THE MARVELEOUS mansions of Kalorama Triangle have from time to time quaked on their foundations. They've been overshadowed by high-rise, deserted by their owners, decayed by time. But now that the area is enjoying a renaissance, the great houses are coming into their own again.
Artists have always had a hard time finding the space they need to spead out their work. Art galleries have had equal difficulty in having enough space to show artwork, especially the enormous canvases popular today.
Fortunately, Kalorama and artists have found each other -- and both are thriving.
Two cases in point are among those on the Kalorama House Tour today (see Page 2 for ticket information): the art gallery/home of Chris Middendorf and Palmer Lane at 2009 Columbia Rd., and the home/studio of Marilyn and Peter Morris.
Peter Morris, is a civil engineer with the World Bank, and Marilyn Morris, a textile artist with the world, have lived in houses in New Zealand, Italy, Peru England and a few more they don't list. Everywhere, they've tried to buy houses that have fallen on hard times and need their talent for good design and hard work.
Marilyn Morris paints on silk. She also admires other people's textiles, especially the Peruvians'. So they planned their house to show off her work and others. The entire top floor is her studio, though awaiting a planned remodeling. The first and second floors are a perpetual salon for the arts.
"We have shows of textiles, by invitation," she said, "poetry readings, music groups, choirs. We love having people come to the house."
The Morrises bought the house on Biltmore Street in Kalorama in 1977, and have been remodeing it ever since.
The stucco house has French doors sheltered under arches and ornamental work on the first floor. Steps lead up to the house from the street through dense planting.
Inside the house, we noted the pleasant glass-walled morning room, bright even though its windows face north. The drawing room has a beamed ceiling and heavy woodwork in the arts and crafts manner. "We didn't have to strip it," said Marilyn Morris. "We found that just washing it down worked fine."
The day we saw the house, it still had Peruvian wall hangings everywhere. Morris was busy hanging her own painted silks as curtains.
According to the Kalorama history, R. Dita designed the house in 1911. It cost $10,000 to construct. When the Morrises bought the house, it had been sliced into several apartments. The Morrises hired Charles Szordi to put it together again, leaving a rental unit in the English basement.
The prime improvement was removing the decaying wooden porches across the back of the house, replacing them with a new breakfast room and deck on the first floor and wooden porches on the second and third floors.
"I framed the deck with posts and beams," said Szorodi, "to give the impression of an outdoor room." The wood is all pressure-treated and pine-finished with Curprinol, a protective stain. The visible surfaces have a transparent stain, the underneath parts have a solid stain. The deck is on two levels with an exit to the parking area.
Double horizontal boards serve not only as beams but as a way to hide hooks for plants and electric lights. Some of the sections have louvers to screen against the neighbors. Several trees are allowed to grow up through the back. A planter against the house is full of geraniums.
The breakfast room has one wall of brick, the original wall of the house, pierced by the old window and door openings. An eclectic collection of old furniture contributes to the warm look. Several of Marilyn Morris' paintings on silk are framed in here.
The new kitchen (watch out for the litter of kittens and mother huddled up against the refrigerator's warm exhaust) is tucked into a triangular space left by the bath and the steps to both upper and lower floors. Quality Custom Kitchens of Pennsylvania, handled locally by Colonial Distributors, are responsible for the handsome glass-fronted oak cabinets.
"I always recommend glass doors on cabinets," Szoridi said. "The oak frame makes them seem orderly, but the glass shows enough of the inside to make them seem more personal," he said.
The contract for the improvements was about $32,000, Marilyn Morris remembers. "And now we're working on the upstairs," she said. "And we still have a great deal to do on our house in Italy, and we're planning to go to New Zealand and Peru . . ."