Credit: Photo credit: Michael Ventura

Serene elegance at Lionsgate, Bethesda

When longtime Rockville resident Doris Wong purchased her two-bedroom condominium a year ago at Lionsgate in the heart of downtown Bethesda, she says she “wanted something cozy and warm.” Wong, a widow since 2006, had lived in her house in Rockville for more than 45 years. She chose a unit with a curving living room wall and views of downtown Bethesda. Together with designer Susan Utley of Design Studio in Bethesda, Wong chose the condo’s finishes, wall coverings and furnishings. The result is an opulent yet comfortable décor with hints of Wong’s Chinese heritage.

The condo reflects the owner’s and the decorator’s combined penchant for texture and detail. Wong replaced the light fixtures in the foyer with three Murano glass ceiling fixtures and a chandelier with gold trim. The gold repeats in a large black and gold leaf mirror that sits in the hallway above a scrolled metal table, and in the dining room, in a dramatic black and gold screen that Wong inherited. In the kitchen, gold-colored glass pendant lights above the black granite island continue the theme. A unique, iridescent glass backsplash provides textural interest. A curving banquette dressed in a cotton/ silk jacquard provides seating for the 10-sided kitchen table, which at first glance appears to be round.

Many other elements in Wong’s home are rounded—from the spirals decorating the sheers underneath striped silk draperies in the master bedroom to the curving living room walls. “I like a lot of curves and spirals,” Wong says. “They’re softer forms. I just seem to pick things with swirls and motion in it. It just happened that way.”

The curved soffit in the living room is stenciled in a soft pattern to complement the elegant, faux-painted ceiling. A gold and burgundy color scheme lends a sophisticated, yet serene feel to the room. A plush gold sofa dressed with lushly trimmed burgundy pillows curves around a circular coffee table with striking black onyx detail. Burgundy drapes and a set of custom patterned rugs pull the color scheme together.

Wong closed off a little den with a set of arched wrought-iron doors typically found in wine cellars. She says she had them installed even though “we had to heighten the doorway to fit them in.” The most personal touch to Wong’s home is an abstract “artwork” hanging in the laundry room. Wong, a virology and microbiology scientist at the National Institutes of Health for 46 years, had her DNA readout enlarged and transformed into what appears to be a contemporary painting. “I have no children and wanted to leave something of myself behind,” Wong says. The “painting” has her signature in the lower right hand corner.

Dramatic contemporary at the Adagio, Bethesda

After Shelley and Richard Chasen’s two children flew the nest, the couple wanted a new home. “Unlike a lot of people, I like change,” Shelley says. The Chasens had lived in the Luxmanor neighborhood of North Bethesda for 19 years when they decided to move last year to a split-level condominium at the contemporary-styled Adagio closer to downtown Bethesda. Their stunning two-bedroom home underwent dramatic changes before the couple moved in.

Shelley says the renovation was a family affair: “It was a series of connections that made this all happen.” Friend and Bethesda neighbor Scott Taylor of Rockville’s Taylor Concepts Inc. (a renovation contracting company) had worked as a general contractor on their Luxmanor home. A neighbor introduced her to D.C. designer Robert Pahnke, and Shelley chose longtime friend Leonard Cooper of Bethesda as her architect.

The trio created a sleek décor melding soft neutrals, richly patterned millwork, glass tiles and custom interior windows. Rick’s cousin, Karen Elkin of Classic Glass Inc. in Alexandria, Va., designed and made the etched interior windows. Elkin also created a dark glass sink in the powder room, which has a wall tiled in dark tortoiseshell- colored glass.

Because the couple was downsizing From a family home, Shelley told architect Cooper that “the theme is storage.” And indeed, the most striking feature of the home is his use of anigre (a tropical hardwood) millwork to line the walls of the great room, foyer and Shelley’s walk-in closet. The cabinets provide much-needed storage areas behind panels that also function as cabinet doors. The lightwood adds color and texture that complements the great room’s neutral palette. Designer Pahnke continued the wood panels in the front hallway, where they cleverly disguise a coat closet, and also upstairs, where they hide a heating and cooling system. He likened the design to creating tightly organized cabins on a ship. “I love designing where everything is pocketed and fitted,” he says.

Entry from the foyer down steps into the large dining/living area is impressive. The open, light-filled great room has nearly 14-foot-tall ceilings and a wall of floor- to-ceiling windows looking out onto a balcony. At one end of the room, soft, cream jacquard sofas sit next to two cream-colored chairs and a glass coffee table. An ethanol fireplace warms the room. The ethanol tank is hidden away in the wall’s series of cabinets. “We [originally] had no fireplace and no hookup,” Shelley says. The windows let in light, and gauzy soft drapes of wool and linen filter out sun. Underneath the drapes are automatic shades for privacy.

In the dining area, wood and leather streamlined chairs surround a metal and glass Brueton table and a stainless-steel pendant light hangs overhead. The great room ends at the kitchen’s wood Poggenpohl cabinetry.

The Chasens’ outdoor terrace, which they like because their former home had a large yard, features a row of bamboo in mahogany planters on one end, screening the view of a neighboring rooftop. On the other end, mahogany benches and square chrome tables can accommodate up to 12 people.

Shelley says her favorite aspect is that the careful planning resulted in a home “that works just the way we need and want it to.”

Convenience and history at National Park Seminary, Silver Spring

When Chris Pochis learned she was being transferred from Pittsburgh to D.C. for work last summer, she knew she wanted to absorb the area’s history. After looking around Capitol Hill and deciding against living there, Pochis found a home at National Park Seminary in Silver Spring. “It’s the whole package,” Pochis says. “It has all the amenities I wanted, the price was right and it has an amazing history. It is the best of both worlds.”

National Park Seminary, once home to a finishing school for girls opened by John and Vesta Cassedy in 1894, later was used by Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In 2004, developers EYA and The Alexander Company began renovating the old school buildings into livable units while preserving the historic details. 

Pochis lives with her Maltese, Ruby, in the Aloha House, once the school’s welcome center and now divided into seven condos. The front porch is lined with carefully preserved caryatids. Pochis can watch ongoing renovations of other historic buildings like the chapel and gymnasium from her many windows—one of the reasons she bought the unit. Each window is a reproduction of the originals, which had wooden gothic arches.

“They’ve paid such attention to detail to keep it as authentic as possible,” she says. Pochis moved from a 1,400-square-foot town house into 800 square feet. “I had to get rid of a couple of rooms of furniture,” she says. She also had to creatively repurpose the remainder of her furnishings to work in the smaller space. Ironically, she was able to use a large gilt mirror she couldn’t find a place for in her town house. It serves as a divider between the living and dining areas.

Her deep burgundy sofa and black wood-veneer chests, tables and armoire go well with the Brazilian cherry floors, maple kitchen cabinets, black granite counters and stainless-steel appliances in the unit, a sales model. “When I walked through the door, I loved it,” she says. “Everything was upgraded and put together so well—even the paint is not the typical white paint; it has some life to it.”

Pochis’ use of black woods and rich colors throughout the home provides continuity from one room to the next. Her bedroom has a black bed, dresser and entertainment cabinet. A black metal sculpture over the bed lends a whimsical touch to what she describes as Manhattan-apartment-style furnishings.