Home Tour: Glamour at the Watergate
by susan sheehan
The living room leads out to the balcony, which Galvany says gives him “an extra room"
It may truly be said that Marcos Galvany moved into his apartment at Watergate East in dramatic fashion. The section of Virginia Avenue in front of the building had to be closed to traffic—by special permit—for three hours on the day the young Spanish-born composer and conductor’s nine-foot-long Steinway concert grand piano arrived by truck. You see, it had to be lifted off the truck and hoisted by crane to Galvany’s fourth-floor balcony, where 10 superprofessional movers skillfully carried it through the floor-to-ceiling sliding doors and into his living room.
Accordingly, a grand stage had been elegantly set for the arrival of this, Galvany’s most treasured possession. Some months earlier, he had asked his friend, José Solís, the Washington-based designer and president of Solís Betancourt Inc., to transform a standard-issue apartment into a stylish residence.
The parquet floors had been removed and replaced with light-brown fossil marble throughout. “I don’t like parquet floors unless the wood is absolutely fabulous, and that wasn’t the case here,” Galvany says. A thin-ribbed taupe broadloom carpet was laid in the center of the living room, where it is sandwiched by marble on both sides. The marble in the corridor running from the living room to the bedroom, as well as in the bathroom, is exposed, but the wall-to-wall carpet in the bedroom completely conceals the stone below. “I had the parquet taken out in the bedroom because I would have known it was still there, even if I didn’t see it,” Galvany admits.
Numerous other changes were made to suit Galvany’s taste and lifestyle, and to enhance the appearance of his new apartment, which bears the address of one of Washington’s most historic buildings. The small, long kitchen was made smaller, then separated from the living room by a curtain. Solís calls it an “airline kitchen,” because it reminds him of the curtained galley between a plane’s first and business class, but Galvany describes it as “a glamorous glass box,” one where he can produce excellent paella. Transferring part of the original kitchen’s space to the living room made the latter area larger—the better to accommodate the crown jewel of a piano.
Solís crafted two unique solutions to design quirks in the Watergate’s original architecture, boldly displaying options for new life in an older residence. The building’s bathrooms are windowless, so Solís created a frosted glass wall with a door opening between the bath and the bedroom, thus allowing it to borrow the light shining through the bedroom window. And ceilings at the Watergate are low, a problem the designer solved by covering both the living room walls and the ceiling with a silk moiré fabric. The moiré—which appears taupe, brown, gray, or silver at different times of the day and evening—offers an illusion of greater height. The addition of downlights brightens the apartment after dark.
Solís and Galvany shopped separately and together—primarily in Washington and New York, but occasionally in Europe as well—for the residence’s felicitous mixture of antiques and contemporary furniture and art. For the entry foyer, Solís found an 18th-century walnut cabinet, carved with fluted Ionic columns and acanthus leaves, in New York. A pair of modern lamps with square Lucite bases (from Paris) and square silk lampshades (custom-made in New York) sit on the ornate cabinet. This juxtaposition of old and young carries throughout the apartment.
Galvany, a Washington resident since 1996, was trained as a pianist from early childhood. After receiving a bachelor’s in piano performance in Spain, he came to DC and studied composition and conducting at Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) in Takoma Park. During and after his college years, he conducted with the New England Youth Ensemble. He first lived in Takoma Park and later on 14th Street, but when he decided to buy a place in the District, he turned his sights to Georgetown and Kalorama. Galvany had never considered living at the Watergate, the most infamous address in Washington, but what ultimately convinced him to buy his apartment soon after he went to see it was its spacious balcony and its proximity to the water. “I’m from València!” he explains. “I can’t see the Potomac from my apartment, but when I’m in Washington, I jog along the river almost every morning.” And while a modern white glass-topped table in a corner of the living room seats 10 for dinner, he prefers to dine with his guests alfresco. “The balcony gives me an extra room,” he says.
In April 2010, Galvany’s first operatic tableau, “Oh My Son,” premiered at Carnegie Hall, and he wrote the music for Chrysalis, a ballet performed by the José Limón Dance Company for the first time at the Baryshnikov Arts Center this past December. He currently spends three or four days per week in New York, but he is always glad to return to Washington. “One of the best things that has happened to me in the States is the friendships I have made with other Watergate residents, like Caroline and Scott Simon,” he says. “I am godfather to both of the Simons’ daughters, and I keep the drawings they bring me in a Chinese chest at the foot of my bed. The Watergate feels like home.”
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.