Judith Beermann has certain principles she lives by–design principles as well as life principles. But when it came to buying her Georgetown condo, she took an enormous leap of faith: There wasn’t even the shell of an apartment to visit. “There was nothing here,” she says, looking around the newly constructed space.
In leaping, Beermann landed herself a place she loves. At the moment, the two-bedroom, two-bath third-floor condo glows in the late-afternoon sun. There are expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass on all four sides of the place, interrupted, of course, by an interior core that encloses bathrooms and the rear of the kitchen. The windows look down on courtyards on one side, the backs of small rowhouses on another. She “shares” a magnolia tree (or at least the sight of it) with nearby neighbors, the A List architects Hugh Newell Jacobsen and his son and design partner, Simon Jacobsen. Overall, the “borrowed” exterior space makes the compact condo feel larger than its 1,100 square feet of living space.
The living-dining room, with an open-plan kitchen adjacent, looks south and on this clear fall day is filled with blue, blue sky, fluffy white clouds scudding by. The place is indeed perfect for a self-described “sun junkie.” The Washington Monument pokes its head up over distant trees, and Beermann shows me unbelievably vivid shots of the Fourth of July fireworks on the Mall, which she could see without stirring from one of the living-room sofas that flank a fireplace with a sleek granite surround.
The pair of charcoal gray sofas embodies one of Beermann’s principles: symmetry. Each has a gray flannel bolster pillow perched at one end, hand-crafted with small loops of fabric marching across it. It took her three years to find pillows that matched the color of the sofas. “This is the kind of thing I can obsess over for months,” she says. “This is how I spend my time.”
Well, hardly. Having taken early retirement from a federal government job, Beermann spent a while as associate publisher of the hyper-local West End Guide and then a few years selling advertising for Capitol File, the large glossy style magazine. Then she plunged into the things that speak to the visual sophisticate in her, dabbling in photography and returning to painting.
A longtime resident of Georgetown (or within a few blocks of it in either direction since 1976), she produced a handsome calendar of Georgetown images and decided she would try to market it through what was then a fairly new Web site, The Georgetown Dish. And then something funny happened: She met Beth Solomon, who created the site and was looking for help.
Bang! Beermann was associate publisher; now, a few years later, she owns the site and happily rides herd on the Georgetowners who contribute articles about local events and skin care and politics and nutrition and, well, lots of things that might interest a worldly crowd of local readers.
The Dish has also given her entree into the lives of many of those readers.
“When I interviewed Hugh Jacobsen at his home, I felt like a groupie–I knew the signature elements of his design.” That would include his iconic “egg crate” bookcases, his plain, soaring windows. “It’s a great example of why I love doing [the Dish]. My job gives me entree to anyone, anywhere. I’m naturally inquisitive,” she continues, and with the Web site, “I can package [everything]–all my talents and interests come into play.” And, with neighbors such as the Jacobsens and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, “I walk out of my home and find a story or a picture,” adding, “It’s not just the average neighborhood or the average neighbors.”
Beermann’s interests are also visible around her condo. Or perhaps I should say not visible. Definitely part of the anti-clutter crowd, Beermann keeps surfaces clear of random objects; even the pale floors betray no trace of her two Maine coon cats, Baci and Calin. Even the cats’ scratch post fits in: Made of thicknesses of corrugated cardboard pressed together, it takes the shape of a sculpture — or perhaps a throne, given the look of disdain one of them gives as it lounges across the top of it.
There are things — in life and in her home — that Beermann can’t control. Some of the floor-to-ceiling windows are made of a translucent thermal glass, to keep some of the outside world from looking in and to temper the effects of weather. The developer didn’t talk about the “temperature challenges.” Beermann, who bought her home in 2006 and moved in in 2008 after one and a half years of construction, says with a laugh, “[The windows] should have been more ‘thermalled.’ The temperature can vary 30 degrees from room to room.” In fact, the original air-conditioning unit wasn’t large enough; the building’s developer had to install a larger one to make the place comfortable on some summer days. The sun can be tempered somewhat by the sleek modern shades that can pull down to cover some of the windows.
Beermann adds, “I plan my entertaining by the sun.” In other words, Fourth of July fireworks party? Of course. Sunny noon brunch in December, when the sun is low and blinding? “No!”
One of the joys of being in on the birth of a building is getting to make design choices. “I love solving design problems,” Beermann says. “I love making decisions. I love the process of elimination–I’m such a minimalist, a good editor for ‘stuff.’ ”
In the condo she had the choice of dark floors or light; she picked light. The kitchen cabinets could be cherry or oak; she chose oak. There were choices for the kitchen counter and for tiles in the bathrooms. (A couple of similar units are currently on the resale market for just over $1 million.) But another of Beermann’s design principles — systemic solutions — has led to a funny situation. “Every faucet has to match,” she says, meaning all throughout kitchen and baths. “In my head it’s important.” So she’s not wild about the kitchen faucet, but changing it, by her standards, means swapping them all out.
The condo is very comfortable for entertaining, Beermann says. “I can feed eight at the table, but I like the cocktail format. I do more entertaining than cooking–I believe in ‘artistic presentation feeding!’ ”
Beermann grew up in a Silver Spring home filled with books and antiques and oriental rugs. But now she craves “serenity; I like colors to be quiet.
“I don’t want anybody to leave here remembering anything specific. I don’t want to do ‘look at me’ decorating. This,” she adds, making a gesture that encompasses the round glass dining table, the sofas, the fireplace, the lamps made of marble, “this should all be a backdrop to people.”