National Night Out in Mount Vernon Triangle was a success with free live music from Justin Trawick & The Common Good, free food tastings from surrounding neighborhood restaurants, and kids activities such as a moon bounce, face painting and corn hole. Photos: Mike Kim
Photos: Mark Raker
DC heat got you down? Feast your eyes on some of the District’s most iconic fountains and maybe even dip a toe in a few of the city’s kid-friendly water features, because we’re all kids at heart during the dog days of summer, right?7th Street Park Fountain, District Wharf
700 Wharf St. SW, DC
While you can often find little ones dashing through District Wharf’s water feature, all are welcome to partake in the fun. And don’t be afraid to take a seat on one of the plastic rocking horses either. Bartholdi Fountain, U.S. Botanic Garden
100 Maryland Ave. SW, DC
Designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, also the talent behind the Statue of Liberty, this massive water feature stands at 30 feet tall. Its original home was Philadelphia, and the gorgeous structure now rests on the grounds of the U.S. Botanic Garden. Stop by and admire this Gilded Age stunner on your next garden adventure. Canal Park Fountain, Capitol Riverfront
200 M St. SE, DC
Canal Park is a sustainable community hub open year-round but is especially vibrant in the summer due to its built-in, ground-level illuminated water features. Take a dash through the water on your walk to Nats Park or people watch on one of the many benches or colorful chairs. The Court of Neptune Fountain, Library of Congress
68 1st St. SE, DC
Neptune and figures of the Tritons touting their conch shells keep watch over this Library of Congress fountain. It’s especially stunning at night, with lights adding to the majestic nature of the bronze Roman statues. District Square Fountain, District Wharf
100 District Sq. SW, DC
While not for sitting or splashing around in, this elegant fountain is a welcome sight for those perusing District Wharf’s shops and restaurants on a beautiful summer afternoon. Dupont Circle Fountain
1 Dupont Cir. NW, DC
Flanked by benches, trees and plenty of shade, this marble memorial fountain is smack dab in the middle of Dupont Circle’s many bars and restaurants. On the weekends, you can often find events, live music and more taking place near the iconic structure. Georgetown Waterfront Park
3303 Water St. NW, DC
Try walking through the space in this arching fountain without getting soaked or go all-in on a hot day. Located right on the water in Georgetown, it’s the perfect (free!) post-dinner and drinks pit stop. Summerhouse Fountain, U.S. Capitol Building
West Front Lawn, Senate side of the U.S. Capitol Building in SE, DC
If you’re craving respite from the tourist-filled grounds of the National Mall, look no further than Summerhouse. This shady grotto has a water feature inside with seating for more than 20 people, tucked away on the outskirts of the U.S. Capitol Building. Tivoli Fountain, Columbia Heights
1445 Ogden St. NW, DC
This colorful fountain is nestled among the shops and restaurants in Columbia Heights. You can sit on one of the surrounding benches to cool off after a shopping spree or sprint through it if you’re feeling adventurous. Water Feature, Yards Park
355 Water St. SE, DC
This cascading water feature is a great spot to fully splash around in or just admire on your next visit to Capitol Riverfront. It’s surrounded by lots of grassy park space, so you can even settle in for a sunny picnic.
We could be corny and say he’s a jack of all trades, but indeed Jack Inslee is working hard to raise the bar in a variety of creative arenas in DC. After helping launch and then producing Heritage Radio out of New York City for several years, Inslee made his way to the District to team up with the masterminds behind the LINE Hotel to bring Full Service Radio to life. Inslee operates the live radio station out of the hotel’s lobby and brings guests and hosts from all cross sections of the city to a space where they can broadcast “the real DC” to the world. Inslee feels the station is starting to take on a life of its own, which is what he has hoped from the beginning. He likens himself to a traffic director, “trying to elevate what’s already happening in DC and what all the awesome hosts here do in their lives.”
When he’s not on-air at Full Service or traveling to promote DC’s creative community, Inslee can be found curating stages at Bonnaroo, DJing at Velvet Lounge, collaborating with local musicians, and hanging at Jimmy Valentine’s and Songbyrd, ever plotting new projects. And like the true DC convert he’s quickly become, he finds much-needed – though rarely gained – quiet time in the nooks and crannies of Rock Creek Park. We picked Inslee’s brain about Full Service Radio and his other ventures, and how he keeps a pulse on DC’s creative scene.
On Tap: You’re relatively new to DC from NYC. What’s the transition been like?
Jack Inslee: It’s crazy. I’m almost approaching two years in the District and I say this all the time: I’ve become like a DC evangelist. I’ve basically fallen in love with the city. It continues to surprise me constantly. It’s definitely much smaller [than New York], but there’s more room to breathe and space to think. And I think that the things happening in this creative community here in DC are wildly overlooked and underrated. It’s a special place right now, and a special moment to be in this.
OT: You’ve been working on the much-anticipated – and now lauded – Full Service Radio since before the LINE opened last December. How is it growing and evolving?
JI: I have been overwhelmed by the positive response that the network has gotten in these early stages. We are lucky to have a wildly incredible roster of hosts and collaborators that we’re working with. I couldn’t be luckier than to be in the LINE Hotel too, which is such an exciting space and place in the city. The energy here is just incredible. That public interaction is everything. But frankly, I’m not happy yet. It still feels like preseason to me. I’m never really completely satisfied, but that’s kind of what keeps things moving forward. I’m trying to improve every day.
OT: Do you have people walk into the radio station off the street and ask what you’re doing?
JI: Oh yes, constantly – for better or worse. All the radio shows stream live into the [hotel] rooms as well as on the Internet, so sometimes we’ll have a guest come down just having listened to a live broadcast and they get to interact with the host and the guests. There’s this real-time response that’s really neat and exciting.
OT: How frequently do you bring new shows on board? Do you have a goal to reach a certain number per week?
JI: I get flooded with so many requests and I want to embrace that enthusiasm. I don’t want to turn people away. I want to be a person that says “Yes” and welcomes those people in, but we’re definitely at capacity. We launched with 33 shows a week and we still have all of those shows. Come fall, we’ll have a handful more that will come on. My ears are always open for new ideas. At the very least, I want to accept every pitch and idea that comes in.
Can’t Live Without
Cold brew coffee with a tiny splash of milk and simple syrup
A solid (even if messy) “to do” list
Tea Tree Therapy Toothpicks, mint-flavored
Memes, jokes, good tweets – anything that makes me genuinely laugh and smile throughout the day
Relaxing music for a stressful day, energetic music for a shamefully lazy day
OT: Outside of Full Service Radio, are you still DJing and making music?
JI: I definitely stay busy with travel, DJing and producing music. A really exciting project that I’m over the moon about is a new album I made with Odetta Hartman called Old Rockhounds Never Die, coming out August 10. Odetta is an Americana artist and I do experimental electronic production and manipulate her voice and all kinds of weird things. It’s like this f–ked up, futuristic cowboy/soul kind of thing. I’m also working with some other DC musicians, and always DJing around town here and there. And I travel around and interview people in other cities [including visits to the LINE in Austin and L.A.] as well to bring it back to Full Service Radio. [We’ll be] doing little pop-ups in those cities and then finding ways to bring DC stories to those cities to expand our reach.
