We are all children until the day we die," says Pedro Sanjuan, owner of one of Washington's most whimsical houses, a designer, painter and printmaker of some distinction. While Sanjuan's house isn't small, with his sense of whimsy, the space in which he lives doesn't matter so long as he surrounds himself with humor.

"Life can be one of two things," says Sanjuan, whose daytime title is director of the Hemispheric Center of the American Enterprise Institute. "We can cover ourselves with pomposity or we can laugh at ourselves a little and take ourselves and our lives in a less symmetrical, less orderly way. When we remove the pomposity, it makes our passage through life a little more bearable."

Sanjuan began to decorate and create furniture for his dining room after a guest had burned a piece of furniture with a cigarette. But the idea ran away with the artist and he began dotting and covering every inch of an entire set of furniture with brilliant colors and abstract forms. Then he began designing and building what became his host chair, a polychrome sculpture and an exercise in pure fantasy.

Elsewhere in the house are lamps, old columns and complex adult toys, all decorated with imagery.

The basement den of restauranteur Jeffrey Gildenhorn is a less bizarre but equally whimsical exercise. Designed by Gary Lovejoy and carved out of a small space, it is a playroom containing almost every toy one could hope to find in a penny arcade.

To lessen awareness of the small space, Lovejoy upholstered the walls and floors with a deep gray fabrics. The visitor is overwhelmed with color and sound as Gildenhorn sets all his toys in motion -- a 1940s Wurlitzer juke box, three pinball machines, a bank of one-armed slot machines, a luxurious bar which seats eight, and a seating area around the video set which has its own collection of x-rated tapes. Rather than conveying the feeling of a penny arcade, Lovejoy has provided a calming, almost elegant, framework for entertaining in what someone else might call the basement.