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Freedom of the Press: Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee’s Georgetown House

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Freedom of the Press: Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee’s Georgetown House

November 3, 2020

Ben Bradlee, the famed Washington Post editor and bon vivant—played by Tom Hanks in The Post and Jason Robards in All the President’s Men—probably wouldn’t recognize his old Georgetown residence. Remodeled in an elegantly succinct style far more European than preppy, it’s still nonetheless his kind of place: the double living room is designed for hobnobbing, the dining table stands ready for a crowd, and every room is filled with family mementos, a pair of water skis included. What’s more, Bradlee would find plenty of things in common with the new owners: Miriam Mahlow, a former journalist who grew up in Berlin and has two degrees from Stanford, is a managing director at Human Rights Watch, and her husband, a Georgetown local, is a star investigative reporter.

The couple have three young sons and were living in Istanbul when New York-based architect Lauren Wegel received a call: would she help them pull together their dream house on a budget? A protégé of Annabelle Selldorf’s, Wegel now runs her own office. Mahlow, a self-described “design junkie” and longtime Selldorf groupie, had admired Wegel’s “pure but welcoming and livable” version of minimalism on Remodelista. And she liked the idea of bringing an outsider’s prospective to DC living. Wegel herself, Mahlow says, took some convincing—until she saw the place. Join us for a tour of the results.

Photography by Richard Barnes, courtesy of Lauren Wegel.

Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House Built in the mid \19th century, the mansard roofed Victorian with attached carriage house is three doors from JFK&#8\2\17;s pre White House quarters.
Above: Built in the mid-19th century, the mansard-roofed Victorian with attached carriage house is three doors from JFK’s pre-White House quarters.

Bradlee and the then senator are said to have met while pushing strollers in the neighborhood; their off-duty friendship led to Bradlee’s 1975 book, Conversations with Kennedy. And the discussion still rages over the 1964 murder of Bradlee’s artist sister-in-law, Mary Pinchot Meyer, who, it came out, had been having an affair with Kennedy while living in the house; her case is still unsolved. Mahlow and family holed up in the carriage house during construction.

Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House &#8\2\20;The house is strangely grand and intimate all at the same time,&#8\2\2\1; says Wegel, who, accustomed to the constraints of New York brownstones, found the proportions liberating. (It&#8\2\17;s \25 feet wide on the ground floor.) Her mandate from Mahlow: &#8\2\20;Respect the old while enhancing it.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: “The house is strangely grand and intimate all at the same time,” says Wegel, who, accustomed to the constraints of New York brownstones, found the proportions liberating. (It’s 25 feet wide on the ground floor.) Her mandate from Mahlow: “Respect the old while enhancing it.”

Like most remodels, a lot of the work is invisible and included “new columns, footings and a deep new beam running the width of the house to correct major settling issues,” plus new central heating and AC.  Because all of that was costly, the couple decided to focus the design tweaking on the parlor floor, starting with the original Southern pine floor, which was stripped of carpeting and lightened. (“We briefly thought about going with Dinesen’s wide boards—way over our budget —but I’m glad we didn’t,” says Wegel. “It would have had a very different feel and the existing flooring suits the house.”) The pendant light is the IC Lights S Pendant by Michael Anastassiades.

Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House The living room puts in an appearance in The Post—the movie&#8\2\17;s creative team paid the family a house call before building the set. Take a look: you&#8\2\17;ll see the space is divided but the pair of fireplaces were carefully replicated.
Above: The living room puts in an appearance in The Post—the movie’s creative team paid the family a house call before building the set. Take a look: you’ll see the space is divided but the pair of fireplaces were carefully replicated.

The Le Corbusier LC3 Grand Model Sofas are signed originals passed down by Mahlow’s mother (“you can feel Le Corbusier’s signature etched on the undersides”). Anticipating that their black upholstery would be too heavy for the space, Mahlow ordered several sets of linen slipcovers in Istanbul: “you can walk into a fabric store, make your selections, and have them stitched in a few hours for about $5o.” As for the period chandeliers, they’re hand-me-downs: Wegel and Mahlow were having trouble finding twin lights that could carry the space when a new neighbor about to do a gut renovation asked Mahlow if there was anything in her place she could use. (Scroll down to the bottom for a look at the lighting the room came with.)

Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House  &#8\2\20;The room is very much lived in—but there&#8\2\17;s no basketball dribbling allowed,&#8\2\2\1; Mahlow tells us. The Le Corbusier LC4 Chaise Longue, another original, also has different covers that get shifted with the seasons.
Above: “The room is very much lived in—but there’s no basketball dribbling allowed,” Mahlow tells us. The Le Corbusier LC4 Chaise Longue, another original, also has different covers that get shifted with the seasons.

There are next to no window coverings and only a few rugs by choice: “I loved the house most when the work was just complete and all the rooms were empty,” says Mahlow.

Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House The \1954 abstract painting over the mantel is by W. Mülle Hufschmid.
Above: The 1954 abstract painting over the mantel is by W. Mülle-Hufschmid.
Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House &#8\2\20;It was very important to me that we establish a clear line from living room to dining room and into the kitchen,&#8\2\2\1; says Mahlow. &#8\2\20;I knew I wanted that axis to be unobstructed.&#8\2\2\1; Toward that end, Wegel widened the opening between the rooms and painted all the walls Benjamin Moore&#8\2\17;s Decorator&#8\2\17;s White. The china cabinet came with the house—it, too, appears in The Post.
Above: “It was very important to me that we establish a clear line from living room to dining room and into the kitchen,” says Mahlow. “I knew I wanted that axis to be unobstructed.” Toward that end, Wegel widened the opening between the rooms and painted all the walls Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White. The china cabinet came with the house—it, too, appears in The Post.
Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House The sandstone topped dining table is actually three joined tables that Mahlow had made in Istanbul: it can seat up to \2\2. &#8\2\20;Miriam entertains in an old school way and hosts varying sizes of groups that the table accommodates in a flexible way,&#8\2\2\1; says Wegel. The caned Hoffman Side Chairs came from DWR. The light over the table is West Elm&#8\2\17;s Mobile Chandelier, \$\299. (See more mobile pendants in our Trend Alert.)
Above: The sandstone-topped dining table is actually three joined tables that Mahlow had made in Istanbul: it can seat up to 22. “Miriam entertains in an old-school way and hosts varying sizes of groups that the table accommodates in a flexible way,” says Wegel. The caned Hoffman Side Chairs came from DWR. The light over the table is West Elm’s Mobile Chandelier, $299. (See more mobile pendants in our Trend Alert.)
Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House The space is brightened by the kitchen&#8\2\17;s new view of the garden through steel framed French doors: &#8\2\20;There was so much possible access to light that hadn&#8\2\17;t been utilized,&#8\2\2\1; says Wegel.
Above: The space is brightened by the kitchen’s new view of the garden through steel-framed French doors: “There was so much possible access to light that hadn’t been utilized,” says Wegel.

The architect credits project general contractor Kaz Malachowski of Falcon Construction as key to the success of the renovation: “I could trust him to get all the details right and my clients loved him. For me, being long distance, Kaz was truly a godsend.”

Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House The team started from scratch in the kitchen, which Mahlow tells us she envisioned as being &#8\2\20;as un kitchen y as possible: no visible appliances, no overhead cabinets—I wanted it to work, but more importantly, to look good.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: The team started from scratch in the kitchen, which Mahlow tells us she envisioned as being “as un-kitchen-y as possible: no visible appliances, no overhead cabinets—I wanted it to work, but more importantly, to look good.”

Though she was initially resistant to the idea of an island, Mahlow was persuaded that it was the best option for the space: “She can cook and enjoy her family at the same time,” Wegel says. The island has a Walnut Butcher Block Top from John Boos. The Viking cooktop (and the oven below it) has a retractable downdraft hood, all by Viking. For similar lights, see 10 Easy Pieces: White Globe Pendants.

Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House Unlike most of Wegel&#8\2\17;s clients, Mahlow asked for a sense of openness in lieu of a lot of storage. The cabinet fronts are painted wood and the sink counter and backsplash are Carrara marble sourced locally. The floor is Stonesource&#8\2\17;s Bianco Natural, a stone lookalike made of porcelain.
Above: Unlike most of Wegel’s clients, Mahlow asked for a sense of openness in lieu of a lot of storage. The cabinet fronts are painted wood and the sink counter and backsplash are Carrara marble sourced locally. The floor is Stonesource’s Bianco Natural, a stone lookalike made of porcelain.

