“Oh. There’s wallpaper.” Those were basically the first words out of a real-estate agent’s mouth when she stepped into my mom’s home in McLean, which will formally go on the market this Wednesday.
Yup, and you’ve only seen the foyer.
Mom never went halfway on anything, least of all decorating. Hence, the Brunschwig & Fils “Bengali” paper in the Mimosa colorway, which covers the foyer and continues up the stairs—and shows up again in the dining room.
More Brunschwig chintz covers the windows in the dining room (which hang beautifully over the Baker table and chairs), and also the living room windows and accent chairs.
I was lucky enough to find much of mom’s purchase records from when she was working with a decorator (who is now retired and out of state) in 1997. She spared no expense on fabric—upon fabric—upon fabric.
I’m seriously bummed that the records don’t include the fabric reference for what covers her walls, headboard, bedspread, and (wait for it) — shower curtain!
Now, let’s get back to that original comment by the real-estate agent. While this decor was all pure catnip for my mom, who lived so happily in this house for 25 years (20 of them with this style), what will it be to potential buyers? Umm, well let’s just visit the agent’s next comment. “This is very old-school.”
But come on! Who wouldn’t want THIS bathroom:
I actually love this wallpaper, but I get what the agent is saying. I replied, “Yes, well, I agree it’s very specific.” Maybe in smaller doses for most people, like an accent wall, or just the shower curtain, but my Mom? She was always Go Big or Go Home.
And, judging from my copy of Elle Decor that just came in the mail today, maybe it’s not so “old school” after all:
After the house sale goes through, many of her furnishings and all those yards of fabric from the window treatments will be included in an estate sale this summer. (email me if you would like more information)
Plus, what you won’t see in the home tour are the boxes and boxes of china, silver, crystal and other accessories that filled her house. Many stylists on photo shoots add accents to give character to a room. Not here. We had to do some serious purging—no shelf or tabletop was spared from adornment when Mom lived here.
Over the weekend, I finally learned why.
I was going through my mom’s recipe folder when I found the 1996 obituary for decorator Bob Waldron, which Jura Koncius and Patsy Dane Rodgers wrote for The Washington Post’s Home section. (I won’t attempt to tell you why it was tucked behind recipes for ham casseroles and Beef Wellington.)
The Bob Waldron school of decorating had its own rules. If you found an empty tabletop to put your glass down in one of his rooms, he had failed to load it with enough porcelains, sterling boxes and picture frames … If you didn’t move fast enough, you might end up gilded like the Louis XIV commode in the powder room of his elegant turn-of-the-century townhouse.
This quote is significant because Mr. Waldron was Lady Bird Johnson’s decorator—and Mom had gotten to know him while she was a press aide to Mrs. Johnson. He subsequently decorated two of the homes I inhabited as a child, in the 70s and 80s.
Waldron’s formal, Old World style defined the essence of the traditional Washington way of decorating in the 1970s and ’80s: Vintage Oriental rugs, leather-bound books, antique silver and comfortable down-filled upholstery—preferably French.
Mom never tired of that style. She probably would have hired Mr. Waldron for this house if he had lived another year or two. Point in fact: There are four groaning shelves in her storage room that contain nothing but silver—trays, tea sets, candelabras, you name it. Not to mention three sets of family sterling silverware. Porcelain figurines? Check. French antiques? Check.
Here’s her circa-1800 breakfast table and chairs in the kitchen:
The walls are upholstered in Provencal fabric from the long-gone French Country Living in Great Falls.
According to The Post’s appreciation, Waldron participated in the city’s first decorator showhouse at Prospect House in Georgetown in 1973, and would go on to fill rooms in more than a dozen NSO showhouses that followed.
“Bob was a decorator in the old sense,” designer Victor Shargai told The Post. I would later meet Victor when I became marketing director at The Washington Design Center in 2012. Strange how life goes in circles, doesn’t it? Victor added this: “He made things look pretty and attractive. He was a man of style and grace, and that’s what he sold.”
He definitely sold it to my mom.
Waldron’s original touch still lives on in the basement, which contains seating from the last house he decorated for her in the 80s. The sofa and chairs were in our former den.
See that leather horse? It was a Christmas present to me when I was a toddler. And many bridge games happened in the green-leather inlaid table at the rear. That was from the first house Waldron decorated when we lived in Bethesda’s Kenwood neighborhood in the 1970s. The (80s-era) upholstery on my grandmother’s down-filled sofa still looks like new.
When Mom redid this house in 1997, she had my teenage bedroom desk repainted to match her “green room.”
There was just a desk and wing chair in there originally, but when my kids came along and she wanted them to stay the night, she bought a daybed from one of the popular retailers (I can’t remember if it was Resto or Crate or Horchow — one of the big catalog companies). But the upholstery was too bland. She had a custom fitted cover and TONS of pillows made so everything would be Just. Right.
You can see all the framed pictures that make up her White House “power wall” over the daybed.
So that was her green room. And here’s her red room—her home office (which she converted from my sister’s bedroom after she went to college).
And get this—the wallpaper and curtains in this bedroom below, where my sister and I would stay, were already there when my Mom bought the house. It strangely coordinated with the bedding I had in my first few apartments. Mom, of course, bought an extra set of the bedding so she could have a custom headboard made for the room.
And nothing brings together a room like a Stark rug, right? Mom also added the armchair in yet another pattern during the redesign.
Our contractor estimated that a potential buyer would have to spend about $5,600 to take down all the wallpaper and repaint all the rooms. But for a $1.1 million house, that’s not so much, right?
And just look outside this house on a great McLean cul de sac. She was just as meticulous with her landscaping services as she was with her interiors.
I will always remember all the summers we had dining out on the back deck, watching the glow of the pool as it grew dark. We had a final celebration out here on Easter. I still can’t quite belive we won’t have another summer here.