Concealed behind a stone privacy wall that flanks a narrow, picturesque street on the edge of Georgetown, historic Evermay is like a portal to a serene and peaceful past. Visible from its perch atop a rolling hillside, views of downtown DC remind visitors how close they are to the hubbub of city life, even while Evermay’s pristine environs keep the chaos at arm’s length.
This Federal-style brick mansion was built in 1801 by Scottish merchant Samuel Davidson. Since then it’s changed hands more than once, weathering alterations—some appropriate, some not so much—along the way. Today, the house and its outbuildings nestle on three and a half acres of immaculately terraced grounds enhanced by fountains, statuary and rose gardens.
This is the surprising refuge in the cradle of the busy city that first intrigued Ryuji Ueno and Sachiko Kuno, a Japanese couple who recently purchased the estate for $22 million in one of the most expensive real estate transactions in DC history. Dr. Ueno and Dr. Kuno are scientists who founded Bethesda-based Sucampo Pharmaceuticals, a producer of breakthrough drugs for such age-related ailments as digestive dysfunction and glaucoma. On the heels of their success, the husband-and-wife team has added to their real estate holdings: They now own some half a dozen houses between DC, the Eastern Shore and Potomac, where their primary residence is located. Since buying Evermay, they’ve also purchased Halcyon House, another historic Georgetown estate, for $11 million.
Their success also enabled Drs. Ueno and Kuno to establish the S & R Foundation, which raises money to support talent in art and science. They were looking for a location for their foundation when their realtor first took them to see Evermay. “We had never heard of it before,” says Dr. Kuno. “But we knew right away we wanted this historic place. We looked at the terraces and grounds and we fell in love.” She adds, “We made the decision to buy it in less than five minutes.”
The idea was to create a temporary home for the foundation that would also house visiting scientists and musicians. The couple envisioned the estate as a haven for the arts, with the ballroom and grounds open to guests for concerts, art exhibitions and other similar events.
To achieve their goal, they immediately enlisted the help of the design team that had worked with them on other houses: architect Jim Rill and interior designer Jodi Macklin. “We wanted to preserve the home’s history,” says Dr. Kuno. “But the house needed to be refreshed and repaired.” She adds, “We were lucky because we had worked with Jodi and Jim before and we trusted them as a team.”
With spring of 2012 as a deadline for completion, Rill and Macklin got started, enlisting a team that included electricians, plumbers, wood-floor specialists, antique-lock restorers, faux painters and more. In the space of about seven months, they restored four floors and two outbuildings: One now houses the offices of the foundation while the other is a three-bedroom gatehouse with ancillary conference rooms.
“We refinished floors, replaced wall panels and installed a new heating and cooling system,” Rill says. To accommodate numerous guests, the sprawling mansion needed major upgrades to the plumbing, wiring and hardware. “A lot of people needed to be able to shower at the same time,” Rill explains. “And each door needed a working key.”
Macklin undertook the Herculean task of furnishing 12 bedrooms, conference rooms, a grand living room, dining room and ballroom. She knew the aesthetic Kuno and her husband preferred. “Elegant yet cozy,” she says. “We maintained the integrity of the house but refreshed it so it wouldn’t be too traditional.” Clean-lined, comfortable furniture in a transitional style enhances a backdrop of neutral colors and strong textures. Throughout the house, the couple’s carefully chosen collection of modern art provides a striking contrast to the antique wall paneling imported from England by previous owners. Luxurious yet understated bedrooms—each named for an indigenous tree—offer fireplaces with their original marble surrounds intact.
Rill and his team extensively updated the kitchen to accommodate Evermay’s chef, Makoto Hamamura, formerly sous-chef at CityZen. Now, custom walnut cabinetry and Caesarstone counters create a transitional look while a glazed brick backsplash echoes the home’s brick exterior. They also refurbished the existing butler’s pantry, which offers plenty of space for caterers to perform their magic under Hamamura’s supervision during large events.
Landscape architect Jay Graham was hired to take care of the grounds, which boast fountains, a gazebo and picturesquely crumbling brick walkways, as well as extensive gardens.
Since the work was completed in May, the S & R Foundation has already hosted a sold-out summer concert series; a holiday concert series begins in November. The concerts are performed in the ballroom and guests mingle on the grounds. During these events, when artists are in residence, the owners like to stay at Everymay and take part in the festivities. “We’re present for all the series,” Dr. Kuno says. “We enjoy entertaining, eating together and sharing time with the young musicians.”
Gordon Beall is a Bethesda, Maryland-based photographer.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: JIM RILL, AIA, principal; RICHARD ROSSI, project manager, Rill Architects, Bethesda, Maryland. INTERIOR DESIGN: JODI MACKLIN, principal; LAUREN SPARBER, designer, Jodi Macklin Interior Design, Chevy Chase, Maryland. CONTRACTOR: BOB LAWRENCE, BL Construction & Remodeling Systems, Inc., Kensington, Maryland. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: JAY GRAHAM, Graham Landscape Architecture, Annapolis, Maryland.