From a friend of George Washington to a World War II general and now Harry and Maria Hopper, generations of families have brought élan to the refurbishment of this historic, yet timeless, Old Town Alexandria house.
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The kitchen features a vintage Poul Henningsen Artichoke Lamp.
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Solid stainless steel 1950s Flag Halyard chair with seat of long-haired sheepskin
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Fireplace in the restored double parlor. Opposite: Living room trimmed in the Greek Revival style by Milton Grigg.
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The restored double parlor; 1970s
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Verner Panton polystyrene chandelier
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Frank Gehry Cross Check chair
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Frank Gehry Wiggle Chair
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Living room trimmed in the Greek Revival style by Milton Grigg
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Stairwell leading to the enlarged basement
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Harry and Maria Hopper in their living room. Geometric painting by Peter Halley
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Upstar, Purple Prince and Diana tulips, and replica of birdhouse in Kew Gardens, London.
It was love at first sight for Harry and Maria Hopper. From the moment they walked into the stately brick townhouse on Duke Street in Old Town Alexandria, they knew they wanted to buy it.
“I walk to work,” says Harry Hopper, a venture capitalist who is also the chairman of the board of trustees of the Corcoran Gallery. “I went by the house every day. I would look in the front window and see a kitchen with a turquoise Formica countertop in what was once the front parlor of this historic house. The brick was grimy, and the house needed work, but I really liked the house’s bones. One day I walked by, and there was a ‘for sale’ sign in front.”
Harry and Maria, who moved to Alexandria from Philadelphia 21 years ago, went to look at the house that day. Despite the exposed radiator heat pipes and the other out-of-date features, they immediately knew they would make this house their home. Constructed in 1836 to replace the original clapboard house built on the site in 1794, and later destroyed by fire, its footprint was excellent. But what really sold the couple was the living room and den that had been trimmed in the Greek Revival style in the 1950s by renowned Virginia architect Milton Grigg. Grigg flanked the living room fireplace with bookshelves and trimmed both rooms with classical elements such as Greek key pattern molding around the doorways and fluted columns topped with elegant capitals.
“We wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Maria. “We’ve always lived in old houses, ” she adds. “We really appreciate their charm and character.”
With three daughters, two dogs and three cats, the Hoppers’ house is first and foremost a family home. It is also a unique blend of a faithfully restored early 19th century house filled with a mixture of period furniture and the Hoppers’ remarkable collection of 20th century visual and decorative art. The home’s eclecticism is evident from the minute guests walk in the door. Hanging on the entryway wall is a pastel by abstract artist Jennifer Bartlett. “We had bought an earlier piece by her as a wedding present to ourselves,” says Maria, who worked as a merchandising director before her marriage. Since then the couple has collected a wide range of contemporary art.
Once the Hoppers had the title to the house in 1998, they began renovations immediately. The first project was to bring the double parlor, which had been converted into a kitchen, back to its former 19th century glory.
They enlisted the help of now-retired restoration specialist Charles Perin. “He walked into what was then the kitchen and immediately noted the shadow of the framed opening that had been closed in,” says Harry. Perin also discovered the original corner bead—or half-round molding—set around the original fireplace chimney breast that had been carelessly plastered over, covering it from view. The restoration was meticulous. The Hoppers removed the front kitchen, reopened the wide doorway between the two rooms, cleaned off the excess plaster around the two fireplaces, and commissioned custom molds to recreate the exact trim that had been used in the double parlor when the house was built.
Today the front parlor celebrates the historic roots of the house with an 18th-century Rhode Island tavern table. Along either side is a set of wooden chairs designed by George Nakashima, the Japanese-American woodworker who was one of the leading innovators of 20th century furniture design. At the heads of the table sit Frank Gehry’s Cross Check chairs made with interwoven maple strips to create a ribbon effect. They are unabashedly modern. Overhead a polystyrene chandelier designed by Verner Panton in the 1970s casts a pleasing pattern on the ceiling and lights the space with a soft, reflecting glow. “We originally had a traditional chandelier, but then this one fit in the roundel on the ceiling perfectly,” says Maria.
