Homes on Capitol Hill are often more than just places to crash. Dining rooms are salons of political discourse. Brick patios host mobs of congressional staffers networking and spinning the day’s headlines over beers.
Political strategist John Jameson is a guy who thrives in the DNA of his business. His 150-year-old wood-frame house, with a roof deck view of the statue of Freedom atop the Capitol dome, is both a family place and a center for ideas and networking. Whether it’s a fundraiser for Haitian earthquake relief, Emily’s List or Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.); a book party for Donna Brazile; or a 21st birthday bash for daughter Savannah, his place is a fixture on the Hill party circuit.
“If people enjoy talking politics,” Jameson says, “they have a good time when they come to my house.”
Newly divorced in 2007, Jameson set out to find a place for himself and his daughter, an art student. He had lived in the neighborhood for about 20 years and wanted to stay close to his office on Pennsylvania Avenue. He wanted access to Eastern Market so he could go by after work to pick up a steak and heirloom tomatoes. “I wanted a place that my friends and family would love to hang out in, and that my daughter would enjoy having people over to,” says Jameson, 54, the president of Winning Connections, which he founded in 1996. The firm conducts phone campaigns for candidates, environmental groups, corporations and nonprofits.
Jameson spent most of 2008 looking at houses. That December, he found a rare detached house with gingerbread trim in a land of red brick rowhouses. It had a view of Eastern Market. There was a nostalgic front porch with a tin roof, landscaped front and back spaces and a hidden rear entrance through a pathway to the next block. There were four bedrooms, three working fireplaces, the original 1860s walnut banister and the deal closer: a roof with views of the Washington Monument and Library of Congress.
By the time he closed on the house in February 2009, Jameson was assembling a team to restore the outside without disturbing the character and to furnish the interior with a modern look.
Architect Ralph Cunningham of the Georgetown firm Cunningham/Quill found the structure in pretty good shape, except for a more recent two-story addition on the back. “John asked us to make the house casual and comfortable,” says Cunningham. “He asked for better access to a roof deck, a separate suite for his daughter, and improved flow.”
The main floor had a foyer, living room, dining room and kitchen opening onto a great room in the back. They moved the kitchen to a more central location, and added catering amenities: Plenty of granite counters, a deep stainless sink, refrigerated beverage drawers and commercial warming ovens. The second floor was remodeled to give Jameson a master bedroom suite and create a guest room and a study.
Because guests at many of his gatherings would be heading upstairs, Cunningham wanted to reconfigure the awkward access to the third-floor deck. He moved the stairway and added vertical glass panels to create drama. A bedroom and bath for Savannah are also located on this top floor.
McLean designer Barbara Hawthorn joined the team to create rooms with furniture that could be easily moved around and that would wear well with lots of people and three dogs.
“John wanted the unexpected,” says Hawthorn. Although Jameson is an art collector who prefers contemporary interiors, he didn’t want white walls. He told Hawthorn, “I want colors that people notice and that put them in the mood to talk. I think a red dining room encourages conversation.” Because Jameson told her that “the dining room was not just for eating,” Hawthorn found an oval wood-and-steel table that could accommodate conferences as well as dinner.
Jameson is a fixture in his neighborhood. He’s out walking his dogs, swimming at the public pool across the street or biking to a restaurant. He might be working on his laptop on his front porch. Says Jameson, “It reminds me of where I grew up in Mississippi, where people always sat in front of their houses and friends would stop by for a chat.”
Home Front Chat: Want to find out how designer Barbara Hawthorn created this home? Ask her yourself when she joins staff writers Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza for the weekly Home Front chat at 11 a.m. Thursday. Submit your questions now.
Check out Barbara Hawthorn’s tips for making your home pet- and party-friendly.
Photos: Click here to see more of John Jameson’s Capitol Hill home.