After 14 years of talking about it, my husband, Michael Widomski, and I agreed it was time to update our 1920 Lanier Heights row house. We decided to enlarge the galley kitchen by combining it with a barely used sunroom, create a wet bar and install a much-needed first-floor powder room.
The project was important to me professionally as a former chef and restaurateur turned food writer, recipe developer and cookbook author working from home. Although I’d made our dated kitchen work, limited storage meant frequent trips to the basement for pantry items and cookware.
To bring our vision to life, we hired contractor Brian Bielski and designer Elizabeth Mitchel, both of Finesse Design Remodeling. The result is a light-filled ode to Mid-Century Modern simplicity with lots of heavenly storage.
Mitchel enumerates some of its vantage points: “The wet bar with its floating shelves and transom windows, the sink framed by the large picture window,” she notes. “It’s a series of beautiful little vignettes.”
Following are some tips from a chef whose renovated kitchen does double duty as a work and entertaining space.
Explain your needs, then let the pros do their jobs
List the problems you wish to solve, then let designers fit your micro needs into a macro plan. “We come up with details that make sense,” says Mitchel. “For instance, I lined up new French doors off the back with the opening of the dining room to create a vestibule feeling where the new bar is. This complements the kitchen and establishes traffic flow through the dining room, past the wet bar and onto the deck.”
In order to maintain sight lines from the kitchen to the front door, we knew the powder room needed to go where our pantry storage was. So Finesse figured out a way to shift the location of the door from the dining room into the kitchen, enlarge it to frame the entrance to the new powder room and create a new (and much larger!) wall of pantry storage where the old doorway used to be.
Michael came up with the idea of creating built-in shelves in the dining room for my cookbooks (there was no room for kitchen bookcases in the new plan), and Finesse designed and built them by hand, incorporating sleek radiator covers with a mid-century look to create a stunning architectural feature.
Storage, storage, storage
Write down everything you plan to store in the kitchen—cook and bar ware, kitchen linens, small appliances, storage bags...everything. Take pictures for reference later, and include a tape measure in your photos to show dimensions of bottles, small appliances and pots and pans. This attention to detail will inform how deep a drawer or high a shelf should be. Map out where everything will go. Think about where you will be doing each job and put the things you need for that job there. Baking ingredients and utensils should be where you’ll be doing that prep, for example.
Drawers are your friends
Well-planned drawers streamline kitchen duty. I pictured the 150-plus herbs and spices I own in two drawers right next to the stove, one holding a single layer of 70 labelled two-ounce Mason jars and a deeper one below it that accommodates quart- and pint-size Mason jars. Another drawer holds bottled ingredients: vinegars, oils, honey, soy sauce, syrups. At the peninsula where baking prep takes place, two drawers hold staples (flours, sugars, cocoa) and implements (measuring cups and spoons, sifter, hand mixer, mini food processor, spice grinder).
Go out on a ledge
Built-in ledges and deeper cabinets change the game. In our former kitchen, there was a wide ledge behind the stove to conceal water pipes behind it, which made appliances jut out. I used the ledge to store salts, cooking oils and small appliances and asked for a similar one in the new kitchen. Finesse created a narrower, five-inch-deep ledge behind the new stove and brought the counters out to 29 inches. (No more jutting.)
The extra counter depth provides a bonus: the upper cabinets are now 15 inches deep instead of the customary 12—deep enough to store buffet plates and large pots and lids in a slotted rack, solving two storage issues.
Don’t forget artwork
Guests always wind up in the kitchen, so display meaningful pieces that provoke conversation. A George Nelson Ball Clock on the wall matches our Hestan range. And a Champagne bottle dishtowel on display was given to my grandmother in 1955 after she wrote a letter (in French) to the editor of The New Yorker correcting a French grammar error in an ad for Martex towels. (I keep the letter and magazine on hand to show guests.)
Splurge, but pick your battles
“You don’t have to spend a lot on every detail, but splurge on things that are impactful,” suggests Mitchel. “Here, that was the Sub-Zero refrigerator, Hestan range, the Poulsen fixture and large windows over the sink. The quartz countertops are more budget-conscious. Some people would have spent two or three times that on countertops.”
Kitchen Design & Contracting: Brian Bielski and Elizabeth Mitchel, Finesse Design Remodeling, Springfield, Virginia.
Chef and Barcelona native Pepe Moncayo fell in love with Japanese cooking while living in Singapore, where his tapas bar BAM! remains a sensation. In February, Moncayo opened Cranes in DC’s Penn Quarter, a small-plate and kaiseki restaurant, bar and sake lounge where the offerings—among them red snapper with citrus dashi and a Rising Son cocktail of saffron gin and sake—manifest his Spain-meets-Japan oeuvre. Interiors by DC’s //3877 mirror Moncayo’s vision, using geometric shapes, up- and down-lighting, jewel tones, fumed oak, polished metal and a repeated crane motif—on the base of the custom Mandy Li Collection table, for example—to create subtle drama. 724 9th Street, NW; 202-525-4900. cranes-dc.com
Paul Prager, owner of Bluepoint Hospitality Group, has opened a string of elegant establishments on Federal Street in Easton. Among them: fine-dining jewel Bas Rouge and The Stewart, a lounge focusing on single-malt Scotch whiskeys and vintage Champagnes. In December, he debuted Benjamin, a boutique specializing in fine china, porcelain, crystal and silver—all sourced in Europe by Prager and his team.
Bluepoint design director Shaun Jackson transformed the 890-square-foot space—formerly a yoga studio—into a sophisticated showroom embellished with pale-blue walls, lacquered crown molding, custom cabinetry and Palladian windows. The collection features handmade porcelain by Nymphenburg (founded in 1747 by the Royal Family of Bavaria and still owned by its heirs); glassware by Vienna’s venerable Lobmeyr; silver pieces by Viennese maker Wiener Silber; and sleek silver place settings by Robbe & Berking of Germany.
