Urban Aerie

When William S. Cohen and his wife Janet Langhart Cohen settled into their new luxury penthouse, familiar furnishings and memorabilia from their travels made them feel instantly at home


Former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and
author Janet Langhart Cohen with Lucy.
 

The private elevator in this luxury building ascends to the eighteenth floor, the door opens and there stands William S. Cohen and his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, smiling warmly and welcoming us into their elegant aerie, with 6,700 square feet of interior space, 3,000 square feet of exterior terrace and panoramic views all around.

For this former Senator and Secretary of Defense and his wife, a former model, television personality, media consultant and now, author, condominium life means ease of living. Moving from their single-family home in McLean turned out to be relatively painless as furnishings easily translated from one home to the other.

Both were long-term high-rise people: Cohen’s days on the Hill were spent in an Arlington high-rise and, when the two were married, he moved into her building at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue. As his stint at the Pentagon came to a close, he yearned for a house, one with a yard and a pool. (See Home & Design, Late Winter, 2003).

Like most, it needed constant attention—a gardener, a plumber, a roofer…and the list went on.

Now, as principal in a fast-growing consulting firm, The Cohen Group, he travels almost 70 percent of the time. And Langhart Cohen was uncomfortable. “I had never lived in a place where somebody could knock on the door and there was just a piece of wood between me and a person,” she explains. Both she and her husband are highly visible personalities, possible lightning rods for reactive people,  the likelihood of which is complicated by their combined cultures: Cohen is Irish-Jewish and Langhart Cohen is of mixed race, black and white. (Her recent memoir, From Rage to Reason: My Life in Two Americas, touches upon her coming of age in racially troubled times, as well as the challenges of interracial marriage.) As evident in their new home, the Cohens have defined their joint aesthetic as well as they have embraced their different backgrounds and cultures.

As the Cohens usher us into their home, a painting of a crouching young Vietnamese woman hangs in a niche surrounded by a complementary green decorative paint treatment. Very few pieces in the residence are new, explains Langhart Cohen as she leads her guests into the living room, the expansive urban view lightly veiled by walls of sheer draperies. There are flashes of the familiar from McLean: chests with mirrors of guilt; the white damask sofa and opposing club chairs; the

Oriental rugs. Yet, the arrangement reads very differently. This is a larger, more formal room with more breathing space around the conversation area. Pilasters separate this large living room from a smaller version on the left, an ideal spot for a private conversation. Drinks are served here during more intimate gatherings.


Furnishings and Oriental rugs from their previous home in
McLean fit perfectly in the double-room living area.

Cohen prefers this space to the larger room. Lightweight armchairs deftly placed along the walls in both rooms can be pulled in either direction for spontaneous conversational groupings.

From the living rooms, a vestibule opens to the dining room and the library. Furnishings from the house take on new life in the dining room, where the urban skyline views give way to a dense carpet of green treetops. A roundtable is essential for dining, notes Langhart Cohen; it equalizes her guests and facilitates conversation. She finds her table seats ten most comfortably during the couple’s frequent dinner parties that host luminary from government, corporate and diplomatic circles.


The couple hosts frequent guests from government and
diplomatic circle in the dining room.

“Before dessert, we like to talk about issues of the day: it could be art, it could be politics, all sorts of issues that are topical,” explains Langhart Cohen. “Everybody is very bright, so my table is not just a dining table; it is a learning table, a social table.”

After dinner, guests head back to the living room, or if a casual camaraderie has developed during dinner, to the adjacent library—a misnomer for this room without books. Shelves are filled with memorabilia Cohen has collected over the years and Celadon wares each of them brought to their marriage, plus pieces they have acquired together. It is a comfortable room with a chenille sofa and chairs in muted, green tones, all from the family room in the McLean house.

“My spirit is drawn to Asian—my consciousness, my understanding of who I am and my origin come from my African side,” Janet Langhart Cohen explains.

Beyond the library is the solarium with another stupendous wrap-around view, topped by a clerestory window decked in faux-painted ivy. Throughout the home, the expansive view dominates each room, but here it is breathtaking, an expanse of vista that takes the eye through suburban miles, beyond the Mormon temple. It is a room for casual dining, but with the two collaborating on an upcoming book, this inspiring room takes on a different focus. Together they are writing about their “parallel” experiences in coping with “some of America’s social ‘isms,’” Langhart Cohen reports.

On the Furnishings and Oriental rugs from their previous home in McLean fit perfectly in the double-room living area. terrace, apples are growing on espaliered trees; pots of flowers thrive in the sunlight. The terrace encircles the home with living space for the enjoyment of morning coffee or dinner by starlight. Outside the master bedroom is a special garden, a tribute to the couple’s deceased dog, Lucky.


Furnishings and Oriental rugs from their previous home in McLean
fit perfectly in the double-room living area.

The Poggenpohl kitchen is enviable, an efficient and beautiful space with bird’s-eye maple cabinetry, located adjacent to the media room/family room (the family being Bill, she and Lucy, their Maltese, explains Langhart Cohen).

The Cohens eat breakfast and dinner in this room at a small table in front of the window, the view in one direction and the television for the latest news in the other. The room exudes African influences.

“My spirit is drawn to Asian—my consciousness, my understanding of who I am and my origin come from my African side,” she explains. Her treasures are two gifts from Nelson Mandela: a very small doll, barely four inches tall, and a signed copy of his biography. Neither a connoisseur nor curator, she demurs, she has chosen pieces that make her think of Africa. “I lived with the Masai for a while,” she notes while working on a TV series in Kenya.

Then there are private spaces: a master bedroom suite with commodious closets and a large terrace, a study/music room for Langhart Cohen—she plays the flute and her husband plays the keyboard—plus a gym. Cohen has both an office and a separate study. In his office, he works; in his study, he decompresses. “His study is his sanctuary, his lair,” Langhart Cohen explains.

“This is where I come at three in the morning to read,” he says.

More simple and secure than their former home in McLean, this new residence meets the couple’s needs on many levels, both as a place to entertain and a place to unwind. “While we were in the other house, I was shopping for a house I had never met. Everything goes better here,” says Langhart Cohen.

“Houses are like people. This one has energy; it loves us back.”

Contributing editor Barbara Karth resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Photographer Bob Narod is based in Sterling, Virginia


A painting of a Vietnamese woman greets visitors in the
entrance vestibule.


The library is the perfect setting for intimate conversations.


The solarium doubles as a working space for the Cohens. 

The Cohens have dinner for two in the family room, located
off the kitchen.
 

Collectibles from around the world mingle with family
mementos, such as a portrait of Langhart Cohen as
a young girl with her mother and sister in the living room.
 

Gifts offered to Cohen by foreign dignitaries line the shelves
in the study.