An International Family Remakes a Cleveland Park Victorian


For a family with roots in Japan, Canada and England, finding a house in Washington, D.C., proved frustrating at best. Having lived between London and Tokyo for the previous decade, the Canadian-raised financier and his Japanese wife, an academic, had grown used to the 13-foot-high ceilings of their 19th-century Kensington row house and the wide-open expanse of their Tokyo abode. Yet the homes they were looking at in the D.C. area either featured ceilings that were too low, or didn’t have the right space for the price, or weren’t close enough to their children’s schools.

If patience truly is a virtue, then the homeowners were richly rewarded. After renting for several years and looking to buy for another year, they finally found a down-at-the-heels Queen Anne Victorian, circa 1901, in the Cleveland Park Historic District. “I told them to buy it on the spot,”says architect George Stavropoulos, who was helping the owners with the search and was familiar with the property. Despite its having been gutted by an out-of-state owner who had stopped renovating, “we could see the potential,” the wife says. The tall ceilings were there, along with an elegant original staircase, five fireplaces, graceful millwork and oversize diamond-mullioned sash windows.

For 16 months, the new owners worked with Stavropoulos to restore the original exterior structure, as required by the historic district, and add a three-story addition in the back—all built through the Canal Group, the building arm to Stavropoulos’ architectural firm. The interior architecture harks back to its Victorian beginnings with accurate moldings and millwork, but also gives them the space the owners craved, Stavropoulos says. “They wanted to respect the classical part of the house, but at the same time, have a more functional, updated look.”

Because the house had already been gutted, Stavropoulos didn’t have to do much to create new spaces for his clients, as in the large drawing room, which used to be two separate rooms, where the couple entertains frequently. The new addition accommodates an expansive kitchen with a view toward the National Cathedral, while above, a new master suite includes studies for both husband and wife and a large dressing area swathed in rich custom cabinetry. For the interiors, the couple looked to place their modern art collection against an assortment of antique, vintage and contemporary furnishings that they already had. “We developed a taste for mixing old and new,” the husband says.

To expertly tie the pieces together, the wife reached out to New York designer Robert Gaul for guidance on furniture placement, along with paint, hardware, fabric and wallcovering selections. The couple combined furnishings from their previous homes, so there were few new purchases. “The existing furniture had really good lines,” Gaul says, explaining that only a handful of pieces had to be reupholstered to coordinate with the new spaces. Then it was a matter of creating the right moods. In the drawing room, for example, Gaul selected sheer-on-sheer window treatments so light could infuse the large space while offering privacy at the same time.

In the adjacent dining room, Gaul chose deep, lacquer-like wallpaper by Maya Romanoff to echo the dark Brazilian cherry floors. German photog- rapher Martin Klimas’ enormous Viburnum Opulus print adds more drama, along with a Boyd Lighting chandelier over a custom William Yeoward table. Downstairs, where the basement was dug out to create 9-foot-high ceilings with large windows and French doors, the library gets added brightness from gold Japanese silk wallcovering and crisp cotton shades.

Now that the home is completed, the owners love how well it’s absorbed their collections of everything from European to Asian, antique to cutting-edge modern—and they have no immediate plans to move. For his part, Gaul is not surprised the design works so well. “That’s what’s great about people who collect things who have good taste,” he says. “Everything just goes together at the end of the day.”