Wandering the shop, the craftsmanship mesmerizes—from the delicacy of a spherical Lobmeyr candy dish to the intricate hand-painted motifs on a Nymphenburg vase. One plate in the company’s 1765 Cumberland pattern, available by special order, takes three weeks to paint. “These manufacturers are esteemed by the world’s most discriminating collectors,” says Prager. “It is a privilege to bring one-of-a-kind pieces to Easton that are otherwise only available in a handful of U.S. cities.”
Located at 15 Federal Street in Easton, Benjamin is open by appointment only; 410-946-6171
Driving to Blanc Creatives, a producer of hand-crafted cookware and kitchen tools, you’re sure you’re lost when the GPS leads you down a bumpy side street in Charlottesville’s Belmont neighborhood and into the middle of a large parking lot. Then you hear the jarring, rhythmic clanging of hammers striking metal and follow the sound to one of several garages that house the company, established in 2011 by blacksmith Corry Blanc. Inside, artisans craft hand-forged, carbon-steel skillets of such remarkable quality that, when they were submitted for consideration for Garden & Gun’s 2015 Made in the South Awards, they earned Blanc Creatives the top prize.
Watching the nine-, 11- and 13-inch skillets (or two-handled roasters) in production mesmerizes. A hydraulic press molds sheets of carbon steel into rough skillet forms, which are forged, hammered into more precise shapes on an anvil and pressed again. After handles are attached, the pans are sandblasted, polished by wire brush, kiln-fired to make them rust-resistant and seasoned with coconut oil to a blue-black shine.
Blanc, 35, grew up in Dawsonville, Georgia, where spending time with his grandfathers ignited two passions that drive him today: metalworking and the culinary world.
“One grandfather had a metal shop in his house where he built hot rods and worked on big trucks. The smells and sparks intrigued me,” Blanc explains. “The other was a French Cajun from New Orleans who had owned restaurants and loved to cook, especially meat he raised himself. One week there’d be a hutch full of rabbits, the next a big family barbecue.”
Blanc recalls that in high school he was “the art kid.” An inspiring teacher recognized and nurtured his creative talent and planted the idea that it was possible to make a living as an artist. After high school, Blanc wound up working for his uncle’s welding and fabrication studio through 2007, overseeing the production of handrails during Atlanta’s housing boom. When his then-girlfriend got accepted to UVA, Blanc followed her to Charlottesville, where he found work at Stokes of England, a blacksmithing company. “That’s where I first heated metal,” he says. “It’s similar to clay in the way it can be moved.” He was hooked.
After honing his craft and saving money for a year, Blanc set up his own high-end metalworks with a homemade, coal-fired forge and a second-hand anvil—just in time for the economic downturn of 2008. “I split up with my girlfriend, too,” he says. “So, no money, no girl and no work.”
To make ends meet, he worked in the restaurant business, bartending, waiting tables and cooking for a caterer. On the side, he took on metalwork commissions, growing that business into Blanc Creatives. By 2012, catering was the side gig and metalwork had become Blanc’s main source of income.
During lulls between commissions, he started making cooking tools to sell at the Charlottesville City Market. He also brought along one prototype skillet. Though shoppers expressed interest in the pan, when he produced and brought a dozen of them to market, they didn’t sell. So he gave them to chefs around Charlottesville and asked for feedback, making adjustments to the slope of the pans’ sides and the handle lengths. Tomas Rahal, chef, and owner of Mas Tapas, bought six and spread the word about their quality. Sales began to pick up and Blanc hired a full-time assistant, cranking out around 15 pans a week. He also hired Apple alum Keith Freeman, who, as director of business and marketing, created a sophisticated website and online store using the best e-commerce practices. To make it more functional, he incorporated major components of an E-commerce website in it.
After the Garden & Gun prize, the website blew up with orders. “We took every order, but it took nine months to fill them,” says Blanc. He bought bigger tools and hired more people; the staff currently numbers 10 full-time employees and a couple of part-timers who produce 50 to 60 pans a week or as many as 90 when in high gear. Noted chefs such as Ludo Lefebvre, Dan Barber and James Kent are fans.
Once a customer buys a pan, it will likely last forever—so the future of Blanc’s business will depend on expanding his line. His offerings now include copper skillets, metal utensils and wood products such as charcuterie boards, spatulas and spoons. “The pan world built Blanc Creatives,” reflects its owner, “but it’s my job to keep it fed.”
Blanc Creatives products can be purchased by appointment on site (735 Walnut Street, Charlottesville) or online at blanccreatives.com. A selection is also available at food52.com and bluehillmarket.com.
Private Tour Table for Two It’s a rare day off for chef Cedric Maupillier and his wife, Dawn Swaney, and they’re doing what chefs often do when they’re not at work: cooking. In the airy, white kitchen of their Shaw apartment one late afternoon, he puts the finishing touches on a roasted Rohan duck with chestnuts, Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes and turnips while she pours two glasses of Riesling. They will take their meal to the living room, where a white custom Joybird sofa and a Parsons coffee table do double duty as dining furniture. Floor-to-ceiling corner windows flood the room with light during the day and present a spectacular third-floor view of DC’s vibrant nighttime cityscape.
If Maupillier—a five-time semi-finalist for a James Beard Foundation Best Chefs in America award—wasn’t already one of the capital’s premier chefs and restaurateurs, he could be in public relations touting the advantages of city living. They are even more abundant when you live over the shop and your workplace is a short stroll away: His popular restaurant, Convivial—where Swaney is sous chef—is located on the ground floor of their apartment complex, City Market at O.
“It’s like living in a hotel,” Maupillier enthuses. “Everything is convenient. We can access the largest Giant in the region without leaving the building. The roof feels like a park, with a pool, dog park where dogs play around but when they get bored they chase their own tail or display dog dominance signs (initially I used to wonder why do dogs chase their own tails then I realized they do it out of boredom), barbecue and fire pits.” And, he notes, some of the best bars and restaurants in town (besides Convivial) are nearby: The Dabney, Kinship, All-Purpose, Chaplin’s, Beau Thai, Smoked and Stacked, Espita Mezcaleria and The Columbia Room.