OT: You are a big part of DC’s art and music communities, but you also have a history in food. How does it influence your life these days, especially being at the LINE?
JI: It’s definitely become a real passion of mine over the years, and I think DC is starting to become known as a food destination as well. [James Beard Award-winning Chef] Spike [Gjerde] brought in [legendary Chef] Alice Waters as a guest on his show, so the food programming on Full Service is actually fairly robust and exciting. It’s one of the few places where policy conversations make it into the mix. And I do generally really draw from good food. Maketto is the first [place] I really fell in love with when I moved here. It’s like okay, I can get some really spicy bone marrow broth and some designer street clothes on sale? Cool. Yeah, that’s where it’s at. I just think that space is like a beacon for the city.
OT: You’re clearly excited about the creative scene in DC, but what concerns you most?
JI: DC seems to be really concerned with DC all the time. Often times, it can end up feeling like a silo here where it’s just everybody talking to each other. I just wish people would get out more and reach out to people in other places more. That kind of goes against this whole community thing that makes DC super special, so it’s not to say abandon that. But to put it in blunt terms, there’s this weird inferiority complex or something. When people feel like they’ve hit the outer walls of DC, rather than just getting down about it, [people should] push past them. It’s something I’m always trying to fight against and help people with.
OT: Who are some of the people in DC you think we should keep an eye on?
JI: Sir E.U and Tony Kill. They just put out an album called African American Psycho, and I think they’re both geniuses and they have been doing exactly what I was just talking about. They were just in L.A. and they’re pushing past the boundaries of the city. They’re crazy experimental and waving their own flag and I can’t say enough good stuff about that album. To me, that’s the stuff that’s giving me inspiration and part of why I love this city so much.
Learn more about Inslee and Full Service Radio at www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio.
The LINE Hotel: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; 202-588-0525; www.thelinehotel.com/dc
The Vine Apartments in Laurel, MD hosted A Night at the Vineyard with complimentary wine and specialty cocktails, hors d’oeuvres provided by Hudson Coastal and Lib’s Grill, live music from Trailer Grass Orchestra, and model apartment tours. Photos: Mark Raker
At Red Derby’s latest Tiki Party, each umbrella-topped rum punch was another few dollars donated for notebooks, backpacks and more back-to-school gear. The restaurant in NW, DC raised over $1,500, supporting the child residents of District Alliance for Safe Housing ,or DASH. Their goal before summer’s end is $3,000.
DASH serves domestic violence survivors and their families to provide them with temporary housing in DC for up to 24 months. During this time, survivors work with an advocate to plan for an independently sustained life, safe from their abuser. Their next fundraiser, the DASH Kids Art Show Silent Auction, will be Thursday, September 13 at Red Derby, 6 p.m.
On Tap spoke with DASH’s executive director Koube Ngaaje, community housing program manager Crystal Jacobs and director of development Meghan McDonough about their services and common issues associated with shelters and domestic violence.
On Tap: What were the options for domestic violence survivors before DASH was formed in 2006?
Koube Ngaaje: We call the residents survivors of domestic violence because they have survived a lot to get to where they are, and housing is really scarce in DC, let alone affordable housing. So before DASH came on the scene, these survivors had to choose between being homeless or staying in an abusive relationship. We try to make sure they never have to make that decision. So they have a safe space that they can go to.
OT: How is your housing model different from other shelter services?
Crystal Jacobs: We have two scattered-site programs. For one, the population is [survivors of] domestic violence and/or sexual assault. The other program, which is fairly new, is specific for HIV as well as domestic violence. You have to have a dual diagnosis of both in order to access the program. But in general, [for] our families transitioning, we do like to make that step seamless. In the Empowerment Project we give them [free housing for] 24 months – at the end of the 24 months we want to make sure that their renting history is clean. Our goal is not to give full month’s rent from here to stay. Our goal is to help them get to the next steps.
KN: When a lot of people hear the word “shelter” or “homeless services provider,” they automatically do think of dormitory style. Being truly apartment-style [makes DASH different]. It’s tough when you’re in dormitory style because you’re working with people who have experienced so many forms of trauma. The ability for a survivor to have their own space: their own kitchen, their own bathroom, helps take away some of those pressures of community style living. Because of that we are able to house, in this building, male survivors and female survivors. [Each room houses] different configurations of families – from a one person household to a six-person household with children, a 16-year-old male living with a grandmother, or a family who has little ones from six months all the way up to 15. So that flexibility is unique to DASH.
OT: Do you provide job assistance as well?
CJ: [Within 24 months] That should be one of the goals– if you’re not employed, how can you get employed so you can live in the community on your own? Sometimes people are successful and sometimes some people aren’t. We’re not like a job bank. We get resources, we put them out there, we encourage them to seek those services and see exactly what that can look like for them.
KN: And that is really unique to DASH, that premise of having the survivor be the determinant factor in what success looks like for them. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach, nothing is required of a survivor to do in order to participate in services and receive services from us. And some people are with us for the full 24 months. Some people come in and, based on where they are, can make steps and move out of our program within 12 or 18 months. Some people are only here for six months.
OT: What are some misconceptions and stigmas associated with domestic violence?
KN: A misconception is that domestic violence only happens behind closed doors. But the truth of the matter is one out of every four women have or will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. In 2016, we served about 366 survivors and their families. In 2017, we served 688 survivors and their families, and we are well on track to surpass that for this fiscal year. We know in the coming years we’ll be called upon to do even more, especially because the cost of living continues to rise in DC. DASH has always been an innovator in that space of domestic violence and homelessness, and the reason why our programs do so well is that we’ve got the data to back it up, we know these services work.
Meghan McDonough: DASH does welcome male survivors. Typically people may think of domestic violence affecting only women, or even only women of color, and that’s not true. It affects all communities.
CJ: We have the transgender community that accesses us, something else that makes us unique. Transgender singles have a lot of barriers in itself. So gender identity in certain shelters can look different ways depending on the shelter. We’ll take your 16 year old son. A lot of shelters are like ‘if they’re over 12 they can’t come here.’ So we’ll take what other shelters don’t want to deal with. We have an array of folks here, it doesn’t look one way.
MM: Because we provide apartment-style living here, a lot of other shelters are dormitory style so that sets up limitations right there for male survivors or women with teenage male sons.
OT: Why do you think the number of survivors is increasing?
KN: I think there are higher incidents of domestic violence. And not only are there more instances but people are probably more comfortable coming forward now, given the narrative that’s happening on the national and global scale. But we also recognize that for as many survivors that come forward for assistance, there are probably just as many who don’t. One of the biggest populations that we’re seeing an increase is in our elder population. Sometimes it’s not physical or sexual abuse, it’s emotional abuse… [survivors] being emotionally abused for 30 years, [and] have no sense of identity when you come into a program like DASH. One of our older residents said “this is the first time I’ve been able to prepare my own meals.” Or another resident who said “my abuser keeps calling me,” and we’ve said why do you keep answering? “Because I’ve always had to answer.” Well, [now] you don’t have to answer. Those instances tell us the occurrences are becoming more prevalent but there is also more work that has to be done.