The refrigerator is a Fisher & Paykel: “It isn’t as expensive as a Sub-Zero, but you get the counter depth and the custom panel,” says Wegel. “I also like the high freezer: it allows a lot of storage and coordination with the counters opposite.” Note the art throughout the room (Mi!, the neon sculpture on the wall, was a 10th anniversary present to Mahlow from her husband). See The New Gallery for more examples of art in kitchens.

Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House The kitchen table came from West Elm and the rush chairs are a vintage Gio Ponti design that Mahlow bought on eBay. The fireplace replaced a space hogging brick original; the new setup has a gas insert and is flanked by seamless storage cabinets. The carved wood clock is Belgian.
Above: The kitchen table came from West Elm and the rush chairs are a vintage Gio Ponti design that Mahlow bought on eBay. The fireplace replaced a space-hogging brick original; the new setup has a gas insert and is flanked by seamless storage cabinets. The carved-wood clock is Belgian.
Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House A new powder room tucked under the stairs has a cement tiled backsplash in a pattern called Rotterdam Blocks from Granada Tile in Los Angeles. The sink is the \2nd Floor Vanity Basin from Duravit—with a custom lacquered cabinet underneath it—and the single lever faucet is the Noma from Vigo Industries. The walls are painted a Benjamin Moore gray called Cheating Heart.
Above: A new powder room tucked under the stairs has a cement-tiled backsplash in a pattern called Rotterdam Blocks from Granada Tile in Los Angeles. The sink is the 2nd Floor Vanity Basin from Duravit—with a custom lacquered cabinet underneath it—and the single-lever faucet is the Noma from Vigo Industries. The walls are painted a Benjamin Moore gray called Cheating Heart.
Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House The upper two floors have yet to be fully tackled: upgraded bathrooms are on the docket for Phase \2 of the remodel. Vintage water skis from the family&#8\2\17;s lake house in New Hampshire hang in the stairwell leading to the kids&#8\2\17; rooms.
Above: The upper two floors have yet to be fully tackled: upgraded bathrooms are on the docket for Phase 2 of the remodel. Vintage water skis from the family’s lake house in New Hampshire hang in the stairwell leading to the kids’ rooms.
Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House The houses&#8\2\17;s back stairs, something Wegel had never encountered in NYC, were rebuilt: &#8\2\20;they&#8\2\17;re wonderful  because they allow continuous circulation.&#8\2\2\1; Translation: &#8\2\20;Our boys can run up the main stair and down the back,&#8\2\2\1; says Mahlow.
Above: The houses’s back stairs, something Wegel had never encountered in NYC, were rebuilt: “they’re wonderful  because they allow continuous circulation.” Translation: “Our boys can run up the main stair and down the back,” says Mahlow.
Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House The house has a new steel deck off the kitchen. The garden is getting tackled next.
Above: The house has a new steel deck off the kitchen. The garden is getting tackled next.

Before

Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House The backyard was accessed through a single door and underutilized.
Above: The backyard was accessed through a single door and underutilized.
Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House In the house&#8\2\17;s previous incarnation, there was pile carpeting, mod lights, and an out of scale narrow archway between the living and dining room.
Above: In the house’s previous incarnation, there was pile carpeting, mod lights, and an out-of-scale narrow archway between the living and dining room.
Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House All of the appliances were on show, and the kitchen was dominated by a large brick hearth—&#8\2\2\1;we had hoped to keep it as a pizza oven,&#8\2\2\1; says Wegel, &#8\2\20;but that didn&#8\2\17;t allow room for a table.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: All of the appliances were on show, and the kitchen was dominated by a large brick hearth—”we had hoped to keep it as a pizza oven,” says Wegel, “but that didn’t allow room for a table.”
Freedom of the Press Inside Former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlees Georgetown House Lauren Wegel&#8\2\17;s ground floor plan introduced an entirely new kitchen, access to the back, and a continuous flow between the living spaces.
Above: Lauren Wegel’s ground-floor plan introduced an entirely new kitchen, access to the back, and a continuous flow between the living spaces.

Here are the two projects that inspired Mahlow to reach out to Wegel:

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