Maupillier originally came to the U.S. from his native France in 2003 to work for Fabio Trabocchi at Tysons Corner’s now-shuttered Maestro. At Citronelle, he worked as executive sous chef for the late, renowned Michel Richard, who was his mentor. In 2007, he opened Richard’s much-ballyhooed bistro, Central Michel Richard—winner of a James Beard award for the best new restaurant in the U.S.—and began making a name for himself. He became executive chef at Mintwood Place in Adams Morgan in 2011—and soon achieved superstar status on DC’s culinary scene.
Once at Mintwood Place, Maupillier adjusted his sights. “After a year, I wanted to see what ownership was all about,” he recalls. “I wanted to be freer, more independent.” Mintwood restaurateur Saied Azali approached him with an offer: a majority partnership in a new eatery,
Convivial, to be located in DC’s trendy Shaw neighborhood.
Maupillier envisioned an outpost that would live up to its name: a casual spot where people could come for a nibble, a cocktail, small plates or a full-fledged meal. It opened in November 2015, featuring Maupillier’s clever riffs on French bistro food—for example, garlicky escargots “in a blanket,” wrapped in crunchy pastry tubes.
Maupillier and Swaney worked together first at Citronelle, then at Central. “We spent so much time together in the kitchen that it didn’t make sense not to be dating,” Maupillier jokes. Swaney joined him as sous chef at Mintwood Place, then moved with him to Convivial. The two married in August 2017 with the French Alps as a backdrop.
Today, the couple works about 70 hours a week at Convivial (Maupillier remains executive chef at Mintwood as well), leaving little room for fine dining at home. “I want pizza after work every night, but Dawn doesn’t let me,” says Maupillier ruefully. “She says, ‘Have a salad.’”
Even with their hectic schedules, Swaney does manage to cook at home twice a week, recently serving a clam chowder topped with poached oysters and mackerel that Maupillier deemed “fantastic.” Their fridge boasts mostly staples—beer, Champagne, Perrier, butter, yogurt, cheese, milk and deli meats. Yet despite the proximity of a very well-stocked larder nearby, they scrupulously do not borrow from it. “We never take things from the restaurant and never drink there,” Swaney avers.
Personal touches abound in the newlyweds’ apartment: a picture of the couple sailing on the Potomac, Maupillier’s extensive collection of cookbooks, paintings bought from an artist outside Paris’s Pompidou Center last summer, family pictures—and a stunning drawing of a tree Maupillier found at a store in Adams Morgan. “We don’t have the money to buy art,” he says, “but it made me think of Dawn.”
Urban Refuge When their landlord suddenly decided to sell the Logan Circle apartment they were renting a year and a half ago, designer Michael Hampton and his husband David Kantor had to find a move-in-ready place quickly. Fortuitously, a newly renovated floor-through in an 1885 Dupont Circle row house had just come on the market. The location, just three blocks from Hampton’s office, was perfect—and so were the bones of the two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium. The finishes, cabinetry and soft-gray walls appealed to the designer, who determined that carefully curated, elegant furnishings (and a lot of crown molding) could make up for what the narrow, 1,700-square-foot space lacked in architecture.
Entering Hampton’s home, it is immediately clear that the designer is a big fan of neoclassicism, especially French Empire influences. “Modern classicism is an overused term, but that is my style and vision,” he says. “I’m inspired by the past but looking for ways to reinterpret it, mixing old and new.”
Hampton was born and raised in Northern California’s Bay area. He attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco with the intention of becoming a fashion designer, but a class in architectural history changed his course. He earned a degree in interior design in 1994.
Two designers were particularly influential mentors: Steven Volpe, for whom Hampton worked in San Francisco for 10 years, and Thomas Pheasant, whose offer of a senior designer position compelled Hampton to move to Washington in 2004. “Steve took me to Paris and Rome and exposed me to things that continue to inform and inspire me. And I learned from Thomas how to manage large-scale projects, but also to pare things down to their essence,” explains Hampton, who launched his own firm in 2009.
His living room combines comfort, élan, and practicality. The central seating area, in various shades of taupe and beige, is defined by a patterned sisal rug, on top of which lies a smaller Oriental reproduction by Stark. “I like to layer a rug that’s too small for a room on top of a larger one,” Hampton explains. A velvet-covered davenport is flanked by two stately columns serving as pedestals for French urns that contain tole agave plants. Behind the sofa hangs a stunning William Curtis Rolf black-and-white photograph of a 17th-century André le Nôtre garden at a chateau near Paris. After purchasing the photo for the library he created in the 2015 DC Design House, Hampton wound up keeping it himself.
Evidence of the designer’s admitted chair obsession includes 18th-century French Empire chairs with carved caryatid heads, 18th-century Italian walnut side chairs with exquisite caning and four late-19th-century Klismos chairs set around an André Arbus-style mahogany dining table near the home’s large front window. Other favorite pieces gracing the living room are a French Empire console table (c. 1810) and a late 18th-century mantel clock and French mirror.
Hampton has cleverly maximized space throughout the home. He can easily seat 16 when entertaining in the main living area, which includes an open kitchen with four aluminum stools lining a sleek counter. “I like to create a buffet in the kitchen, put out some little plates and let everyone graze. That’s my favorite way of entertaining,” he says.
Behind the kitchen is the guest bathroom. There, as well in the master bath, Hampton installed crown molding, stopping short of the shower so he could mount a curtain on a track. “It looks like proper drapery,” he explains, “and gives a nice softness to the room so you don’t just walk in and see ‘shower!’” Other appointments include vinyl Phillip Jeffries wallpaper in a herringbone pattern and 19th-century prints found at Goodwood on U Street.
A guest room, with a comfy sofa that converts to a bed, does double duty as a cozy sitting room. Hampton and Kantor, an investment advisor, like to read and relax in the space. Ecru grasscloth on the walls lends warmth, as do draperies made of printed Elizabeth Hamilton fabric edged with trim by Samuel & Sons. Behind the sofa hang antique postcards depicting Roman emperors, which Hampton discovered on eBay and framed. Architectural watercolors, including some by Hampton himself, adorn the room, which also features a black Paul László chest and an early 19th-century English Regency convex mirror with ebony detailing.