Support DASH’s mission by visiting their website for more information and ways to donate, and/or by attending the DASH Kids Art Show Silent Auction on Sept. 13 at 6 p.m.
Red Derby: 3718 14th St NW, DC; www.dashdc.org
DC’s biggest open house, Rooftop Hop, took place in Capitol Riverfront on rooftops at 1221 Van, Dock 79, F1RST Residences, Agora Collective, Homewood Suites and One Hill South. Guests enjoyed complimentary bites, beer and wine samplings. and live entertainment while checking out the premier amenities and luxurious rooftops of Capitol Riverfront’s apartments and hotels. Photos: John Gervasi and Shantel Mitchell Breen
We all think we know the story of the Titanic. The world’s largest, most luxurious ocean liner sank in 1912 – a triumph of engineering transformed into unspeakable tragedy.
We now know exactly where she lies, thousands of feet below the surface off the coast of Newfoundland, but the Titanic’s location remained a mystery for 70 years. Then, her story became entwined with a modern narrative of Cold War technology, the tragedy of lost nuclear submarines and a secret mission. This is the haunting, fascinating tale at the heart of the National Geographic Museum’s new exhibit, Titanic: The Untold Story, open daily through early January.
National Geographic Explorer Robert Ballard joined the Army during the Vietnam War, but went to graduate school and got a job building submarines. One December night in 1966, he got a knock at the door from a Naval officer.
“He handed me an envelope and said, ‘You’re not in the Army anymore, you’re in the Navy,’” Ballard told On Tap in a recent interview. “That began a long career of living two different lives.”
To the public, he was a well-known oceanographer, writing articles and researching ocean geology and hydrothermal vents. But Ballard kept working with the Navy and requested funding to develop remotely operated submersibles. The Navy agreed, and assigned Ballard a mission to locate, photograph and study the final resting place of the USS Scorpion, a nuclear submarine that sank in 1968. He was to locate the submarine’s nuclear reactor and nuclear weapons, and to get evidence that would help explain her loss.
There was a problem: it was the height of the Cold War between Russia and the United States, and it was imperative that Ballard’s mission avoid drawing the attention of Soviet intelligence. What better cover story for the mission than a search for the lost wreck of the Titanic?
The Navy added research on one more submarine wreck to Ballard’s plate: the USS Thresher, a nuclear submarine that sank five years before the Scorpion. The scientist was to study both the Scorpion and the Thresher to determine if the nuclear material from both subs was impacting the environment.
Though Ballard already knew what led to the Thresher’s demise, questions about the nuclear material remained. The reason the Scorpion sank, however, was inconclusive. Still, Ballard discovered her location using a phenomenon known as the sound channel.
“There’s a special layer about 1,000 meters down where all sound is ducted. If you listen in the sound channel, you can hear noises much, much further away. And we’re pretty sure that whales figured this out a long, long time ago, and that they use it for long distance communication.”
During the Cold War, the U.S. Navy set up listening arrays in multiple parts of the ocean to detect Soviet activity and recorded whatever sounds they picked up. Ballard said the Navy used these recordings to roughly determine the location of the Scorpion.
“We thought, ‘I wonder if we heard her die?’”
Sure enough, they heard the boom as she imploded in the deep. His towed camera system, the Argo, dove to depths of 9,800 feet to find and document the remains of the Scorpion. He had figured out that ocean currents created a debris trail as the Scorpion sank and followed the trail to the wreck.
He then realized he could use the same strategy to find the Titanic. With the allotted time for his mission nearly up, he found the Titanic at the very edge of the search area. He was awed by what he saw.
“I didn’t expect to be affected by this whole thing,” he said. “I’m a scientist and a naval officer, clinically doing things. But it spoke. I was bowled over by the impact of being there.”
Pairs of shoes litter the ocean floor around the wreck, marking where people who died and sank to the bottom once rested. Because leather shoes are treated with tannic acid, sea life won’t eat them and they remain preserved.
“It’s a tombstone. Nothing is small down there. Everything’s gigantic in size, but then there are these little pairs of shoes. It draws your attention away from the massiveness and the grandeur.”
Ballard noticed them every time he went back.
“Every time I made a return trip, I always knew, I saw those shoes and I said, ‘That was somebody.’”
He recalled returning to the Titanic in 2004 with new vehicles.
“I’m sitting in my command center with a beautiful high-definition camera and a remote control robot, and I’m just staying there. For days, I wandered the Titanic. And I got closure.”
Ballard’s secret mission was quietly declassified just a few years ago. Kathryn Keane, vice president of public experiences for the National Geographic Museum, was amazed to learn that the search for the Titanic was the cover story for Ballard’s mission. National Geographic staff were even on board with Ballard during his mission, and still no one knew.
“I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t know that, and I work here,’” Keane said. “If I don’t know this story, most of the public doesn’t know, either.’”
The new exhibit skillfully blends science, history and storytelling. You begin your visit awed by the technology and the mission’s secret backstory, and end by reading the personal stories of Titanic passengers and viewing amazing recreations of the Titanic’s rooms made for James Cameron’s 1998 film Titanic, which remains one of the most successful films ever made.
It’s a moving experience. Keane noted that this is the 50th anniversary of the sinking of the Scorpion, and the losses of both submarines – the Scorpion and the Thresher – and the “unsinkable ship” have far-reaching effects.
“The layers of tragedy surrounding this story impact generations of people,” she said of the Titanic.
It’s certainly difficult to picture the loved ones of these lost crews and ship passengers waiting in vain for good news without feeling their pain. The last artifact in the exhibit is a letter from President Ronald Reagan, designating the wreck of the Titanic as a memorial site.
And though undeniably one of the most pivotal moments of his career, Ballard isn’t interested in being known solely as the discoverer of the Titanic.
“My mother called me after we found the Titanic and said, ‘It’s too bad you found that rusty old ship.’ She understood hydrothermal vents and the science I was doing, and she said, ‘Now they’re only going to remember you for that.’”
But as Titanic: The Untold Story shows, Ballard’s contributions to ocean exploration are far greater than a single mission in 1985, and the story of these three lost vessels is greater than the sum of its parts. Keane said she hopes the exhibit inspires a generation of new explorers.
“One of the things we love to do here at the museum is invite families and get young people excited about exploration and science,” she said. “The story of the Titanic is why they’ve come, but if they come out of it interested in science, exploration, even in serving their country, that would be a victory for us because that’s what we do here.”
