Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine
Living by Design: At Home with Interior Designers
Rob Brown & Todd Davis
Rob Brown & Todd Davis
by Mary K. Mewborn       
photos by James Scott       

Although the dynamic duo of Brown-Davis, Interiors are very protective oftheir clients’ privacy, and have a strict policy of not commenting on them, by now,much of Washington is abuzz with the news that Rob Brown and Todd Davis are revampingthe Clintons’ Georgian-style house on Whitehaven. Still it may be sometime yetbefore the Clintons throw open their doors to guests. For those who can’t wait, WashingtonLife has visited the home of the Clintons’ interior designers to get a feel for the RobBrown and Todd Davis style, and a better understanding of why these men warrant theprivilege of being the Clintons’ designers of choice.

1617 29th Street, N.W.
1617 29th Street, N.W.

In this issue, Washington Life has devoted its Spectacular Homes piece to Todd and Rob’sown historic Georgian mansion with exclusive photos of some of the men’s finest work.

While computer science and interior design may not seem like readily comparable fields,here the analogy is especially fitting given that Brown-Davis, Robert Brown and Todd Davisreside in and have renovated the home originally built by the man who ushered in the informationage, Herman Hollerith, the creator of the computer punch card and co-founder of IBM.

Like the first mainframe computer, the Hollerith House, which was built in 1911, hadlong ago become a white elephant, relegated to the past. But like Bill Gates, himself a formerIBM contractor, Brown and Davis had a vision. They too would transformthe costly, cumbersome creation of a computer mastermind to create asleek, new, updated version of the classic, thereby exemplifying thelifestyle of a new age. While others saw the “dingy, dark and dreary” brickedifice at 1617 29th Street, N.W. as a hulking “horrible monster,” for Toddand Rob, “it was love at first sight,” the perfect environment in which todeploy their “classical contemporary” signature style.

dining room
An 18th century waterford chandelier hangsabove the dining room table and faux sable drapeshang from the windows.
Morning Glory
An internally lit sculpture/lamp calledMorning Glory from Odegard’s Aqua Collection byIsraeli artist, Ayala Serfataystands stands in onecorner of the dining room.

Indeed, the Hollerith House has proven to be an excellent showcase forthe talents of the innovative duo. Brown and Davis not only had theability to “see the house as an entire entity...and visualize the final picture,”they had the know-how and ambition to turn the Georgetownbehemoth into a modern-day masterpiece, populated by perfectly positionedcontemporary artworks, classic antiques, and custom-designed furnishings.Today, the once gloomy, long vacant house is filled with beautyand light, a shining example of the strengths and skills of the creativedesigners whose claims to fame also include the British Embassy’sAmbassadors residence, the National Symphony Orchestra’s DecoratorShow House, the Clintons’ new home two doors down on WhitehavenStreet, and other high profile individuals from different political persuasions.True to their reputation for “anchoring the present in the past,”Brown and Davis have managed to keep the soul and luxury of theGeorgian age intact, while redesigning and decorating the mansion to reflecttheir own personalities, tastes, and times. For his part, Robert Brown’sindividual touches are evidenced in the home’s “to the manor born”atmosphere. The formal dining room, originally a library, still has the feel ofan old English study. Leather-bound tomes of poetry, art and architecture,and even a Hollerith family cookbook with a recipe for whale meat, line theoriginal shelves. Chairs fit for the landed gentry and designed by a contemporaryof Chippendale, surround a circular table reminiscent of KingArthur’s court. Gothic revival-period cathedral chairs, carved with quatrefoilsadorn the nearby butler’s pantry, and even the French country kitchen is areminder of Brown’s affinity for Old World charm. If the dining areasspeak to Brown’s sensibilities, it is the living room which best seems to representTodd Davis. At his behest, the elegant, elongated public room wascreated by knocking out a wall, a bold and successful move toward modernizingthe home in both feel and purpose. Drawing on his SouthernCalifornia roots and innate sense of architectural style, he turned whatwas “clunky and austere” into an airy and alluring space which, togetherwith the adjacent gallery hall, is capable of accommodating as many as300 guests at a time.

