SHEILA WEIDENFELD - former press secretary to Betty Ford, sometime television producer and now television performer and budding author - stretched out luxuriously on her corduroy "play pen" sofa and talked about her life on and off camera.
(The Weidenfelds' three-story-and-basement home, a typical narrow Georgetown brick rowhouse, valued in what the real estate ads call "the upper brackets," is on the Georgetown House Tour next weekend.)
"I loved my 2 1/2 years with the Fords in the White House, but no, I didn't want to help Mrs. Ford write her book. I didn't want to make a lifetime career out of my White House job.
"Life changes, and you have to move along with it. I knew other things would come for me when I was ready for them. I'm glad to say I've had a lot of offers. Best of all, I'm doing new things, learning other jobs. I knew I was a good television producer, because I had done it for so many years, but now I'm learning how to be on the other side of the camera, as a performer. And I'm learning how to write a book." Weidenfeld, a tiny woman with giant enthusiasm and energy, grinned. "My husband Edward said he didn't expect me to have so active a retirement.
"Since I left the White House, I've agreed to be the guest host on several television shows in New York and Philadephia. In the meantime, I'm working on my book about my 2 1/2 years in the White House for Putnam publishers. The time will certainly come when I'm on the other side, reporting the White House.
"You know, it really was a great experience. Now, when I read the papers, or watch television, I can read between the lines, and have a better idea of what actually happened. I learned a lot about people in power, the media and the world. I also know where the White House's secret staircases are."
Weidenfeld knew what it was like to be in and out of the White House: her father, Maxwell Rabb, served six years as secretary to President Eisenhower's Cabinet. As a result, she didn't have as much trouble adjusting to the lower power level as some former White House staffers might. As a television producer before she went to the White House, she was accustomed to being invited to embassy parties and such. "But Ed and I didn't care so much about that. I guess we are more informal."
What is better post-White House, Weidenfeld admits, is that now she doesn't have those telephone calls at 3 or 4 a.m. from foreign countries who are confused about the time difference. "I was working seven days a week, 24 hours a day," she said. "It had gotten to the place where my husband resented it. And then there was so much travel, because I went every where with Mrs. Ford - China, Helsinki, everywhere. It was wonderful. But it was demanding."
But life for the Weidenfelds has never been what you'd call peaceful, nor do they ever expect it to be. Everything seems to happen to both of them at the same time. When they were living in New York, he got his job with a congressional committee in the morning, and she got hers with Channel 5's "Panorama" show that night. When she was asked by the Fords to be the First Lady's press secretary, that was the time when he opened his own law firm, an affiliate of a Tulsa firm.
It is typical of the Weidenfeld luck that they bought their house, and were scheduled to move in, just when she was hired by the White House.
Because she was moving into a new house and a new job at the same time, Weidenfeld thought she needed help marrying their furniture to the house. So she called in a decorator - who immediately suggested they get rid of all the handmade terracotta tile in the morning room and the kitchen. Instead, they got rid of the decorator and asked an old friend, Billy Tate Mitros, who is an interior designer with the New York Times, for advice.
"He was great because he helped us use our own furniture. It was his idea we make the geometric decorations we've used in the hall, the living room and our bedroom," Weidenfeld said.
(The idea deserves a closer look because it is a quick, cheap way of producing strong wall graphics to serve until you can afford the art you want. They used composition wallboard, one of the cheaper materials you can buy - $2 or $3 for an 8-by-12-foot sheet.)
The south-facing morning or family dining room is perhaps the nicest room in the house, with an arched fireplace and an arched door into the kitchen, which has its own arched window. The previous owner, Susan Stein, had managed to give the first two rooms of the house a distinctly Latin look in keeping with the original arches with the use of handsome octagonal tiles on the floor and a blue and white-patterned tile on the kitchen countertops and walls.
When the Weidenfelds had a wall knocked out to enlarge the upstairs television room, they found another arch, which had been closed in many years before.
The handsome kitchen is quite large. All the cabinets are covered in what looks like fencing, even the refrigerator. The wood works well with the tile. "My husband has given me everything he can think of to make me want to spend time in this super kitchen," said Weidenfeld. "I suppose I would enjoy it, if there weren't so many other interesting things to do. I can, if I have to, put a meal together. But I'm really not very interested. We have a housekeeper who does it for us. I've never had the sort of job where I could count on being home in time to start dinner."
In the living room, the Weidenfeld 3-D decorations are covered in corduroy to match the living room sofa. This room has a wall of glass facing the brick-floored garden. "We use the room a great deal. In fact we use all the rooms of the house," Weidenfeld said. "I like the sofa because I'm so short (5 feet 1 3/4 inches) that most chairs are too high for me."
Even with their demanding jobs, the Weidenfelds found time to do some of the work on the house. She covered the chair seats for the formal dining room, which shares a see-through fireplace with the living room. They painted the interior shutters for the family dining room and covered platforms which support the bed with shag carpeting. "Most of the things we did in one weekend. We didn't do any of the heavy dirty work. We aren't really competent to do that."
They also laid tile in one bathroom and made a "moongate," a pair of square doors with a circle cut out of the middle for the shower. The other bath was fancy enough: a whirlpool tub, a clay tile-lined shower, marble wash basins and toilet, all imported from Italy by Mrs. Stein.
The most recent addition is the office. "I was tired of typing on the floor," Weidenfeld said. Now the office has a formica-covered counter balanced on file cabinets.
Though the house is very personal, with nothing of the slick, mass-decorated look, it doesn't have that badge of Washington political stardom: the scrapbook wall of pictures of the owners with the Great Man and Woman. There is only one picture of Mrs. Ford and Weidenfeld, in the upstairs library.
"I've put the others away," said Weidenfeld, clearing the decks for the next event.
The other homes open Saturday during the Georgetown House Tour also reflect the varied history and tastes of their owners. Ann Brinkley collects art and antiques. Christine Sadler and Richard Coe collect theater memorabilia and art works. The Jack Lydmans have Far Eastern porcelain and antiques. Rep. and Mrs. William Singer Moorhead have many portraits she painted.
On Sunday, people will see Gen. and Mrs. Jacob L. Devers's military mementoes, including a wall-size map captured at Heidelberg; Mr. and Mrs. Guy L. Goodwin's old-fashioned kitchen and fanciful Victorian office-in-a-desk; Mrs. Ganson Purcell's 19th-century mourning pictures and Piranesi etching; Mr. and Mrs. Randall Roe's English antiques; Mr. and Mrs. Joseph D. Marsh's extensive do-it-yourself remodeling; and the home of Mr. and Mrs. Gerhard P. Van Arkel, who enclosed a carport and patio to make a spacious brick-floored dining and sitting room.
Tickets are on sale at St. John's Episcopal Church, 3240 O St. NW, and at the open houses during the tour hours, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $7 and includes tea at St. John's and free baby-sitting at the parish hall.