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washington post: quiet in kalorama

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Quiet in Kalorama

By Alan Dessoff
Photography by Darko Zagar
Washington Post, Winter 2007

An open plan and spare furnishings allow for splashes for color and lots of family life in this architect’s home.

It’s a quiet house, which is what Suman and Scott Sorg want it to be when they come home from the daily routine at Sorg and Associates, their architectural firm, where Suman is the principal designer and Scott runs the business side.

After long days in the office, with frequent travel across the country and around the world- among other projects, they are the architects for new U.S. embassies in countries from Barbados to Nepal- they are happy to return to the quiet of their five-level home in the Kalorama district of Washington.

It’s quiet in how it sounds. “I don’t even turn on the sound system, in the car or anywhere. I don’t like too much noise. We have a lot of noise pollution in our lives,” says Suman.

It’s also quiet in how it looks: mostly neutral colors, minimal but elegant furnishings, lots of light and open space. “We like contemporary, clean, simple lines,” says Scott.

But there are vivid splashes of color- bright reds, yellows, and blues- in the paintings on the walls in several rooms. Suman did them. She taught herself and began painting a year ago “because I thought it would help me to understand color and light and form in two dimensions, things I hoped would inform my work as an architect,” she explains. “I don’t start with a design in mind, I just start and see where it goes.

Suman says her paintings so far have developed “mostly out of my subconscious,” reminding her of the colors of India, where she was born in a refugee camp after her family was displaced from Pakistan. They came to Washington in 1968, when her father was posted to the Indian Embassy as the First Secretary of Education, and Suman has lived in the Kalorama neighborhood ever since. “It is my home neighborhood,” she says.

Scott’s influence is in the extensive collection of books on a wide range of subjects, and in the dramatically enlarged black-and-white Richard Avedon photographs of Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx in their later years that Scott bought at a Sotheby’s auction. Now they hang together on a wall near the kitchen.

“My images of them as younger men,” Scott explains, “are of animation, activity, sharpness, and at first it’s a shock to see these two aged public figures looking so physically different from how we remember them. Yet there’s still an impishness that shines through.”

They also have photos of “all the young kids who would come to our house each afternoon and ‘entertain’ us,” Scott says, when he and Suman were in the Peace Corps together in Cote d’Lvoire. The kids “were fantastic, and we loved them”; the photos have hung everywhere they have lived since 1972.

Before the Sorgs bought it two years ago, publisher Bill Regardie lived for many years in the 3,300-square-foot house, with a stone patio and heated pool in the back. “It was very appealing,” says Scott, who wanted to do little to change it. But Suman insisted that it represent “what I wanted for my family, because I didn’t think we would be making moves like this many more times.”

So they maintained the basic floor plan but otherwise undertook extensive renovations that included making dark spaces light and closed spaces open. Doors and walls were removed, allowing one to see one floor from another. “When you don’t see a space,” Suman says, “you tend not to use it.”

When they moved in last year from their previous home of 14 years, they replaced with fewer, more modern pieces. “This is us. We don’t like a lot of clutter, a lot of little things sitting around,” says Scott. Interior designer Vincent Sagart of Washington’s branch of Italy’s Poliform firm guided many of the changes.

One thing they brought with them was Scott’s treasured LP collection, even if they can’t enjoy the recordings because they can’t find the now-old-fashioned type of photograph that plays them.

In some respects, their home hardly looks lived in. Everything has its place, usually hidden; only a bowl of fruit is visible on the kitchen’s gray countertops. Suman, a vegetarian, says she went to boarding school and “never became domesticated.” For meals, “we just throw something together,” says Scott.

The house became even quieter last year when Luci, the Sorgs’ beloved 14-year-old Labrador retriever, died of bone cancer- and Nikki, their 27-year-old daughter, moved out and into her own place in Adams Morgan. But a new dog, the 4-year-old Ben, a bichon fries mix adopted from a shelter, has arrived, and on her way to work, Nikki sometimes drops off her dog Max, to add a dimension of life to the place during the day. On weekends, if Suman and Scott do not go to their Eastern Shore retreat, Nikki comes in and she and Scott prepare some meals for the week ahead.

But mostly, Suman and Scott just enjoy the quiet of the house and of their lives there. “We know there are many people who wouldn’t care for this,” says Scott. “That’s okay. This is how we like to live.”

Captions Page 1

Minimal furnishings leave plenty of space in the dining room, shown here, for a tremendous punch of color from the painting by Suman Sorg, opposite page. Sorg is the architect half of the firm Sorg and Associates, while her husband, Scott Sorg, handles the business side of things.

Captions Page 4

The main living level, above, is serene and unburdened by clutter. The stairway leads up to the bedroom. Opposite page, counter-clockwise from top right, the bedroom door swings on a pivot, allowing privacy to be modulated in a modern way. All the art of the Sorgs’ walls is by Suman Sorg, including this spiritual collage hung above a nightstand. Clean, simple lines extend to the master bath. Elsewhere in the house, a pale palette is punched up by splashes of color that remind Suman of her native India.

Captions Page 6

Open stairs, opposite page, connect the levels of the Sorg’s open-plan house. On ground level, the kitchen, above, is open to a seating area and the dining room, not shown. A wall of doors opens this area to the backyard and swimming pool. Above the burnt-orange sofa hang Scott Sorg’s favorite portraits of Charles Chaplin and Groucho Marx as old men.