Inside Isabel de la Cruz Ernst's Artistic Mansion
by james servin
photography by greg powers
In the library, monochromatic Italian furniture gives a painting by John Koerner, The Turquish Man (2004), center stage
|Isabel de la Cruz Ernst sits in front of Meat Is Over (2005), a painting by Israeli artist Tal R.|
|A painting by Makiko Kudo, bought at Art Basel Miami Beach three years ago, overlooks the conservatory|
When Isabel de la Cruz Ernst first set eyes on Hillandale Mansion, the Georgetown property her family of six would one day call home, it was in a state of Havishamesque disrepair. “When my husband and I saw this house in 1998, there was no water, no electricity. There were raccoons in the attic,” she says. “It had been abandoned for more than 20 years. We did some research and [decided to restore] the home, which was originally modeled on a Tuscan villa, back to its original state.”
And so, de la Cruz Ernst took on the challenge of a two-year restoration of her new home, 22,000 square feet that had been divided into two homes for a more expedient sale (de la Cruz Ernst chose the side with the ballroom). “I didn’t use an architect,” she says. “I looked for aesthetically pleasing dimensions and spaces. I made it a practical house, a comfortable house. It works really well, I think, for entertainment and for a family to live in day to day.”
An Art-Filled Life
De la Cruz Ernst is the daughter of eminent Miami art collectors Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, whose collection of contemporary art is so vast that they built their own museum to display it in (de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space), and whose philanthropic nature is so deep that they opened their home for years to the public for art viewing and education. She inherited a passion for art from her parents, her own well-curated collection in plain sight at the parties she hosts in Hillandale’s ballroom, everything from Plácido Domingo’s birthday to benefits for The Washington Ballet and Washington Performing Arts Society.
Married to Georgetown University professor Ricardo Ernst, the mother of four (her oldest, Carolina, 21, is studying business at Wharton, with a fine-arts minor) says she first caught the art bug at about 18, on a trip to Paris with her parents and siblings. “We went to the Louvre. An old man who hangs out [around] there—I think he lived there—took my sisters and I all around the museum and told us all these amazing stories about the paintings,” says de la Cruz Ernst, the second eldest of five children. “When I got back to the States, I was completely captured by art. I started taking art history classes and reading about art.” After the trip, her parents bought a painting by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo called The Stargazer, the very first of their soon-to-be legendary collection. “It’s a very powerful painting,” recalls their daughter. “They still own it, and they will be showing it this year at Art Basel Miami Beach.”
An Art Basel Miami Beach Love Affair
Celebrating its 10th edition this year, the art fair is a focal point of activity and a source of pride for the de la Cruz family. “I go around the world to all the art fairs with my parents; they might buy 20 works, and maybe two of them will grab my eye. I feel very close and dear to Art Basel Miami Beach,” says de la Cruz Ernst, “because Miami is where my parents have their private museum. Not only do I see the fair, but I also host people coming from all over the world to their house and the museum, and give tours of the collection.”
photography by john lei (parlor)
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.