Titanic: The Untold Story runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through January 6, 2019 at the National Geographic Museum. Tickets are $15. And don’t miss the Taste of the Titanic event on Wednesday, July 25 at 7 p.m. to experience the actual menus aboard the ship, from first-class cuisine to third-class nosh. Learn more at http://tasteoftitanic.com/
National Geographic Museum: 1145 17th St. NW, DC; 202-857-7700; www.nationalgeographic.org/dc
Good, purposeful design makes a difference. Whether you’re dining at a new foodie spot, taking in views from a rooftop or exploring the art-covered exteriors of a city block, our surroundings have the ability to alter our feelings like few other elements can. Luckily, the DC area has no shortage of gorgeous spaces where you can live, work and play. We gathered essential design intel in six different neighborhoods and picked some of our favorite spots, so you can be surrounded by great style no matter where your day takes you.
Shaw has a long history of supporting the performing arts at still-functioning venues like Lincoln and Howard Theatres, and was even dubbed “Black Broadway” for showcasing many African-American artists including jazz musician Duke Ellington.
Ellington Lived in Shaw, and you can visit his home there to this day.
Multiuse apartments buildings like Atlantic Plumbing and The Shay feature restaurants and shops just below living spaces, making them an ideal spot for city dwellers who are looking for an all-access neighborhood.
Shopaholics rejoice. Shaw is just a few skips away from CityCenter DC, known for its high-end retailers.
Foodies will feel right at home in Shaw with a new restaurant to explore every night, including Michelin-starred restaurants like The Dabney in Blagden Alley and recent tastemakers Espita Mezcaleria and Unconventional Diner.
Art to AdmireDacha Beer Garden’s Elizabeth Taylor Mural
Painted by muralist Byron Peck, Dacha Beer Garden is home to this mural of the iconic actress and humanitarian. While DC is a city known for its large paintings of famous celebrities such as President Barack Obama, Prince and Marvin Gaye, this mural is definitely among the must-visit-in-person variety. 1600 7th St. NW, DC; www.dachadc.com Shaw Library
Nestled on the corner of 7th Street, the Shaw Neighborhood Library sports a creative triangular shape with glass windows and a multicolored piece of abstract art waving you into the modern, chic building. Whether you’re a bookworm or not, this library provides a unique twist on a local institution. 1630 7th St. NW, DC; www.dclibrary.org/watha
After inspiration from a trip to Iceland, Ryan Ratino was determined to give Bresca a clean, bold and charming look. And with the help of Richard Marcus Architects, the vision was fulfilled. The design includes a moss wall that allows guests to engage with the natural world and honeycomb accents that are a nod to Ratino’s playful personality and the restaurant’s emblem. 1906 14th St. NW, DC; www.brescadc.com Hazel
With dark wood and natural light aplenty, this interior designed by Catherine Hailey Design is extremely inviting. The strung lights by artist Rick Singleton are especially eye-catching. Rounding out the patio are comfortable stretches of faux grass accompanied by comfortable seating for lounging and dining. 808 V St. NW, DC; www.hazelrestaurant.com
Design DenizensMuralist Lisa Maria Thalhammer, “LOVE”
On Tap: What was the inspiration behind this piece?
Lisa Marie Thalhammer: Cultivating love and inspiring people to actually really care about others is the mission behind my “LOVE” artwork series. I truly believe that love is at the core of every social issue. I hope that my “LOVE” mural and signs encourage viewers to see the humanity in people that they differ from in order to come together to find a common ground that respects human rights. As an activist and member of the LGBTQ+ community, my artworks frequently represent humans in positions of strength and hope. The seven primary and secondary colors represent the chakra energy centers of the body and the accompanying tertiary colors represent interconnectivity. My mural repeats this 13-color spectrum geometrically to indicate each letter of the word “love” on four separate garage doors.
OT: Your piece has become one of the most Instagrammable murals in the city, with locals and visitors seeking it out. How does it feel to be responsible for such a popular work of art?
LMT: I feel honored and humbled by the public’s response to my “LOVE” artwork. It inspires me to keep doing this work of adding color and balance to the world through public art and murals. I’m now imagining a “LOVE” mural campaign that would take my “LOVE” series to other places that need healing.
On Tap: What was the inspiration behind this mural? What is its significance?
Rose Jaffe: This mural was inspired by a more personal theme than most of my other work. The past few years have involved a deep dive into healing, both mentally and physically. After years of Western medicine, I turned toward Eastern modalities and empowered myself to embrace natural forms of healing from meditation to medicinal plants. The two flowers on the wall are arnica and echinacea – two powerful healing flowers. The idea of letting go – releasing the bird – is a symbol for releasing what no longer serves us, and allowing movement into new stages of life.
OT: There are a lot of excellent murals and works of art in Shaw now. How do you feel the area has changed over the years?
RJ: The area, like many neighborhoods in Washington, has gentrified. And with that comes displacement of the communities that lived there before. There are good and bad parts to a changing neighborhood. I try and focus on what role I am playing in the movement of DC and shed light on the importance of maintaining strong and diverse communities by creating spaces for art.
Looking to live the carless life? 86 percent of NoMa residents walk, bike or take public transport to work.
The NoMa Parks Foundation is developing great public spaces throughout the neighborhood. First up: Swampoodle Park, an 8,000-square-foot space at the corner of 3rd and L Streets Northeast that will include a dog park and children’s play structure. Later this year, the nonprofit will begin construction on a 2.5-acre park above New York Avenue that will serve as the neighborhood’s backyard and offer outdoor space for recreation and community gatherings. And in the underpasses at L and M Streets, compelling light installations that resulted from an international design competition are being installed.
NoMa was the first neighborhood in DC to offer free outdoor WiFi.
NoMa is home to many major companies and organizations including NPR, Google, CNN, Sirius XM, REI, Mathematica Policy Research, NeighborWorks and the World Resources Institute.
Hecht Warehouse in Ivy City is not only home to brand new apartments, but also drinking and dining destinations like One Eight Distilling, Atlas Brew Works and Big Chief are just down the block.
Union Market is home to some of DC’s best foodie spots as well, and the area frequently hosts other events at Dock5 next door.
Art to AdmireCity Winery Mural
DC artist Aniekan Udofia is responsible for this explosive depiction of the flavor grapes can have. The popping purple provides a terrific contrast to the white brick canvas and can be admired before or after a glass of wine. 1350 Okie St. NE, DC; www.citywinery.com/washingtondc/ Heart Wall
A mural from French artist Mr. Brainwash (we swear that’s what he’s called), the multi-colored hearts provide a burst of color on the white Union Market walls. This famous backdrop has been featured in numerous publications, and also caught the attention of Michelle Obama. 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com Yoko Ono x Hirshhorn
If you’ve visited Union Market in the past year, Yoko Ono’s message reading “Relax. Your Heart Is Stronger Than What You Think!” is hard to miss. Using Ono’s text and minimalist style, the artwork is meant to compel folks to be adventurous and further consider what the heart wants. 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com
Where to LiveHistoric Hecht Warehouse
Hecht Warehouse, originally built in 1937, was purchased by Douglas Development in 2011 and redeveloped into a mixed-use retail and residential complex in 2016. Maintaining its Streamline Moderne style, the warehouse now offers more than 300 residential units with twists on the era it’s from, including concrete flooring, subway-tiled bathrooms, exposed brick and oversized glass block windows. There’s also a speakeasy clubroom with billiards. Even if you’re not in the market for a new apartment, this building is a shining example of how to refresh rather than restart. 1401 New York Ave. NE, DC; www.hechtwarehouse.com
Design DenizenCORE architecture + design Project Architect Christopher Peli, Cotton & Reed
On Tap: Cotton & Reed is DC’s first-ever rum distillery. How did that unique aspect factor into the design of the space?
