If you get an invitation to attend a party at the Lauber-Hoffman home you will be advised to dress appropriately. Not in tails or spiky heels but in layers to keep warm.
Albert Lauber, 64, a judge on the U.S. Tax Court, and Craig Hoffman, 59, a law professor at Georgetown University Law School, host dinners, fundraisers and celebratory gatherings in their wine cellar, which is maintained at 58 degrees and 75 percent humidity in deference to the 2,000 bottles of wine stacked on floor-to-ceiling shelves.
“This was a storage room when we moved in, and we thought it needed a function,” Hoffman said. Today it’s a wine snob’s paradise in wood, stone, tile and stained glass.
The couple live in a four-story-plus-basement red brick Victorian house with classic French mansard roof — gray-green slate tile and a decorative pattern of white slate around the edge — that sits on a verdant triangular lot just steps from Logan Circle. Built in 1875, the house is filled with artwork and furnishings they collected while traveling the world. As you come up the slate walkway toward the house, there’s a stone statue of Krishna from Jaipur, India.
“When we moved here in December 1989, the Logan Circle area was crack quarters,” Hoffman said. They paid $630,000 and spent about that much renovating it.
But after the Civil War, Logan Circle was a grand Washington neighborhood with many stately mansions constructed between 1870 and 1895 when the government was growing rapidly. “It remained a great neighborhood till the Depression, and then all those mansions became rooming houses,” Lauber said. “Everyone knew it had great housing stock and that it would come back.”
Lauber and Hoffman bought the property from a couple named Benson who purchased it in 1972. The husband was a heating and air-conditioning contractor and his wife was knowledgeable about historic preservation. “They did the hard work of restoring the house, putting in heating, plumbing, air conditioning and wiring,” Hoffman said. “We did everything else. We’ve redone every square inch of the house.”
A double front door of etched glass topped by stained glass leads to a foyer that offers a gentle transition from the outdoors into the living and dining rooms on either side. The house is one of the only center-hall houses in the neighborhood, and the staircase with white spindles and polished-wood steps is beautiful.
An ornate, shoulder-high wood pillar anchors the staircase and supports a bronze goddess holding a lamp above her head. “I love how she stands beside the Andy Warhol,” Hoffman said, referring to Warhol’s print “Uncle Sam” hanging on the adjacent wall.
A huge gong from Indonesia is suspended from a lavishly ornamented wood stand, and there is a mirror from Thailand with a wood frame engraved with plant leaves.
The house contains a spectrum of pan-Asian art: stone and wood sculptures from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Iran; Chinese drawings and scrolls; Turkish and Persian carpets; and travel photographs that record their far-flung trips to such destinations as the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica.
An atmosphere of Zen-like calm, subdued elegance and comfortable living pervades the house. On a recent weekday morning, the dining table was topped with an open laptop and the day’s newspapers.
The house has 15-foot ceilings, two-toned polished wood floors, and nine working marble fireplaces — relined with ceramic liners to meet code. It has gas as well as electric lamps because “at the end of the 19th century, the owners weren’t sure if electricity would work, so they put in both,” Hoffman said. “We don’t use gas any more.”
The spacious living room is outfitted with modern pale green armchairs and couches from Roche Bobois to match the walls. But it retains the original window and door casings, plaster crown moldings, chandeliers and sconces. Over the main fireplace, there is a late-19th-century mirror, which Lauber and Hoffman had regilded.
They took a piece of the original molding to Smoot Lumber in Alexandria, known for custom millwork, and “they made several hundred feet that we — primarily Albert — installed throughout the house,” Hoffman said.
The cherry red dining room was one of the biggest jobs in the house. Wainscoting around the three tall bay windows was painted over, and the plaster crown molding was in bad condition from water damage. “We took everything off, down to the brick, stripped and scraped it back to the natural wood, then replaced it,” Lauber said.
A tiny, narrow closet in the dining room also has a door in the entry hallway.
“That may have been an ice box so that the ice could be delivered from the hallway without having to be brought dripping through the house,” he said. Now it holds oversize platters.
Pocket doors with original brass hinges and doorknobs lead to the lime-green kitchen, with white Poggenpohl cabinets installed 25 years ago and still modern today.
“We think the kitchen probably was the pantry because Victorian kitchens weren’t typically on the main level and because there was another kitchen downstairs,” Lauber said.
The lower level was a rental apartment when Lauber and Hoffman bought the house, “but we didn’t want tenants and took it back,” Lauber said. “We busted out walls, set up a kitchen camouflaged in cabinetry [where prep is handled for wine cellar parties across the hall] and created a media room.”
A screen drops from a hidden opening in the ceiling, and the signal travels to the projector via a wire from the Apple TV. “This is where we watched ‘House of Cards,’ ” said Hoffman, pointing to the orange leather Roche Bobois couch. Posters promoting Bitter Campari by the Italian designer Leonetto Cappiello decorate walls that are a light tan topped with shades of brown and off-white to match the marble floor tiles.
On the second floor, the tiled Roman-style master bath is suffused in a similar Italianate palette of ochre, beige, tan, orange and rust. The opaque glass window is decorated with diagonals of brown.
Persian carpets blanket the upstairs hallway. A hand-carved stone Ganesh — the Hindu elephant-headed god — rests on a stand. And there is a mother-of-pearl chest they bought at ABC Carpet in New York because it miraculously matches a pair of mother-of-pearl chairs with elephant motif purchased several years earlier in Jaipur.
Logan Circle is a wonderful place to live, the two men say. “When Whole Foods Market came to P Street and a developer bought 1 and 2 Logan Circle, the neighborhood started to take off. The last decade it has gone gangbusters,” Hoffman said.
Some of the houses remain single-family amid the many turned into multifamily dwellings by developers, and it pleases them that the neighborhood remains diverse, with all races, genders and ages. “It used to be that people moved out to raise children, but now it’s very desirable here for younger and edgier people. You see a lot of strollers and dogs.”
And if you’re lucky enough to be invited to a party but you forget the rules and show up in a light dress or short-sleeved shirt, don’t worry. “I have dozens of cashmere sweaters to lend anyone who needs another layer,” Hoffman said.
Audrey Hoffer is a freelance writer.