In the master bedroom, a wooden Buddha resting on a Plexiglas pedestal enhances the sense of Zen that the room’s peaceful light-gray and taupe palette imbues. The bedroom and master bath feature Phillip Jeffries textured wall covering applied in a subtle basketweave pattern made by cutting the paper in squares and installing them in alternating directions. “It’s kind of becoming my signature,” Hampton admits.
For a touch of drama, the designer opted for an architectural canopy bed in natural steel from Room & Board. To make it feel more luxurious, he had an upholsterer fabricate an insert to fill one end of the frame (actually the foot of the bed), creating a custom headboard. Thick, ripple-fold window draperies impart a cocoon-like atmosphere when closed. “Here I am in the middle of the city,” Hampton marvels, “but when I’m in this soft, enveloping room, I don’t feel like I am.”
Writer David Hagedorn is based in Washington, DC. John Cole is a photographer in Silver Spring.
INTERIOR DESIGN: MICHAEL HAMPTON, Michael Hampton, Inc., Washington, DC.
LIVING ROOM Sofa: Custom. Sofa Fabric: calvinfabrics.com. Coffee Table & Armchair: kelloggcollection.com. Chair Fabric: perennialsfabric.com. Greek Key Ottomans: Michael Hampton Collection for salvationssaf.com. Columns, Urns, Console, Gilt-Framed Mirror, Console Clock, Wood-Framed Chair, Klismos Chairs: Antique. Photograph over Sofa: williamcurtisrolf.com. Rug: starkcarpet.com. Sisal: carpetimpressions.com. Decorative Objects on Coffee Table: Contemporary marble specimen obelisks. Throw Pillows: clarencehouse.com, larsenfabrics.com. Drapery Fabric: cowtan.com. André Arbus-Style Round Dining Table: Custom through Antonio’s Antiques; 415-781-1737. Floor Lamps: restorationhardware.com. Brass Occasional Table: maisonmeilleur.com. Bookshelves: lillianaugust.com.
SITTING/GUEST ROOM Sofa: crateandbarrel.com. Coffee Table/Chest: marstonluce.com. Rug: Moroccan. Sisal: carpetimpressions.com. Drapery Fabric: elizabethhamiltoncollection.com. Drapery Trim: samuelandsons.com. Shades: conrad.com. Zebra Art: williamcurtisrolf.com. Art over Sofa: Framed postcards. Architectural Art Propped on Floor: michaelhamptoninc.com. Wood-Framed Chairs & Convex Mirror: Antique. Black Cupboard: Paul Laszlo through 1stdips.com.
MASTER BEDROOM Bedstead: roomandboard.com. Upholstered Headboard: Travers through zimmer-rohde.com: Headboard Fabrication: TK. Nightstand: hickorychair.com. Table Lamp: mrbrownhome.com. Bedding: restorationhardware.com. Rug: carpetimpressions.com. Wall covering: phillipjeffries.com. Wood-Framed Chair & Wall Brackets: Antique. Chair Fabric: markalexander.com. Occasional Table: Jean Michel Frank. Wardrobe: julianchichester.com.
Ever since she moved to Baltimore 22 years ago, acclaimed chef and restaurateur Cindy Wolf has been looking for a dream house with enough land for her to plant a large garden and take up farming. Last October, she found it in Sparks, Maryland, just a 30-minute drive north of the city from her flagship restaurant, Charleston.
The house is a charming, light-filled rambler of worn, pinkish gray brick. It is situated on 15 acres of land as green as an Ireland postcard, rife with mature trees, more than a hundred boxwoods and expanses of neatly trimmed lawn. “I became addicted to the place from the moment I saw it,” says Wolf, who dubbed it Wildflower Farm soon after moving in.
Turning onto the split-rail-fence-lined lane that accesses the pear-shaped property, you first catch a glimpse of four raised garden beds and a pine barn, rebuilt by previous owners in 2014. Design elements such as a tin roof, reclaimed columns and beams and Lancaster County fieldstone transform a utilitarian edifice into a chic out-building.
Constructed in 1948, the four-bedroom house overlooks the breathtaking Western Run Valley. Barely visible among the greenery, it blends seamlessly into the landscape rather than intruding on it.
To update the home, Wolf tapped contractor Jeffrey Bayer, who renovated the kitchen in her previous house in Baltimore’s Roland Park. First, he updated the HVAC, replaced the skylights and brought electrical wiring up to code. Flooring was repaired throughout and much of it replaced. A bathroom off the kitchen was completely remodeled. To make an office, beams and wood paneling were removed from a former family room to create height and openness and Bayer refaced its red-brick fireplace—one of four in the house—with fieldstone and slate.
Wolf tackled the interiors herself, creating a sophisticated mélange of new and antique furniture along with a blend of hard and soft natural materials, from metal, wood, glass, and stone to distressed leather and velvet. What was a formal dining room between the living room and kitchen is now a cozy den. Meanwhile, Wolf turned a former seating area in the back of the house into the dining room, taking full advantage of the mountain views its French doors and floor-to-ceiling windows offer. A monastery dining table, French dining chairs upholstered in charcoal velvet and a haunting painting of a young woman create an elegant backdrop for dinner parties. The first one Wolf hosted, for a friend’s 50th birthday, featured zucchini carpaccio, roasted duck magret, braised beef short ribs and many bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
A 1987 graduate of The Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park, Wolf carved a career path from Charleston to Knoxville, to Washington, DC, and finally to Baltimore in 1995, where she operated Savannah with her then-husband, Tony Foreman. Two years later, they opened their own restaurant, Charleston, where Wolf’s refined Low Country cooking has earned her five James Beard nominations for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic. Now divorced, the two remain business partners and co-own six Baltimore-area restaurants, including Cinghiale and Pazo, plus two wine boutiques.
Wolf’s home kitchen is a professional’s paradise. “I hope never to leave this house, so I did the kitchen the way I wanted it,” she says. That includes not having a dishwasher or overhead cabinetry, which she finds confining. She stores her Raynaud wedding china in one étagère and Riedel crystal stemware in another; Wolf uses both collections daily and washes everything by hand. “I live by myself. I have these nice things and I want to use them,” she reasons. “If I had a family, I’d have a dishwasher.”