Christopher Peli: What most influenced the design is not so much specifically rum but that Cotton & Reed distills their product from scratch and does not purchase neutral spirits. Being a small startup distillery and owning the process was a conscious decision with huge ramifications for their business model. So the design had to allow for ease of production and efficient storage in a tight space.
OT: Was there a conscious decision to keep the door relatively unmarked? Did it have anything to do with the low-key location among other, more industrial buildings?
CP: Cotton & Reed were the first ones to be a part of this new generation of Union Market redevelopment – and they wanted to fit in with the surrounding wholesaler and traditional maker-culture neighborhood without triggering notions of gentrification. To reflect other business signage in the area, we made a conscious decision to place the “Distillery” sign on the roof, much like the historical market signs. There’s also a blade sign with the company name, perpendicular to the façade, which you see as you walk up or down 5th Street. You’ll notice that many existing merchants don’t display their specific brands but keep it more generic. You’ll see “Noodles,” “Wholesale” and “Mexican Fruits” on the building signs the company’s name secondary.
OT: Was keeping some industrial, open ceilings an intentional shout-out to union market’s history? Or was that more of a functional decision?
CP: The design definitely emphasizes the volume of the space. We even reinstalled the existing skylight, which fills the space with natural light the way it was originally designed. The façade was opened up much as before when it was an open market. We made the new architecture in the space seem like discreet elements within the larger volume, so there is a distinction between new and old.
OT: What was it like designing a space that’s part bar, part distillery?
CP: Our mantra as we designed the space was, “Don’t fight the building.” There could have been more structural interventions to the space but we wanted to be surgical and smart. The architecture already worked perfectly for the industrial function Cotton & Reed needed. The one-story section in the front seemed a natural fit for the bar and the two-story back space worked well for the distillery.
OT: How involved are the owners in the design aspect of a project like this?
CP: They were involved extensively. At CORE, all of our clients are very involved in every decision, which is critical to the success of their projects.
OT: What is the overall feeling you and the team are trying to evoke with the design and layout of Cotton & Reed?
CP: We wanted to evoke the feeling of reinhabiting an abandoned industrial space nature had taken over; it’s post-post-apocalyptic. We used building materials directly from the other neighborhood warehouses and supplemented with plant life and botanicals. In all the space is left mostly neutral, open and loose-programmed for flexibility to change seasonally or for specific events.
For more information about CORE architecture + design, visit www.coredc.com.
Cotton & Reed: 1330 5th St. NE, DC; www.cottonandreed.com
The neighborhood has 52 local and national restaurants with seven on the way later this year.
There are 15 residential rooftops in the neighborhood, and some even have dog parks.
The Capitol Riverfront area has 10.5 acres designated for public parks.
The Washington Navy Yard Campus, founded in 1799, is the longest continually operating Navy facility in the U.S.
You can easily run a 5K through Capitol Riverfront. The loop around the Anacostia River bounded by the 11th Street Bridge and Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge is equal to five kilometers.
D.C. United’s new Audi Field is only 1.3 miles from the National Mall and 780 feet from the Anacostia River.
Facts provided by the Capitol Riverfront BID
Instaworthy SpotsCanal Park Fountains
The Dancing Fountains located in the Southern block of Canal Park are a summer exclusive, as the area transforms into an ice rink when the weather chills. While this isn’t the only pretty picture available in the park, the fountains vibe with the warmer season aesthetic. 200 M St. SE, DC Dock 79 Sculptures
Completed in 2016, these painted steel sculptures stick out like a pleasant thumb, providing must-see stop across the street from Nationals Park. Think yellow is not your color? Give the vibrant shade another shot while posing with these powerful installations. 79 Potomac Ave. SE, DC Pedestrian Bridge
Finished in 2010, the 200-foot pedestrian bridge connecting restaurants and other establishments to Yards Park is a dazzling, spherical structure. Whether day or night, the geometric piece of art can serve as the backdrop to a picture of people or a standalone Instagram post by itself. 300 Water St. SE, DC Pepco Substation Mural
Sitting across from the newly completed Audi Field, these abstract murals are multicolored and easily absorbed by both art aficionados and those who like a good distraction. Artist Katherine Mann is responsible for these vivid movements. Across from Audi Field, 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC Top of the Yard Selfie Square
The little red square pictured isn’t the art; it’s simply a marker where folks can stand and get a full-on view of Nats Park. Without buildings or other obstructions in the way, the view is crystal clear, and makes for a perfect background for any baseball fan. 1265 First St. SE, DC
Where to Live1221 Van
Designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects, 1221 Van encompasses contemporary, sleek living in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood. With easy access to the Ballpark District, a community featuring restaurants, retail and entertainment, you’re a beat away from all of the fun. The interiors offer a warm, modern aesthetic, providing a soothing comfort. Some of the features include wood-inspired flooring, kitchens complete with stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops, high-end fixtures and spa-inspired baths – combine that with the splendid rooftop view of DC’s top monuments, Nationals Park and the Anacostia River. 1221 Van St. SE, DC; www.1221van.com
Members of DC design and architecture studio HapstakDemetriou+ talk the lavish looks of two of their Capital Riverfront projects, District Winery and RASA Indian Grill.Bill Young on District Winery
On Tap: Tell me about the impressive installation of 5,000 wine bottles in the mezzanine of District Winery.
Bill Young: We approached this project with a mezzanine level in mind. It was critical to create additional square footage for a landing zone, giving patrons the ability to transition from event use to reception use on the second floor. The mezzanine level also gave us access to the second level of the two-story storage jewel boxes. These towers were designed to provide the extra, much-needed wine bottle storage in a thermally contained enclosure.
OT: What is the overall aesthetic of the winery?
BY: During the design process, the idea of the wooden beams and columns derived from a visit to an older winery in Virginia wine country where an old wooden barn was converted into a tasting room. There was a sense of warmth in this setting that I didn’t necessarily want to recreate, but rather reinvestigate.
OT: Why did you decided to include a colorful wall of presidents in the restaurant space?
BY: We knew this wall was always going to showcase artwork that speaks to DC. The artist of the piece “Dads of Democracy” is Damon Dewitt who worked for Brooklyn Winery, the owner’s first winery in NYC.
OT: There are no other spaces in DC like District Winery. What were the challenges and advantages to working on a project like this?
BY: It’s exciting to be working on anything “first.” It allows for some type of non-preconceived notion in design approach. Essentially, our clients gave us great insight into what to expect in operational organizations since they have experience from their first urban winery in NY, but to create something in the magnitude of three massive programs in one space is challenging.
