WASHINGTON lawyers' offices generally have about as much personality and individuality as a blue three-piece pinstripe suit. Despite the overwhelming trend towards unremarkable interiors, a handful of the city's lawyers have decided to fly in the face of tradition and create their own very personal work spaces.
As most lawyers and their wives and families will attest, lawyers spend a lot of time in their offices. Similarly, most will tell you the importance of outward appearances in creating the right professional impression.Thus, period or "classic" modern furniture, paneled walls, Daumier prints of judges and lawyers, and generally unobtrusive interiors are the order of the day. The goal is quiet elegance.
Most firms allot a set amount for a decorating budget for partners -- sometimes up to $5,000 an office. "Associates," or younger lawyers hired by a large firm, usually suffer with stock furniture -- a walunt desk of undetermined period and design, a credenza, a bookcase and two chairs.
The lawyers pictued here are mavericks -- they have decided to make a statement about themselves and their environment that is anything but conservative -- whether you are looking at Paul Wolff's industrial ironing board desk or Michael Klein's Gauguinesque island art work.
When you enter the offices of Cladouhos & Brashares, the period surroundings make you forget immediately that you are in a modern building (United Unions, 19750 New York Ave. NW)9 Unlike most law firms, this one does not provide a decorating budget for partners. What it does do is provide a standard -- a high one.
Whether Harry Cladouhos' massive desk was really used by England's first lord of the admiralty in the 1800s in unimportant. The fact that this single piece of furniture defines the entire office is significant. Cladouhos takes pride in both the splendor of his office and its practicality. The leather-topped desk with its double set of drawers not only looks magnificent but, according to Cladouhos, it works well. Unlike many deeks of that period, this one is asymmetrical. One side of the desk has a large overhang, designed as work space for the "scribe" to record importand discussions or transactions. Cladouhos reports that his desk serves a conference of three or four lawyers with ease, with plenty of room for everyone's papers.
When he tires of the large expanse of his sit-down desk, he turns to a less ornate antique stand-up desk. "I spend about 40 minutes a day working here." he reports. "I like the change and find I get a lot more work done that way."
Tying the whole room together is a heavy border of oak molding around the ceiling. A built-in unit behind the main desk apears to contain two armoires and a low credenza. The armoires are in fact storage bins for current client information, designed at the suggestion of his wife, who played a major role in the selection of antiques for Cladouhos's office as well as for the entire firm. "She tinks it'll help me to better organized," says the lawyer with a self-deprecating chuckle.
As if the desk and the woodwork were not enough, the floor of the office is coverded with a room-sized Heriz carpet, uniting the business side of the room with the more informal living room setting opposite it.
Why doesnht the firm provide decorating money for the partners? "I donht think it's necessary.All the money I've put into this office is my own because this office is a reflection of my taste. I don't want to set any limits on myself or anyone else," says Cladouhos.
Taste of the New
The period richesse of Harry Cladouhos's quarters contrasts sharply with the pristine elesharply with the pristine elegance of Richard Leighton's space at Leighton, Conklin and Lemov. A single shaft of polished chrome emerges like Venus out of the carpeted floor to support a massive desk top of dark-stained wood. Behind the desk is a handsome uncluttered credenza. Prints by Baskin and others adorn the walls, which are covered by a gray suede-look wallpaper. The prints, a modern ceramic plate by D. C. Simone and two orange upholstered chairs provide the only color in this precise, ordely environment.
Windown the full span of two walls give the office an openness that extends beyond its generous proportions (about 16 by 20). Translucent drapes in a deep charcoal lend a softness and match the burlap-look sofa upholstery. Unless you know your fabrics, it wouldn't occur to you that the sofa, with its rough-hewn fabric, is covered in $50-a-yard raw silk.
"You don't want an office to look too expensive," says Leighton, "but on the other hand, you want to have a pleasant place to work. The last thing you want a client to think is that his fees are going into some decorator's pocket. What people don't realize is that it costs money to design an office that doesn't look expensively done but is still well designed."
Leightown, with the help of his wife, an interior designer, and the firm of DBI, has achieved his goal. His office is sleek, not slick.
An inexpensively designed office with real flair is Paul Wolff's all white unlawyerly lair at Williams & Connolly. The bearded Wolff perches elflike at a desk fashioned from a 90-year-old industrial ironing board bolted to the floor. The modern Formica ironing board-shaped desk top rests on a thick iron base enblazoned with the words: "Troy Laundry Machine Co." Facing the desk are two Bauhaus-designed cesca chairs. The floor is covered with gray industrial carpeting, and the paneling, a characteristic of many Washington law firms, has been painted white and thus obscured.
Despite the Bauhaus hard lines of the 10-by-17 office, there are dozens of little touches that contradict that school of calculatingly precise interiors. It is the office of a man who clearly enjoys his work and finds time to play too. As you enter, a brightly painted oversized toy wooden train rests on the floor. Big track-lighted paintings totally cover two walls. Glass shelves built into th white paneling hold an array of memorabilia. Behind the lawyer's desk sits a gumball machine which now holds salted peanuts. "I switched to peanuts when I found it was costin me $25 a month just to keep it filled," chuckles Wolff, who clearly enjoys his maverick interior, despite the fact that he takes a lot of kidding about it from his colleagues.
Color It Outrageous
Outrageous is the only word to describe Michael Kleinhs working space at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. The office is an escape into pure sensuality. The desk is hand-carved and laminated by Washington sculptor Marjory Goldberg. Its legs are two vaguely Polynesian-looking figures of Adam and Eve. Across the room is a pedestal table, laminated and carved by furniture designer Wendell Castle.