The grace and grandeur of the gallery hall is itself a compelling tributeto both men’s love of architecture and design. In renovating the hall’sexpanse, they have faithfully retained much of the home’s historical andarchitectural integrity. Original accoutrements such as sliding mahoganydoors, decorative wall moldings, and hardwood floors have been at oncepreserved and perfected in Brown-Davis’ updated rendition.

living room
An evening shot of one end ofthe living room. The furniture is fromthe Brown-Davis Custom FurnishingCollection. The painting is by Sally Michel.

Together Brown and Davis personally designed the circular pattern in thesecond-story foyer’s exquisite hand painted oak, walnut, and mahoganyinlaid floor. They conceived of and created a frieze in the manner of Roman-Grecotemples and added Doric columns as a means of accentuatingthe beauty of the gallery’s windows; they mirrored the wall which serves asa backdrop for the staircase leading to the gallery, thereby expanding the scopeand visual impact; and to further provide “discriminating restraints,” theyplaced yet another triglyph frieze atop the opulent stairwell.

As a result of such architectural detailing, nowhere is it more apparentjust how skillfully and effectively the two men have taken the original floorplan of the traditional Georgian home to new heights. In keeping withthe dignity and intent of Georgian-era homes, they draw visitors upwardfrom the street level to be greeted by the larger and more formal portions ofthe house which “open up” in front of them in a manner at once invitingand awe-inspiring.

living room
The other wing of the living room shot during the day.

Equally enamored of art as of architecture, the designers have alsoadorned the walls of their home and resurrected their rooms with someaesthetically, and financially, choice paintings. Because the masterworksof Milton Avery are as Rob Brown put it, “out of our price range,” thepragmatic partners have instead purchased two less expensive, though noless carefully crafted paintings by Avery’s wife, Sally Michel.The cheerful and charming Sally Michel pieces arebeautifully framed above the marble fireplace mantles inthe spacious living room. The first, entitled Little Baby, depicts a mother andchild and adds color and life to a room truly rebornthrough the talents of the designers. The second, entitled, The Bathers,similarly reinforces the sense of rebirth and renewal, and adds to therefreshing feel of a room into which new energy has been infused.

Also in the living room is one of the three works by acclaimed British artistJason Martin which Brown and Davis are fortunate enough to own. TheWreath as it is called, is a substantial turquoise creation reminiscent of thelife-giving sea, at once soothing and gentle, yet with strength and promise.Art aficionados may know that the Hirshhorn has recently added a JasonMartin to its collection as well.

Stabled in the Solarium is a life-size 17th century wooden horsefrom India’s Mogul dynasty. The floors are french limestone.

Meanwhile, Todd Davis and Robert Brown also have a blue variationon The Wreath in their gallery hall. Evocative of the air we breathe orof a gentle breeze, it too is soothing and refreshing. And finally, in themaster bedroom, there is Jason Martin’s Lola, ruby red like the bloodcursing through one’s veins or the sun’s rays radiating warmth and wellbeing.Notably, neither Lola nor the other Jason Martin works are framed,perhaps in a deliberate attempt to encourage their rippling waves towash unconstrained over the walls.

In addition to their exquisite paintings, Brown and Davis have also cleverlyand economically opted to decorate their walls with numerous mirrors,including three in the dining room alone. The antique mirrors, some ofwhich are convex, serve as beautiful alternatives to more expensive wallfurnishings. Furthermore, they reflect the home’s existing artwork, add light,and are instrumental in drawing the eye in new directions providing differingperceptions and perspectives.

second story foyer
The second story foyer with hand painted oak, walnut andmahogany inlaid floors, and Doric columns to accentuatethe windows.

Brown and Davis also collect sculpture. They have bronze statuettesaccenting tabletops in the living room, and 19th-century French and Shakergarden statuary standing guard in their first floor gallery. Among theirmore unusual possessions is an internally-lit whimsical sculpture createdfrom a silk parachute. To view the piece, which is at once a floor lamp anda work of art, is to encounter what appears to be a graceful glowingapparition or perhaps the forgotten vestige of the stone maiden lingeringnude in the gallery hall.

