Homage to the SquareJosef Albers and Charles Pollock mingle amidst an architect's book collection
This Georgetown row house, home to the esteemed Washington-based architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, was originally designed at a client’s request. An aide to the Nixon administration, the client in question ultimately opted for a place in the suburbs, and Jacobsen decided to move in to the vacant Victorian home—but not without adding a few of his signature touches. To start, Jacobsen removed all the baseboards and crown molding to make room for the installation of floor-to-ceiling windows. He painted the home’s interior Sherwin-Williams Pure White, a favorite of Jacobsen’s, and installed a series of Greek columns, ranging from Doric to Corinthian, along the main thoroughfare.
Pollock Executive Chairs in Hugh Newell Jacobsen's Georgetown residence. Photograph by Ron Blunt.
His favorite room, the library, houses his most prized possessions: a 4,000-volume book collection—over a quarter of which is dedicated to Agatha Christie novels—two Pollock Executive Chairs and, the pièce de résistance, a red-and-orange Homage to the Square. At the time Jacobsen bought the painting, he couldn’t afford to pay in full, so he made an arrangement with Albers to contribute something every month until the debt was paid—it took him three years. The neighboring Pollock Executive Chairs were selected according to Jacobsen's "enduring design" criteria, which winnows out "products that last because they fulfill their purpose, do not intrude beyond their function and are not superfluous beyond their nature." Jacobsen counts Knoll among his favorite retailers, and singles out "the Barcelona Chair, designed in 1929 by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, [as] the best ever" designed.
Once a painter, Jacobsen decided to enroll at Yale School of Architecture at the behest of his father before going on to practice under Philip Johnson and Louis Kahn. After starting his own firm, one of his projects landed him on the front of Architectural Record. Shortly thereafter, he received a call from Kahn. “I saw that house in Architectural Record,” Kahn told him, “every architect has a house like that, and I hope to hell you got it out of your system.” Inspite of such harsh criticism, Jacobsen still counts Kahn among “the most important influences of my life,” and attributes much of his success to what he learned under his employ. Since then, Jacobsen has become one of the most lauded architects in the region, and the recipient of over 120 awards.
Design: Hugh Newell Jacobsen
Photography: Ron Blunt