LARRY BUSCHING and Chuck Nosal had left a standing order with Michael Sullivan's real estate office for a Georgetown carriage house. But they really weren't prepared for a stable.
"When we walked in [in July 1979]," Busching said, "the stalls were still there for the horses. The floors were dirt with piles of rubble."
The stable, on N Street in Georgetown, had advantages. The building sits 60 feet back from the street, on a 30-by-100-foot lot, wider and deeper than most Georgetown lots -- room enough for car parking, an entry garden, a (legal) tall wall at the building line and an enclosed garden. Space on the side gave room for an addition.
Busching and Nosal knew the first time they saw the stable that what they needed was not only a Hercules to clean this neo-Augean stable but also an architect.
What they got was a pair. Jeffrey Gilbert, trained as an architect, and Tom Pheasant, educated as an interior designer, work together as a team. The terraces were designed by Thurmond Donovan. Jim van Sweden designed and planted the garden.
One of the most recent jobs of Gilbert and Pheasant was the Bartley apartment building, where the new owners can opt for most of the furniture to be built in, according to a custom plan for each apartment.
For Busching, a business manager for physicians, and Nosal, a computer programming supervisor for the Postal Service, "we tried to design a contemporary interior without erasing the carriage house feeling," said Gilbert.
The owners had very definite ideas of what they wanted. They knew they needed walls for art, room for entertaining and places for their carefully collected furniture. They got the walls for art and great spaces for parties. They also have a place for their furniture -- they sent it all to their beach house when Peasant showed them the built-in furniture and the International style pieces he thought would keep the space's airy, uncluttered look.
We came in through the iron gates into the bricked car terrace, up six steps to the wooden garden door set in an old brick wall, about six feet high. From the street, the house is barely seen behind the wall. Inside, the garden seems like a room. Most of the surface is paved with stone, with a circle for a pool, an arbor and a bench. The planting is tucked in here and there so it doesn't seem too stiff.
The custom double front doors with glass inserts are set into the same space as the old carriage door. Properly you should come through the single door on the left, which leads into the 10-by-40 foot hall, in the new addition. The hall holds the staircase to the second floor.
The garden entrance, through the big carriage doors, leads to the living room, roughly 20-by-40 feet, a generous sized room to say the most. The ceilings are 12 or 14 feet high. The walls are white, the floor covered in a dark grey carpeting. Furniture is sparse. Built-in banquettes, covered in a Lee/Jofa cotton repp fabric from Duncan and Huggins, are tucked into a niche by a fireplace and just below the dining platform. Cane and tubular Marcel Breuer chairs add seating. The only piece from the owners' past life is an antique early 19th-century upstate New York Dutch chest. "We bought it at auction," Busching said, "for less than $400."
The room is full of contemporary paintings by Byron Burford, William Britell and Bernard Martin, among others, which warm up what would otherwise be a rather stark room.
The dining area is on a platform raised three steps up. The railing was planned to be metal, but a bid of $1,100 quickly made them change their minds. They eventually got Rusty Bodine of Wooden Designs, who did all the built-ins, to make the railing of white oak with 10 coats of automobile lacquer. A banquette is fitted into a wall between two china closets (literally closets). Knoll steel chairs were re-upholstered in tan suede to complete the seating. The tables are actually laboratory counters, heat-resistant. Stereo speakers are built in above the cabinets.
The kitchen opens through what was a window to make a pass-through. Clerestory windows go around the kitchen at the cornice line, bringing in good light. The floor in here is black slate. The stove is a Jenn-Aire with grill. The cabinets are white. A strip of Plugmold runs above the counters so you can plug applicances in anywhere.
On a mezzaine is a small, comfortable sitting room with an L-shaped banquette. "We keep our tax returns in the bottom of the banquettes," said Nosal. A television is set in the wall. A slanting window is set above the banquette, giving a grand view of Georgetown.
The top floor is divided into two bedrooms. The larger has an angled wall that stops just short of the ceiling. The wall makes a headboard for the queen-sized bed and supports a bedside table. Ski equipments fits under the bed. Behind the wall is a dressing room. Clothes hang on two levels. Drawers and cabinets are built in. The bath has double washbasins with hospital sink fixtures, and a wall-to-wall mirror set at an angle like the bedroom wall. Two strips of neon light the bathroom. The other walls and floors are white tile.
Gilbert figures the rebuilding and renovation cost at roughly $70 a square foot.
Not only do the owners like it but their friends and both sets of parents say they could live there. "I like it," said Busching, "because I feel as if it's a house we have control over. All it needs is one-day-a-week cleaning, and our housekeeper is 80. Our former house, a three-story Victorian, imposed its way of life on us. This house was starting fresh. Even one of the workmen asked if he could take drawings because he wanted to do something similar from scratch in McLean."
The construction provided a long-running street show from the time building started in January 1980. All the neighbors walked by, peered in, expressed themselves pleased to see "something done about that carriage house," and in the end, if you'd taken a vote, the rebuilt stable would've won the prize.