Donnie Simpson is living large. Really large. In 17,000 square feet with eight bedrooms and 11 bathrooms, to be exact. Washington, DC, radio’s drive-time master and his designing wife of 32 years have been comfortably ensconced in a grand new mansion on two prime acres in Potomac, Maryland, for about a year now. But it’s not really size that matters to the devoted couple, together since meeting in high school and marrying when they were both 19-year-olds in their native Detroit.
“I needed at least a four-car garage, and only really big houses have them,” explains Donnie, who boasts two Ferraris among a collection of five cars that are regularly parked at the residence.
Undaunted by the massive project and eager to tackle it herself, Pam Simpson conceptualized and coordinated almost every detail. It was through a loving vision for a comfortably furnished nesting environment for her family that the interiors and landscape of the transitional-style pale brick home emerged.
Husband Donnie, a golf fanatic who greatly prefers swinging his clubs to swatch selection, had one key request, which turned out to be any designer’s or wife’s dream. “I told her not to worry about the cost, that she should go ahead and do everything first-class, the right way,” he says.
Since the couple enjoys a relaxed lifestyle and doesn’t entertain at home often, aside from family affairs, the decoration emphasizes calm neutral tones and minimalist furniture layouts. No loud colors, tchotchke clutter or ostentatious glitz in these modified contemporary rooms.
Lenore Sabra and Michael Kramer, the design team at Rockville’s Danker Furniture, supplied most of the home’s pieces from its top showroom brands including Swaim, Henredon and Century. They also consulted on space planning with the Simpsons. “Their house reflects our look,” says Danker rep and longtime Simpson friend Kramer, “but it’s also very personal. With the artwork and accessories and the overall feel, it’s very Donnie and Pam.”
The impressive double-story foyer, with its eye-popping geometric crystal chandelier and open staircase, befits the abode of a local celebrity. The limestone entry is flanked on either side by a stately library with a second-level reading area and the dining room with coordinating light fixture and a uniquely extensive display of ethnic Lladro figurines. Featuring sprawling views of the exterior space beyond, the living room lies straight ahead with cherry wood inlaid floors and a high, contrastingly rustic stone fireplace. It matches the detail of the al fresco fireplace and industrial-capacity grill situated outdoors next to the flagstone swimming pool and hot tub area. A perfectly groomed putting green for Donnie rests off at the property’s edge.
One glance at the estate’s graceful appointments and verdant setting and you know that the idea of “living large” is definitely about something more than property measurements.
It marks a long journey from Simpson’s humble start in Michigan, where he broke into radio by accident as a teenager. Simpson came to rule the DC airways first at WKYS-FM (93.9) and then at his current home on WPGC-FM (95.5) while achieving national prominence during a 14-year-stint on the popular Black Entertainment Television program “Video Soul.” His 31-year-old son Donnie Junior, also known as D.J., is currently a producer and on-air contributor to his father’s WPGC program.
Pam, a former model and actress who also refers to herself as “a retired cook,” runs their immaculate house from her favorite cozy little nook, a combined office/laundry room just off the granite-appointed kitchen, which boasts state-of-the-art appliances. She listens to Donnie’s morning show every day. “And now that D.J. is on there, I really never miss it.”
When dining at home, Donnie and Pam, now both 52, have most of their meals on bar stools around the kitchen’s island, often accompanied by daughter Dawn. Dawn, 26, is a personal trainer who lives in an expansive suite on the second floor. The kitchen area also includes a breakfast nook and gigantic family room. When they want to hang out and, say, watch a flat panel TV, they have many choices since most of the house’s private rooms are equipped with plush seating and the most sleek and up-to-date audio-visual equipment.
A trip to the home’s unique, fully fashioned “basement” level finds a dark blue, womb-like screening room with eight super-soft, electrically controlled recliners. “They’re so comfortable, I can hardly sit down here without falling asleep,” chuckles Pam. The whole level is special for its succession of rooms geared to recreation on a swanky scale. There’s the stone-inlaid wine cellar display area highlighted by a glass-enclosed cigar room, replete with the ultimate poker table and a special ventilation system to handle the smoke. Individual spaces for dual pinball machines and a custom-designed pool table are arranged near a large downstairs kitchen and bar area, ideal for caterers to prep for large gatherings. The Simpsons will have good use for that soon, since they plan to host son D.J.’s upcoming wedding reception for about 200 guests under tents outside this September.
The master bedroom suite is located at one end of the home’s first floor. It’s a vast spot with pretty views of the terrace and yard. Pam is especially proud of her precisely organized walk-in closet, with a place for every pair of shoes and clothing carefully arranged by category and color. “Having a closet like this has been my dream,” she smiles.
The other seven bedrooms are upstairs. With plenty of guestrooms to go around—and a finished attic already prepared to be a playroom for future grandchildren—the Simpsons especially enjoy hosting Thanksgiving celebrations for the extended family, including Donnie’s twin brother, who lives in Detroit. But just when you think you’ve seen it all at Chez Simpson, you notice that the second floor’s core expanse of bedrooms gives way to a passage. As you turn the corner of the hallway, en route to Donnie’s soundproof office—planned to be a remote broadcasting studio—and a professionally equipped home gym, a surprise awaits.
Though most of the rest of the residence enjoys abstract wall art, primarily more decorative than representational, here is a gallery of vividly hued African masks, art and other culturally significant keepsakes from around the continent. The Simpsons brought back most of the collection from their own visits to Africa. The dynamic paintings and sculpture in this hallway make an exciting contrast to the earth-toned serenity that characterizes the rest of the home.
The unexpected art space also accentuates the Simpsons’ respect for their heritage. They also honor that heritage in another way. To commemorate the couple’s 25th anniversary, they started The Donnie and Pam Simpson Scholarship Fund, administered through the United Negro College Fund. It provides funds to undergraduate students in need from the Washington, DC, metropolitan area.
In other words, the Simpsons’ largess helps others live large too. It is with a generosity of spirit to the community and a dedication to family that the Simpson’s enjoy the good life.
Sally Kline, a Washington-area arts and culture writer for 16 years, is a regular contributor to HOME & DESIGN.
Dining Table, Chairs & Sideboard: Henredon through Danker Furniture, Rockville, MD. Window Treatments: Yardstick Interiors, Germantown, MD. Lighting: Annapolis Lighting, Rockville, MD. Rug: Carousel Carpets, Bowie, MD.LIBRARY
Sofa, Chairs & Tufted Ottoman: Henredon through Danker Furniture, Rockville, MD. Window Treatments: Yardstick Interiors,
Sofa, Chairs & Coffee Table: Swaim through Danker Furniture, Rockville, MD. Window Treatments: Yardstick Interiors, Germantown, MD. Rug: Carousel Carpets, Bowie, MD.
Bar Stools: Dinec through Danker Furniture, Rockville, MD.
Landscaping: Rupert Landscaping Company. Putting Green: Short Game Greens, Vienna, VA.
Space Planning & Furnishings: Michael Kramer and Lenore Sabra, Danker Furniture, Rockville, Maryland Landscaping: Ruppert Nurseries, Inc., Laytonsville, Maryland