On a warm fall day under a cloudless blue sky, the golden leaves from two majestic oaks sprinkle the lawn in front of the Alexandria residence where James Beard Award-winning chef Eric Ziebold, his wife Célia Laurent and their two-year-old daughter live.
They are enjoying some last days of calm before the planned winter openings of their highly anticipated restaurants, Kinship and Métier, both located in a 1907 building near DC’s Mount Vernon Square. The former, seating 87, will feature à la carte dining in a casual setting; the latter, accessed by a discrete elevator, will be a 36-seat dining room offering formal seven-course tasting menus.
The couple’s house is a white-brick, split-level Colonial with a columned two-story porch, black shutters and a black front door. When you first glimpse it, your mind might wander to the moment when young Natalie Wood lopes from the car at the end of Miracle on 34th Street, having found the picture-perfect home.
“It looks like Virginia,” says Laurent. “The neighborhood is quiet and there is lots of light, which is super important.”
The couple met in 2003 in California, where Ziebold was chef de cuisine for Thomas Keller at the famed French Laundry. Laurent was preparing for a position as director of special events at Per Se, which Keller opened in Manhattan soon thereafter. Ziebold also wound up at Per Se, where they worked together. It was only after the Iowa-born chef moved to DC in 2004 to open CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel that the couple started dating, and a five-year, long-distance romance ensued.
Laurent finally moved to DC in 2009; she and Ziebold married in 2012 and bought their three-bedroom house in 2013. The split-level layout appealed to them. “The downstairs bedroom is very private for guests and will be good for our daughter when she gets older,” Laurent says.
Other selling points centered on entertaining—not surprising considering the couple’s fine-dining bona fides (Laurent’s impressive restaurant-management resume includes Restaurant Daniel in New York and Le Diplomate in Washington). A large patio off the lower level is as perfect for al fresco dining as the equally spacious upstairs living/dining room is for indoor parties. The garage is deep enough to house the duo’s extensive wine collection in a custom-built cellar.
“We gave a series of dinner parties over the summer as research and development for the new restaurant and had our guests sign the wall next to where the wine is stored,” Ziebold explains. The menu for one summer dinner included okra salad, heirloom tomatoes, lobster French toast, roast chicken en panade and cheesecake bavarois with plums.
Ascending a small stairway from the main entrance, a front room intended as the dining room is now a cozy salon. A built-in bookcase separates it from the living/dining room. Pale green walls; billowy, white-linen curtains; a comfy, white-linen slipcovered sofa; and light-stained hardwood floors lend the open space a Provençal quality. A simple rectangular dining table and ecru-linen side chairs have a weathered, birch-colored finish that adds to the room’s breeziness.
“We like an older patina on our furniture,” says Laurent, who hails from Arcachon, an oyster-producing bay on the Atlantic coast of southwestern France.
The same aesthetic will appear in Kinship and Métier. Ziebold and Laurent are involved in every detail of the restaurants, working closely with DC designer Darryl Carter on their interiors. Spread out on their dining room table are items being considered for each space. Among them: a block of wood flooring with a milk-wash finish, antique glassware, Laguiole knives and custom ceramic plates.
With so much time and energy spent launching the restaurants, furnishing their home has been an organic process—by preference as well as necessity. “We are not of the mindset of rushing to the store and filling the house. We prefer to find just the right piece. And we will pair something from a flea market with something modern, a mix of high and low,” Laurent says.
“We bring things back from our travels. A grill from Tunisia was probably not my brightest idea,” adds Ziebold with a wry smile.
The result is an elegant blend of small-town warmth and big city sophistication. In other words, tout à fait chic.
Artwork abounds. Says Laurent, “My mother is a painter, so I’ve been surrounded by artist friends since I was young.” Works by several of them, such as Christian Babou, Elizabeth Barbosa and Henri Boixel, adorn the walls or rest on the floor, awaiting placement.
Over the sofa, a Keith Haring lithograph holds special meaning for Laurent. “It’s of the inside of the elevator of the contemporary art museum in Bordeaux, where I was born,” she says. Next to it is a Warhol lithograph of Elvis Presley in cowboy gear.
“Nothing is of great value,” says Laurent. “Just for fun.” Joie de vivre permeates every corner of the couple’s charming home.
Writer David Hagedorn is based in Washington, DC. Geoffrey Hodgdon is a photographer in Deale, Maryland.