There are two work tables in stainless steel (so the chef can put hot pans directly on them), plus a marble one for pastry. The restaurant-grade stainless-steel sink is so deep she can scale a fish in it or stack dishes out of sight during a dinner party. Gleaming copper cookware hangs from a ceiling rack and Staub cast-iron casseroles are on display in a corner pot rack, a nod to one in Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen on “Downton Abbey.”
The apple of Wolf’s eye is her Lacornue CornuFé gas range with polished copper trim and a matching hood. The ornate cast-iron backsplash, a gift from Bayer, originates from a fireplace in Wolf’s 1905 Roland Park house.
Wolf is particularly proud of her garden, where she grows herbs, vegetables, fruit, and flowers. “The idea is to be able to wake up each morning and pick things to use at Charleston to inspire the daily menu,” she says. Someday, she also hopes to raise chickens and sheep and keep horses on the property.
For the chef, this way of life is a deep commitment. “I believe that we need to protect the land, particularly farmland,” she says. “Owning as much of it as I could be always my dream.”
Wildflower Farm is indeed a dream come true.
David Hagedorn is a Washington, DC, writer. Photographer Geoffrey Hodgdon is based in Deale, Maryland.
RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: JEFFREY BAYER, Bayer Construction, Catonsville, Maryland.
Joie de Vivre On a warm fall day under a cloudless blue sky, the golden leaves from two majestic oaks sprinkle the lawn in front of the Alexandria residence where James Beard Award-winning chef Eric Ziebold, his wife Célia Laurent and their two-year-old daughter live.
They are enjoying some last days of calm before the planned winter openings of their highly anticipated restaurants, Kinship and Métier, both located in a 1907 building near DC’s Mount Vernon Square. The former, seating 87, will feature à la carte dining in a casual setting; the latter, accessed by a discrete elevator, will be a 36-seat dining room offering formal seven-course tasting menus.
The couple’s house is a white-brick, split-level Colonial with a columned two-story porch, black shutters and a black front door. When you first glimpse it, your mind might wander to the moment when young Natalie Wood lopes from the car at the end of Miracle on 34th Street, having found the picture-perfect home.
“It looks like Virginia,” says Laurent. “The neighborhood is quiet and there is lots of light, which is super important.”
The couple met in 2003 in California, where Ziebold was chef de cuisine for Thomas Keller at the famed French Laundry. Laurent was preparing for a position as director of special events at Per Se, which Keller opened in Manhattan soon thereafter. Ziebold also wound up at Per Se, where they worked together. It was only after the Iowa-born chef moved to DC in 2004 to open CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel that the couple started dating, and a five-year, long-distance romance ensued.
Laurent finally moved to DC in 2009; she and Ziebold married in 2012 and bought their three-bedroom house in 2013. The split-level layout appealed to them. “The downstairs bedroom is very private for guests and will be good for our daughter when she gets older,” Laurent says.
Other selling points centered on entertaining—not surprising considering the couple’s fine-dining bona fides (Laurent’s impressive restaurant-management resume includes Restaurant Daniel in New York and Le Diplomate in Washington). A large patio off the lower level is as perfect for al fresco dining as the equally spacious upstairs living/dining room is for indoor parties. The garage is deep enough to house the duo’s extensive wine collection in a custom-built cellar.
“We gave a series of dinner parties over the summer as research and development for the new restaurant and had our guests sign the wall next to where the wine is stored,” Ziebold explains. The menu for one summer dinner included okra salad, heirloom tomatoes, lobster French toast, roast chicken en panade and cheesecake bavarois with plums.
Ascending a small stairway from the main entrance, a front room intended as the dining room is now a cozy salon. A built-in bookcase separates it from the living/dining room. Pale green walls; billowy, white-linen curtains; a comfy, white-linen slipcovered sofa; and light-stained hardwood floors lend the open space a Provençal quality. A simple rectangular dining table and ecru-linen side chairs have a weathered, birch-colored finish that adds to the room’s breeziness.
“We like an older patina on our furniture,” says Laurent, who hails from Arcachon, an oyster-producing bay on the Atlantic coast of southwestern France.
The same aesthetic will appear in Kinship and Métier. Ziebold and Laurent are involved in every detail of the restaurants, working closely with DC designer Darryl Carter on their interiors. Spread out on their dining room table are items being considered for each space. Among them: a block of wood flooring with a milk-wash finish, antique glassware, Laguiole knives and custom ceramic plates.
With so much time and energy spent launching the restaurants, furnishing their home has been an organic process—by preference as well as necessity. “We are not of the mindset of rushing to the store and filling the house. We prefer to find just the right piece. And we will pair something from a flea market with something modern, a mix of high and low,” Laurent says.
“We bring things back from our travels. A grill from Tunisia was probably not my brightest idea,” adds Ziebold with a wry smile.
The result is an elegant blend of small-town warmth and big city sophistication. In other words, tout à fait chic.
Artwork abounds. Says Laurent, “My mother is a painter, so I’ve been surrounded by artist friends since I was young.” Works by several of them, such as Christian Babou, Elizabeth Barbosa and Henri Boixel, adorn the walls or rest on the floor, awaiting placement.
Over the sofa, a Keith Haring lithograph holds special meaning for Laurent. “It’s of the inside of the elevator of the contemporary art museum in Bordeaux, where I was born,” she says. Next to it is a Warhol lithograph of Elvis Presley in cowboy gear.
“Nothing is of great value,” says Laurent. “Just for fun.” Joie de vivre permeates every corner of the couple’s charming home.
Writer David Hagedorn is based in Washington, DC. Geoffrey Hodgdon is a photographer in Deale, Maryland.
Fresh Start When technology executives Patrice Wolfe and her husband Jon Bazemore decided to renovate the main floor of their Westmoreland Hills home, they had already lived in it for 11 years. That was plenty of time to get a feel for what worked for their family of four and what didn’t. The couple’s design vision was so precise that it included storage for cutting boards, pastry brushes and a large collection of table linens.
