That one is the Grand Dame — who is actually a boy — and right behind him are Beyoncé and the girls,” Monique Samuels, one of the “The Real Housewives of Potomac,” explains while gliding through the dining room of her nearly 12,000-square-foot home in fuzzy slippers. Samuels might sound as though she’s announcing celebrity arrivals on the red carpet, but she’s actually naming the inhabitants of her home’s shark tank, which serves as a dramatic divide between the kitchen and dining room.
“It’s a predator tank,” she says watching a horn shark and a snowflake eel slither around, “so they don’t eat each other.”
When she and her husband, former all-pro Redskins lineman Chris Samuels, purchased the home, which is nestled on five acres in Potomac, Md., she declared that a shark tank had to be worked into the budget.
“It was the very first thing I wanted when we bought the house!” she said.
Samuels joined the cast of “The Real Housewives of Potomac” for the show’s second season in 2017. Right from the start, real estate was central to her TV narrative. On one of her first episodes, tempers flared when she spoke about how many houses she and her husband owned — it was five at the time, now two are on the market. But away from the shark tank of reality TV, there’s no arguing that Samuels knows the real estate world.
Before she let millions of viewers — and their judgment — into her homes, she was the one inspecting houses. Samuels worked for a mortgage company in Landover, Md., and then started her own real estate appraisal business. Her husband, who retired from the NFL in 2010, also worked in the industry, developing property in his home state of Alabama. Samuels worked alongside him there and managed their properties in the Washington area, including a townhouse in Ashburn, Va., near the Redskins’ training facility they rented to former Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins — who, Samuels says, was a “model tenant.”
Armed with her professional knowledge, she embarked on a search for a new home that lasted more than a year — trading in Vienna, Va., for Potomac in 2016.
“One thing I loved about this house was that it was move-in ready. It really was — just not for me,” she says laughing. “People would walk in and say, ‘This is a nice house, but why did you pick it? It’s so rustic. It’s not you.’ Everything was green and yellow and brown, and the floors were unfinished. But I had a vision. I knew I could do something with it.”
The three-story cedar, stone and shingle house was custom-built in 2008 by the original owners.
To execute the more glamorous look Samuels was after, she teamed with her longtime interior designer, Chad Alan, and started toning down the house’s log-cabin-chic vibe by painting the exposed wood beams platinum and staining the black walnut floors. In the open-plan living and dining rooms, they installed dramatic light fixtures in more modern metals, hung a bubble chair inspired by the Standard Hotel in Hollywood’s decor, had a wine rack and Spades table custom-made, incorporated a few affordable pieces from Wayfair and HomeGoods, and reworked furniture from their Vienna home. A gray leather sectional, accented by silver, purple and blue throw pillows, which had been in their basement, was installed in the living room and dictated the color scheme.
“I like everything that sparkles and blings,” Samuels says, pointing to her living room ceiling panels, which she found at the Washington Design Center. “It’s Formica and crushed rock,” she says of the plum-colored panels. “I like it because it shines, but it still has some masculinity to it, so Chris doesn’t yell at me and say, ‘This house looks like it’s for a woman!’ ”
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Designed for a woman or not, there’s no denying that the house is often filled with women, especially when the cameras are rolling. The third season of the show is now airing on Bravo. And although the cast is not currently filming, Samuels’s house still looks camera-ready, without a single toy or stray shoe in sight.
“I hate clutter. I don’t want to see toys. I want people to come over and say, ‘What? You have kids here?’ ” Samuels says, pointing to the children’s playroom, along with hiding places for toys all over the house, such as the barely visible cubbies in the kitchen and ottomans with storage inside.
