Adam Mahr, owner of the Georgetown shop A Mano, fell in love with everything French on his junior year abroad at the Sorbonne. After college, he worked for Brooks Brothers and Lord & Taylor in New York. When he found himself out of work, he took a trip to Italy, where he couldn’t get over the charm of colorful Deruta ceramics piled in stacks.
Then his life’s calling became clear. In 1994, he opened a shop to sell Italian and French pottery. He found the perfect location, two 19th-century ivy-covered houses joined by a common brick courtyard at the top of Wisconsin Avenue at Reservoir Road. The charming property, which he now owns, had briefly been the residence of Julia Child and her husband, Paul. The front room, once Child’s sunny kitchen, is now filled with decoupage trays, large platters and champagne buckets.
“I think she would be very happy to see this,” says Mahr, 52, who is originally from Baltimore and now lives in Wesley Heights in Northwest Washington. “I’ve tried to do a sort of European, south-of-France feel.”
In the 17 years his shop has been open, Mahr has become an expert at choosing things Washingtonians (and visiting shoppers such as Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi) like to give as presents, during the holiday season and for other special occasions. (Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf registered for wedding gifts there.) He has expanded from his original tableware to collections of home furnishings and decorative accessories. During December, a parade of customers seek help zeroing in on the ideal present. As the economy has shifted, he has added $5 fireplace matches and $12.50 pastel earbuds to his more lofty offerings.
He spoke with us recently about what his life is like this hectic time of year.
Holiday plans: Christmas is my busiest time of year. Christmas Eve, I work until 3 or 4 and then I close the store and go to the Four Seasons for a massage. Usually, I then have a quiet dinner with friends. This year on Christmas Day I’m taking off for India.
The tree: I’m a Jewish guy, and I always light the menorah my parents gave me. But I love having a Christmas tree. Every year, I get a group of friends together and we go to Sundback’s on Wisconsin Avenue [now Dan and Bryan Trees] to get my tree. They help me put up the tree, and I put on all of the lights. Then I sit back and have cocktails while my friends decorate. I have a lot of old-fashioned ornaments. It’s a great time.
Colored lights or white? Colored lights, those great big ones.
The tree-topper: Nothing.
Shopping: I shop when I travel throughout the year, especially just before Thanksgiving. I was just in Mexico and got a cool snow globe for a friend who collects them and a silver-and-turquoise sculpture for another friend. Of course, the rest of the stuff I get at my store.
Pet gifts: Of course I buy gifts for my dogs. And I buy gifts for my friends’ dogs.
Wrapping: I like to wrap a gift exactly as I would love to receive one. These days, even with people spending less on gifts, you still want the present to look extra special, so the wrapping is super important.
Go-to hostess gift: I might bring a Christmas ornament, a cutting board with a French cheese knife and a nice cheese (I love Cowgirl Creamery) or an amaryllis in a beautiful pot. Or sometimes I bring a gift for the pet in the house.
Holiday entertaining: I love having people over for casual, comfortable evenings in front of the fireplace in my living room. I invite small groups of neighbors and close friends and put on some music, light candles, and I cook. I often make something like a stew.
Dream dinner guest: Stanley Marcus, [the late longtime head of Neiman Marcus in Dallas who transformed the luxury retailer into a national powerhouse.]
Entertaining idea: If you’re too busy to cook, go to Wagshal’s and pick up some chili, clam chowder or crab cakes and put it in your own beautiful dish. Then throw a party. Jetties is another good place to get great stuff in a hurry.
At the beginning of the season I make a big Costco run and get all my wine, champagne and Italian meats and cheeses. I keep that kind of stuff on hand.
Best part of the holiday season: I love the spirit. People are happy. This year, times are a bit better. Georgetown always looks just great, with decorations on the lampposts. The stores are decorated more beautifully, and there is a spirit here in the neighborhood that wasn’t here five years ago.
Party planning: I set the tableware up on the dining room table, which is actually made of a door from an old ship. I don’t use a tablecloth. I put out a stack of oversize French Astier de Villatte white dinner plates and put bamboo-handled flatware in a basket. I roll oversized cotton napkins in bright colors. I like plenty of votives and candles, and I dim the lights. The salad and side dishes go on the table. Guests go to the kitchen and help themselves to the main dish, often beef bourguignon or coq au vin, from a big copper cooking pot.
Holiday cards: What I usually do is write a sentimental e-mail a few days before Christmas to some of my closest friends. I recap the year and thank them for being good friends. It’s a genuine expression of how I feel about them. I wish them a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah and happy new year.
Living Well is a new series introducing Washingtonians who live stylishly.
Next week: D.C. artist Quest Skinner.
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