After Leslie Train Westreich moved into a Watergate condominium once owned by former Virginia Senator John Warner and his wife Elizabeth Taylor, her horizon literally expanded. The penthouse atop the famous 1965 Washington, DC, complex offers spectacular vistas of the Potomac River and local landmarks, including the National Cathedral and the skyline of Rosslyn, Virginia. “When I entered this space, my spirit soared and I made an immediate offer. I love the incomparable views,” says Westreich, a former psychotherapist, devoted golfer and grandmother of 11.
But an awkward layout detracted from the space so she decided to renovate. Her logical choice of an architect was Errol M. Adels, whose firm had previously designed a home for Westreich and her former husband. “I had just closed an international practice, which kept me on planes a great deal of the time, and had returned to Washington to establish a smaller office when Leslie called,” recalls Adels. “She described her desire for a warm, intimate space that would also provide a backdrop for her artwork and superb collection of neoclassical, Biedermeier and Art Deco furnishings.”
After the condo was purchased, both homeowner and architect agreed that the space needed to be gutted. “In the end, we were left with the concrete floor and ceiling slabs and lots of bulky columns,” recalls the architect. “We even removed all of the floor-to-ceiling windows so they could be replaced with a more sophisticated glass to control UV rays.” In contrast to the building’s modern architecture, Adels created a stylized backdrop for Westreich’s European antiques.
From the entrance, a central hallway was widened to form a gallery, which connects all parts of the apartment. Now all the rooms, including the bathroom, open to the view. To give architectural definition to the long gallery, Adels installed pilasters replicated from an Art Deco structural pillar, one of Westreich’s unused finds. The reproductions were cast in plaster by Giannetti Studios of Brentwood, Maryland, which has done work for the White House, according to Adels. The gallery also incorporates niches for the owner’s collectibles, including silver pieces and majolica pottery. The pale yellow limestone floor is banded with inlaid mosaics aligned with the pilasters to create a continuous visual rhythm.
The formal dining room, a study in elegance, opens from the gallery. Adels installed decorative antique iron gates found at a Paris flea market at the room’s entrance and upholstered the walls in a soft celadon-toned fabric from Boussac. The burled maple dining table is from Westreich’s collection as is a nearby marble-topped Edgar Bandt Art Deco table that displays her collection of antique silver.
At the end of the hall, the light-drenched living room extends to the windows at the perimeter. Just outside, the wrap-around terrace is furnished with weather-resistant rattan seating and glass-topped tables with neoclassical bases. Decorative stone and glazed urns from Provence are filled with perennials to provide touches of color. Views upriver toward Key Bridge offer spectacular sunsets along the Palisades, while those to the east overlook the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial.
On the living room walls, Adels applied birch panels with gilded details to form an architectural backdrop to a 19th-century French marble fireplace. Extending along the rear wall is a hand-painted, three-paneled trompe l’oeil scene of Pompeii that inspired the rest of the neoclassical decor.
To provide a dramatic setting for afternoon tea or dinner with a river view, Adels designed a marble mosaic-topped table that was crafted in Paris. It sits on a decorative iron base and is surrounded by four upholstered Art Deco chairs from the S.S. Normandie, a 1932 French ocean liner renowned for its stunning interiors. “We had the chairs covered in a Manuel Canovas silk velvet which we embossed using a technique called gauffrage,” explains Adels. “It’s a labor-intensive process, but its subtle effect cannot be duplicated.”
Stepping outside, Westreich marvels at all the activity below. “It’s a living landscape,” she says of the boats and racing sculls in the Potomac and bicyclists and runners at water’s edge, all reflected in the river. “I thrive on all this visual excitement.”
Tracy Mitchell Griggs, a writer and design blogger, resides on the Chesapeake Bay. Stuart Estler is a Rockville, Maryland-based photographer.