District Winery: 385 Water St. SE, DC; www.districtwinery.comMichael Mason and Cristian Rosa on RASA Indian Grill
On Tap: The overall feeling of RASA is very colorful, whimsical and inviting. What was it like to evoke this overall aesthetic in a restaurant through design?
Michael Mason & Cristian Rosa: Striking the right balance of color and whimsy was a challenge. Much like when you want to serve very colorful food on dishware that best allows the colors to be fully expressed, the architecture of the space needed to be largely neutral with colors of greys, blacks and warm taupes to really allow the colorful elements to shine to their full brilliance.
OT: Can you tell me more about the art and why it was chosen?
MM & CR: The name RASA has many interconnected stories behind it. Coincidentally, [it contains] the first two letters of each of the owners’ names, but in Sanskrit “rasa” relates to “the essence of all” and “gives life meaning.” It influences art, music, literature and dance, among many others. Here the nine rasas are reflected in the flow and movement of the design in the space itself, and especially in the in the art so kindly provided by [co-owner] Sahil Rahman’s aunt Nandita Madan. Each of the nine paintings correspond to the nine rasas that are “the essence of all of our emotions”: love, joy, wonder, courage, peace, sadness, anger, fear and disgust.
OT: There are some other unique design touches in RASA, like the colorful bakeware used behind the counter and the coconut shell drinks. How did the use of things like this factor into the design as a whole?
MM & CR: The branding, menus, signage and the way the food is displayed all works together with the architecture and the interior design to define and reinforce the brand as a whole. The fun elements of the colorful bakeware were set against a black countertop to let them truly radiate, and the coconut shell drinks are all part of the larger story of a whole that balances on the unique touches.
RASA: 1247 First St. SE, DC; www.rasagrill.com
District Wharf is a vibrant neighborhood with more than 50 events per year that are free and open to the public.
District Wharf has four different unique piers: District Pier, Market Pier, Recreation Pier and Transit Pier.
The Maine Avenue Fish Market is the oldest continuously operating, open-air fish market in the country; it opened in 1805, 17 years before the Fulton Fish Market in New York City.
Bring your pets! District Wharf is a pet-friendly neighborhood, including public walkways and other gathering places.
Designed to achieve the LEED Gold for the entire Wharf development, the neighborhood features green roofs, 300 new trees, preservation of mature oaks and 340 square feet of floating wetland systems.
Facts provided by District Wharf
Appetizing AestheticsDel Mar
Paying tribute to Mallorca, Spain, restaurateurs Maria and Fabio Trabocchi wanted their Southwest waterfront dining room to be as authentically Spanish as possible. With Spanish interior designers, the restaurant provides a breezy Mediterranean feel to couple with the delicious food on the menu. 791 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.delmardc.com La Vie
With designer David Anthony Chenault at the helm, this Mediterranean newcomer brings themed rooms and a large terrace bar overlooking the Potomac River. With hanging chandeliers and greenery throughout, just being in the bar is a refreshing experience. 88 District Sq. Fifth floor, SW, DC; www.laviedc.com Mi Vida
This 11,000-square-foot space boasts floor to ceiling windows with a panoramic view of the Potomac River. The KNEAD Hospitality + Design interior features The Wharf’s industrial aesthetic mixed with prevalent historic and contemporary Mexican inspirations, including the 19-foot Árbol de la Vida, or Tree of Life. 98 District Sq. SW, DC; www.mividamexico.com Whiskey Charlie
An indoor-outdoor rooftop bar, this spot might give you the best birds-eye view of District Wharf. Even from inside the space, wall-length windows provide a mesmerizing look at the burgeoning waterfront. Complete with chocolate brown sofas, and adorable outdoor seating arrangements, this is a terrific spot for the outdoor season. 975 7th St. SW, DC;
Where to LiveThe Channel
With a rooftop pool and stunning amenity spaces, you will never feel the need to leave home. A vibrant community, this residence has dedicated spaces to restaurants and shops on the waterfront. Not to mention, The Anthem can be found at the center of the building, giving this location a cultured vibe through and through. 950 Maine Ave. SW, DC; www.dcchannel.com Incanto
Life is better with a view, and Incanto is full of them – whether you’re coming home each day to contemporary finishes, where modern style blends effortlessly with ultimate comfort, or peeking out the window at the heart of the Wharf. This apartment not only provides an opportunity for urban living, but also gives a sophisticated modern apartment feel with light without subtle designs and streamlined features. 770 Maine Ave. SW, DC; www.incantodc.com
Design DenizenPN Hoffman Executive Vice President Shawn Seaman on District Wharf’s Public Art and Developing a New DC Destination
On Tap: How did it feel as the ideas for what would look good in this neighborhood came to life?
Shawn Seaman: It was incredibly rewarding. I’m trained as an architect, so I spent a lot of time designing and imagining the between spaces to the parks, and nothing really compares to when you open the doors and see people on the swings and eating at the restaurants.
OT: What were your initial steps in planning the look and feel of District Wharf?
SS: We knew from the beginning we didn’t want a single architect or designer responsible for the entire site; I think that’s why people reacted negatively to the old design. We wanted architectural diversity for each of the buildings. The biggest idea was that we needed to plan waterside first, where the buildings would face the river. That’s sort of contrary to how it was done in the past. Being we were on the water, we had a unique concept to execute what types of uses and how many piers we would have and how they would interact.
OT: How often did you go back and forth on what the overall aesthetic would be, if at all? And how did you decide to go in the direction you ultimately did?
SS: We had a strong vision from the outset as far as the designs of the parks and public spaces. We had different architects on the vertical parcels, and we had different landscape architects on other spaces.
OT: We think some of the more interesting facets of the design, apart from the diversity in architecture, are the thoughtful pieces of artistic design in public spaces – like the torch, the swings and the lighting on Pearl Street. Can you tell me your thoughts on those?
SS: I’m glad you called it art, because it’s not art like a sculpture that you sit and stare at, but each of those in their own right is pretty fantastic. The torch at the end is a beacon for the end of the channel, and you see that and it’s an interpretation of the lighthouse. It’s also something you can sit around and enjoy on a cold night. The swings are something we saw in Charleston, SC that we liked, and it’s probably one of the best used elements of the Wharf. On a busy weekend, you’re hard pressed to find one to swing on. For Pearl Street, we have a lot of energy there at night, and we think the lighting on that street makes it feel more like a festival or market, and that’s important to activate the space.
OT: How much emphasis did you put into the lounge areas, especially with The Wharf’s location on the water?
SS: Yeah, seating was paramount in the design. In fact, the bench that runs the entire project is just that, it’s a bench. We saw an example of that in Copenhagen, and there people can sit on the edge and face in or face out. That was lacking in the old development, and there really wasn’t any place where you could sit and be by the water. It was really trying to create a variety of different spaces and places where people could occupy and enjoy the views, whether you’re buying something at the businesses or not.
OT: What are your favorite aspects of the look of The Wharf, and what new things do you think people will enjoy in the coming years?
