"God prosper long our noble King
Our lives and safeties all!
A woeful hunting once there did
In Chevy Chase befall."
DESPITE THE doleful ballad of "The Hunting of the Cheviot," Chevy Chase Village, born to luxury, lives in prosperity. In most cities today, big, sprawling houses, once the home of large families and large staffs, are becoming communes or law offices or simply derelict. But the houses in Chevy Chase Village are growing not only older but better.
They have the similarity of cousins. Most are, indeed, big and sprawling. They have attics and basements and, often, porches fore and aft. The lots are by city standards immense, with such urban frills as garages, deep front yards and back gardens big enough for swimming pools, tennis courts and forests of azaleas and rhododendrons. Many were built of wood frame, many of stucco. Though large, they have a comfortable, homey look to them.
The annual Chevy Chase house tour, scheduled for April 8, gives the public a chance to look at some of these homes and perhaps find a decorating idea worth borrowing.
Busy Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues divide the village. But the narrow, quiet east-west streets - with such English and Scottish names as Oxford, Melrose, Primrose, Kirke, Lenox and Hesketh - give Chevy Chase its village air. Maple, dwarf Japanese boxwood and English elms shadow the streets, and children, bicycles and dogs have the right of way.
The name Chevy Chase , (the I was lost along the way) according to a history by Mary Anne Tuohey, was first applied locally in 1751 to a patent for 560 acres, roughly the size of the area today. In 1890, Sen. Francis Newlands of Nevada organized the Chevy Chase Land Co. to develop the area, which had been farmland, into a fine suburb. The company engaged Nathan Barrett, a New York landscape architect and planner, to design the village, including Chevy Chase Circle.
The land company ran a trolley car from 7th and U Streets NW to an artificial lake it built east of Connecticut Avenue and Chevy Chase Lake Drive. The lake has since disappeared.
Many of the houses were summer homes for Washington residents, because the area was then in the country. (According to Tuohey, even Dupont Circle at the time was considered far out into the country.) Newlands, as befitted the organizer, built himself a lordly manor in the Tudor style on the circle. This is the house now owned by Dr. and Mrs. John Threlfall.
One great advantage of Chevy Chase homes is that they are versatile and: adaptable to changing lifestyles.
A case in point is the home of Dr. Earle Silber, a psychoanalyst, and his wife, Carol, a guidance counselor who gives classes for post-mastectomy patients. The Silbers moved to Chevy Chase almost two decades ago when their three sons, Rick, Steven and Lawrence, were much smaller. When the boys entered school, Silber installed his office - including, of course, a couch and a wide, pleasant window overlooking the garden - in an addition that has its own entrance.
One of the biggest changes the Silbers made was to remodel the master bedroom, according to a design by Ellen Kurzman. Kurzman is certainly one of the world's great architects of interior spaces (and not bad at exterior ones either). She's responsible for putting away things in her own house, and she's become expert at tucking them in other people's homes, too.
"The room had only these tiny narrow closets at one end of the room," said Carol Silber. "I couldn't think of any way to make them bigger. Ellen removed them, put in wall-to-wall books instead - we never have enough book room - and then designed a dressing room, with double storage walls." The dressing room is segregated into his and her sections and forms an entryway to the bath.
The cozy bedroom also has a fireplace and space for chairs in front of it.
Kurzman then tackled what had been a junk room, originally no doubt a sleeping porch. This room can only be reached through the master bedroom. Again, Kurzman organized the area into separate but equal study space. "It works fine, if you like your husband," said Carol Silber. Vertical and horizontal filing space (teak cabinets from Scan) are built under counters on either side of the room, with shelves above.
The house has to be expansive to keep up with the Silbers' many activities. Dr. Silber, like many in his profession, is a needlepointer. "His patients only complain when he runs out of wool," says his wife. He has won many awards from the Woodlawn Needlework Show. His work is everywhere - rugs on the floor, pictures on the wall, seat covers on chairs, pillows on the sofa, a spread for the bed, even a needlepoint skirt for Mrs. Silber.
Another great Silber hobby is music, so the house has a piano in the living room and a harpsichord in the dining room.
The dining room is completely furnished with handmade objects, some they've made themselves. Silber started the five-foot-plus harpsichord from a kit, but along the way had to call for professional help. But he built the buffet, topped with a slab of slate, without any help when he was in medical school and they were just married.
The dining table they bought two decades ago from Nakashima, the great Japanese-American artist who lives and works in New Hope, Pa. "It was a wonderful experience," Carol Silber said. "We went up there, picked out the wood and discussed the whole project. But when the table came, I noticed what looked like a blemish on the side. I rubbed and rubbed but it wouldn't come off. I called Nakashima and asked what to do. Then he told me it was a bullet, an old pre-Revolutionary lead one, and he thought it added a lot to the table. We did, too, after we found out what it was."
The chairs are also by Nakashima, with the two arm chairs serving double duty in the living room.(Nakashima recently had a show of his work here at Full Circle in Alexandria.)
The remarkable serving cart, also in the dining room, a copy of the famous Design Research one, was made for the Silbers by Imataz Celtnicks, a local carpenter, who did a good job.
In the living room, with its walls of paintings, needlework and otherwise, the Silbers installed big sliding doors (the kind with snap-in-and-ou mullions and muntins) leading into the garden, with its pleasant brick patio.
The Silber house is one of six on the Chevy Chase Village House Tour this year. Other houses include the recently redecorated home of the John Threlfalls; an Irish Georgian House with a three-story bay, a patio and a pool; a late 19th-century house with 2 varied art collection; the second oldest (1892) house in the village, built by Morris Hacker, who laid out the Chevy Case golf course; and a 1912 house designed and built by architect Edward Donn as his summer home.
The houses will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday to benefit the Citizens' Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights. Tickets ($8 the day of the tour) are available by calling 652-1393 or 652-2609.