The house, a red-brick Colonial built in 1953, is set back on a lushly landscaped corner lot a whisper away from the District line. Despite additions made by prior owners, including a family room and a sunroom, the primary living space proved inefficient. The family room was too large to be intimate and the kitchen too small to make entertaining easy for Wolfe and Bazemore, both avid cooks.
“The flow of the first floor didn’t work,” says Wolfe. “We interviewed a lot of architects who gave us the lazy answer—to push out into the side yard with an addition. We didn’t need to do that.”
Architect Bruce Wentworth of Wentworth Studio agreed. Opting for reconfiguration over expansion, the couple hired him and design studio manager Michael Merschat to mastermind the renovation. They removed a wall between the family room and sunroom to create a large, bright space. And they apportioned part of the family room to create a new galley kitchen with a nine-foot island that houses a large stainless-steel sink, dishwasher, microwave drawer, and cabinetry. An elevated, surfboard-shaped, custom walnut countertop provides a place for the couple and their two children to share informal meals or surf the Internet.
“The client’s goal was to keep the aesthetics of the new kitchen in sync with the house—a bit traditional with a transitional style,” says Wentworth. “Updated and elegant; warm but not slick.”
Opposite the island are a six-burner Thermador gas range top, a prep sink, and a 48-inch Sub-Zero refrigerator. Honed black granite countertops offer plenty of workspaces. Flat-panel maple cabinetry, painted white, reinforces the transitional profile the clients requested, as does the backsplash of horizontal marble tiles in differing hues of gray. The side yard, now visible through two windows instead of a single one, provides a pleasant view during food prep.
Adjacent to the new kitchen area, the old kitchen has been divided. One half holds more base cabinetry, extra counter space, double wall ovens and a walk-in pantry. The other half is a home entertainer’s dream come true: a butler’s pantry with loads more storage, a wet bar, a wine chiller and a second dishwasher.
Openness is the design mantra here. Wentworth replaced a wall in the foyer that hid the basement staircase with a chic railing. He turned a full bath into a powder room, now accessible from the foyer instead of the office. And he shifted the dining room’s two doorways, leading into the family room and butler’s pantry, to improve circulation and make space feel larger.
In the enlarged family room, added wall space accommodates a built-in cabinet for a TV and storage. The raised hearth was removed from the refaced fireplace to create an unimpeded pathway to the kitchen.
Refined finishes and appointments are the hallmarks of this five-month renovation. The powder room is a study in gray and white, with Carrara marble-tile walls and a contrasting honed mosaic marble floor. Slate blue Maya Romanoff wallpaper with tiny white beads outfits the ceiling.
The owners turned to Carol Rubacky Sheridan of Contemplated Spaces for help with furniture, fabrics, window treatments and rugs. In the dining room, an undulating Pantages chandelier serves as a focal point. Beige grasscloth, a geometric Tibetan carpet and an embroidered scroll pattern on the host chairs add luster.
Surprises—often renovation nightmares—sometimes yield treasures. What were thought to be fake exposed beams in the family room turned out to be real joists supporting a second-floor addition? Wentworth capped their metal hangers with wood molding, painted everything white and made drama out of a drawback.
Wolfe is thrilled with the renovation. “I can’t think of anything where I’d say, ‘Oh, if only we had done x,’” she says. “I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
Writer David Hagedorn is based in Washington, DC. Geoffrey Hodgdon is a photographer in Deale, Maryland.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE & CONSTRUCTION: Bruce Wentworth, AIA, principal; Michael Merschat, AIA, design studio manager, Wentworth Studio, Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Southern Comfort It’s suppertime in the McLean home of David Guas, the chef and owner of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, and the smell of cornbread fills the kitchen. Guas stands at the stove vigorously whisking stone-ground white cornmeal, sourced from George Washington’s grist mill in Mount Vernon, into a pot of boiling water. His 10-year-old son, Spencer, taking time out from playing with the family’s Labrador puppy, Roux, mashes garlic with a mortar and pestle. That will be part of the Worcestershire-based sauce for shrimp skewers that Guas will barbecue outside on a wood-burning Cowboy Cauldron grill he ignites with a spray of fire from an industrial blowtorch.
On a dusk-lit, screened porch just off the kitchen, Guas’s wife, PR maven Simone Rathlé, sets the table with cobalt blue camp plates, sky-blue Mason jar glasses, a whitewashed picket basket of napkins depicting street maps of the couple’s native New Orleans and a birch vase of cheery sunflowers.
Grilled New Orleans-Style BBQ
Shrimp on the Cowboy Cauldron served with Stone-Ground White Corn Grits
Lemon-Lime Icebox Pie with Almond Cream
Iced Tea with Cucumber & Lemon
Considering his calm demeanor, you wouldn’t know that Guas is in the middle of opening a second Bayou Bakery (this one on Capitol Hill) and promoting a new cookbook, Grill Nation (Oxmoor House, New York; April 28, 2015). He is as cool as the cucumber that his other son, 12-year-old Kemp, slices to add some zing to lemon iced tea. (The cookbook is filled with simple-to-prepare dishes and tips for home cooks and was inspired by Guas’s TV show, “American Grilled,” which aired on the Travel Channel last year.)
Guas’s home kitchen is small, especially by chef standards, but efficient. The Viking four-burner range, Bosch refrigerator and dishwasher form a tight work triangle. A panoply of pots, pans, and utensils hangs from racks over the sink. On the blond granite countertop is a collection of salts, honey and sorghums, with even more of those things packed into the maple cabinets above. (Guas is the spokesperson for the National Honey Board.)
Guas and Rathlé met in 1998 at the construction site of Washington’s DC Coast restaurant. Chef Jeff Tunks, who had previously been Guas’s boss at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, lured Guas to DC to take the opening pastry position. Not only did the couple have New Orleans in common, but the hotel, too—Rathlé had once been its in-house publicist.
The two married in 1999 and moved into a small house in Arlington. Once Kemp was born in 2002, they realized they needed a larger abode. They bought their 1950s five-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom rambler, set back on a spacious wooded corner lot, on Mother’s Day in 2003.