SS: My favorite thing about The Wharf are the spaces between the buildings, and some of the more unexpected places like the alleys and through streets. Whether it’s Pearl Street or Water Street or Sutton Square, where a ton of places come together. The Piers, you can’t say enough about, with four public places that you can look on the water and then look back onto the city. The next phase is similar in size, maybe a little smaller, but it has a variety of ground floors and activities.
For more information about The Wharf, visit www.wharfdc.com.
Rosslyn has 13 permanent public artworks.
Rosslyn’s public green spaces range from a 90-acre national park oasis situated on the Potomac River to a three-acre urban park. There’s also a 60-foot urban parklet.
The neighborhood’s Continental Beer Garden is one of 25 outdoor dining options, and a favorite of the workforce and residents. All of them merge art, food and drinks.
Every year, Rosslyn hosts its very own Jazz Fest, a 28-year tradition that takes place in Gateway Park with an average of more than 10,000 attendees per year.
Along with Jazz Fest, the neighborhood BID hosts more than 160 events per year ranging from Farmers’s Markets to outdoor movies, concerts and a soon to be unveiled pop-up-shop experience.
Facts provided by Sage Communications, LLC
Art to AdmireCupid’s Garden
The four-ton, stainless-steel sculpture consists of 23 polished arrows, acting as a street sign and abstract representation of movement and progress. The piece was created by DC-based sculptor Chris Gardner in 1994. Near 1400 Key Blvd. Arlington, VA
Dark Star Park
A mixture of sand and stone, these spheres were Arlington’s first major commissioned art project featuring sculptures resembling dying, extinguished stars. The piece, complete with shadow images inset in the ground, was constructed by Nancy Holt in 1984. 1655 N. Fort Myer Dr. Arlington, VA
Ned Kahn’s 42-foot-high panels are covered with 450,000 stainless steel disks brushed in gold. The piece is said to mimic the flow of air currents and light conditions on its surface. Kahn finished the project in 2002. 1801 N Lynn St. Arlington, VA
Consisting of 19,500 circular dot elements attached to an aluminum surface, Quill’s glow is charged during the day and enhanced by street and traffic lights. Created by Christian Moeller, the artist partnered with Arlington Arts and Monday Properties to figure out the right pleasant image for folks on the busy corner. 1850 N. Moore St. Arlington, VA
Learn more about these works of art at www.rosslynva.org.
A Picturesque Parklet
The DC area’s first permanent parklet, a miniature resting place, the area was designed by Ignacia Ciocchini, a man famous for his work for CityBench in New York. The parklet is 30 feet wide and includes 18 chairs, five plaza tables and four planter boxes. If you look closely enough, many of the elements have perforations representing the Rosslyn skyline at night. On the corner of Oak Street and Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, VA
Design DenizenGeneral Manager Graham Dunn, Central Place Observatory Deck
On Tap: The Rosslyn BID billed the observation deck as Rosslyn’s “public space in the sky.” What will this space be used for?
Graham Dunn: It’s primarily a tourist attraction, in the style of the One World Observatory in New York City. It offers a 360-degree view of Arlington, the Georgetown Waterfront, the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. You can pretty much see everything from Silver Spring to Alexandria.
OT: Can you tell us about the full food and beverage program that will be offered there?
GD: We’re featuring all local, Northern Virginia-based beer. That will include Port City, Solace, Lost Rhino and Mustang Sally. We’ll also be serving wine from Virginia wineries. On the 32nd floor, we have a champagne bar where you can grab a glass to enjoy while you watch the sunset. We’re currently working on a full menu of signature cocktails as well.
OT: How is the view offered by the deck different than other places where you can get a panoramic view of the city skyline?
GD: There are similar places like the top of the Watergate hotel and National Cathedral, but the Observation Deck is totally new. The way it’s laid out and the view of the city is incredible and totally unique.
OT: What makes Rosslyn a trendy place to live and sets it apart from other DC area neighborhoods, especially in terms of building design and art?
GD: As far as the Observation Deck goes, Arlington County residents have free access. We want them to become the ambassadors of the space. And we’re working to keep food and beverage prices comparable to other local venues. You can also rent out this space for events.
The Observation Deck: 1201 Wilson Blvd. #214, Arlington, VA; www.theviewofdc.com
The “Tysons Luxury Lilies” mural by renowned artist Naturel is a 25 x 100-foot work of art painted on a cement wall facing the entrance to the Greensboro Metro station. Lilies are the symbols of rebirth and transformation, fitting for Tysons as it goes through a major transformation.
Tysons will soon be organized around eight districts, each with a distinctive character and mix of land uses, that people will be able to seamlessly move between. The connectedness and uniqueness of each place will be mutually supportive, creating a 24-hour, vibrant urban center.
The highest density will soon be oriented toward Tysons’ four Metrorail stations, encouraging people to utilize public transit and helping to ease the burden on vehicular traffic.
Tysons is changing quickly: 14 buildings have been added to the skyline since 2011, and there are currently 2.6 million square feet of development under construction. It’s becoming an attractive place to live, and the number of residential units has grown by 41 percent since 2011.
The Plaza at Tysons Corner Center hosts a summer concert series as well as fitness classes, holiday and cultural festivities, and events for kids. The plaza connects Tysons Corner Center with the Metro station, serving as both a gathering space and a pedestrian connection.
Facts provided by www.fairfaxcounty.gov/tysons
A Beautiful BiergartenWith a main bier hall, basement bar, mezzanine and 10,000-square-foot patio, Tysons Biergarten is almost four separate experiences rolled into one. The patio is a straightforward outdoor biergarten, while the main bier hall contains a playful blue color and features flags of different countries hanging around the room – and going up a level to the mezzanine gives you much of the same feel. Tucked away underneath, the American Underground basement bar gives off an old-school saloon vibe teetering on the divey side. 8346 Leesburg Pike, Tysons, VA; www.tysonsbiergarten.com
A Metro-Based MuralSpeaking of Tysons Biergarten, the massive space arrived at the same time as a massive mural directly outside of the Greensboro Metro. The 100-foot mural, “Tysons Luxury Lilies,” was painted by international artist Naurel, also known as Lawrence Atoigue. The work features a serene foreground with flowers bursting upward from a peaceful stream. Along with teamwork from Tysons and Naurel, the piece was produced by Art Whino Executive Director Shane Pomajambo. www.artwhino.com
Design DenizenDesigner Anna Stratton, Teas’n You
On Tap: How did you come up with the design for Teas’nYou?
Anna Stratton: I met with the owners of Teas’n You and they took me through interior design plans. We bounced ideas around, as well as what spaces they were thinking of activating in terms of display.
OT: How would you describe the overall aesthetic of the design?
AS: The overall aesthetic of the displays presents an enchanting and ethereal feel. I used a lot of soft neutrals and metallics to help enhance the theme.
OT: How long did it take to install and create?
AS: All the displays were hand cut and treated, and therefore took a little more time to prep prior to installing. The window and wall took the longest in terms of installation time – about two hours for each.
OT: There are a lot of bubble tea shops in the DC area. How does the design of Teas’n You set it apart?