Although the house is big enough to double as a boutique hotel — with six bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, an elevator, a two-story kitchen that boasts an island the size of a California king, and a tub in the master bath carved from a giant boulder — there is an intimacy to the area where the family sleeps. The couple’s young children, Christopher and Milani, who have their own “Finding Nemo” version of their parents’ fish tank, are bunked together next to the master suite. Samuels says her son has his eye on the in-law quarters downstairs but hopes her kids will want to share for a while longer. In the master bedroom, Samuels points out that she and her husband share a closet, which they’ve done since they moved in together. “I have most of it, but we share!” she says, surrounded by boxes of clothes flown in from Australia, shoe racks arranged by brand and brightly colored designer handbags.
Every few years, the couple also share intimate moments in front of the camera, which Samuels calls their “sexy photo shoots.” She says the photographs (more PG-13 than NC-17) stay up during “Housewives” filming. “They don’t ask us to change a thing when they start filming. They want to see what’s authentic to you. I know people have their opinion of reality TV, and I don’t know how other shows function, but our show is real. It really is. They’ll call us and say ‘What’s on your schedule this week?’ And then they just follow us around. They come to wherever we are going to be. It’s all pretty natural, down to the houses.”
Even her kids are naturals in front of the camera, she says. “My kids act like the cameras have always been here. My son calls the cameramen ‘the dudes.’ He’ll run downstairs and say ‘Where are the dudes?’ and my daughter used to just wave at them as a baby. They’re totally unfazed. It’s a little weird.”
Although the producers don’t change much in the home, except for leaving covers over her lights when they’re shooting, making the house dimmer than usual for a few months, Samuels did feel the pressure to have her new house looking immaculate when the cast started Season 3.
“I’m a perfectionist, I really am,” she says. “It was stressful last year for me going into filming, because the week we moved in, they were shooting, and I was, like, ‘I need to have my house done!’ ”
The interiors were complete by that point, but the back yard needed work, especially because her husband’s 40th birthday was looming and there were plans for a big party.
A massive hot tub next to the pool and landscaping in the back yard were installed just before the festivities.
Samuels says there are other changes that she’d like to undertake in the home, including turning the current spa room into a massage room — although it’s used more as a cigar lounge right now — and perhaps dedicating a room to recording her “Not for Lazy Moms” podcast on modern motherhood. She’s also thinking of expanding the small balcony over the swimming pool — for “Housewives” fans, that’s the one that Candiace Dillard’s fiance, Chris, jumped from into the pool during the third episode of Season 3.
“The Samuels have such a warm and inviting home!,” Dillard wrote in an email. “My first time visiting I remember thinking about how much I loved the curb appeal as well as the landscaping — it’s to die for. Obviously the jaw-dropping moment for me [as a guest at Chris’s birthday party] was when my amazing (soon-to-be-husband) took it upon himself to back flip off of the second story balcony into the pool with Monique’s cousin Hank.”
The cameras were rolling for that alcohol-fueled athleticism, but Samuels says that even at parties, they forget that the cameras are there because they stay very much in the background. “Everything is seamless,” she notes, adding that they bring only the bare minimum equipment and are very respectful of the cast’s homes.
With a setup like theirs, it seems natural for “Housewives” to film in the house often, but Samuels says that the powers that be don’t point them that way.
“They will never put us in the situation where they are like, ‘We want you to go to someone’s house and meet up with so and so.’ It’s all kind of ‘go with the flow.’ ” But Samuels is just fine if the cameras do make their way over to her place.
“It was really fun last year [when they shot the current season], because the house wasn’t anything that had been seen on camera before, so I loved it. And then there are so many different places we can be. We can be in the kitchen or the back porch. Or on one of the nice sunny days me, Ashley and Candiace were hanging out by the pool. So it was nice because we didn’t just have to be confined to a living room.”
When Samuels joined the cast, she and her family were still living in Chris’s bachelor pad. At 7,500 square feet, there was certainly more than a living room, but Samuels says that all the feedback she hears from viewers and friends is that their new house is definitely more her style.
Chris’s take on the Potomac place? “I thought it looked fine when we bought it. I could have just moved right in. But it does look much better now,” he adds, grinning at his wife.