When Susan McFarland became chief financial officer of Fannie Mae in 2011, she initially commuted from Richmond, where she and her husband, Jeff, owned a house. But the 200-mile round trip driving in heavy traffic on Interstate 95 and the job’s demands made it clear that she needed a base of operations closer to the agency’s Tenleytown headquarters.
She settled on a decidedly different milieu from Richmond: a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium in a West End building full of amenities that could accommodate her hectic lifestyle.
The building, 22 West, features a rooftop pool, fitness room, floor-to-ceiling windows, nine-foot ceilings, iPort docking stations, high-end appliances in the kitchens and luxury fixtures in the bathrooms. “I wanted a place that didn’t have a lot of upkeep, and I wasn’t looking for a high-party area,” says McFarland, 52.
“The concierge service here has watered my plants, overnighted forgotten car keys, and helped me get shoes repaired on very short notice. They’ve made life a lot easier,” she says.
McFarland’s family has roots and relatives in Houston, prompting yet another move. She’s scheduled to leave Fannie Mae this summer, so resale value became an issue. “While I wasn’t specifically focused on turning a profit, I wanted something that I thought would hold its value well and might provide some upside,” she says.
“I didn’t want an ultra-contemporary look or anything” too froufrou. “Sometimes clean and contemporary can be too cold,” she adds. “I wanted it to feel like home.”
The design choices paid off with a quick sale that eclipsed her $1.2 million purchase price by $165,000. Upscale buildings in a central location maintain their appeal, experts say.
McFarland’s decorating scheme was inspired during a walk past the Urban Country showroom in Bethesda. “It was a fluke — she saw a sofa that she loved and came in,” says Rachelle Roth, 65, who has owned the store for 21 years.
Eventually, McFarland filled her condo with custom pieces from the store to complement the art she’s collected during her world travels.
“We furnished the condo from scratch. We pulled a few odds and ends from the house in Richmond, but the style there is not the same — it’s more traditional,” McFarland says.
“The space was an empty shell when I first saw it,” says Roth. “We could have gone a lot of different ways, but we were clearly going for a high-end aesthetic.”
The living area flows easily thanks to an open floor plan that connects the dining room, kitchen and living area. The featured view overlooks the diagonal intersection of 22nd Street and New Hampshire Avenue. Twin sofas from Hickory Chair, one being the piece that originally caught McFarland’s eye, are flanked by twin chairs trimmed in leather and mohair from Drexel Heritage.
The building offers electronically controlled solar shading over the panoramic windows, and the designer added linen drapes from Calvin Klein to soften the space. The kitchen features cabinetry by Poggenpohl, an upscale German manufacturer; island work spaces; and undermount sinks by Franke of Switzerland. The countertops are Kashmir granite and the cooktops, stoves, microwaves and warming drawers by Bosch.
The furnishings, meanwhile, were manufactured domestically. “We try to do ‘made in America’ as much as possible,” says Roth.
Functional, custom touches were added to two bookcases in McFarland’s study. The bottoms of the cabinets were reconfigured by height and width to hide file drawers, which help her keep the paperwork organized.
“Everything is concealed, including the Cadillac of sleeper sofas, which came from American Leather,” says Roth. Pulling the sleeper out turns the office into a third bedroom with an adjacent bathroom.
The bathrooms in the building are just as posh as the other amenities.
The tubs are cast iron, rest on marble bases and designed for deep soaking. The bathroom cabinetry is also by Poggenpohl; the floor tile is black slate. The countertops are marble with dual, undermount vanity sinks from Kohler. Additional accessories are from Waterworks. The showers and mirrors are frameless.
McFarland’s master bedroom has a bed with a padded headboard from the Michael Weiss collection and fitted with a set of Italian linens.
The unusual choice of a bedroom chandelier uses Capiz shells for shading. The shells are popular decor elements in the Philippines. “The light fixture makes the room feel a bit more luxe,” says Roth, because “it adds a touch of glamour.”
The second bedroom has a bed from Lee Industries with a custom leather headboard that was designed with McFarland’s two sons, Christopher, 25, and Travis, 22, in mind.
“I wanted a more masculine feel in there,” she says. “There’s a unique side table that looks like an old ladder and a football signed by Roger Staubach.”
The West End is bordered by Rock Creek Park and Dupont Circle to the north, Foggy Bottom to the south, downtown to the east and Georgetown to the west. “It’s mostly condos, a few co-ops and lots of hotels,” says Michele Wiltse, 41, a Realtor with Stages Premier and a resident of the West End.
“I’m a runner and love being close to outdoor space. The proximity of Rock Creek Park, the Mall and the Potomac River are key for me,” she says.
The 22 West building was one of the first condo buildings in the area and, along with the Ritz-Carlton, helped draw development to the area.
“People who have been here for a while say, ‘I was here before there was a Trader Joe’s,’ ” says Wiltse.
“In 1998, the site was a parking lot and the Exxon gas station,” says Anthony Lanier, the developer of 22 West who is constructing a mixed-use residential and retail project nearby. The 22 West “building was designed to be free-standing, so we had the ability to modify the shape to accommodate the style and design,” he says.
Lanier’s EastBanc firm is also pushing into the burgeoning H Street neighborhood in Northeast.
“More and more people just want to be home as opposed to going out and getting in a car and driving to someplace else,” he says.
For her part, McFarland has adapted well to her time in the big city. “I walk everywhere. The condo is very convenient to a lot of restaurants, there’s a Whole Foods close by and, of course, the Trader Joe’s,” she says.
McFarland learned that moving to the city wasn’t so much of a “downsizing” proposition as a change in thinking about how much space and furnishings are actually needed. “In Richmond, I had to deal with living in a big house. You start asking yourself about what you really need,” she says.
“The condo is more than sufficient,” she adds. “I can sit in front of those big windows in the morning with a cup of coffee and watch the city come to life — it’s a whole different feel.”
The lifestyle and the amenities are what McFarland says she’ll miss the most about the building.
Having the “concierge service can’t be underestimated,” she says. “Sometimes we feel compelled to try to do everything we are capable of doing. My best advice to busy people is to get comfortable with outsourcing.”
Scott Sowers is a freelance writer.