Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

House Call

Human Genome Doctor William Haseltine opens his Georgetown Doors

Scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, Dr. William Haseltine hardly seems the type of homeowner who spends time fussing over paint colors and furnishings. But, on a recent tour of his remodeled 1870s Georgetown house, this leader in genetic research makes it clear that he has done all the decorating himself.

Plum Sykes

"I enjoy it," Haseltine says, pointing out the subtle blend of pink, golden and cream tones in his high-ceilinged, front parlor. "It's relaxing for me. I've tried to make the home a warm and calming place." At the forefront of research into the genome, the sum total of an organism's genetic material, the Harvard Ph.D. has a distinctive record of achievement in both cancer and AIDS research. Over his career, he has founded numerous biotechnical companies, including Rockville, Md.- based Human Genome Sciences, Inc., serving as its CEO from 1993 to 2004.

Currently, the scientist-businessman is chairman of Haseltine Global Health LLC and president of the Haseltine Foundation for Medical Sciences and the Arts. "Both organizations are aimed at enabling some of the world's poorest people to receive new medical treatment that most of us in developed countries take for granted," he explains. His Italianate-style brick home, with its threestories of art-filled rooms, provides a retreat from a hectic schedule of activities on numerous boards, think tanks and international organizations. Part museum, part salon, it continues to serve as a laboratory for aesthetic experiments. Haseltine purchased the corner-lot property 13 years ago, soon after founding Human Genome Sciences, Inc., and slowly began renovating. "The interiors had been over-decorated," he says. "The first thing I did was take out the carpets and chandeliers. The theme was to simplify and make it more comfortable."

The 61-year-old bachelor shares the sixbedroom home with younger brother Eric and often hosts family gatherings that include his two grown children, Mara and Alexander, and sister Florence. He also frequently entertains friends, scientist colleagues and politicians in small, informal parties. "It's a home open to both Republicans and Democrats," the self-described "Independent" says with a smile. "I use it as a salon where people can come together and exchange ideas."


In the formal living and sitting rooms at the front of the house, velvet-upholstered club chairs and sofas are grouped around glass-topped coffee tables to provide cozy places for conversation. Finishes and fabrics in pale peach, yellow and neutral shades are intentionally skin-flattering and subdued. "I love subtle color," says Haseltine, glancing at the butterand- cream-glazed living room walls. Inspiration for his palette, he explains, came from visiting the Amber Palace in Jaipur, India.

Dinner parties are held in the dining room, where a round mahogany table with peripheral leaves can be expanded to seat 16 and still allow for "one conversation with many people," notes Haseltine. On the walls of the long room, leafgreen paint was substituted for the silk damask coverings installed by the previous owners to add life-affirming vibrancy reminiscent of nature. During warmer weather, guests move outdoors to a large brick patio at the side of the property bordered by magnolias and evergreens. At one end, a raised flagstone terrace with a table used for informal entertaining overlooks a swimming pool tucked into the patio corner. Haseltine, who swims nearly every day, had the heated, 42-foot-long pool built with a gurgling fountain shaped like a frog. Other improvements include an exercise room and wine cellar in the basement, and an apartment for a live-in handyman.

Elegantly restrained, the décor inside the home could have ended up looking like any other traditional Georgetown mansion. Haseltine, however, took it up a notch by filling the rooms with rare treasures picked up during his frequent travels to Asia, Africa and Europe. The juxtapositions of these ancient and modern objects against the historic architecture make for interesting visual and cultural contrasts -- and plenty of conversation pieces for guests.

"The house represents my interest in human culture from all over the world, from ancient to modern times," says Haseltine. "It reflects my curiosity of mind." A walk through the home confirms his eclectic approach to collecting. Beckoning from the reaches of nearly every room are serene Chinese Buddhas, gesturing Indian goddesses and heroic Hellenistic statuary, testifying to the scientist's humanistic, multi-cultural outlook. In the dining room, an ancient Byzantine mosaic extends over an antique Biedermeier sideboard set with Chinese jewelry and Moghul Indian candlesticks. At the center of the room, the circular table is arranged with colorfully patterned ceramic plates from Morocco, each one a different design. Brightening up the sitting room fireplace mantel is a scarlet fragment of a Pompeian fresco from about 79 AD. Nearby, a classical Greek marble torso rests on a table opposite from a wooden Ming goddess from China. Across the hall in the living room, "Man Sinking," a painting by British painter Francis Bacon, flanks a Chinese wooden horse and camel carved around 600 AD. Visible on the terrace outside the windows are painted wooden figures from Orissa, India.


At the back of the garden, a large sculpture, coated in glossy automotive paint, was created by daughter Mara, an up-and-coming New York artist. Its shape, based on a protein-producing sub cellular structure called a ribosome, pays homage to her father's groundbreaking work.

A voracious reader, Haseltine maintains two libraries on the second floor of his home. One resembles a Tudor-style study hall with leaded glass windows, wood paneling and wing chairs arranged around a fireplace. The other, used as an office, was remodeled by the scientist with cherry book shelves placed around the periphery. Behind the customdesigned, wrap-around desk, a plant-filled terrarium sprouts orchids and other exotic species. "It's nice to work in a garden all year round," he says. Inspiration comes from a Chinese drawing of a contemplative scholar and a carved Indian Shiva.

Over the fireplace next to his desk, a framed blackand- white image shows two different cell types of the immune system key to the transmission of the AIDS virus. It is a picture that Haseltine says reminds him of his continuing commitment to fighting disease and extending human life.

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