On an early spring day, Diane Rehm is seated in her cheerful living room, speaking in the familiar, distinctive voice that has entertained and educated NPR listeners—first locally and now nationally—for more than 30 years. With her Chihuahua, Maxie, perched on her lap, she is describing the move she made three years ago with her husband, John Rehm, from their longtime home in Bethesda to the two-bedroom apartment they now share in Northwest DC. Rehm, who published her third book, Life with Maxie, last fall, is known for the civil, intelligent tenor of the conversation that takes place on her award-winning talk show. No matter the stature of her guests—who have included Bill Clinton, Colin Powell and then-Senator Barack Obama—she remains cordial, inquisitive and unflappable. Her home, too, reflects a sense of calm and civility—and she managed to orchestrate her move in the same style. “We contracted someone to pack up the house and then move us in,” Rehm recalls. “When I walked in everything was in place: the drawers were lined, the towels were hanging. It was worth every dime!”
This happy ending completed a journey that began with the difficult decision to downsize after 40 years in the home in which the couple had raised their two children. John Rehm had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and they wished to simplify their lives. “When I first thought of apartment life, I thought, ‘What’s it going to be?’” Diane says. “Our house wasn’t huge but it had a basement and an attic. I thought: ‘Am I going to feel cramped?’”
Adding to the stress of the situation, Rehm was under-whelmed when they first toured the apartment; the previous owner hadn’t touched the space in 20 years, and it showed. “The washing machine drained into the kitchen sink!” Rehm recounts, shaking her head.
It was her husband who was able to see past the lackluster interiors to glean the apartment’s true value: a spacious layout and a breathtaking, unobstructed view of Glover Archbold Park. They bought the place and gutted it, removing the wall that separated the dining room from the hallway to allow light to pour into the adjoining rooms. They updated the kitchen, powder room and master bath and replaced parquet floors with dark-stained oak.
Rehm hired DC designer Brian Smith to help her approximate the look she’d loved in her former home. “My goal was to make the space function as a big household in a compact space,” Smith says. “It’s a monumental thing, breaking up a house and downsizing. It was daunting for Diane and John.”
Smith ensured that the antiques, family mementoes and well-loved furniture and artwork from the Bethesda house would be equally at home in the new apartment. As Rehm describes it, she “probably made 60 trips to the paint store” to find just the right shade of coral, which she used through most of the space. “Diane felt strongly about the colors,” Smith says. “I pulled fabrics that would work with the colors she chose.”
Only a few new pieces of furniture were introduced, including an antique piecrust table (“I’d always wanted one of those,” says Rehm) and a sofa that replaced one of two loveseats in the living room. The dining room was papered in a Chinese motif that closely resembles wallpaper Rehm left behind in her Bethesda home. And in the master bedroom, the same fabric that has adorned the canopy of the bed for 30 years now also covers a footstool and serves as a window treatment.
In some ways, the apartment has worked better for the Rehms than their former house did. Rehm found to her surprise that her dining room table fit perfectly; that the new kitchen offered more storage and counter space than the one she’d had before; and that there was room for family heirlooms they hadn’t been able to integrate in the previous house—including two antique girandole mirrors that now hang opposite one another as they’re meant to and a collection of delicate 17th-century Japanese prints.
Rehm’s best discovery, however, has been the joy of living in her new space. With a job that requires her to immerse herself in tough issues every day, she needs a haven from it all. When asked what home means to her, the response is immediate: “Warmth, comfort, relief,” she says. “I feel surrounded by beauty—and I mean both internally and externally. I walk in and see the light and the tops of the trees and I find myself breathing more easily.” She adds, “We feel very fortunate. We moved from a house we just hated to give up—but to an apartment in which we could really be comfortable.”
Photographer Bob Narod is based in Herndon, Virginia.