The furnishings of their home reflect an eclectic country style centering on comfort, tradition, and memories. “We love to go picking,” says Guas. “We bought all the furniture together. The two hutches in the dining room, the church pew next to the living room. We found someone to make the dining room table (from reclaimed oak barn floor planks) at the Georgetown flea market.” Adirondack chairs around the table came from a furniture maker near Lake Placid, where Rathlé once had a client.
Paintings by Rathlé’s father, Raymond, hang on the walls and many of his Persian carpets adorn the floors. The hutches display treasured gifts from Guas’s mother, among them plates from the Roosevelt Hotel and Galatoire’s in New Orleans.
The garage is filled with acquisitions for the new Bayou Bakery that Guas and Rathlé purchased last summer on a trip along the Civil War Trail from New Orleans to Vicksburg and onward to Washington. The bakery’s building on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, was a carriage house for the first Civil War naval hospital (now the Hill Center), whose land Lincoln sanctioned. A centerpiece is a large metal chandelier custom-made in Alabama that bears a lesser-known Lincoln quote: “I can make generals, but horses are expensive.”
New Orleans’s trademark symbol, the fleur-de-lis, makes numerous appearances in the Guas home, as do red-combed roosters of various sizes and ilks: porcelain vases, straw baskets, painted goblets, metal sculptures, glass figurines, lamp shades.
“Roosters are signs of hospitality,” says Rathlé. That is something in great abundance at the Guases’.
Writer David Hagedorn is based in Washington, DC. Geoffrey Hodgdon is a photographer in Deale, Maryland.
Private Tour - Sunday Supper JULY/AUGUST 2011
You’d think that entertaining a crowd is the last thing restaurateurs Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong would want to do on their day off, but on Sunday afternoons between May and September, the couple can often be found doing just that in their Mount Vernon, Virginia, home.
When the whim strikes, the owners of Restaurant Eve, The Majestic, Eamonn’s and PX invite friends and family over at 4 p.m. for a barbecue that begins with Thibaut-Janisson bubbly and often ends with a dip in the pool on the far side of midnight.
A recent cause for celebration was a mini kitchen renovation. With help from Scott Knepper of Exceptional Interiors, Inc., in Ashburn, Virginia, Meshelle replaced an obtrusive kitchen peninsula with a flow-friendly island and traded Formica countertops for durable Corian. She also had a new Electrolux range installed. “No industrial-grade stove for me,” Cathal firmly states. “I don’t want to be reminded of work when I’m cooking at home.” But the collection of fine polished copper pots makes it clear that a serious cook resides here.
Meshelle is no amateur when it comes to design makeovers. She and Cathal met in 1992 when both worked at Cities Restaurant in Adams Morgan, she as the dining room manager and he as a cook—roles that foreshadowed their successful future together. While at Cities, Meshelle utilized her experience as a window designer for Le Château and Bergdorf Goodman to redecorate the restaurant every six months as a new locale: Havana, Mexico City, Paris.
“It’s the same aesthetic I use to this day for our restaurants and our living spaces,” she explains. “I design rooms as vignettes.” For example, the cozy living room with its eye-catching, Beardsley-esque paisley curtains and linen Roman shades is the black-and-white room. The front parlor, with a piano and wall-to-ceiling cases filled with books, Cathal’s photography and Meshelle’s sculptures, is the self-expression room.
The Armstrongs married in 1997. Cathal rose through DC’s culinary ranks to become chef at Jeffrey Buben’s Bistro Bis on Capitol Hill. By 2004, the Armstrongs were ready to open their first eatery, Restaurant Eve, named after their daughter, now 12 (while Eamonn’s is named for their son, now eight). Cathal’s star ascended rapidly and he has garnered numerous accolades, including a Food & Wine Best New Chef award and several James Beard nominations. The Irish-born chef recently received a Champion of Change award from the Obama administration for his non-profit organization, Chefs as Parents, which promotes healthy school lunch programs.
In 2004, the Armstrongs bought a house an easy drive from Restaurant Eve—though that wasn’t why they bought it, says Meshelle. “We bought this house the day we saw it because it had a greenhouse and a pool. We just knew it was right for us.” It didn’t hurt that the brick colonial, built in 2000, stood on a registered historic property, the site of George Washington’s stable grounds.
Meshelle has never used a decorator. Instead, she works with talented people who understand her vision, including Jeff Albert and David Chenault, owners of Decorium and D2 Interior Design in Old Town Alexandria. “Jeff and David totally understand me,” she says. “When I first walked into their store, I felt like I was at home.” The pair recently redid the Tasting Room at Eve and also had a heavy hand in the interior design of Virtue Feed and Grain, the Armstrongs’ new Alexandria restaurant, which opened in early June. They’re now consulting on Society Fair, a specialty food market and wine shop due to open on South Washington Street in the fall.
Since buying the home, the couple has definitely made it theirs. From the moment you enter, there’s a sense of warmth, openness and family, and a complete lack of pretension. The foyer features a 25-foot ceiling, a prodigious wrought-iron chandelier and a Palladian window that showers the entrance with light. The hardwood floors are stained light; the color palette reflects creamy beiges and swaths of goldenrod separated by crisp white wainscoting.
Meshelle’s creativity is apparent everywhere—in the dining room, for example, she took the linen-shaded chandelier from Decorium and hung crystals from its arms for added bling. “She loves to jump far from the box, not stifling her imagination,” says Chenault.
Placed strategically throughout the house are personal mementoes, including photos with U.S. Presidents and cooking-world notables. Family candids include a striking black-and-white shot of a cloche-hatted Meshelle walking their pocket beagles, Yum Yum and Albie Moonpie, at National Harbor. The composition of the photo brings Man Ray to mind.
Every item in the Armstrong house signifies a relationship: Local artist and Eve regular Maremi Hooff painted an oil of fruits and vegetables indigenous to Virginia farms in the breakfast nook; a kitchen drawer of chef’s knives includes a wedding gift cleaver engraved with the words, “Never cleave each other;” and a brass plaque on the dining room table, hand-crafted by a Kensington, Maryland, carpenter, reads, “Cathal and Meshelle: Happy Birthday 1999 from Ma and Da in Ireland with love.”