While neither Davis nor Brown is particularly “materialistic,” inevitablywhile on shopping trips for their clients the two have found some treasuresfor their own home, some of which include the glistening 18th-centuryWaterford chandelier dripping beads of light from their diningroom ceiling; the life-size 17th-century wooden horse from India’sMogul dynasty stabled in the solarium; and the curvaceous scroll coffeetable lounging in the living room.

the living room
The living room, looking through the second floor foyer into the dining room.“The circular sociable” is from the Brown-Davis Furnishing Collection, and is upholsteredin silk. The painting is by British artist Jason Martin.

Notwithstanding such finds, there is actually “an economy of Objects” inthe home, to quote Todd Davis, a fact which serves to grant each itemincreased significance. So too, the complementary contradiction of placingcontemporary next to classic, or old atop new, highlights the individualattributes and attractions of each piece. If the resultant combination isat once eclectic, yet surprisingly compatible and harmonious, the truth is,as Robert Brown so succinctly puts it, “Beautiful things fit together well.”Indeed the overall effect is captivating, uncluttered and comfortable.

Believing that “the height of luxury is comfort,” Brown and Davishave limited themselves to those types of items which give them pleasureand make them feel pampered and privileged, yet are not stiff or overlyformal. Among those items which are particularly popular with them aresilk upholstered “circular sociables,” or “tufted ottomans” as some havereferred to them. One is prominently positioned, throne-like, front andcenter in the entrance to the master bedroom while another sits serenely inthe living room. French limestone floors are also an obvious favorite ofthe duo and lend authenticity to the country kitchen and to the solarium.So too, flowers and specifically bouquets of bright yellow roses or tulipsare a trademark of the partners who at any given time seem to have at leastone such perfectly composed still life beautifying their home and begging tobe captured on canvas.

The kitchen
The kitchen.

To add further interest to their home and to represent their contemporarylifestyle, they have included a number of personalized, cutting-edgetouches, trendy bits of fashionable accents. All are imaginative and someare at once glamorous and playful. Who for example, would not want tohide behind the fantastic faux sable dining-room drapes which luxuriouslyenvelop the front wall and overflow onto the floor,itself warmed by plush shag rug? Faux fur also decoratesthe throw pillows scattered upon the living room’s elegant Malibu slipperchairs which Brown and Davis personally designed.

Other pieces from the Brown-Davis furniture line include the livingroom’s lush mohair sofa, the art deco-style chairs in the kitchen, andthe custom-built bed in the master suite. Such items have been constructedto meet the precise demands of the space in each room and theowners’ specific desires in terms of both aesthetic appeal and physicalcomfort. Still other pieces are available to their clientele at competitiveprices, each perfectly tailored to fit individualneeds.

The third and fourth stories boast no fewer than five perfectly appointedbedrooms in which to host family and friends. With their characteristic “attentionto the intention” of a room, Brown and Davis have outfitted the guestsuites at a level of comfort to which we would all like to become accustomed.Indeed, no amenity has been overlooked, right down to the piles of deep-plytowels and the lavish assortment of warm cushioned slippers and velvety velour andthick terry-cloth robes, all artfully displayed in attractive armoires.

While the concepts of luxury, comfort, and convenience are universal,in the Western world they have often been realized through technologicaladvances. Not surprisingly then, Brown and Davis have retainedHerman Hollerith’s Otis elevators, original intercom, and central vacuumingsystem, all impressive cutting-edge technology that was state-of-theart at the turn of the last century and yet remains prominent in only thefinest homes even now.

The master bedroom
The master bedroom

As the past and present meld in the Hollerith House, it becomes apparentthat some things are truly timeless like the beauty of nature. And, in thisrealm too, the Hollerith estate, which is situated on an acre of verdantgrounds, is blessed with beautiful color, scale and form. Indeed, asBrown and Davis greet the dawn of a new day from the breakfast table intheir sunroom, they can serenely survey the same stately cedrela tree andboxwood gardens Herman Hollerith did, secure in the knowledge that likeHollerith, they are architects of a new age, helping to design the future in amanner worthy not only of their own talents but of those of the generationswhich have preceded them.


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