Few DC designers can create quintessentially classical interiors like Frank Babb Randolph, who has been transforming homes in and around the nation’s capital for 50 years. Randolph’s father came to Washington as a congressman from West Virginia in 1933; his son is fond of saying that he arrived “five years later and stayed seven decades.” A recent search for his fourth home—“without so many stairs this time”—would have initiated Randolph’s eighth decade living in Georgetown. Instead, he discovered a two-bedroom condo in a Georgian-style Kalorama building replete with history and beauty that spoke to his classical soul.
“I was looking for great architecture and day-long exposure to sunlight,” Randolph says about his two-year search. “If I was going to be lured from Georgetown, it could only be for the classical architecture in Kalorama’s embassy district.”
A lifelong student of architecture and the decorative arts, Randolph’s talents surfaced in the 1970s when he assisted iconic New York decorator Billy Baldwin, managing his redesign of Pamela and Ambassador W. Averell Harriman’s Georgetown home. But instead of capitalizing on this leg up into New York’s prestigious design world, Randolph chose to stay in Washington, crafting signature work on such projects as the Italian Embassy, the vice president’s residence in the era of Dick Cheney and the DC home of “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell.
The condo he found in Kalorama is one of his favorite projects to date and certainly one of his happiest. “I came to a party here years ago,” he reminisces about the second-floor unit in The Holton on S Street. “Then I saw it for sale last year. With the high ceilings, long windows and sunlight flooding in, I thought, ‘This is it!’ I signed a contract the next day.”
For Randolph, The Holton’s cultural cachet even exceeds its second-floor-with-elevator ease of access. Prix de Rome-winning architect Waddy Wood designed the 1906 building for Jessie Moon Holton and Carolyn Hough Arms, who wished to establish their new girls’ school with small, intimate classes in a residential building (the Holton-Arms School later relocated to Bethesda).
Wood’s grand, classical style borrowed architectural elements from antiquity after the manner of other Kalorama homes that were built for the era’s industrial barons and later converted to embassies. A large library with a fireplace on the second floor had been the heart of the school, serving as a classroom during the day and a club-like retreat for study after hours. It was still the heart of the condo Randolph purchased, though it had since been partitioned to create separate living and dining rooms.
After consulting local architect and friend Christian Zapatka—also a Prix de Rome-winner in architecture—Randolph decided to restore the room to its original grandeur. “Frank and I took down the walls to open the two rooms to one,” says Zapatka. “We eliminated the dining room and removed a doorway to deliver more light to the kitchen and a study at the back of the condo.”
The lack of a dining room was not a problem for Randolph, who has long embraced the idea of living mobilier. Furniture—including his antique French dining table on casters—moves around the room as needed. The result is a magnificent drawing room with four windows emitting light via a southwest exposure. “We gave the windows wider casings and panels underneath, doubled the baseboard widths and eliminated some built-ins,” explains Zapatka. “The architecture emphasizes the room’s height and classical dignity.”
Into this spectacular envelope Randolph introduced his signature light-enhancing color palette. “I believe we look for light as we age,” he notes. “It’s the essence of feeling good about life and living.” The afternoon light casts what he calls a “magical” pink tone in the drawing room—the result of a subtle lavender hue he had custom-mixed into the off-white wall color, inspired by the oxidized Murano glass in a pair of antique mirrors. Randolph repeats lavender notes in varying intensities on upholstery, in the wool rag rug and on the backs of the remaining built-in bookshelves. Upholstery, finishes and artwork introduce a spring green so soft it might be mistaken for a reflection from outside.
In contrast to the drawing room, Randolph kept the original muted hue in the entry hall, but glazed it for reflectivity. “I call it ‘English drabware,’” he says, referencing a dark-clay ceramic produced in early 19th-century England. “It’s not my usual, but the contrast with the light in the drawing room was irresistible.”
The cozy master bedroom came with walls upholstered in burlap-textured linen. As in the rest of the residence, Randolph furnished it mostly in a mix of French, English and American antiques or pieces he designed to his own specifications after classical precepts. “The commonality is my love of classicism,” he observes.
Randolph often muses on the sunlight flooding his drawing-room windows. “In Georgetown, the houses were so close together, I couldn’t see the sky. Here, I have seven hours of sun and can watch the clouds go by,” he marvels. The home he spent two years finding has given him a perspective he celebrates every day.
Renovation Architecture: Christian Zapatka, AIA, Christian Zapatka Architect LLC, Washington, DC. Interior Design: Frank Babb Randolph, Frank Babb Randolph Interior Design, Washington, DC.
THROUGHOUT: Custom Paint: benjaminmoore.com.
DRAWING ROOM: Diva Sofa, Tivoli Bench & Waterfall Table: designed by Frank Babb Randolph, made through davidiatesta.com through hollyhunt.com. Diva Sofa Fabric: delanyandlong.com through cowtan.com. Drawing Room Consoles: niermannweeks.com through michaelclearyllc.com. Rug: Georgetown Carpet. Slipper Chair Fabric: sunbrella.com through hinescompany.com. through Hines.
FRONT HALL: Tables: David Bell Antiques; 202-965-2355.