However, the Armstrongs consider their outdoor space, filled with peonies, herbs, lavender, apple, pomegranate, fig, dogwood trees, hostas and honeysuckle, their favorite room. “It’s a very important part of the house,” explains Meshelle. “The whole family was involved in the landscaping. After work, Cathal and I will wake the kids for a midnight swim—it’s what Eamonn remembers most about our summers.”
What guests remember is heaping platters of crusted, smoked brisket; colorful heirloom tomatoes and corn-on-the-cob enjoyed around backyard dining tables, where wine and good-natured conversation flow freely.
Who could ask for a more satisfying day off?
David Hagedorn is a freelance writer and food columnist for The Washington Post. Kenneth M. Wyner is a Takoma Park, Maryland-based photographer.
ART STUDIO: BRIGHT IDEAS MAY/JUNE 2011
Rick Singleton brims with excitement as he shows off his latest find, a set of weathered vintage metal ski poles recently purchased for $1.50 at the Montgomery County Thrift Store. He is not sure what he is going to do with them, but no doubt parts of them will wind up in one of the cunning fixtures the lighting artist fashions from found objects.
Singleton, 47, earned a degree in fine arts from Louisiana State University and moved to Washington, DC, in 1986, intending to paint but finding himself drawn in other directions. After working briefly for a stained-glass artist and a sculptor, Singleton took a job repairing and refurbishing lamps at Gaylord’s, a family-run lighting store. There, he began creating lighting pieces out of items he discovered on weekend shopping excursions to flea markets, thrift stores, used furniture outlets and salvage houses.
“I’ve always been really good at working with tools, taking things apart and putting them back together,” he notes enthusiastically. “I became fascinated by the idea of seeing something, restyling it and making it into something different.”
What to others may be junk to Singleton represents potential. Estate sales of dentists and doctors or people with basement workshops especially appeal, and he has amassed a collection of old motors and pistons; pulleys; vintage flashlights in various sizes and colors; photo, dental and medical equipment; vacuum cleaners and other household appliances; capacitors; x-ray and television picture tubes; and erector sets.
“Some people,” Singleton admits, “think I have a problem.”
What he has is a discerning eye and an indisputable ability to create stunning design pieces that blend industrial elements with whimsy. A cathode ray tube or a photo enlarger becomes a table lamp. A drab, utilitarian medical light from the fifties gets stripped, refinished, repainted and reinvented as a halogen torchiere. Metal strips from erector sets, with their neat rows of precise holes, outline shades on table lamps, wall sconces and elaborate, multi-tiered chandeliers.
Singleton’s preferred materials include aluminum, brass, Bakelite, copper, reclaimed mirrors, acrylic and mercury glass. His style is hard to pin down (Gothic, Art Deco, Arts and Crafts, Bauhaus and Steampunk references happily coexist in his world), but a common thread is the softening of hard angles and surfaces via circles, spheres, rings, curves, round die-cuts and glint.
Singleton’s reputation as a lighting artist flourished once he made connections in the restaurant world. In 1996, a good friend commissioned him to create a fixture for her vintage clothing store. Her boyfriend turned out to be nightclub entrepreneur Joe Englert, who tapped Singleton to build fixtures for the Big Hunt, State of the Union, Lucky Bar and other spaces. The word on Singleton was out.
At a showcase in 1998, Michael Babin, owner of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, saw one of Singleton’s erector set chandeliers and bought it for Evening Star Cafe, his flagship Alexandria eatery. As Babin’s restaurant empire grew, Singleton’s pieces proliferated in his properties.
Singleton’s crowning achievements are his most recent. Working closely over the past two years with Catherine Hailey, Babin’s wife and the designer of Churchkey on 14th Street near DC’s Logan Circle and Rustico in Northern Virginia’s Ballston neighborhood, Singleton hit his stride. The chandeliers he created for both spaces are nothing short of breathtaking.
Playing up the Gothic feel of Hailey’s design for Churchkey, an elegant bar catering to well-heeled beer aficionados, Singleton used fixtures unearthed at DC’s Rough and Ready as foundations for two main chandeliers. “The original structures were like theatrical props, made out of tin rings five feet in diameter, very flimsy,” explains Singleton. “So I attached 12-foot-long aluminum armatures to the ring facing and covered them with reclaimed mirrors. I turned Gothic cups that were hanging off the arms of the piece right-side up and put in eight-inch glass cylinders.” A 12-inch diameter mercury glass ball hangs in the center of the piece, giving it a sunburst appearance.
In Rustico’s back dining room hangs one of Singleton's Sputnik designs, an orb chandelier fashioned from two spherical topiary forms joined by rusted chains. In the center of the larger, lower sphere, Singleton installed a central brass ball from which filaments emanate in a starburst pattern, giving the fixture a celestial feel.
Not including the sourcing of materials—especially challenging when making multiples—large-scale fixtures easily require upwards of 40 hours to complete, says Singleton. (That he was laid off from his job at Gaylord’s last year was a blessing; he now devotes himself completely to his craft, which, he feels, legitimizes his work in the eyes of his clients.)
When asked whose work he references, Singleton does not hesitate. “I don’t really pay attention to what a lot of other artists are doing. I get my inspiration from actual pieces, objects, nature. When I come across works of other artists that I really like, it’s more or less what I’m already doing.”
In the tiny studio (a converted closet) of the Lake Barcroft house he rents with his partner, Pablo Zurzolo, erector set pieces, escutcheons, radio parts, sundry bric-à-brac and tag-sale lamps in various states of disrepair surround the patch of table space where Singleton works. On a metal shelf behind him, a doll’s head stares at his back. Her new owner has turned the top third of her composite skull into two hinged semi-circles that open to reveal light bulbs. In Singleton’s world, that’s a bright idea.
David Hagedorn is a freelance writer best known as a food columnist for The Washington Post. He resides in Washington, DC.
Singleton’s work has appeared in a number of area show houses, including the 2009 and 2011 DC Design Houses. Along with painter John Matthew Moore, Singleton maintains a gallery and showroom in McLean, Virginia; appointments are suggested. For further information, visit ricksingletonlighting.com.