AS: I think Teasn’ You really expanded their realm in terms of customer experience and environment. They really took the time to make it a place people could enjoy, relax and even work in. Most shops have an in-and-out type of feel whereas Teasn’ You is very different from that.
Teas’n You Fusion Tea House: 8032 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA; www.teasnyou.com
An artist and an architect meet in DC, each with their own unique skill set. Realizing that they can accomplish more together, the artist says, “Let’s start a business.” And just like that, design, art and fabrication firm Swatchroom is founded.
While there’s more to their origin story than our abridged version above, a partnership did fall into place in 2013 because both artist and architect saw the strengths that could come with combining their individual experiences. Artist Maggie O’Neill’s background as a painter and designer paired with architect Warren Weixler’s experience at the helm of two design-build firms has made the duo unstoppable in the aesthetic formation of some of the DC area’s most sought-after interiors.
Swatchroom is responsible for the buzzworthy interiors of brand new Poca Madre in Penn Quarter and recently opened Morris American Bar in Shaw, just to name a few. No two Swatchroom designs are alike – the team takes pride in creating spaces that fit the vision of each space to a T while pushing creative boundaries and making people think. Weixler says every client has their own idiosyncrasies and way in which they like to function, so he and O’Neill have to learn what’s important to them and approach each design in a completely individualized way.
The designers are at the forefront of the creative renaissance that’s taken the city by storm over the past few years and continue to work in DC, and even across the globe, on a diverse portfolio of projects. We met the pair in their bustling Shaw studio, where the team was hard at work putting the finishing touches on several projects, to talk about their creative journey.
On Tap: How did you meet each other?
Maggie O’Neill: We met because I was working on a restaurant called Lincoln. [We started] collaborating on fabrication. In cases when I was designing for projects and I couldn’t bring [Warren] in as the architect, he would come in and help me work on a whole host of things.
Warren Weixler: I had a small boutique architecture firm called Design Operative. Around 2008, when the work went away and the bubble burst, I had the choice to lean on some other skill sets I had. When the work started to come back in, I had the choice to either get rid of all that stuff and just go back to only architecture, or to try and incorporate it all together. When Swatchroom started to stir about as an idea, I got really excited because I thought, “I can get away from the technical world of plans and permits and actually live in the architectural world.”
OT: What motivated you to station this brand-new business here in DC?
MO: I was born and raised here. Swatchroom had clients before it existed, so we have a base here. That base also has projects in other cities, which is exciting. That allows us to work in other markets across the U.S. and internationally.
WW: We want to try to lead some of the trends or the ways in which things are done. That’s much harder in a bigger city that’s established. If you go on Google and go to New York City and search “design firms,” like 2,000 pins drop. It doesn’t happen here. It’s growing, but we actually get to affect change in the restaurant industry [with] some of our clients. I think we’re extremely lucky to be in a position to help the growth of a city rather than try to fight everybody else to get jobs.
OT: A large portion of your work is restaurant and bar design. Why are you both drawn to those spaces?
MO: I’m a dreamer all day long, and we want you to use your imagination and to really just push people [to] this sort of Alice in Wonderland moment. You take somebody out of their real life and give them a treat for a little while. There’s just so much joy in that, and the restaurant industry has allowed us to do that.
WW: That is a new trend. How do you blur the lines of what [a space] is? The LINE Hotel is a perfect example of that. Is it a restaurant? Is it a hotel? Is it a workspace? Is it just a cool spot to hang out? It’s all of the above, it’s none of the above. Does it actually matter? Those conversations are really interesting. Rather than saying, “This is an office building, this is a restaurant, this is a hotel,” owners and developers are saying, “It doesn’t matter.”
MO: It’s great because there is no clean answer. I love all that muddiness. This is such a linear city, and it has been for so long. It’s been a city of Democrat versus Republican, “yes” versus “no,” you know – lines. And now there’s so much gray…
WW: …color, there’s so much color!
MO: I’m happy to say, while I don’t think we’re there yet, we’re a hell of a lot better off than we were.
Coffee in the a.m. + bar cart in the p.m.
OT: Your most recent restaurant project is Poca Madre, which opened its doors on June 19. Tell us about your design inspiration for this space.
MO: Victor Albisu is the chef, and he is [also] an artist and a passionate person. The aesthetic is modern Mexican and has this fresh, high contrast to it. It’s a lot of black and white with a ton of greenery and hints of brass, and a few powerful statements aesthetically and potentially politically. It’s a petite environment in that it’s not a big, vast space so wherever you are you will feel a kind of intimacy.
WW: [Albisu] came to us in a moment of growth. He wanted to change Del Campo, which had been around for five years or so, and wanted to bring a Taco Bamba to the city. He said “Okay, I’ll take the front half of the space, because it’s basically a big ‘L,’ and make that Taco Bamba on I Street. Let’s take the remainder and let’s make that this new concept.” We were not only part of the design, but also in helping another business owner get through a growth plateau to reinvent a space that they own.
OT: It sounds like every project you take on is very unique. Talk us through some of the everyday challenges you face.
WW: We have that responsibility as designers to say, “Don’t spend your money on that thing, spend it here,” so I think organizing the budget and the study of how that money works is super interesting. The other challenge from my technical mindset is how we tend to push the envelope on artwork with huge installations, large wall features and such. While all of that is extremely creative and flexible, building code is not. We’ll constantly come up with great ideas but have to worry about sprinkler heads or a fire alarm. How do we push the envelope but make sure it’s legal for the building? It’s fun to play in the conceptual world, but how do you actually execute that? I feel like that’s what we’re good at: figuring out how to get it done and how to get it made and who to use to do it.
OT: Would you say there’s a distinct Swatchroom style? How do you make each space different?
WW: Maybe we have a Swatchroom style, but I don’t know if it’s on purpose. I think we’ve really tried to dig into the narrative of the concept of the client and what that concept means to them and let that drive what the space looks like. We’ll all call each other to the table if we’re trying to repeat a material or a detail or do something again. We force ourselves to stay fresh that way. I think those two things combined have [led to a] portfolio where none of the work looks the same. I’ve even had potential clients come in and ask, “The same people did all of that?” We’re proud of that. It should be different.
OT: You’ve achieved a lot as a design firm in a five-year span. How have your goals changed since 2013?
MO: Our first goal was to figure out how to manage the messaging to people we were already providing our services to. We grew by three or four more people that year, so the skill sets and talents those people brought in was part of our other goal: to actually bring in people that had different expertise [than us]. That way, the conversations and creative problem-solving are better.
WW: It was bootstrapped and organic, and we also made a pact that we’re not going to change for change’s sake, but we’re open to change. In these chapters of your business life, and as trends change, you have to change to stay current and to stay ahead. If we just jam the same process, we may not get the same results. [With] each chapter, we’re like, “Okay, let’s keep growing. Let’s keep changing for the better and keep organizing in different ways.” Luckily, our team is awesome in that they’re open to change, too.
Swatchroom: 1301 9th St. NW, DC; 202-808-3343; www.swatchroom.com