Step into Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn’s Kalorama house, and it feels like you’re in a beautiful home in Paris. That’s by design: It’s the work of French architect Paul Philippe Cret, whose Washington projects include the Folger Shakespeare Library and Calvert Street Bridge.
Built in 1937, the house’s soaring foyer, winding staircase, and large dining room give it a grand feel. But Alma Gildenhorn says the home’s formality hides its warmth, particularly in the sunny drawing room.
Four 18th-century paintings by French artist Alexandre-Hyacinthe Dunouy are set into the walls. The scenes of forests and lakes create a soothing tone. On one wall hangs a pastel by Mary Cassatt; on another, a painting by French postimpressionist Henri Lebasque.
Alma likes to spend time in the room alone reading. “It’s serene and inviting,” she says. “The couches don’t say, ‘Don’t sit on me.’ ”
The late, renowned concert pianist Eugene Istomin helped the Gildenhorns select their Steinway piano, which is covered with photos of family and friends.
Ancient Greek and Roman busts and torsos from the couple’s travels around the world sit on each table. “Every antiquity in this room represents a little adventure my husband and I have taken together,” she says.
Joseph Gildenhorn, a founding partner of the local development company JBG, was ambassador to Switzerland from 1989 to 1993. The drawing room is where the Gildenhorns gather with friends and family and entertain for causes they care about: the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the University of Maryland, the Kennedy Center, the Aspen Institute.
Fresh flowers fill every vase. Candy dishes are always replenished. “It’s filled with our treasures,” says Alma. “It’s a very personal room in a very personal house.”