Voyeurism is the primary impulse behind so much of American culture these days, from TMZ to “Serial” to reality television to celebrity phone hacking. We don’t just want entertainment, we want authenticity. Which in a nutshell is why so many people spent last weekend strolling through rich people’s houses and nodding thoughtfully at furniture that cost more than their college degrees. It was the 36th annual Logan Circle Holiday House Tour, and I was pretty surprised at how many people (several hundred at least) were packed into the Studio Theatre at 1:30 on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, poring over the program while sipping apple cider from tiny paper cups like the ones your dentist has you spit into. Thirty bucks to tour ten historical Logan properties, which comes to three dollars a piece; basically, all you have to do is steal something, anything, from one of the houses and you’ll come out ahead for the day. (Kidding!)
Not that there was any chance of that happening. There were approximately six volunteer house chaperons per room of each house. Every time you turned a corner, there was another volunteer, saying “HELLO!!” at a volume that faintly riffled my hair back. Not that I blame them; in the first house, 1320 13th Street, there was seriously six or maybe even seven figures worth of art on the walls. Among the featured artists were Chuck Close, Shepard Fairey, and other names I got out of the program but vaguely remember from my undergraduate years as a painting minor. This building is The Icon, the one that opened in 2003 and, according to the program, launched the DC loft craze, and I can see why. Going from the staid, traditional rowhome to this is like going from black and white to color television, though maybe I was just dazzled by the literal million dollars worth of art on the walls. On to the next house.
One thing I noticed all these places had in common: fires. A large majority of the places had fires going. Rich people love fires, I guess. Maybe they like the allegorical aspect – they wrenched their wealth from the metaphorical mountaintop just like Prometheus stole fire from the gods? – or maybe the logs were densely-packed rolls of insider trading evidence. I dunno. Also: fake animals. Like, high-quality stuffed animals or animal sculptures. Very common. I guess when you have nice furniture, you can’t have a cat or dog running around dispensing odors all over the place. One house had a little fluffy sheep sculpture that was so cute that I wanted to take it home with me, but just as I had that thought, a volunteer chaperon whispered “don’t even think about it” in my ear from behind.
I actually went to the last house on the tour next, because I saw an ex I wanted to avoid, who was also taking the tour. This one was at 14th and P, (1413 P Street, to be exact) a penthouse that seemed impossibly high above the city. It’s a huge loft space, and the highlight, for me at least, was the massive custom leather Italian sofa that was the centerpiece of the living area. According to the program, the copper-colored leather was “hand-selected” by the homeowner. Do they mean that literally? I’m picturing a sullen Italian leather salesman muttering, “Jesus, you can just point, you don’t have to actually touch the leather samples.” Outside is definitely the highest terrace I’ve ever been on in DC; to get out there you have to go down this narrow winding catwalk, so the tourists had come to an unspoken agreement that they’d go out there two at a time, take in the view for like ten seconds, and then come back inside to make way for the next duo. But then this old man went out there alone and just stood there, gazing out across the horizon for two, three minutes, and no one said anything because he was a distinguished-looking old man who seemed to be having “a moment.” Personally, I was praying, literally praying, that he’d break the tension by letting out a ripping fart, but no luck.
Next I headed to the Metropole on 15th. This unit was my personal favorite, though obviously I’d shove both my thumbs into a wood chipper to live in any one of the tour homes. This unit definitely had a unique aesthetic to it, and I wasn’t that surprised to read in the program that the owner’s mother was an acclaimed artist, some of whose art adorned her son’s condo. There was a massive European chandelier in the main area, Cameroonian floor lamps, 18th and 19th century Chinese antiques. And for a tour that was, at base, a celebration of the owners’ respective selves, this guy trumped them all; one of the main pieces was a portrait of the owner’s sequenced DNA. It’s the 21st century self-portrait. Even Kanye never thought of that. Kudos to you, sir.
I went to several other houses but honestly, they all blurred into a procession of luxury goods and high-end finishes, sort of like how when you go to New York for a weekend, you’re dazzled by the first two or three models you see on the street, but then by Sunday night you’re like, “eh, she had weird earlobes and her teeth were too white, I give her a four out of ten.” After my one deviation from the itinerary, I pretty much followed the suggested sequence of viewings, and I noticed a similar effect on other people in my group. The first few houses, you’re all starry-eyed and oohing and aahing, but by the eighth, you’re not only turning your nose up at everything, you’re actively trying to discover some way, any way, that you’re superior to all this excellence. I personally, being a writer, honed in on the bookshelves. I made sure to have a hearty and conspicuous chuckle at the Mitch Alboms and James Pattersons in each house, to signal to my fellow tourists that I had one thing that all these wealthy, sophisticated homeowners didn’t have, i.e. literary taste. (Two things, if you also count “a profusion of cat hair all over my clothes.”)
I wound up the tour at the beautiful St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on 15th Street, which isn’t a “house,” technically, since nobody lives there, unless you count the holy spirit (more like holy squatter!). (*Sound of repeated lightning strikes*) It was really the perfect end to a surprisingly delightful tour; the soaring nave is made of wood and iron, with clean, simple, and timeless lines (built in 1879!) that, after a day of voyeuristic luxury, made you really think about the important things in life. Which, for me, was to really think about the details of how I might purchase some of the antique stained-glass windows that, according to the program, were removed from the left side of the church when they built an addition on that side. Everyone at the church was gaping at the remaining windows, which were legitimately stunning, and I figure they’re essentially priceless. Now that I know where all the deep-pocketed collectors with excellent taste live, I can just go knock on doors and start taking bids. If I don’t go on the tour again in 2015, it’ll be because my new place will be on it!
Here are some extra photos of the event and a link to the album if you’d like to see all of the other pretty participants. Check out more pictures of the 36th Annual Logan Circle Holiday House Tour.