A restaurateur’s high-rise getaway in Rosslyn

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An elephant-shaped side table is one of the interesting design elements in Mike Cordero’s living room. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post)

When Mike Cordero, 59, bailed out of his suburban home in south Arlington in 2016, his mind was already made up about where he wanted to live: Turnberry Tower in Rosslyn. The 26-story, 247-unit condo tower was completed in 2009 as the country was nose-diving into the Great Recession.

Units in the building come standard with Snaidero cabinetry, Miele appliances and valet parking. It opened with much fanfare but sales were slow, and for a while the building stopped selling units as construction liens were settled.

Those days are long gone: Amazon is moving into Arlington, and Cordero, who owns and operates nine restaurants in Northern Virginia, was looking for an amenity-rich, low-maintenance base of operations.

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“The prestige and the amenities fit my lifestyle,” Cordero says. “The big pool, the big gym, conference room, party room, my own private elevator, great location — I’m in the center of everything. I can walk to some of my locations. Barley Mac and Taco Rock are only two blocks from the condo.”

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Cordero’s move got him into a great position to walk to work to two of his restaurants, but it wasn’t without a few hiccups. The house he was living in sold faster than he thought it would and there were no units available on the coveted upper floors of the condo building so the chef put his stuff into storage and rented living space in Rosslyn for four months.

A unit he liked opened up and Cordero dropped about $1 million for 1,645 square feet complete with a balcony offering views of Georgetown University. But the interior needed work. Cordero has a personal and professional partnership with Yvette Irene, 47, who has made her own splash in the interior design world by appearing on shows that aired on HGTV, the Food Network and DIY.

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Irene tweaked Cordero’s house in south Arlington and designed the interiors of eight of his nine restaurants. After the partial renovation of his house and the first four restaurants, they began dating and are now engaged. Although the condo was livable as it was, the couple decided to make some changes, with Cordero playing the role of client, not fiance.

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“I told her what I didn’t like,” Cordero says. “I didn’t like the floor, I didn’t like the wall colors and I thought the ceiling was very dull. In a commercial setting I have to cater to many clients — it has to be very neutral looking. I wanted to put my personal touches, and I spare no expense to live the way I want to.”

Remodeling a condo is always a challenge because of the [condo association’s] rules of what can and cannot be changed as well as the approval process. “You can only work from 9 to 5,” Irene says. “You only use a certain elevator — there’s a lot of restrictions. It prolongs the process because you have to wait for their approval.”

The changes were more than cosmetic as Irene drew up plans for coffered and tray ceilings. The floor in the main living area was an area of concern as the hardwood planks ran lengthwise from the front door to the far wall. “It looked like a bowling alley,” Irene says. The renovation lasted six weeks and was supposed to cost $125,000, but the budget spiraled up to $160,000.

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Some of the condos in the building, including Cordero’s, have semiprivate elevators that open into the units. The couple viewed the vestibule as a design challenge and untapped potential for a grand opening into the space that would go beyond the traditional layout of desk, lamp, coat rack and umbrella stand. What used to be an awkward foyer is now the chef’s 500-bottle wine room.

“The wine room is one of my favorites,” Irene says. “When I first saw that elevator room, I saw that as an opportunity to make it a wine room for him and he loved it. We produced a [computer-aided design] drawing of the space so we know how many bottles will fit.”

Cordero was onboard with the idea from the beginning. “Sometimes I have long days in the restaurant business and, we’re talking about 16-hour days, but when I get in the elevator and open it up it’s such a great feeling,” he says. “I know all the wines, but sometimes I stop and admire the room.”

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Just off the wine room is what used to be a den. Irene added a closet and drama by installing a tray ceiling. A convertible sofa turns the den into a guest bedroom. The kitchen came through the makeover mostly unmodified, although the chef did swap out the stove for a five-burner Viking range.

The bowling alley flooring was removed and replaced with wide-plank, naturally stained maple laid width-wide across the space. The ceiling was coffered to break up the space and to increase interest. Lighting was enhanced with dimmable pin lights that add accents where needed. Irene also created seating vignettes to provide for a variety of dining options.

“Instead of having the typical table and chairs behind the breakfast bar, we have three stools and a banquette on the other side of the space,” she says. “The fireplace was another feature that Mike lost by moving into the condo from a single-family home, so we added one. And then you have the dining table for the proper dinner and the bar for after dinner.”

Irene also brought wallpaper into the mix in the living area and bedrooms. The master suite features an upholstered headboard and another tray ceiling. But even with all the improvements on the inside, Cordero’s favorite space is outdoors.

“The balcony is exceptional. For a condo to have a balcony where you can fit 30 people comfortably — it’s like you’re living in some high-rise penthouse drinking cognac and smoking cigars,” Cordero says. “I love it; I do a lot of my thinking out there.”

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One of the topics Cordero thinks about is what’s happening in his community. The Amazon effect, or at least the hype, is already filtering down to Rosslyn, which is experiencing its own slate of renovations near the Metro station. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) The most visual work in progress is what’s already underway in what will be known as Rosslyn City Center.

“Rosslyn City Center will greatly transform a major urban center in Rosslyn,” says Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

“Pedestrians will have expanded retail options and connectivity to Central Place Plaza, where we have many new restaurants — Open Road, Salt and Common Ground — opening this fall,” Burick adds. “The 40-year-old mall will be completely reimagined with a curated food hall.”

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Cordero says he is banking on things heating up in Rosslyn and happy to finally enjoy the building and lifestyle he wanted.

“It’s crazy the renovations going on in Rosslyn,” he says. “Clarendon had their day, Ballston is coming up, but Rosslyn will be the next phase of Arlington, where there’s going to be more restaurants, more shops. It will be like Reston Town Center.”

Along with new places to eat, there’s another factor in play. “I walk over the Key Bridge and I’m in Georgetown,” Cordero says. “I can get on [Interstate] 66 or it’s a 10-minute Uber ride into D.C. I love the location.”

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