Bethesda Condo Turned Modern Retreat
by james servin
David and Janet Pappert owned a home that was the stuff of dreams—5,500 square feet that felt stately yet warm; comfortably furnished, it was filled with art from their world travels. But once the last of their four children left the nest, the retired computer software executive and his wife decided to do something radical: Overhaul it all. They gave up most of their furniture and art before moving to a 2,800-square-foot, one-bedroom condo in Bethesda.
Scary? No way. It was exhilarating for the couple, says David. “We had been in a mausoleum for [about 30 years]. Chevy Chase is all residential. We had to travel three miles over Connecticut Avenue to Bethesda for restaurants and bookstores, libraries, and post offices. We knew we wanted to be in Bethesda someday.” Once construction commenced on a luxury condo building in America’s second-most livable city (as named by Forbes in 2009), the couple signed papers on their new home.
For architects Anthony Wilder and JP Ward of Anthony Wilder Design/Build, the move made sense for their clients, whom they both describe with one word: organized. “They’re so pragmatic, ordered, and systematic in everything they do,” explains Ward. “They didn’t want the upkeep of a large house. The move was logical.”
“They’re at a time in life when they’d rather not drive; they’d rather use Metro. And they spend a lot of time going out with friends,” Wilder says. “Everything in this project was in response to their new life.” Ward adds that the couple is relishing their newfound independence: “They thoroughly enjoy being within walking distance to restaurants and coffee shops. They’re very active people. I hope I can be that way when I grow up!”
A huge leap of faith wasn’t necessary for the couple when deciding to work with the design team—they had worked with Wilder on a million-dollar remodeling project of their previous home. “We had no reluctance about placing complete trust in Anthony and what he could do creatively,” says David. “There’s no architectural suggestion or artistic hint that he can’t implement.”
In the Chevy Chase home, the design focused on warming up a traditional aesthetic. The team emphasized light-filled rooms; chose historic furnishings, period pieces, and gilded frames that glowed with life; and avoided the stiff and the overly ornate. Now, in Bethesda, they—along with interior designer Kary Ewalt—faced the task of transforming a plain, characterless box into a sophisticated, soulful, contemporary retreat.
“When you’re in a condo, what you want is voluptuous and bountiful, yet comfortable—and at the same time, antithetical to that, simplicity.”
The entry and foyer both contain elements of all that is to follow: luxury, innovation, Swiss-watch-like precision and perfection. “It’s a shocking transformation,” says Wilder, whose team conferred a dreamy lightness to an entry that was originally narrow and dark. An archway created out of reflective metal gives the impression of glowing amber, an ancient effect that feels warm in a contemporary space. “The archway is hung from wires and backlit,” Wilder says. “The surface on the back side of the arch glows consistently, as if sunlight is pouring down. It’s almost like you’re walking through a sunlight-filled hallway.”
The foyer has curved archways and paneled walls that are stenciled to resemble large limestone blocks. “There are structural columns in the foyer that we couldn’t move,” says Ward. “Rather than try to hide them, we accentuated them.” The motif of horizontal lines appears throughout the home, from the strips of mahogany along the base of bedroom walls to shelves in the study that are installed (with the trick of a mirrored base) to appear as though they float.
The clients had divested themselves of most of their possessions—a great deal of the art and furniture in the Chevy Chase home went to their children—but enough remained to make storage in their new home a priority. The master bedroom, for example, is discreetly lined with wall-to-wall built-in cabinets that cover every corner of the room except for the back of the bed, which is upholstered. A cupboard over a desk in the study is for stray papers—this is, after all, a clutter-free home. “We’re pathological neatniks,” admits David. “Since they hate clutter,” says Ward, “we designed a place where they could put everything behind doors... in a neat place, of course.”
So far, having fewer material things in a smaller space is working for the downsizing couple, who have upgraded their lives in ways that best suit their new lifestyle. “Our first morning in the apartment,” recalls David, “we walked across the street to a coffee shop, where we ordered coffee and bagels, sat on a little patio on a 75-degree day, and said, ‘This is the place. We have made the right choice.’ Once we moved in, we never looked back.”
photography by tim bell
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.