Before Tom and Michelle Ridge bought their Tudor-style
home, it had only changed hands once since it was
built in 1933. During her search for a new home three years ago, Michelle Ridge fell in love at first sight with her Tudor house and its Chevy Chase neighborhood of Kenwood, noted for the riot of cherry blossom trees that turn its streets pink every spring. The home, in typical Tudor style, had British baronial details: a stone exterior, heavy woodwork, an impressive fireplace, original oak floors and exceptionally high ceilings in the living room. It also came with an interesting history.
Built as a custom home in 1933 by an architect who had worked in Colonial Williamsburg, it was designed to be much larger. But the Depression hit and forced the owner to scale his plans back. Soon after, the owner and his wife divorced. In the middle of a poker game, he casually called out to those assembled, “Anyone want to buy my house?” One of his poker buddies came forward and the house changed ownership on a handshake. The home was not on the market again until 2005, when the second owner’s daughter put it up for sale.
Michelle Ridge was ready to move in on the spot, but first she had to persuade her husband. Tom Ridge, the former Governor of Pennsylvania and the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, at first considered the three-bedroom house too small and its rooms too confining. Michelle Ridge asked him to stand in the living room with its beamed ceiling, generous proportions and view of the manicured gardens. “Is this too small?” she asked. The deal was done. The Ridges moved into the house in 2006 and retained Danny Christmas and Shannon Woodward of Interior Magic to help them transform it. (The mother-daughter design team had also worked on the couple’s previous residence in Bethesda.)
Both the Ridges and their designers agreed that they wanted to maintain the Kenwood house’s Tudor aesthetic. The Ridges also hoped to incorporate the majority of the furniture, art and antiques they’ve both collected over the years into their new home. “Danny and Shannon will take the pieces that you love and treasure and work them into a whole interior design plan,” says Michelle Ridge.
The living room mixes family pieces and new finds. Three nested tables with intricate marquetry are from Michelle Ridge’s family. Her father was stationed in Germany after World War II and many of the antiques her mother purchased there, including these tables and an ornate grandmother clock, are now in the Kenwood house. Another small table to the right of the fireplace was designed by Lord Spencer, Princess Diana’s brother, based on reproductions of furniture from his family’s Althorp estate. “We met him in New York,” says Christmas, “and he signed [the table].” A painting of Venice over the mantel, purchased in New York, represents the style of the Tudor era in subject and color scheme.
The Ridges have an intuitive sense of art and they collect what appeals to them aesthetically and emotionally. The portrait of dogs in the living reflects their love of pets; another painting depicts the west coast of Ireland, part of the Governor’s heritage.
The dining room is paneled in native sweetgum, a domestic wood used throughout the home. It also contains a sideboard from the Althorp collection and an oval table with complementary chairs. The ornate German silver candelabra and coffee service are heirlooms from Michelle Ridge’s mother. A large portrait of a woman in white holding a violin hangs above the breakfront; on another wall a portrait of a young man seems to follow visitors with his eyes. “This room is very actively used,” says Michelle Ridge, “and Tom’s study—with the desk chair that he used when he was in the Cabinet—is right off the dining room.”
The only major structural change the Ridges tackled was renovating the Florida room. Once a screened porch, it had been winterized by previous owners, but still felt like an exterior room. The Ridges wanted to integrate the light-filled space into the rest of the home. Now called the garden room, it boasts a new ceiling, walls and molding. Most of the furniture was reupholstered and the heavy drapery rods from the Ridge’s previous home were cut down into “goblets,” attenuated rods that visually widen the room’s windows. Over the breakfront is a large painting, a favorite of the Ridges because it reminds them of their beloved Pennsylvania. “I know it’s not of the Scalp Level School [a group of Pennsylvania artists who painted plein air landscapes in the 19th century], but it reminds me of them,” says Michelle Ridge.
Tom and Michelle Ridge appreciate their home’s legacy—and the quality that prevails in buildings of its era. A frustrated cable installer recently reminded them of its strong bones when he asked, “Do you know how thick these walls are?”
With the help of their design team, the Ridges are happily settled into their residence, where their favorite furnishings and art are all quite at home.
Washington, DC-based Alice Leccese Powers is the editor of the In Mind series for Vintage Random House, including the best-selling Italy in Mind. Bob Narod is a photographer in Sterling, Virginia.
INTERIOR DESIGN: Danny Christmas, ASID, and Shannon Woodward, Interior Magic, Chevy Chase Maryland
The entry foyer furnished with a Maitland Smith chest of
drawers ushers guests into the home.
Interior designers Danny Christmas (left) and her daughter
Shannon Woodward (right) helped Michelle Ridge (center)
furnish the home.
The Ridges were drawn to the living room, with its beamed
ceiling and original fireplace. The homeowners and
designers searched for art that was representative of the
Tudor period, including the dog portrait.
The dining room is paneled in native sweetgum, a domestic
wood used throughout the home. Michelle Ridge’s mother
purchased the silver set and candelabra in Germany,
where her family was stationed after World War II. A large
portrait of a woman in white holding a violin hangs above
The Ridges renovated the garden room, which was once
a screened porch. New upholstery integrates the light-filled
space into the rest of the home.