Home & Design

Green Acre #155: Not a Garden but a Wrap

WHAT DO YOU call a room where the hallway, the living room walls, the ceiling, the bookcases, and even the moldings around the windows are the same pale green, a green with the softness of early spring, celery perhaps, or honeydew?

Then you hang paintings or stack them against a wall, large and small and in between, splashes of color as vivid as a…


There is no terrace or balcony or fire escape outside artist Jill Finsen’s apartment in a wonderfully rambling 1928 apartment in Tilden Gardens on the northern edge of Washington DC’s Cleveland Park—though the condominium’s six buildings are set within five acres of flowers and trees and fountains.

Yet, sitting on a sofa in the hot summer twilight, one feels as if the nearly 100-year-old trees that line Connecticut Avenue, just outside the window, have reached their limbs inside to bring the swelter-exhausted some shade. 

The mood is enhanced by a screen of curious plants that line the windowsill, a ponytail palm three decades old, the strange poky praying-mantis branches of a pencil cactus. There seems to be no division between outside and in.

There are a few advantages to not having outdoor space. Bugs, for one, and possibly two and three. Your fingernails stay clean, and there’s not much dirt to schlep.

Key to it all is the total embrace of green. White trim around windows, while clean and fresh and sharp, stops the eye. That’s out there, this is in here, it announces. Paint it and the entire wall disappears into the outdoors.

Jill, retired from a career in policy development for AARP and now a full-time artist, actually acted on the old expression “And if you don’t do it, how old will you be in three years?” and just completed an MFA at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting & Sculpture. She moved to that city for the duration of the courses and let out her apartment while she was away. She’ll return to DC in the fall, after her usual summer spent painting in Maine, with jaunts to Cape Cod. 

That’s where she is now, so we chatted by email. 

MLB: It’s pretty bold, to paint the woodwork like the walls. How did you decide to do it? 

JF: Your request is poignant as my entire apartment color choices were done by my dear friend Robert Hardgrove, whom I called Hardgrove.* He died in late April and I was just in DC for a celebration of his life. Most every room was wrapped and all in different colors. . . . Unfortunately, I cannot remember the names, but green in the living room was something like honeydew, although that was not quite it. The ceiling and the woodwork, including the built-in bookcases, were painted the same color, as was the entryway into the apartment. 

When I engaged a Realtor to help sublet it for the three years while I was in New York, she insisted we paint a more neutral color for the living room. Of course, I showed Hardgrove the options so it would not be as bad as it might have been. I regret doing it and when I return in November, I will return the green to the room. 

It’s called “wrapping” the room?

Yes, I think it is.

How does it make you feel?

I love the continuity of it, and Hardgrove’s choice of colors worked splendidly in every room with different lighting during the day and evening. 

Any regrets?

Only that I painted over it. But not the bookshelves so there will not be that much detail to do when I return. And going forward, I hate that Hardgrove is no longer available for consults. 

How about art against such definite color?

As you know, I have eclectic tastes in art and, except for the hall wall, the art was mostly by others. It worked just fine. 

Have you ever created a painting that replicates the color/mood?

If I did, I was not aware of it. But I do like green.

How would you describe your style?

Hmm, I would say eclectic re style and not married to one era. I like Heywood-Wakefield [mid-century furniture] and have several pieces and have more modern furniture as well. I always go for comfy and clean lines both in feel and visual. It is what appeals on a gut level. 

My painting style? Hmm. In short, perhaps a Fauvist bent. But I think I am challenging to categorize. And others who have looked at my work from a critic’s eye would agree. Here is a statement that I use:

“My paintings depict the interplay of the familiar and the imagined. At times awkward and quirky, they celebrate emotional responses to the people, objects and places I portray. Rather than realistic hues and forms, I use bold color, flattened planes and varying paint texture to invite the viewer in through emotion rather than by offering a map of specifics. It is unimportant whether the viewer knows that a particular painting depicts a cove in Maine, a beach on Cape Cod or a specific home or friend. My intent is to suggest that the viewer might share in the joy of that space or engage with the subject of my portraits. Painting from observation or memory, I create exaggerated objects and leave anchoring details unresolved within an imagined space. Viewers can roam the image for themselves, entering where they will and leaving with an experience that is both aesthetic and affecting.” 

Just like sitting in Jill’s living room. You share in the joy, engage with the space and leave affected by a most singular aesthetic. 

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

*An only-in-Washington character, Robert Hardgrove had a dual career—as chief political adviser and strategist to Congressman William Stanton (R-Ohio) and as an interior designer whose elegantly appointed, and distinctly colorful, Kalorama apartment in the century-old Altamont co-op apartment house was once featured on the front page of the Home section in the Washington Post.

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” this week explores how the immersive feel of the garden has been brought indoors by a Washington DC painter. 

One thought on “Green Acre #155: Not a Garden but a Wrap

  1. Suzanne Rooney says:

    I loved the article about Jill’s apartment at Tilden Gardens and the assistance she received from our mutual friend, Robert Hardgrove. Robert helped us with our home in Woodley Park in the early ’80s, and his color choices were wonderful . . .warm, relaxing and cheery. I knew Robert from working on Capitol Hill in the early ’60s and had a wonderful comfort level with him as we worked on our home. It took two years to finish up everything that had to be done but we have gotten rave reviews from friends and family over the years. My husband Rob was very comfortable with Robert and we remained friends through the years.

    Jill’s apartment is very attractive and I think it’s wonderful that she plans to paint her apartment green when she returns to DC in the fall. Loved her paintings and would love to attend a show of her work in the future! Thanks for sharing your story with Stephanie and all of us!

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