The back parlor is now a library and music room. A focal point is a 1950s Flag Halyard chair by Hans Wegner made of solid stainless steel with a seat of long-haired sheepskin. Behind it stands a large Arco floor lamp designed by Achille Castiglioni in 1962.
While the parlor restoration was going on, the Hoppers brought in Alexandria-based architect Robert “Bud” Bentley Adams to design an addition on the east side of the house for a new, light-filled kitchen. “The kitchen wing is designed to look like a conservatory in the garden,” explains Maria. Indeed, the end wall of the room in the eat-in kitchen space comprises floor to ceiling paned windows, affording a wide view of the townhouse garden. In that space sits an oval, pedestal tulip table designed by Eero Saarinen who is best known for his cutting edge architecture, which includes Dulles Airport and the St. Louis, Missouri, arch. Around the table is a set of transparent orange polycarbonate Le Marie chairs by Phillipe Starck. The light through the windows makes the translucent chairs glow warmly, and at night, a vintage Poul Henningsen Artichoke Lamp illuminates the space.
The kitchen workspace combines modern conveniences, including stainless steel sinks and a generously commodious counter-deep refrigerator, in a setting befitting an older house. Moss green subway tiles adorn the kitchen sink wall, and the two long walls are lined with floor to ceiling cabinets painted a matching soft green hue.
The only changes the Hoppers made to the Milton Grigg living room and study were to replace the 1950s floors with heart of pine and cover the exposed radiator pipes with fluted molding created to match the other trim details Grigg had originally designed. Today the focal point in the room is a large geometric painting the Hoppers commissioned from the abstract artist Peter Halley. “We have a small acrylic work on paper by Peter,” says Maria, “so we asked him to do a larger painting for us. We’re very proud of that piece.”
Bud Adams also designed the garden—Maria’s other passion. He created an arbor as a focal point at the far end, a stone retaining wall for a raised bed along the edge of the property, and a walkway made of a mixture of old brick, flagstone and stone setts that was inspired by Prince Charles’ thyme walk at Highgrove in Gloucestershire, England.
Plantsman Peter J. Schenk Jr. of Washington, D.C.-based Green Door Gardening clothed the hardscape in a diverse range of plants, including a wisteria that drapes over the arbor, espaliered Russian olives, meticulously trimmed fastigiate European hornbeams, boxwood, camellias, azaleas and Japanese maples. In addition, Maria has planted collections of daffodils that have twice won the top award at the Garden Club of Virginia daffodil show.
Once the remodeling, restoration, and kitchen wing were completed, the Hoppers lived happily in their home for more than a decade until 2012 when they embarked on another ambitious series of projects.
They asked Adams to come back to design a small sunroom off the study and to connect the freestanding garage to the house. Alone these would have been simple additions, but the project was made more complex because, at the same time, the Hoppers installed a more energy efficient geothermal heating and cooling system. In addition to digging eight wells 150 feet deep into the ground in the garden to install the lines that keep the water temperature a constant 56 degrees—requiring less energy to heat and cool—they needed space for the “little factory” required to make it all work. A basement was dug out from under the new addition and old flounder wing (added in 1875 and so named because it has windows on only one side like the eyes of a flounder fish), and connected it all to the original 18th century English basement. “It was an amazing endeavor,” says Maria. “They had to hand shovel a lot of the dirt, and underpin the entire wing.”
The newly enlarged basement houses the geothermal equipment as well as a wine cellar and exercise room. Miraculously, the geothermal drilling disturbed only the grassy center of the garden. The buried geothermal lines made replanting the lawn impossible, so the Hoppers installed no-maintenance synthetic grass.
The Hoppers are generous with their home. This year it will be open to the public Saturday, April 26 for Historic Garden Week. Maria has chaired the Old Town Alexandria tour four times since she joined the Garden Club of Alexandria 15 years ago. (The home was also on the tour in 1957.) The Hoppers say they love living in Old Town because of the community’s appreciation of historic preservation. “We’re custodians of the house,” says Maria, “we’re keeping it for the next generation.”