Two massive paintings take up the rest of the available space in the room. One, a sort of Gauguinesque nude scene, is by San Francisco artist Marsha Clay. The other, a more naive escape into sensuality, is a colorful work by Haitian artist Seymour Bottex. Small sculptured doodles are casually placed around the room amid lots of files and papers that suggest Klein is not as distracted as his vositors may be by his surroundings
"What can I say? I enjoy all these things," says Klein in the midst of a jumble of art and law. The lawyer's interest in art has led him to open a gallery called Zenith on 15th Street where in offhours, he can indulge in his hobby.
Like Michael Klein, Henry Glassie of Glassie, Pewett, Beebe & Shanks allows his love of art to spill over into his law life. Unlike Kelin, however, Glassie prefers the art of another era -- the 19th century. The walls of his office are a constantly rotating art exhibition, with works borrowed from his Montrose Galleries in Bethesda.
Like the paintings on the walls, the attorney's office is also from another era -- 1911. Once the Bachelor Apartments, the 1737 H St. NW location is one of the few apartment houses listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The building has been converted with great care and love by the law firm. Offices have been carved out of once kitchen-less apartments designed for bachelors just after the turn of the century. Glassie's office has a gas fireplace (now bricked up), handsome moldings and an elegant Victorian desk. On the mantle is a Haitian carved head of Toussaint L'Ouverture.
Glassie has always prefered to have his offices in older buildings. When he started his firm more than 25 years ago, he rented space in an old building and purchased a lot of used furniture. "It was the only thing we could afford at the time," recalls Glassie, "but it also gave us a look of establishment when we really needed it." Glassie no longer needs the look, but he still enjoys the charm and grace of antiques, 19th-century paintings and historic buildings.
"Ithink clients feel it is a comfortable environment, easy to talk -- there's no stiffness about my office," says James Fitzpatrick of the well-entrenched frim of Arnold & Porter. "I like to think that you can discuss serious things in an unserious atmosphere. In fact, I think the atmosphere is a useful device for building relationships with clients." Fitzpatrick's office is a curious blend of hip modern with period touches. A light colored sisal rug covers the floor -- prompting comments like: "I like your floor pad -- when is the rug going to be installed?" A few faded Oriental throw rugs add a touch of color and reinforce the eclectic feeling.
A felt pennant emblazoned with "Cooperstown, N.Y., " is the only decoration on a shiny brown vinyl wall behind Fitzpatrick's antique oak dining table desk. Not a high school memento, the pennant stands in honor of one of the attorneyhs major clients, Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner of baseball. Cooperstown is the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The walls on either side of the drak vinyl backdrop to Fitzpatrick's work area are filled with bright "hard edge" paintings. One canvas is by Washingto artist Bob Newman, whose most recent work is a sandblasted map of the District on the wall of a downtown building. Facing the Newman work is a many-hued ersatz Gene Davis painting by students of the Washington Color School artist. Both works are easily viewed from almost any place in the room. "After all," comments Fitzpatrick, "I look at the paintings in my office a lot more than I do those in my home. I like the bright colors -- I never tire of them."
The charm and grance of a 16th Street Romanesque mansion gave the relatively new firm of Ingersoll and Bloch an instant aura of establishment. When you walk into Stuart Bloch's magnificent office just norht of Thomas Circle, you're not sure if you're in a Hollywood set or if Cecil B. DeMille isn't going to walk through the door any moment.
Ensconced in what was the old dining room of this palatial home sits Bloch, stogie in his mouth, behind a gigantic handcarved desk rescued from the Motion Picture Association's old offices down the street. Behind him is a semi-circular mirror set in a niche tht once held a side-board. Instead ot the side-board, there are special files built for legal papers and records of current dealings with clients. The room is aclutter with art work, furniture and expanses of varnished dark wood molding.
A large bay windown is shiedlded by louvered shutters. An ornate chandelier hangs from the 14-foot ceilings. The final Hollywood touch can be seen in the two papier-mache figures by Michigan artist Steve Hanson, whose almost lifelike figures are funny, irreverent counterpoints to the establishment atmosphere of the office.
Bloch and his partner found the building only two years after they founded their firm in 1972. "The owner of the building where we initially had our offices sold it and our lease out from unde us," recalls Bloch. "So we didn't have much time to find another place. As soon as we walked in, we knew this was for us. The love Bloch and his partner Iwlliam Ingersoll have for the building can be seen in its renovation (done by architects Henry Grant Ingersoll nd Glenn Chen Fong) which won a preservation award from the local chapter of AIA.
"It's our best calling card -- it made us seem established even before we were!" says Bloch. "Iths just a fantstic place to work." CAPTION: Picture 1, At the overhang of Harry Cladouhos' desk (left) a scribe once sat, recording the business transacted.; Picture 2, no caption; Picture 3, A single shaft of polished chrome supports the desk top on which Richard Leighton spreads his papers.; Picture 4, 5, Paul Wolff switched to giveaway peanuts when he found gumballs cost him $25 a month.; Picture 6 Adam and Eve Bear up the front corners of Michael Klein's hand-carved desk.; Picture 7, Henry Glassie's office is part of the restoration of the 1911 Bachelor Apartments building on H Street NW.; Picture 8, James Fitzpatrick's secretary Georgie Thackston shows off her boss' eclectic taste in office decor.; Picture 9 Stuart Bloch's office seems almost like a movie set.; Photographs by Bill Snead