Mayor Adrian Fenty, Michelle Cross Fenty and their twin sons, Matthew and Andrew, relax in the living room of their newly renovated Northwest Washington home.
Seven years ago when then-DC City Councilman Adrian Fenty and his wife, Michelle Cross Fenty, realized that they were expecting twins, they knew a decision must be made: either find a bigger home for all of them, or enlarge their living space. The brick rambler on 17th Street, NW, with a walk-out basement afforded more than enough space for the two enterprising attorneys, but it simply wasn’t large enough for a family of four.
The couple purchased the house in 1997; Adrian Fenty was elected to the City Council in 2000. “We love the neighborhood,” says Cross Fenty. “We have a real sense of belonging, of being part of the community.” Thinking of moving became increasingly difficult. “I thought of [the neighborhood] as a place where my children could feel at home and grow up.” That was when they realized that this is where they needed to be. So the solution was to do what many other young couples in DC do when faced with a similar situation—stay in place and renovate.
Typical of the homes built in the Crestwood neighborhood in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the house had a predictable layout: a living room and dining room on the front of the house, kitchen and two small bedrooms with a shared bath on the back. Downstairs was a family room, storage and the garage. Rather than take on the daunting project of a complete re-design of the space, the Fentys scheduled the expansion and renovation in stages. One of the happy surprises during the pre-construction clean-up was to find that there were beautiful hardwood floors under the well worn wall-to-wall carpeting they removed.
The initial phase was to create a space on the lower level for the couple to live in comfortably during renovation, so drywall was installed to create a bedroom and the lighting was updated. Eventually, the garage would become part of the living space on the lower level.
The next major construction project was to literally raise the roof and create a second floor for four bedrooms and two full baths. Today the adults have a spacious master bedroom with a cathedral ceiling and a spa bath at one end of the house, while their seven-year-old sons Andrew and Matthew have nearly-matching bedrooms and a shared bath across the landing.
“That landing is often their playroom,” Cross Fenty says of the light and airy space overlooking
the two-story foyer. “That’s the space they share, with each other and their friends.” A fourth bedroom is used as a home office.When the work was finally finished, the Fentys had more than doubled their living space to approximately 4,800 square feet.
“I wanted the soft colors of the walls and upholstery to be visually relaxed, and the color to come from the art,” says Michelle Cross Fenty.
Phase three, spanning 2003 and 2004, involved redesigning the main floor. The living room, dining room and main floor bath stayed in place. But what had been the back bedroom became part of a new, greatly expanded kitchen with a butler’s pantry. And what was originally the front bedroom is now a library. Walls were removed and faux finished, spaces were opened up and molding was applied with the help of Charles Cross, Michelle’s father, who is a finish carpenter and decorative painter in New York.
Both the Mayor and his wife enjoy spending time in their newly expanded kitchen, truly the heart of their home. “I believe the kitchen is the focal point of our home,” says Mayor Fenty. “In fact, it may just be my favorite room in the house. Our friends and guests first gather in the kitchen during visits. We chat, laugh and enjoy refreshments before heading off to the living room or den. It’s also where I spend time with my family in the mornings. I prepare breakfast for the boys and Michelle each morning before we all dash off to our busy day ahead. The natural colors and textures offer a sense of peace and relaxation, even when making pancakes with seven-year-olds.”
A final phase, done in 2005, was the completion of the lower level to include a guest bedroom and bath, a two-level seating area and a home theatre. “This is where we would have staff meetings when Adrian was running for Mayor,” says Cross Fenty, a global technology attorney for a DC law firm. The couple is looking forward to outdoor entertaining in the newly built pavilion over the sunken garage beyond the patio and outdoor kitchen in the back yard.
Cross Fenty is very artistic, and admits that although she used to paint, she hasn’t done so for years. She has a sure eye when it comes to her own home and what goes into it. Although she used the services of a decorator, she has a strong sense of style and definite opinions about what she wants to incorporate in her interiors. She chose furniture and fabrics herself, working with the designer to fine-tune them in the room settings. “I’m a visual person,” she says, “and I get attached to things, so when I see something I like, I buy it knowing that I’ll find a place for it.” For example, the living room rug is a Tabriz that she “wanted to be central to the space,” she says. She adds that their furnishings purchases include “two or three really good things a year,” and they are always on the lookout for new art.
The family’s eclectic art collection includes African woodcuts, a Central American painting and a stone carving from the Far East. The Fentys’ art collection includes originals from the Far East, the Middle East and Africa, reflecting their appreciation of an eclectic mix. Israeli paintings, Central American batik, African wood cuts and Asian stone carvings blend happily in a tribute to global artistry. Cross Fenty also has a real appreciation for mixing textures, blending leather upholstery with silk draperies and woven baskets with wood carvings in a subtle palette that is a wonderful foil for their colorful art collection.
The kitchen “may just be my favorite room in the house,” say Mayor Fenty. “The natural colors and textures offer a sense of peace and relaxation—even when making pancakes with seven-year-olds.”
“I wanted the soft colors of the walls and upholstery to be visually relaxed, and the color to come from the art. I wanted the art to ‘pop’ and everything else to be just background. I didn’t want the furniture to compete with the art—everything else melts away and the art is the focus.”
Cross Fenty’s furniture selection is just as eclectic as her choices in art: she buys some pieces from The Washington Design Center and heartily endorses working with a designer for making expensive purchases such as the front-hall console and the upholstered pieces and side chairs in the library, for very practical reasons. “You don’t want to make a costly mistake,” she says. Other times she feels comfortable making her own choices from retail stores like Danker and Domain. The drapery rods and panels, she happily shares, are off-the-rack from Expo Design Center.
By blending inspiring decorative elements from around the world into their home, both generations of Fentys live with a sense of how connected we really are to the rest of the world. And that’s a beautiful thought.
In the living room, a comfortable seating arrangement accommodates the Fentys’ relaxed lifestyle; the subtle palette chosen for the walls and upholstery provides a neutral background for their art.
Michelle Cross Fenty loves to mix it up decoratively, choosing to pair elegant draperies and a travertine table from Italy in the dining room.
The new library, converted from a bedroom in the home’s original layout, provides display space for family photographs and awards, plus a cozy spot to relax.
The view across the rear interior of the house shows the extent of the kitchen renovation, which includes a dining and seating area and a work space.
The master bedroom and bath occupy one end of the second floor addition the couple built to accommodate the birth of their twin sons in 2000. In the bedroom, Cross Fenty mixed tactile finishes such as wood and silk.