BY THE TIME you read this, the house will be totally different. The neat little cottage in Northwest Washington with the papier-mache pig's head on the front porch has been sold, and David Brunell doesn't live there any more. He's packed up, moved around the corner and down the street, to the great amazement of everybody who had stood around and laid bets that No One Could Be Found to Move All That Stuff.
It's not time yet to write about the new house. Brunell and architect John Wiebenson are still in conference though Brunell is in residence. There is much left to be done. This story is an effort to recall the Way Things Were, because Brunell's former house was, among those who knew, as famous a temporary Work of Art as Christo's fence. On a recent afternoon, before the move, Wiebenson and Brunell showed a couple of people around.
Brunell, who ran 49 political campaigns at once in 1974, now spends "80 percent" of his time as a consultant with Transcentury. The consulting group works on management, financing and fund-raising for cultural institutions in developing countries and the United States. He also filies about the countries and the United States. He also flies about the country as a management consultant. After graduating from Harvard Business College and serving as its assistant dean. Brunell worked for seven years as then-Rep. (now Sen.) Donald Riegel's (D-Mich.) administrative assistant.
None of that explains why in Brunell's living room study there were: a wicker sedan chair from the Atlantic City boardwalk; two cast-iron stoves, one hooked up, the other not; an antique Victorian sofa covered with a fur skin; an elaborate wooden box that looks rather like a safe but carries a plaque that says "Storage Box for a Medium-Sized Fallen Regime" (by) Victor Carrasco; a rocking chair from Michigan made of grape vines; a coffee table made of a Louisana cyprus stump ("I thought one time about going in the business of selling them") and a rocking chair that has a removal seat for a chamber pot.
After living in the house for two years, Brunell, understandably, began to feel a bit cramped. That was three years ago when he called upon a friend of a friend, architect Wiebenson, somewhat of a stuff collector himself, to make it all fit.
"What I asked Wieb to do," said Brunell, "was to make the inside of the house bigger than the outside."
"We did it," Wiebenson said, "by opening the space up. The house originally was composed of a lot of little rooms, all shut off from each other. Between the living room and the study, we made full-length openings of different sizes, thin, thick, thin, on Paladian principles. And the same, but ending higher between the study and the stair, the living room and the kitchen, and the kitchen and the dining room." Essentially, what's left are support posts with space flowing around them.
"You feel as though the place is larger because from every spot you can see through to some place different. In here you can see to the other rooms, and in the back, to outside. Every house should have a center hall, if only a visual one, to give you the confidence that you can get through it," Wiebenson said.
You enter the house across the deep from porch, just the place for the rocking chairs. Inside the front room is Brunell's study: "Transcentury is a relaxed sort of place so I work at home a lot. It's important to me and to Paul (his 10-year-old son) that I spend some time at home."
Brunell and his wife were divorced about seven years ago. But they are still good friends. Paul lived with his mother for six years but now he's with his father most of the time, though he stays with her often, and always when Brunell has to consult outside of town.
The study has the Franklin fireplace in it, the bookcase and the desk made of two planks. Brunell has collected several very large sea chests, including one bonafide immigrant's sea chest. Through the Wiebenson wall is the living room - the house's original dining room - with all the aforementioned marvels.
Next is the kitchen with splendid open all-wood cabinets and counters and a remarkable two-section corner sink. Through newly opened space in the wall is the pantry. Upstairs are three bedrooms and a bath. A second bath is tucked under the staircase. A one-bedroom apartment in the basement helps with the mortgage.
A large wood cookstove, with a real iron waffle iron on top, and a pipe that sort of wanders through the room before going out the wall, is the principal furnishing of the dining room. Brunell makes no great claims for his cooking (though he says "I am a great eater"), but they have fired up the stove and used the waffle iron with great success.
The major work was done in the dining room. Wiebenson designed two greenhouse-style windows and window seats around the dinning table. ABove the table, when they opened the ceiling up, there turned out to be a funny triangular space which has been emphasized and brightened with a skylight. Extra-large double doors open to the deck outside and the garden with its wooden bench and table made out of huge trees chopped down not so far away. "The tree trunks were to be hauled to the dump, but I bought them for a case of beer," Brunell said.
"When we were working on the house, we had to revise the plans every day because we kept finding something different about the structure. It kept me and (architect) Mark MacInturff, who helped me, busy," Wiebenson said. Wiebenson and Brunell give much credit to the carpenter, Woodbridge Fuller, who is also working on Brunell's current house.
Brunell filled the old house with hanging, standing, perching and sitting and leaning plants, making the whole cottage seem like a bower.
The house is in the Palisades section of Northwest Washington, just off MacArthur Boulevard where, as Brunell says, "you can find more diverse houses and people than anywhere." Many of the houses are modest structures, built to be near the trolley. But like everywhere else in Washington, prices are skyrocketing.
Brunell paid $47,500 for the house five years ago. He figures that all the remodeling he did, including new plumbing, wiring and the Wiebenson work cost about $30,000. He sold it for $124,000. But of course, he paid $134,000 for his new house, which needs, in his opinion, a complete overhaul.
"In the new house," said Wiebenson, "we're putting holes in all the walls and closing up all the openings."
That one ought to be worth seeing.