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House Tours, In and Around Town

October 1, 2014

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IT’S HOUSE-TOUR SEASON . . . again. No matter. Those of us who number among the cheerfully nosy are alive to any opportunity to see how others live (or pretend they live–I always wonder about clutter-free environments).

This weekend, October 4 and 5, it’s the 58th annual Potomac Country House Tour, followed on Sunday, October 19, by the 47th annual Dupont Circle event.

The Potomac tour includes a lollapalooza of a house, um, mansion, um, compound, um, oh what the hell–Donald Trump meets Disney World. It’s Norton Manor, and is, according to the tour’s press release, the 47,000-square-foot estate of Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman, which sits on 10 acres and is modeled on the White House, the Capitol and (wait for it) the palace at Versailles. The couple host philanthropic events on their estate, so the charitably inclined can gaze at the 2,000-square-foot koi pond and wander through rooms that must have them wondering how the nation’s muralists and decorative painters (not to mention gilders and woodcarvers) passed their time until Norton Manor came along.

Closer to earth is the “re-imagined” Williamsburg Colonial of architect-developer Tracy Vargo and his wife, Mary, which was renovated by Rill Architects with a porch-and-dormer charm and boasting a cedar-shingled silo. The sleek Potomac Contemporary house on the tour is owned by Deborah Kalkstein, owner of the Contemporaria shop for modern furniture in Georgetown’s Cady’s Alley. (Note: Because of Yom Kippur, Kalkstein’s house will be open only on Sunday, October 5.) The fourth house, the Rowe house, is notable for being, well, normal and having a sewing room Martha Stewart would approve of.

The two-day event being an over-the-top kind of thing, the tour weekend features a petting zoo and a pirate-ship moon bounce (of course) plus some 25 boutiques (holiday gift alert!). The Carriage House of Custom Wreaths of Potomac/Wreath Love is transforming the upper two levels of the space into a Scottish wonderland of holiday decor.

Tickets for the tour (1 to 4 p.m. both days) are $30 in advance online and $40 on the day at St. Francis Episcopal Church, 10033 River Road, Potomac. The church supports initiatives as close as Rockville and as far away as Tanzania. Tickets can be purchased during the weekend at any of the tour houses as well. (Note that there is a Friday-night preview that is also open to the ticket-buying public. And you knew there’d be a silent auction, didn’t you?)

THE DUPONT CIRCLE TOUR will feature 13 houses and benefits a group of neighborhood institutions through the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, including Whitman-Walker Health, the Dupont Circle Village (for seniors) and the 17th Street Festival. In fact there’s still time to volunteer to “baby-sit” one of the houses–volunteers spend two and a half hours in a house and get a free ticket to see the others. Given the vintage of most of the properties–over a 20-square-block area–most properties are not handicapped-accessible, with lots of stairs and roof decks.

The ticket price includes afternoon tea, this year at the Indonesian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue NW, the exotic former Evalyn Walsh McLean mansion. Tickets ($40) can be purchased online; tour booklets are to be picked up at 9 Dupont Circle.

–Nancy McKeon

 



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