Every Mother’s Day weekend, for sixty-two consecutive years, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society has hosted a House and Garden Tour. History moved forward; administrations came and went; decorating styles changed; Capitol Hill became fashionable; but CHRS and the Tour tradition were constants. Plans were completed for a smashing 63rd Tour, and then the pandemic hit and it wasn’t safe for homeowners or guests to have an in-person tour.
But “when a door closes a window opens…” Tour organizers hit <pause> on the planned tour and are trying something new –the first-ever #StayAtHome House Tour using 3-D technology for a virtual experience. And this year it’s free!
On September 12, scans of nine homes will be posted at CHRS.org, where the public can view them at any hour of the day or night, free from weather-worries. Those who miss the joys of strolling are invited to try the Whimsy of Capitol Hill photo scavenger hunt and the Historic Sites walking tour, both on the website homepage.
Those who can’t wait for the virtual tour to go live – or would like to see more homes, including a house boat and a re-purposed warehouse – can view the mini-videos at chrs.org/what-i-love-about-my-house. Several of these “house selfies” were taken in homes slated for the tour.
And now, a preview of the houses:
* The first house on the tour is 102 13th NE. This was on the tour in 2008 and has grown even lovelier. It’s situated on a corner and features a very unusual floor plan with rooms to both the left and right of the entry hall.
* The highlight of 630 E St. NE may be the faux finishes on the walls, doors, and even a bathroom ceiling. The overhead light fixture in the kitchen is truly unique, a special commission. The owner has several collections on view, including globes and cigar boxes.
* Hand craftsmanship is the hallmark of 521 2nd St. SE, where one of the owners built the central staircase and rear porch, himself. The art and furniture are highly personal, reflecting the owners’ varied interests.
* Anyone who missed last year’s tour is in luck; 132 13th St. SE with its dramatic staircase and extensive mosaics is in the 2020 lineup. This is fortuitous, because the art is a lot to take in. Having it scanned allows for repeat visits. Be sure to look up – the ceiling was not neglected.
* 511 Seward Sq. SE is a jaw-dropping Victorian masterpiece. A previous owner opened it for the tour in 1991. The current owners completely redid the kitchen and dug out the basement to create a delightful suite of rooms, but left the vintage wallpaper and fixtures intact. It is gorgeous.
* The art on display at 1345 F St. NE is of particular interest, including a fantastic collection of watercolors, many done by one of the owners. You won’t want to miss the sumi-e by Fred Harris in the living room.
* 707 East Capitol St. SE is also home to a wonderful art collection and amazing rugs, many of them purchased from Muzaffer Biber, whose family has run a carpet business for generations at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
* The owners of 137 D St. SE are relatively new to the Hill. Their home feels refreshing and airy thanks to the carefully chosen color palette, lighting elements and mirrors. Open shelving reveals their collection of transferware.
* The furnishings at 24 9th St. NE include many lovely antiques and rugs, but the star of the show is the house itself. The chimney closets are a feature rarely seen and the skylights are glorious. The façade is worthy of an in-person viewing, if you find yourself close by.
While it’s true that nothing quite replicates the ambiance of the in-person experience, the virtual tour has the advantage of convenience and allows unlimited visits to each property. Those left “wanting more” can look forward to the 64th annual Mother’s Day House and Garden Tour, May 8 and 9, 2021.
Elizabeth Nelson is the chair of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society’s (CHRS) House & Garden Tour Committee. For more information on this, other free events, and issues of historic preservation, visit www.chrs.org.