular kitchen table, which is covered in a charming floral cloth, a wall-length bulletin board displays the children's artwork. Wentworth bought it online from a school supply company.
A frequent flea market shopper, Wentworth scopes out the Georgetown flea when in town and likes to attend the antiques show in Brimfield, Mass., every year. She seeks out fleas wherever she's traveling, admitting to "literally dragging" her husband market shopping when they were in Paris last spring.
Anything may catch her eye, but she has particular interest in decorative accessories and vintage linens and artwork. She says half the fun of fleas is getting something for a good deal. "I'm never compelled to own stuff that can be found in everyone else's house or in every catalogue," Wentworth says, "especially for my kids' room. Flea market finds are one-of-a-kind, just like my kids."
Also one-of-a-kind: the custom living room carpet, compliments of Wentworth. After a white area rug had been repeatedly and badly damaged by their dogs, Wentworth told her husband two months ago that they needed to replace it. Citing the poor economy, she says, he disagreed. So Wentworth took matters into her own hands. She used a $2 box of purple dye to draw swirls on the carpet from end to end. When Stephanopoulos saw it, he was exasperated; he thought she had bought a new rug.
When she's not painting, dyeing or scouring local markets, Wentworth likes to browse the antiques shops on upper Wisconsin Avenue NW. And she admits to being a sucker for light fixtures, which she's likely to buy just about anywhere, though antiques stores and the Web site 1stdibs are favorite places to look.
"Light fixtures are like shoes to me," she says, slipping into comedian mode for a second. "You might not have room for anything more in your house, but you can always find a place for a light fixture. And no matter how much you weigh, you can always find a pair of shoes."
There are early indications that her daughters have inherited Wentworth's fondness for design. Not only did the girls help Mom paint and furnish the interior of a dollhouse-shaped bookcase, but the oldest child now wants to redecorate her bedroom.
Elliott was 4 when she saw her raspberry room for the first time. "She jumped up and down and screamed like she won a game show," says Wentworth. But that was two years ago. "Now she's saying she wants to redo it. I'm sure when she's a teenager she'll put up bad posters and a disco ball light, but right now I'm making her stick to the agenda."