I was lucky enough to get invited to the annual Soiree Suisse last week at the Swiss Ambassador’s residence on Cathedral Ave. NW, a ginormous event that draws about 700 guests to one of the city’s icons of modern architecture. But I had never been there before, so I didn’t know what to expect.
My colleague from the Design Center, Alexander Finestone, and I started realizing as we stood in the long line to get nametags that we probably would not know a soul there. But that was OK — there was a lot to check out.
Here are the first examples of Swiss design we saw — three-wheeled cars. Great for those tiny European streets.
As we had approached the residence from the street, we both noticed the strains of a gentle — and quite somber — low-toned horn, sounding almost like a funeral dirge, odd for a big party of this nature, we thought. But we hadn’t realized THIS was where the music was coming from — another unique Swiss export:
Once we walked into the arched tent in the giant courtyard in front of the residence, we saw a great exhibition of Swiss design, from Nespresso espresso makers to the country’s famous Swatch collections. The effect of all these unique hanging lights in the tent was magical.
Guests were sitting on Alcove sofas by Vitra, with “Eluis” wool throw blankets by Creation Baumann. (Niermann Weeks at the Washington Design Center sells this glorious Swiss textile line.)
We made our way into the residence (more on this in a bit), out onto the terrace that looks out over a sprawling property, and happened to run into the Swiss Ambassador himself, Urs Ziswiler (seriously — we walked out there, I looked to the man on my left, and thank goodness he wore a nametag! So of course we introduced ourselves. What a gracious gentleman he is.)
Here’s a snippet of what you see out back:
While we were wandering outside on the terrace, I managed to miss seeing the fashion designer Isabel Toledo, who famously designed Michelle Obama’s Inaugural day outfit from Swiss wool and lace. (Here is a description of that project, along with a video of a post-inaugural fashion show that was here at the residence.) This always happens to me. When I covered Capitol Hill, I would never notice celebrities around me — I walked right by Melanie Griffith one time. Same thing with John Travolta. Always my luck to miss things like this. But I digress.
We did manage to run into people we really care about, though — our interior designer friends!
We did end up being in the right place at the right time at one point when a dapper young gentleman walked up to the table near where we were standing and started to lay out chocolates in the shape of the Swiss cross. Turns out, Mark Parsons is with Swiss International Airlines, and the chocolates are what passengers get at the end of each flight.
The evening turned out to be spectacular, and I’m already looking forward to next year. Since the party, I’ve grown curious about the residence itself, which was hard to study during the event because so many people were there.
The $14 million residence was designed in the last decade by New York architect Steven Holl and Swiss architect Justin Ruessli. The 25,000-foot structure has won all sorts of awards. (Here are some great articles about the residence, here from the Washington Post and here from Architecture Week.)
Here are some wonderful images, both from Architecture Week and Holl’s Web site.
If you look at the house from above, you will realize that it’s in the shape of the Swiss cross — a green one, because this super-eco-friendly structure has a planted roof.
This is the great thing about Washington — such a diverse array of architecture and design. We in DC are so lucky to live here.