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What We Saw at the Show House

In a Onetime Schoolhouse in Georgetown, New Lessons in Livable Good Design

A perfect kitchen nook overlooking the garden.
A perfect kitchen nook overlooking the garden. (Len Spoden - for The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008; Page H01

A crumbling brick building in Georgetown that once housed a boys' school has been turned into one of the most refreshing showcases for Washington interior design talent in years.

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Over 14 months, the 1842 house was stripped to the shell and rebuilt using wide-plank pine floors, crown moldings and custom cabinetry from kitchen to closets. Then 14 local designers lavished the rooms with color, scouted the perfect antique four-poster beds and acrylic vanity tables and hunted down linens and silks for upholstery and window treatments. The three-story, four-bedroom property is on the market for $4 million.

The D.C. Design House, opening Saturday for a three-week run, marks the return of a show house to Washington, after the National Symphony Orchestra Decorators' Show House staged its final performance in 2006. The organizers of this event, benefiting Children's National Medical Center, sought a different approach to create a more coherent and livable property.

"Collaboration was going to be essential to make the spaces flow," says Annapolis designer Taylor Wells, who served as designer liaison for the project. "We wanted this house to show people how to solve real decorating problems, such as how to get a lot of seating groups into a small living room."

Too often, show houses reflect a clash of competing design sensibilities with little regard for overall harmony. In this case, a steering committee including designers Frank Babb Randolph, Barry Dixon and Michael Roberson evaluated 125 submissions and chose proposals that would work well together.

Though sumptuous, the house is relatively compact, with no ballrooms or maid's rooms on tour. "A lot of those show houses in Great Falls and Potomac had 22 rooms and were so big that they sort of fell apart," says Alexandria designer Craig Henson, who produced the sitting area off the kitchen in the current house. "Using fewer designers in an old house that's been made new is a better idea." Organizers are planning to make this an annual event in the city.

Whether it's a house for sale down the street or a historic home in Williamsburg, wandering through a show house can be a lovely way to spend a spring afternoon. Tour with a friend so you can share reactions to design concepts from gorgeous to ghastly. The Home section staff did just that, touring and conferring about the D.C. Design House just before it opened. Then we each picked one thing that struck our fancy and compared notes.

If you go, let us know what you liked -- or didn't -- at home@washpost.com.

The house, at 3014 P St. NW, will be open Saturday through May 11. Hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Tickets are $20; more information at http://www.dcdesignhouse.com. The house will also be one of 10 open for the annual Georgetown House Tour on April 26. Tickets for this one-day tour are $45; more information athttp://www.georgetownhousetour.com.


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